Philadelphia’s political parties held ward reorganization meetings a couple of Mondays ago, choosing new ward leaders and other officers for the next four year term.
These contests are always worth watching because they offer a glimpse into the parties’ mood and direction in different parts of the city, the relative power of different factions of party activists, and the potential consequences for next year’s municipal elections.
Because party ward organizations endorse candidates in primaries, and control what are essentially regional political marketing machines, an active and organized ward’s support can translate into more votes for endorsed candidates in that region of the city. In most wards, the ward leader is the lone decider of the ward’s endorsements in primaries, so it really matters who occupies those seats for that reason.
In a growing number of “open wards” though, the question of who occupies the top spot is less important because candidate endorsement decisions are made based on a vote of the ward committee. In those places, the more interesting factor is which factions have a voting majority on the committee — something that can be difficult to discern based on a spreadsheet with thousands of precinct-level election results.
The results of the ward officer elections won’t be posted anywhere unless the parties decide to publish them. For that reason, Philadelphia 3.0 has been manually collecting information about the officer slates that were elected in each ward, and have at least some information for a little over half the wards so far. See our running list of partial ward officer election results. (If you don’t see your ward’s results on there but you know who won, please submit any information you have using this form.)
There’s still a lot of information to piece together over the next few weeks, but there are also some early highlights worth calling attention to in the meantime.
Quick note: this article will reference a lot of different ward numbers, and if you don’t yet have the entire Philly ward map committed to memory just yet, it’ll be helpful to reference this interactive map of the different wards.
Open Wards Movement Makes More Gains
Lizzy McLellan Ravitch and Katie Meyer at Billy Penn report that three new wards will join the ranks of the city’s 10 existing open wards where committee people vote on endorsements and other key ward business.
That has led to contested ward leader elections, and at least six wards saw notable leadership turnover this week.
Organized progressive candidates who explicitly want to open their wards won in Ward 15 (Fairmount), 24 (West Philly), and 39a (South Philly). Ward 43 in North Philly also saw an outsider candidate take power.
Establishment Democrats kept hold of power in three of the most hotly contested wards, the 46th (West Philly), 21st (Roxborough), and 22nd (Mt. Airy).
Progressives in those three districts, however, maintain the election processes were opaque and unclear — or even a “sham.”
There may be litigation coming in at least some of these battles, said Pat Christmas, of Open Wards Philadelphia. “There was a lot of on-the-ground organizing there that probably will not end after this week.”
These three will join the existing 10 open wards. As Tom Beck wrote for the South Philly Review back in 2018, the 2018 cycle saw the number of open wards double, so 2022’s gains leave the open wards movement with a small but significant faction that’s gained most of its momentum during the last decade.
Prior to May ’s elections, there were just five open wards in the city — all of them on the Democratic side. They were the 5th, 8th, 9th, 27th, and 30th wards. The 30th ward, which became an open ward in 1998, is the most recent to become an open ward. The other four became open wards at various points in the ’60s and ’70s. As a result, the city has only had five open wards since 1998.
According to Karen Bojar, an expert on Philadelphia’s ward system and author of Green Shoots of Democracy Within the Philadelphia Democratic Party, there are plans among ward leaders to add five more open wards to that list since the last election: the 1st, 2nd, 18th, 48th and 51st — all of them Democratic. There are currently no open wards on the Republican side in the city’s ward system, or plans to create any.
Three of those wards — the 1st, 2nd and 48th — are in South Philly. Most ward leaders of open wards see them as a fairer and more democratic way of going about elections in Philadelphia’s electoral system.
In addition to this, some wards that have been only part-way open are likely to tighten up their governing practices as open wards supporters were able to elect large enough majorities in a few places to pass real bylaws and move beyond handshake agreements.
South Philly (East)
The addition of ward 39A to the open wards roster, on eastern South Philly’s western side, creates an almost seamless belt of open wards all the way from South Philly to Fishtown. Ward 39B, on the eastern side, remains closed, but did see the number of open wards supporters grow even as the ward leadership remained the same.
The ward 39A committee elected Maureen Brown ward leader, who is Vice President of East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association, and was first elected as a committee person in 2018.
