For the half dozen years he was a craps dealer in Connecticut and Atlantic City, Billy Ciancaglini learned about how odds work.
Despite that knowledge, he thinks he will embarrass Jim Kenney on November 5 in the race for mayor.
Ciancaglini, 48, as a Republican, is on the short end of a 7-1 registration edge. With two weeks to go, there has been little notice of this race, he doesn’t have money for paid media and hasn’t figured out how to get free media.
Several months ago, I casually asked Billy C, as he likes to be called, to handicap his chances. He admitted they were poor.
He now has a shot, he tells me as we sit down last week in his cubicle in a Society Hill shared office space. The former gym rat welcomes me with a handshake that could crack walnuts. He’s 5-8, muscular and built like a fire plug.
Why the positive outlook now, I ask?
“A lot of things have happened,” he says. “The city has started to go downhill as far as violent crime, opioids and taxes. People are fed up with it.”
He settles in behind a desk in the office that overlooks South 3rd St.
“We need less crime and more justice,” he says. “Now we have the opposite.”
Crime, he knows about. He is a criminal defense attorney who calls Joe Santaguida — best known as a storied Philadelphia mob lawyer — a mentor, friend and former employer. A painting of Santaguida occupies one wall of his office.
Ciancaglini came to the law late. A life-long South Philadelphian, he attended St. John Neumann, then enrolled in LaSalle. He was 17 and figured he wasn’t ready for higher education. “It didn’t seem right to stay there and drift aimlessly,” he says.
He took a long sabbatical in the casino industry, where his mother, Linda, already worked. His late father, Anthony, had been an iron worker, as is his younger brother, Michael.
Ciancaglini also came to the Republican Party late, only 18 months ago.
“The Democratic Party moved away from what I believe in,” he says. “The soda tax, Sanctuary City, injection sites, all together are things I never signed up for.”
He says he won’t let a political party “dictate what I believe,” and that includes Republicans.
He will vote for Donald Trump, he says, but “I’m not campaigning for him, I’m not knocking on doors.”
His path to the candidacy was rocky. Some would say outright weird.
The party’s first choice was another Democrat turncoat, Daphne Goggins, the first African-American woman to be nominated for the job by the GOP. She eventually admitted to mental problems and possibly defrauding the government on disability payments.
When Goggins, who had complained about a lack of party support, dropped out of the race, Ciancaglini dropped in.
And now he is complaining about a lack of party support.
What’s up, I ask GOP Chair Michael Meehan.
What’s up is down, meaning the GOP, he tells me.
The party is “dysfunctional,” he says. “Some people who are ward leaders should be Democrats, but the Democrats don’t want them.”
When it was time to endorse candidates, they couldn’t raise a quorum, Meehan says. I am beginning to feel like a priest taking confession.
One candidate did get endorsed — Brian O’Neill, who is the long-time District Councilman in the Northeast. The party made no endorsements for At-Large Council candidates, but would like to keep the two seats held by David Oh and Al Taubenberger.
Meehan likes Ciancaglini, who won the primary, but the party has no money to give him for TV commercials.
“Who would give us money?” the Republican chair asks me.
The nomination process “was not fun,” Ciancaglini understates, “but I think I’ve done the right thing by putting it in the past. I’m not blaming anyone, I’m trying my best to be a team player.”
But in the next breath he says, “Not everyone in the Republican Party wants to be a team player.”
Not only have they not helped his campaign, he says, some “have gone out of their way to work against my campaign.”
Those might be the wannabe Democrats Meehan alluded to.
So how can he possibly win?
He’s counting on everyone who promises to vote for him to bring an plus 1 to the polls — and for Kenney’s overconfident forces to stay home.
Kenney isn’t advertising on TV — yes, it will come — and the gutless mayor refuses to debate Ciancaglini.
“He simply doesn’t want to answer questions on a variety of topics — how he deleted text messages not once, but twice, address the illegal immigrant he kept here who repeatedly raped a 5-year-old child and numerous other issues. He wants to make pretend an election is not happening in November, but he will be aware of it when he loses,” Ciancaglini says with bravado.
OK — that’s the politics. How about the policies?
Soda tax. Deeply unpopular, Ciancaglini needs Council to overturn it. I didn’t work in a casino, but that’s a long shot.
So-called “safe” injection sites. He will never permit “the opening of a building and let them shoot illegal drugs into their body.”
Instead, he supports a three-prong attack: Drug rehabilitation, job training, temporary housing. These services will be provided by existing agencies, and he would extend the services to homeless veterans.
Sanctuary City: Just like house doors have locks, we have to check who is coming in, he says, and he would cooperate with ICE to remove foreign felons — fast. As mayor he will attend the naturalization ceremony for immigrants who do the right thing and come here the right way.
Crime Rate: In what he says will be the “oooooo factor,” he would expand stop and frisk to get illegal guns off the street. “I’m not asking for racial profiling. I am asking officers to use their judgment,” he says.
Reducing Poverty: That requires jobs. He has no solution other than making Philadelphia more business friendly.
Taxes: “We haven’t received any new services in a while, so I don’t know why homeowners are being gouged,” he says.
For the record, Kenney has increased the city budget 25% — from $4 to $5 billion in his term. Is everything in your life 25% better?
That’s what Billy C is asking.
A vote for Kenney is a vote for more of the same.