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The Boyle Brothers Go to Harrisburg

Your men in Harrisburg, Brendan, left, and Kevin Boyle. Photo by Katherine Gilbert

Your men in Harrisburg, Brendan, left, and Kevin Boyle. Photo by Katherine Gilbert

A pair of Irish-American brothers from Olney are heading to Harrisburg—and the record books—as the only brothers ever to serve together in the state assembly since it was founded in 1682.

On Tuesday, the voters in the 170th and 172nd district decided they wanted a guy named Boyle to represent them in Harrisburg. Kevin Boyle, in his first election as a candidate, beat beleagured Rep. John Perzel (who represented the 170th since before the 30-year-old Boyle was born), to join older brother, Brendan, who handily won his second term as state rep from the 172nd.

The Boyles, both Democrats, bucked the trend that put the GOP in charge of the state from the top down. Brendan’s district includes parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Kevin’s district encompasses more of Northeast Philadelphia, including Mayfair, Tacony, Fox Chase and Holmesburg.

The Boyle brothers have already been compared to the Kennedys, but they may have more in common with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack: the Tappet Brothers of NPR’s funny car repair show, “Car Talk.” The perpetually joking Magliozzis end their show with the trademark: “Don’t drive like my brother.” “And don’t drive like MY brother.”

Because, of course, every reporter in the world has asked them if they plan to carpool down the turnpike to the state capital. Even when they’re asked separately, both Boyles respond the same way. “I don’t know about that,” says Kevin. “I’m a much better driver than he is.” Says Brendan, “I have a great deal of trust in my brother when it comes to matters of public policy, but not so much in his driving.”

But Brendan did allow that sharing an office in Harrisburg—to save money during the state’s budget crunch—is “not out of the question. We shared a small apartment when we both went to Harvard.”

The Boyles, the sons of Irish immigrants (father Francis is from Donegal, mother Eileen from Sligo) and union workers, are the first in the family to go to college and they went big. Both Cardinal Dougherty grads, Brendan went to Notre Dame University and got his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard; Kevin, a LaSalle grad, earned his master’s in education policy from Harvard. Brendan is married; his wife Jennifer is a school teacher. Kevin is engaged and will be traveling to Ireland with his fiancé, Caitlyn Crotty, and the entire family in April to be married in his father’s hometown, Glencolumbcille.

The brothers get along like best friends. “We talk every day, a couple of times a day,a nd always about sports and politics,” says Brendan. “It’s always been that way. Even at Thanksgiving dinner that’s what we pretty much talk about—much to the annoyance of our parents.”

And to say that Brendan trusts his younger brother’s judgment is an understatement. Kevin Boyle was his brother’s campaign manager when he replaced longtime Republican incumbent George Kenney, who retired, two years ago.

Kevin hadn’t planned to make a run for public office himself until he was 35. Then something happened that made him think he didn’t have a choice. “When I saw that then State Rep. Perzel was arrested on 82 counts [of using public money for campaign purposes] and was still running for re-election, I thought there was clearly something wrong with that,” Kevin says. “Frankly, I was amazed he would do it but then there are a lot of people who were afraid to take him on because of his reputation. He can be intimidating. I have a thick skin so I decided to do it.”

Kevin Boyle may be a neophyte legislator but he’s seen both politics government from the inside. For three years he served as Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee’s legislative director where he was involved in drafting important legislation, including the ban on cellphone use while driving and a law prohibiting businesses from firing victims of domestic violence and requiring them to get up to 8 weeks unpaid leave. He’s also been to Washington where he met with national lawmakers as an advocate for the Alliance for Children and Families, the nation’s second largest association for families services organizations.

Both Boyles see Pennyslvania’s economy—and its $5 billion budget deficit– as their overwhelming challenge in the new two years. “That’s going to be a long-term goal,” says Kevin Boyle grimly. His brother agrees. “We’ve gone through the last two years with big budget deficits without having to raise taxes, because we used our rainy day fund and $1 billion in cuts, which helped us avoid the bad consequences we’ve seen in states like Florida, New York, and California. We’ve been able to weather the storm,” says Brendan. “In an overall bleak economy, that at least is good news.”

Not surprising, both Boyles have a love for their Irish heritage and keen interest in Irish politics. Their grandfather, a veteran of Ireland’s war for independence, was active in the Fianna Fail, the largest political party in Ireland. And the Irish have also taken an interest in the Boyles. They’ve been interviewed by the Donegal Democrat newspaper and will be on talk radio in Dublin on Monday.

Brendan is exploring other ways his Irish roots can benefit both Ireland and his Pennsylvania constituents.

“I’ve formed a relationship with Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and we’ve identified over 100 Irish companies who have operations right here in Pennsylvania,” he explains. “I’m working to strengthen the bilateral relationship with the two countries. And although I’m a state official, I’ll do anything I can on immigration issues to help Irish immigrants to go back home and come back without any trouble.”

He points out that during the last legislative session, he was the prime sponsor of a bill making March Irish Heritage Month in Pennsylvania.

Then a thought a occurs to him. “You know, I better get that in quickly before my brother steals it from me.” He laughs. “Before, we were fighting over Nintendo. Now we’ll be fighting over bills. I’m sure we’ll work it out.”

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