By Pete Kennedy
Billy Ciancaglini says he barely has time to sleep.
The 48-year-old defense lawyer is keeping a busy campaign schedule as the Republican nominee for mayor of Philadelphia.
Ciancaglini frames his candidacy as an attempt to rescue the city from what he describes as a nightmare.
“The city I grew up in had no soda tax closing down stores and costing jobs. It didn’t harbor illegal immigrants from law enforcement, and it didn’t have buildings where you could legally fill your body with illegal drugs,” he said, referring to supervised injection sites the city wants
Ciancaglini, who worked as a casino dealer before going to law school in his late 20s, faces steep odds in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans about 7 to 1. But he clearly isn’t afraid of a fight, and his capture of the GOP nomination was unlikely, too. He was a Democrat until only recently, and in fact ran for Common Pleas Court judge as a Democrat in 2015. Before he got the mayoral nod, Republican City Committee ward leaders endorsed another candidate, who Ciancaglini openly criticized and who ended up withdrawing from the race.
Despite the lopsided party registration in the city, he’s optimistic about his chances in the November election. And he doesn’t hide his animosity toward the man he hopes to unseat, Mayor Jim Kenney. The mayor refused to debate Ciancaglini and accused him of associating with white supremacists, citing an anonymous claim published by a website called Unicorn Riot.
Ciancaglini denied the accusation, saying it runs counter to his history of representing black and Latino clients, often pro bono.
“[Kenney] won’t debate because he’s a coward who doesn’t want to be questioned on missing city funds and damaging policies,” Ciancaglini said. “This is a mayor who has been in Philadelphia politics for decades and recently erased his text messages and claimed he didn’t know that he wasn’t allowed. Then he did it a second time. He’s a terrible person.”
In his campaign, Ciancaglini has emphasized his working-class roots.
“I was born at 11th and Bigler and currently live at 12th and Bigler. For most people in South Philly, that’s about as far as we move from our childhood homes,” he said. “I was raised in a working-class family, took out student loans, which I’m still repaying, and saved to buy a house,” he said. “I don’t have much, but I’ve worked for and earned everything I have.”
He attended Stella Maris School, since shuttered, and St. John Neumann Catholic High School. He spent a decade working in casinos before returning to finish his bachelor’s degree at La Salle University. He then earned a juris doctorate at Temple University Law School and eventually opened up his own defense firm.
In 2017, Ciancaglini was in Las Vegas when the mass shooting occurred at the Route 91 Harvest music festival.
“The entire city was in a panic. First, being so close when the shots were being fired was terrifying. No one was sure where they were coming from or which direction to run. Then, word spread from building to building, and it was incorrectly thought that the shooter was in each hotel, causing hundreds to flee in every direction and spreading panic,” he said.
“When I finally got back to my room, I kept a chair propped up against the hotel door as an extra precaution,” he added. “No one should ever have to be that scared, let alone an entire city.”
After his unsuccessful run for judge, Ciancaglini flirted with running for state representative in the 184th District, but he ultimately decided his goal was a position
in which he could serve the entire city.
If elected mayor, he said he would immediately end the sanctuary city policy that limits local law enforcement cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and stop supervised injection sites. He wants to work to end the soda tax, although he knows that’s not a goal he can accomplish on his own. He also wants to re-evaluate every non-elected job in the city.
Among his other goals: lowering property taxes, expanding charter schools, and changing the tax abatement program to encourage city residents to invest in their own neighborhoods. He also aims to lower the crime rate by instituting stop-and-frisk searches to get illegal guns off the street.
On the profile of his very active Facebook page, Ciancaglini wrote: “My birth certificate reads ‘William Ciancaglini,’ but I have been walking the streets of South Philly all my life and everyone calls me ‘Billy,’ so that’s what you’ll see on the ballot.
“Also, BillyforPhilly.com had a much better ring to it.” IAH