Just north of that in wards 1 and 2, covering Passyunk Square, Pennsport, Queen Village, and Bella Vista, the same basic coalitions held onto majorities on the committees, even though the top ward leadership changed in both. In the 1st ward, Kathleen Melville replaced Adams Rackes as 1st ward leader, and Julia Tackett replaced Colleen Puckett in the 2nd ward.
The 2nd ward saw a tight contest for ward leader between two factions of candidates, the other led by recent state Rep candidate Will Gross. Tackett — a staffer for Senator Nikil Saval who was preferred by the Reclaim political operation in the 2nd — won in the end, with an officer slate that’s a bit of a mix of each side’s supporters.
South Philly (West)
West of Broad Street, 2022 was a mostly quiet affair with no significant organizing efforts to unseat existing leadership, and few personnel change-ups.
The 30th ward (Graduate Hospital) returned ward leader Jon Adler to the top job, and south of there in Point Breeze, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson returned as the 36th ward leader. Below that, the 48th ward re-elected Anton Moore, who has been rumored to be exploring an At-Large City Council run. The 48th became an open ward with the election of Moore in the 48th, and the 30th is allegedly one of those that will be writing open ward bylaws.
According to sources present at the meeting, Councilmember Johnson gave a stirring speech in favor of closed wards at the 36th ward reorganization. It’s unclear as of now what transpired in the 26th Ward, covering Girard Estates. Please submit the results if you know.
In the two Center City wards, the 5th and the 8th, ward leaders Mike Boyle and Larry Farnese were both returned to their posts. The 8th ward saw more traditional-party-aligned figures from the ward elected to the other officer seats, while in the 5th ward about 5 open wards-aligned committee people were elected to officer positions.
Under the circumstances, we can expect more internal pressure to codify endorsement and voting procedures beyond the looser system that’s existed up to this point.
In the 18th ward, covering Fishtown and South Kensington, professional artist and Riverwards Area Democrats (RAD) board member Lauren Rinaldi defeated incumbent ward leader John Scott with a broad coalition of supporters. Scott had been elected narrowly in a mid-stream reorganization after 2018 ward leader Theresa Alicea stepped down last summer.
Scott mounted a campaign to return as ward leader despite losing his own division race decisively in a three-way contest that also featured Rinaldi and first-time candidate Kevin Parcell, another RAD board member. The rest of the officer slate could be characterized as a unity slate with representation from all parts of the ward and all the main political factions.
In upper Fishtown, Olde Richmond, and Port Richmond, wards 31 and 25 will remain closed wards, with the 31st ward committee returning former Bob Brady staffer and current Brendan Boyle staffer Peg Rzepski as ward leader, and the 25th reelecting Tommy Johnson.
On a positive note, the 24th ward covering Mantua is now an open ward led by Mantua-based civic leader DeWayne Drummond, thanks in part to a strong write-in campaign effort to get people into open seats. Drummond replaces outgoing ward leader Bernadette Wyche.
In more upsetting news, the 46th ward reorganization meeting devolved into total chaos with someone wrestling a microphone out of the hands of a committee person before she could nominate a second candidate to oppose incumbent ward leader and former Councilmember Jannie Blackwell. Videos of the incident exist, and 46th ward organizers challenged the proceedings last Saturday. Not surprisingly, the City Committee contest committee voted to reject all three of the challenges brought, and seated Blackwell as the 46th ward leader.
The organizers opposite Blackwell say they had a 23-person majority going into that Monday meeting, and had planned to elect Reclaim organizer Sergio Cea. Cea lost his own division-level race, as did former Councilmember Blackwell, who came in fourth out of four candidates in her own division. But Blackwell was able to be in the room for the reorganization meeting as the current ward leader presiding over the vote, while Cea was not.
Elsewhere in West Philly, 51st ward leader Greg Benjamin was reelected by that committee, as was 27th ward leader Carol Jenkins. In the 60th Ward, state Rep Amen Brown — who had narrowly won his primary election over Cass Green and Purple Blackwell — replaced Greg Spearman as ward leader. And further west in Overbrook, ward leader Steve Jones retained his seat without a challenge.
More races in West Philly have yet to be reported on our Google form, and we’re looking for your assistance!
