As of Jan. 8, out State Rep. Brian Sims has a Democratic challenger for the 2020 primary. Public education advocate and Ward 5 Committee Person Marisa Shaaban announced her candidacy for Pennsylvania House District 182.
Shaaban has lived in Center City with her family for the past 15 years. Her children are enrolled in Philadelphia public schools, and she identifies as a longtime champion for public education, advocating for education and health care issues during her career in public policy.
In 2019, Shaaban was appointed to the Parent and Community Advisory Council of the new Philadelphia Board of Education, and she serves on the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, a group of elected leaders, labor organizations and others dedicated to securing funds to make school buildings safe and healthy for all students in Philadelphia.
Sims, a civil rights’ attorney, was elected in 2012 as the first out gay elected state legislator in Pennsylvania history. He is now joined by Malcolm Kenyatta, who was the first openly gay person of color elected to either state assembly. A longtime LGBTQ rights advocate, Sims has fought against conversion therapy, as the Democratic chair for the Subcommittee on Mental Health. Notably, the day after the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Sims read every victim’s name at the State House legislative meeting. He has been public about his use of PrEP, fighting stigma attached to the HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis medication, and he has advocated for pay equity and advocating and reproductive rights for women.
But Sims was mired in controversy after his statements to and about women protesting outside of a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia last year. In April 2019, he offered $100 to anyone who could identify three teenage girls praying outside the clinic. In May, he posted a video of himself confronting a woman protesting with a rosary outside of the same building.
“I’m running to represent all of the people of the 182nd District in Harrisburg. For Philadelphia to thrive, we need leaders who will listen, work hard and be present in our district — and who understand that public service means serving the public, not themselves,” said Shaaban in a press release.
“I admire Brian Sims’ accomplishments as a trailblazer in his role,” Shaaban told PGN. “However, his attention has been away from the district for far too long, and I believe that more could be done on the state level for our city. It’s time to refocus on our district and work to provide Philadelphians with improvements they deserve, like access to affordable healthcare, better public transportation and quality public education.”
Shaaban said she will “actively listen to my constituents in the LGBTQ+ community, and I’ll work hard every day to be an effective ally. I will always stand up for LGBTQ+ equality in Harrisburg to combat discrimination and fight for LGBTQ+ rights.”
When Shaaban worked in government and community relations at Syracuse University in the early 2000s, she and a team of administrators helped establish a residence for the newly formed LGBT Resource Center. She also helped students organize advocacy days, including Equality and Justice Days at the State Capitol in Albany.
In Philadelphia, Shaaban was vocal about getting the division polling place of Ward 5, Division 11, moved to the John C. Anderson Apartments, an LGBT-friendly affordable senior housing complex.
“I felt strongly that seniors, in particular, needed a polling place actually located in their division for easier access to vote. It’s been an amazing experience getting to know the Anderson residents,” she said.
Shaaban is building a grassroots effort that she hopes will unite the community and provide a “fresh voice in state government to stand up for our shared Democratic values.” According to a release, she also looks forward “to joining a growing movement of progressive women leaders in Harrisburg.”
Sims did not respond to requests to repeated requests for an interview. The primary election will be held on April 28.