What’s My Age Again? Drawn-Out Residency Hearing Provides Juicy Insight to 197 State Rep Race
Candidate Fred Ramirez was unclear if he’s turning 60 or 70 this year, spends many months each year out-of-state, says his neighborhood “is not exactly Chestnut Hill,” does his laundry on weekends at an apartment on Ridge Ave.
On February 8th, Fred Ramirez, Democratic hopeful for PA State Rep. of the 197th, stood in court to defend himself in a residency hearing. The special election candidate, handpicked by his predecessor, the embattled Leslie Acosta, was asked to prove to the court that he was in fact a resident in the district he plans on representing.
Like a long, bad movie with a few good scenes, the audience shared a bunch of quizzical looks, eyerolls and head nods throughout the hearing. A highly-promoted cameo didn’t happen, but the star saved the show with a great performance and the supporting cast was colorful to say the least. We’ll give it two stars out of four.
But this particular day in court was really just an episode in a long soap opera.
There was speculation that Acosta would be called to testify against Ramirez after being served a summons earlier in the week. As the last season of “As PA’s 197th District Turns” ended we learned that residents had unwittingly re-elected, Acosta, a convicted felon, to office. Of course, no one in Harrisburg or the city’s Democratic Party really cared.
Fred Ramirez maneuvered his way into the pole position for the special election despite some opposition within the Democratic Party. Regular viewers of “197th Turns” know Ramirez as a local business leader, who occasionally tries to run for office. New viewers may not be as familiar with him.
According to Ramirez, he takes residence in 430 W. Annsbury St., which falls in the 197th Legislative District. According to election rules, a State Rep. must reside in the district they represent for at least one year. If it is found that Ramirez does not live in the 197th District, he can not run for that seat.
Ilbana Cruz, who lives across the street from the house Ramirez owns and claims he lives in, said, “I thought nobody lived there.”
Ramirez’s attorney, Adam Bonin, pointed out to Cruz that she could not be possibly be watching 24-7, but she did not agree. “Ever since I got shot I pay attention,” Cruz said. “It’s like a phobia of mine.”
Following that response, Bonin wisely moved on.
Cruz and Ramirez could both be telling the truth. Ramirez, by his own estimates in his testimony, spends at least 16 weeks and up to 35 weeks a year in Orlando and Puerto Rico. Each week when he’s actually in Philly, he spends two days at a Ridge Avenue apartment doing his laundry with his 17-year old daughter (she refuses to come to his home in the 197th, citing a police raid on a home nearby three years ago). He also spends “one to two days, maybe” at his girlfriend’s apartment in Bristol.
Later in the hearing, a strange exchange also took place regarding Ramirez’s age. On cross examination by Linda Kerns, Ramirez gave conflicting answers to his birthdate — not over June or July, but whether he was born in 1947 or 1957.
“What’s your date-of-birth, Mr. Ramirez?” Kerns asked.
“There’s always been a mixup between ‘47 and ‘57,” Ramirez answered. “That’s because my father …”
But Kerns cut him off.
“Mr. Ramirez, what’s your date-of-birth?” the attorney asked.
“My real date-of-birth is, uhh, ‘57,” Ramirez answered. Some in the galley murmured.
For clarification Kerns asked, “1957?”
“Yes, my father made a big mistake in those days [with recording the date officially],” Ramirez explained.
“So you’re born in 1957?” Kerns asked.
“Yes,” Ramirez answered.
Kerns then asked Ramirez to look at his driver’s license.
“So you were born in 1957, Mr. Ramirez?” Kerns asked again.
“I was born in ‘57 and my father registered me wrong,” he answered. “And since school days, they wanted me to use ‘47. So I used ‘47.”
Kerns, referring to three successive Ramirez driver’s licenses (2008, ‘11, ‘15) asked, “You knowingly listed your birthdate wrong as 1947?”
“No! That was my birth registration date, ‘47,” he answered. “My father did it wrong in Puerto Rico, back in the day. But that is my birth date.”
Kerns asked, “the 1947?”
“Yes,” he said.
“But a few minutes ago you said [it was] 1957,” Kerns said.
“Because my father registered me with the wrong date,” Ramirez said. “My birth date is ‘47.”
The galley murmur picked up a bit.
“You said you were born in 1957,” Kerns said.
“My father registered me wrong. I was born in ‘47, in Puerto Rico,” he clarified.
“So why did you list 1957 on your child abuse clearance?” Kerns asked, referencing Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance paperwork Ramirez had filled out. Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance paperwork must be filled out by certain individuals in order to work or volunteer with children.
“That must’ve been a typo… or something,” he said. “This has come up before. But ‘47 is the date.”
Further exchange revealed that the first birth certificate for Ramirez reads 1957 but the second reads 1947.
“So do you use those [dates] interchangeably?” Kerns asked.
“No, ‘47,” he answered.
“Except on the child abuse clearance,” Kerns said.
Ramirez reiterated that it was a “typo or something.”
Most other testimony revolved around low water and electric usage and witnesses Ramirez brought forth. One of those witnesses was a self-described homeless man who does occasional work at Ramirez’s Annsbury property and is also registered to vote there.
Two of the witnesses needed interpreters. During their testimony some in the courtroom said they observed Ramirez and an assistant seated behind him “coaching” the witnesses. There certainly was a few nodding heads as the interpreter translated Bonin’s questions, but it was not clear if it was just a natural agreeing with what was said or secretly communicating with the witnesses. One member of the galley acknowledged that he “reported it to the courtroom staff,” who in turn agreed to keep an eye on it for the rest of the day. One employee did move to a seat with a better vantage point as testimony continued.
Commonwealth Judge Anne Covey wants all paperwork filed by Monday, February 13th so she can render her decision.
Spirit News will continue to report on the circus act that has become the 197th District race.