Lower North Philly
One of the biggest open-wards shake-ups of 2022 happened in the 15th ward (covering Fairmount and Francisville) where former At-Large Councilmember and long-time Darrell Clarke ally Bill Greenlee lost his re-election bid for ward leader.
Greenlee declined to be re-nominated in advance of the meeting, according to sources, as he was aware he did not have the votes following the committee person elections there. Replacing Greenlee is Matthew Lowenthal, an organizer with the group Fairmount Votes, who’d been part of past organizing efforts by Greenlee critics. The rest of the committee, and the majority that ousted Greenlee, is a mix of members of various political groups including Fairmount Votes, Reclaim, and 5th Square, the urbanist political action committee.
Arguably the biggest beneficiary of Greenlee’s maintenance of a closed-ward endorsement process in the 15th ward was Council President Darrell Clarke. If Clarke were to see a viable primary challenger in 2023, he could have likely counted on Greenlee to put the full weight of the ward’s marketing machine to work for his re-election. But now with an open vote, and depending on who the other candidate was, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Clarke would receive that ward’s endorsement.
The other big North Philly race that could be consequential for City Council was the 43rd ward where state Rep. Danilo Burgos prevailed over Emilio Vasquez for ward leader in Hunting Park. The significance of this race was that Burgos had the support of 7th District Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and her long-time political foe and former ward leader Carlos Matos—now on the same side.
Burgos’s election as ward leader now makes it more likely that former Sanchez staffer Quetcy Lozada will be the Democratic Party’s chosen special election nominee for the 7th Council District once Councilmember Quinones-Sanchez resigns to run for Mayor, which is allegedly happening this summer. Out-going Rep. Angel Cruz is said to be vying for the Party’s nomination as well, and is rumored to be a 2023 candidate for the 7th District seat regardless of what happens in the special election.
In one of the most-watched ward leader races and the biggest in Northwest, 21st ward leader Lou Agre prevailed despite a well-organized challenge by long-time public education advocate Rebecca Poyourow.
Candidates recruited by Poyourow won a large fraction of the seats, such that during the three-week period between Election Day and the reorganization meeting, it was still unclear who might have a majority. In the end Agre won by 17 votes, and was able to elect all of his preferred officer candidates as a slate.
Agre has been one of the biggest public critics of the open wards movement, and supporters of his have been taking to social media since the reorganization to provide an ex-post intellectual defense of why popularly-elected committee people shouldn’t get to vote on the ward’s endorsements of candidates.
It’s a tough setback for open wards fans, but the tight race is a heartening sign that continued political changes will eventually turn the tide.
In the 22nd Ward in Germantown, 8th District Councilmember Cindy Bass narrowly won her reelection as ward leader, allegedly by about 3 votes. Opposite Bass for ward leader was Carla Cain with the support of her own slate of recruited candidates, and the 22nd Ward Open Caucus of people more explicitly affiliated with the open wards movement.
Former Bass staffer Patrick Jones — who momentarily ran against Bass in 2019 but didn’t make the ballot — was elected as the 59th ward leader covering part of Germantown, replacing former Councilmember Donna Reed Miller. And in the 38th ward in East Falls, ward leader Mark Green fended off a challenge from former At-Large Council candidate George Matysik, though Matysik was elected ward chair.
We’ve heard reports that some key Northwest Coalition wards changed leadership this year, but haven’t gotten enough submissions from locals yet to be able to report anything definitive.
Our Northeast submissions have been pretty light, but there are a few stories from that region that are worth flagging.
The 45th ward (Bridesburg) is now represented by a new ward learder, Shannon Farrell-Pakstis who ejected 2018 ward leader Harry Enggasser. Farrell-Pakstis is the leader of the Harrowgate Civic Association.
Due to confusion about the voting status of write-in winners who received fewer than 10 votes, Enggasser had punted on holding a vote at the scheduled Monday meeting, and the vote was taken instead at City Committee’s contest committee hearing last Saturday, where he lost.
In the 64th ward, former state Rep. candidate Sean Kilkenny replaced recent state Rep primary candidate Peter McDermott as ward leader, although McDermott stayed on as 1st Vice Chair.
As people continue to submit ward officer election results, we’ll continue to analyze what happened and publish more analysis and context about what happened, and how we might expect it to influence city politics and elections in 2023 and beyond.