Algernong Allen believes he can lead

This file photo shows Algernong Allen, a candidate for State Representative (188th District), outside of the ruins from Elena’s Soul Café, which Allen owned. — Photo by Abdul R. Sulayman/Chief Tribune Photographer

In a political landscape with plenty of young, first-time candidates, newcomer Algernong Allen is challenging incumbent Democratic State Rep. James Roebuck for his 188th District seat.

For Allen, who said he “doesn’t have to tear down Roebuck” to build himself up, it’s more about running for the office than it is about running against Roebuck, with whom Allen says he has spoken, and has respect for.

Still, Allen believes he could do things differently and get more things done in the 188th.

“I do believe that Mr. Roebuck and I have different approaches. I have an approach of being very hands-on. I have experience in business, working with the community and providing jobs,” Allen said. “Mr. Roebuck has been in the education space for a long time, and has been a valued member of the community for a long time, but I’d like to add visibility to our district. I think our district is one of the most exciting areas in the city.

“We have an engine of economics with the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the hospitals at one end, but yet we have some challenges at the other end, which could use some assistance, and I want to be a part of creating a better Southwest Philly to complement what we have going on in West Philly.”

Allen, who admitted to not having anywhere near the political weight of Roebuck, will rely more on his business and community-building experience to win the district.

Allen was the founder and owner of the popular Elena’s, which was consumed by a fire in 2012. Undaunted, Allen kept up his civil work. In the 188th district, Allen has been a block captain, board member of the Baltimore Avenue Business Association and former board member of Cedar Park Neighbors.

Allen also has ties with the University City Arts League, Urban League, Public Notebook and the West Philadelphia Corridors Connect Program, to name only a few of Allen’s civic endeavors.

Allen also brings considerable business expertise to the race, as Allan has had successful stints at Exit Benchmark Real Estate, Sherman Toppin Real Estate, GlaxoSmithKline/Coretech Counseling and Delaware Valley Financial Services. Allen also worked with Kemlon Marketing and as an independent real estate investor.

Allen, who is married to CBS anchor Anne-Marie Green, received a BS in finance from Hampton University in 1994, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Allen is endorsed by the influential Black Clergy of Philadelphia and vicinity.

Combining that experience, Allen believes he is more than able to deal with the district’s main issues, which are improving educational options in the district and eradicating blight.

“I want to be aggressive with working in the schools in the communities they are in to make them better. We have some of the lowest-performing schools in the state, and both of our public high school options will be considered dropout factories because they have less than a 60 percent graduate rate over four years,” Allen said. “As a state representative, I don’t think the [solution] is legislative in the short-term, but can be in the long term. In the short term, it’s coming up with ways to get the community involved. I’ve visited a number of schools, and what I see is there is not enough support staff in schools. So I think if we can build bridges for community members who want to be involved, it will make an impact very quickly. And as state representative, it’s part of the job to be on the phone and make these things happen.”

Regarding blight, Allen said a part of the problem is the demarcation zone set by The University of Pennsylvania, which stops at 50th and Baltimore. Allen contends that the university plays an active role in the upkeep of the area under 50th Street, but above 50th Street is left to the sole care of residents and business — neither of which have the community-altering resources that Penn does.

Allen did note that there have been discussions with Penn on extending the school’s service area, but there has been substantial community pushback, as residents fear even greater gentrification.

Still, Allen believes there are things that can be done now to curb blight.

“In the short term, we can try to partner with companies interested in developing the corridors. A lot of the time, people will call looking for [retail spaces] on Baltimore Avenue, but we have a big issue on the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue with blight,” Allen said, who is helping in that effort by leasing the space formerly occupied by Elena’s to Green’s Grow, a move Allen termed a “win-win” for Green’s Grow and the community. “When vacant land is utilized, there’s more foot traffic, and when there’s more foot traffic there’s safer streets, so it has a ripple effect.

“I think the best pathway is to get the community involved in organizing west of 50th Street. There has to be an organization that wants to take advantage.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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