North Philadelphia native Malcolm Kenyatta is the first openly gay candidate of color for the state House seat in the 181st Legislative District despite a last-minute homophobic smear campaign against him the morning of the primary elections.
Kenyatta, a Democrat, won the state House primary with 42 percent of the vote, edging out Pastor Lewis Nash Sr. with 27 percent. Lewis Thomas III followed Nash with 18 percent, Alex Deering, also an out candidate, with 8 percent; and Gilberto Gonzalez with 6 percent.
Kenyatta will face Republican candidate T. Milton Street in the general election in November. Street, a former state senator, ran unopposed.
The 181st District covers parts of North and North Central Philadelphia, Yorktown, Francisville, Glenwood, West Popular, Northern Liberties and Old Kensington. Kenyatta is looking to fill the seat of Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, a distant relative who has held the seat since 1989. Thomas announced his retirement earlier this year due to his health.
“It’s a bit surreal and an overwhelming feeling, but the work is not done yet,” Kenyatta told PGN hours after his victory.
“It’s exciting to be in a position to bring a perspective from someone who’s from this neighborhood,” Kenyatta said while visiting the polls at the Warnock Village Senior Center in North Philadelphia. “I’ll be serving my aunt, my cousins, people I’ve known my entire life. This really is personal to me.”
Kenyatta visited every polling site in the 181st District on Tuesday, talking to voters along the way and urging them to get out and vote. He helped members of his campaign put up posters and even offered words of encouragement to Democratic candidate Gonzalez when the two ran into each other. As of presstime, Gonzalez was the only candidate to congratulate Kenyatta on his win.
PGN reached out to Deering, but he declined to comment.
On Tuesday morning, hundreds of anti-gay fliers were placed on cars and doorsteps across North Philadelphia after polls opened. The flier displayed a red circular “No” symbol superimposed over Kenyatta with his former husband and the words: “NORTH PHILLY” and “SAY NO!!!!!”
Voter Francis Gibbs, who is also the president of the Tenants’ Association of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Warnock Village, said that Kenyatta “is the right person to serve the community” where she has lived all her life.
“I’ve watched Malcolm go around the community, personally asking folks what he can do for them,” said Gibbs. “We feel as though he cares about what’s going on. He cares about seniors. He cares about providing us resources.”
Jean Hackney, Kenyatta’s aunt, joined the team of volunteers at the Church of the Advocate in North Philly to support her nephew. Kenyatta’s father helped to motivate his political career, she said.
“His father always had us out here, trying to fight the fight. Malcolm’s about the community and what’s happening in the community.”
Kenyatta’s primary campaign focused on sustainable economic growth, the push for a $15 minimum wage and a fair school- funding formula for every district.
Kenyatta said he wants to showcase the true nature of North Philadelphia. “This is a community of strivers, a community of people who in very tough circumstances have found ways to thrive and to survive and to be happy. That’s powerful.”