The Twitter account of state Rep. Dwight Evans, of Northwest Philly's 203rd District, is mostly retweets of news stories, with the occasional inspirational quote thrown in. So I wasn't expecting much when I clicked the "follow" button on his profile a few weeks ago. To my surprise, I was informed by a secretary that, as his 1,500th follower, my click had won me a free lunch and an official tour of Ogontz Avenue with the big man himself.
We met at the Green Soul restaurant, in a building owned by a community development corporation he helped found — home territory for sure. Ever the champion of West Oak Lane, the neighborhood he calls a "laboratory" for his philosophy of jump-starting urban commercial growth with government investment, Evans moved easily among patrons, shaking hands and hugging constituents. After 31 years in office, he's known many of them since he was a "hundred pounds lighter and still had hair."
Stopping in at neighborhood businesses, he proudly announced he'd met me through Twitter. One proprietor jabbed that Evans had just mastered texting. Asked if he actually writes all his tweets, Evans admitted he splits the duty with a staffer.
Still, he says, social media is a key part of his strategy to promote urban neighborhoods, forced to "compete with places like KOP" and sell themselves as "niche markets." He saw his state dollars as helping to "build a product" that could be promoted this way. It sounds like a decent plan. But critics have long accused Evans of spending inordinate amounts of money on his pet project of revitalizing Ogontz Avenue. Evans dismissed the idea, saying, "People will always question how you got the money rather than look at the outcomes."
It's kind of the answer you'd expect. After all, despite our social media meet cute and the facade of increased accessibility social media offers, a politician is still a politician.