By Maria Panaritis
Feb 15, 2020 – I meet Jamie Perrapato on a sidewalk in Conshohocken. The 48-year-old ex-commercial litigator, wife, mom, and cat owner is in black lycra and battle-ready leather boots — the kind with chunky heels perfect for pounding the pavement as you tell Republican incumbents across Pennsylvania: We are coming for you.
She’s the woman who, when she’d taken my call a few days earlier, had moved onto the ice-cold porch outside her Bala Cynwyd house while hunching over a laptop. I’d asked if everything was OK when I heard emergency sirens. Yep; she was just restlessly looking for a spreadsheet with voter-registration splits in towns where her troops are doing battle this year.
“You look for a Republican in the Southeast,” she’d said in a no-nonsense murmur. “We’re coming.”
This same Formerly Nonpolitical Citizen, in her sardonic rasp of a voice, describes the moderate Republicans she’s helped bounce out of GOP control in recent years as though they were nothing more than outdated G.I. Joe toys: “We picked a lot of the fiscal Republicans up.”
President Trump may be the Teflon beast who gets stronger the more radioactive hits he takes, but look at the Godzilla he’s awakened in Pennsylvania: Women-insurgents like Jamie Perrapato in the formerly saltine-bland suburbs of Philadelphia.
Jamie Perrapato, 48, of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., Executive Director for Turn PA Blue, instructs a volunteer canvassing door-to-door for Democratic electoral candidates in Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
These are I’m-no-longer-staying-quiet women. And they’ve formed a PAC that is throwing knockout punches.
Perrapato helped found Turn PA Blue after Trump became president. She did this with zero prior political-organizing experience. Just a legal degree, Marvel-hero-type determination, dark sense of humor, and the competitive sensibility of an A-type personality.
Just a few years in, the group has a fearsome reputation.
Jamie Perrapato, left, Executive Director of Turn PA Blue, and Andrea Koplove, right, Director of Engagement and Partnerships of Turn PA Blue, in a workspace in Conshohocken, PA, February 04, 2020. .JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Its 60,000-strong email list of volunteers helped Democrats in Pennsylvania flip the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, helped oust or wound many state House and Senate Republicans that same year, and helped Democrats win majorities last fall in long-Republican-controlled counties surrounding Philadelphia.
“Their field efforts, I don’t think anyone can compete with them right now,” said Delaware County State Rep. Leanne Krueger, who’s leading state Democratic Party fund-raising efforts to flip the GOP-controlled House in Harrisburg this fall.
Andrea Koplove, of Chestnut Hill, director for engagement for Turn PA Blue, helps a volunteer find voter addresses while canvassing for a Pa. House Democratic candidate in Northeast Philadelphia on Feb. 8, 2020. TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
When Perrapato talks, she has what looks and sounds like a half-smile on her face at all times. Like when I ask why grassroots efforts to oust Trump’s brand of GOP politics have been led overwhelmingly since 2016 by women (unlike the all-male Thunderdome that is Republican political power).
“Where are the men our age?” she says, repeating my question. She flicks her fingers into air quotes and, with another of her bemused smiles, quips: “I guess they have to ‘work.’ ”
Nancy Guenst, Mayor of Hatboro, Pa., canvasses with Turn PA Blue on Feb. 8, ahead of a special election next month in which the Democrat hopes to win the historically Republican 152nd Pa. House seat straddling Bucks County and Northeast Philadelphia.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
I meet Perrapato and one of her deputies, 44-year-old Chestnut Hill lawyer Andrea Koplove, at a house that actually belongs to a guy who is helping them, big-time. He’s Berks County high school history teacher Brian Burychka — Turn PA Blue’s operations director. He has converted his third-floor attic into the war room we are about to enter.
As we move through his meticulous house, Perrapato tells me Brian is “single — if any ladies want to know that.” Again with the jokey-not-jokey delivery.
She marches us past a dining-room table covered with clipboards and candidate nominating petitions. I spy a Duran Duran album cover topping a collection of vinyl leaning against a wall. Once upstairs, we are surrounded by legislative maps on eaves, a conference table, multiple computers, and the homey touch of a Phillies blanket on a futon.
Turn PA Blue executive director Jamie Perrapato, left, with canvassing volunteer Joe McMonagle, of Bryn Mawr, and fellow Turn PA Blue manager Andrea Koplove, of Chestnut Hill, gathering ballot petition signatures for Democratic state House candidate Nancy Guenst in Northeast Philadelphia earlier this month. TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
She and Koplove couldn’t do any of this if their husbands weren’t assuming kid and house duty on weekends. It’s kid talk, actually, that gets us onto that subject. It’s the only kind of small talk they’ll indulge, usually. I ask Koplove where she grew up (Philly), went to school (Penn Charter, Penn, Temple Law), and other personal background information. Perrapato (Trenton State, Villanova Law) says she’s hearing some of this for the first time.
I’ve heard this before from other women leading the Democratic charge in suburbia: They are ALL BUSINESS when it comes to politics. No golf, beers, or blah blah blah.
“Between us,” Perrapato said, “we have six kids, five pets, two husbands, a sh– ton of carpools, and I-don’t-know-how-many candidates.”
Jamie Perrapato and Andrew Koplove at a recent Turn PA Blue huddle. JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
This PAC, with about $150,000 cash on hand, is a clearinghouse where energized Democratic volunteers are connected with candidates and campaigns. The group takes no marching orders from the party, which makes them nimble. I talked to moderate and progressive party leaders. Both hailed the group.
“Jamie Perrapato,” said Krueger, who is running the state House Democratic Campaign Committee, “is an energetic force to be reckoned with.”
This year, Turn PA Blue is zeroing in on turning Pennsylvania’s Republican-dominated state legislature blue. The state House and Senate have influence over school funding, abortion, and the upcoming drawing of legislative districts after the census.
It can be intimidating to reach out and get involved, especially if you haven’t done it before. We’re here to help. Fill out this short form to request to speak with a friendly Turn PA Blue team member about volunteer opportunities. http://bit.ly/TPABvolunteer
Volunteers are pouring in to help win the 18th District state House seat in Bucks County in a special election being held on St. Patrick’s Day. That race is to fill a seat vacated by Republican Gene DiGirolamo.
“Yale Dems are gonna come and canvass …”
“We have a group coming next weekend from Brooklyn …”
“We have 15,000 postcards that are being written right now … ”
Andrea Koplove, left, and Jamie Perrapato. Neither was politically active before Donald Trump’s win in 2016. Now, they help lead a powerful Democratic PAC of volunteers in Pennsylvania. JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
All this and not even November yet.
All this because a beast poked a sleeping giant.