PHILADELPHIA—Joe Sestak is an unconventional Senate candidate, and his campaign is off to an unconventional start.
The former congressman and decorated former Navy admiral kicked off his Senate campaign in Philadelphia on Wednesday, but he didn't tell anyone at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee about his plans. He blames the leadership of both parties for dysfunction and gridlock in Washington, even though his campaign against Sen. Pat Toomey could determine which party controls the Senate in 2016. And after announcing his campaign, he launched a 422-mile walking tour across the state that took just him, two staffers, and this reporter into one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city.
"We didn't tell anybody what we were doing in Washington about the event today. Why? It's not about them. It's about people," Sestak said in an interview with National Journal while walking through the abandoned streets of Kensington, several miles from Center City. "It's simple. What people in Washington worry about—they forget about the people. They forget the mission. The Democratic Party isn't any good unless they know it's about people!"
During an hourlong interview walking across Philadelphia, Sestak underscored how important it was that he didn't hire any professional operatives from Washington to staff his campaign. Pisey Tan, his master of ceremonies at the kickoff event, was a sergeant who lost both his legs in Iraq and has never worked on a political campaign. His spokesperson, Danielle Lynch, was a reporter for the local Delaware County Daily Times. Operations manager Rainie Williams, who accompanied us through the city, was an accomplished former student of Sestak's at Cheyney University who spent time in prison for dealing drugs in the very neighborhoods we were walking through. ("We're now officially in north Philadelphia," Williams told us during the halfway point of the hike. "When we get to Kensington—my advice is to stay on the right because the dope is sold under the train tracks.")