After three terms in the state House, Democrat Tony Payton was poised for a fourth when the unthinkable happened: a ballot challenge before the May primary invalidated most of his petition signatures, causing the rising star to end his reelection bid.
Last month, Payton's term ended. The 31-year-old, once pegged as a reformer and part of the next generation of leaders, said he has not decided whether he will run for elected office again.
"My focus is being the best father I can be. That's my only focus, and, quite frankly, politically I'm not sure what's next, if there is a next," said Payton, whose son just turned 1 last week. "The honest answer is I don't know. I enjoyed serving; I did it for six years and now it's time to do something different, so long-term political viability is not a big concern of mine because I have a young son to look after and that's my most important job ever."
Payton has joined Malady & Wooten LLP, a lobbying firm based in Harrisburg, but has not ruled out a return to politics.
Payton, who served as president of the Pennsylvania Young Democrats, was first elected in 2006 to replace retiring state Rep. Bill Rieger in the 179th Legislative District, which includes Frankford, Oxford Circle, Hunting Park, Olney and Feltonville.
As a lawmaker, Payton introduced legislation to create the Pennsylvania Youth Commission and co-sponsored the REACH scholarship initiative, which would have given a free education to any Pennsylvania student with a 3.0 GPA and good attendance. "Tony is a very smart guy and someone who cares passionately about public policy," said state Rep. Brendan Boyle, of Philadelphia.
Change from outside
While running for office may or may not be in his future, Payton vowed not to disappear, especially on certain issues.
“I’ll still be helping people,” he said. “People still reach out to me for a number of things, so helping people is not something that ended on Nov. 30.”
Given the size of the Legislature, Payton may just be as effective as a citizen as he was as a legislator, according to political consultant Larry Ceisler.
“I just think he’s going to make contributions in another way,” Ceisler said. “Today, being a member of the state House, unless you get a lot of seniority or have an influential committee assignment, truthfully it doesn’t mean much. Truthfully, one can do much more outside elected office like that.”