No matter what else happens in the 2023 elections, one thing is for sure: there are going to be a lot of new faces on City Council in 2024.
The combination of the open Mayoral seat with the city’s resign-to-run law is driving a lot of the action in the upcoming primaries, where as many as six City Council members could eventually resign their seats to run for Mayor. So far five members elected in the last cycle have resigned, and Republican David Oh is expected to resign as well in February to run for the Republican nomination for mayor.
The glut of open seats is expected to yield a crowded field in the At-Large race, and some District seat primaries to boot. There have been a few news articles so far keeping a tally of the declared candidates for City Council, but the rumor mill’s candidate pool is quite a bit larger than what’s been reported, so in the service of trying to describe the true state of the race, here is a rundown of what the chattering class is saying.
The overall state of the District races is that there are very few high-quality District challengers who are expected to be very competitive, but, with the exception of the 1st District, the 4th District, and the 6th District, at least one other person besides the incumbent is running in all of the other districts.
Incumbent Councilmember Mark Squilla briefly drew a challenge from former Reclaim Philadelphia political director Amanda McIllmurray, who then switched to the At-Large race after a brief stint as a 1st District candidate. It’s unclear exactly why this happened, but some of the rumors about it have gestured in the direction of pressure from unions and allied elected officials to bow out. As of now, no other names have been floating around for the 1st District.
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, fresh off of being acquitted of federal corruption charges, is drawing a challenge from Chamara “Boogie Rose” Cotton — a 33-year-old lifelong resident of the Point Breeze and Grays Ferry area. Cotton has been active with the coalition organizing for a community benefits agreement for the Hilco site in South Philly, as a member of Society’s Roses alongside Philly Thrive, an environmental justice advocacy group. Cotton has also been active with the Community Healing Garden at 31st and Wharton. Prior to getting in the race, she was a teacher in the Philadelphia School District.
Since winning the seat in 2011, Johnson has never drawn a Black challenger who grew up in the 2nd District, however, so the primary politics will be different than in past cycles, if Cotton gets on the ballot.
While the jury ultimately acquitted Johnson of the charges brought against him, the trial did unearth a lot of unflattering behavior that, while apparently not rising to the level of criminality, could still be electorally potent. Instead, the conventional wisdom has been that the acquittal has greatly reduced Johnson’s odds of drawing a challenger at all, despite the 2nd District’s demographic picture becoming somewhat less favorable to him in redistricting. Since winning the seat in 2011, Johnson has never drawn a Black challenger who grew up in the 2nd District, however, so the primary politics will be different than in past cycles, if Cotton gets on the ballot.
First-term Councilmember Jamie Gauthier is expected to draw a challenge from Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, an umbrella organization representing commercial corridor businesses on a variety of corridors across the district. Jones emerged as a public critic of Councilmember Gauthier over the last few years, drawing contrasts with her further-left positions on housing and zoning, and police and public safety, among other issues. Both Jones and state Rep. Amen Brown have been staking out more intentionally-moderate public positioning than Gauthier since 2019, and both were rumored to be exploring the 3rd District race all year. Brown has since turned his attention to the Mayoral primary.
Jones emerged as a public critic of Councilmember Gauthier over the last few years, drawing contrasts with her further-left positions on housing and zoning, and police and public safety, among other issues.
In 2019, Gauthier had won an upset election over long-serving member Jannie Blackwell by 12 points as a first-time candidate, running particularly strongly in University City and surrounding neighborhoods, and fighting Councilmember Blackwell to a draw in the western portion of the district. [Full disclosure: Philly 3.0 ran an independent expenditure campaign in support of Councilmember Gauthier in the 2019 primary.]
Jones is betting that the Blackwell constituency still has some political juice, however, and could swing against Gauthier more heavily than in 2019. Purple Blackwell, spouse of Tommy Blackwell, Lucien’s grandson, is also rumored to be pursuing a run.
There was a brief window where former Dwight Evans challenger Alexandra Hunt was rumored to be planning a run against Curtis Jones. But Hunt is now running for Controller. (On the Controller front, Acting Controller Christine Brady lost her bid to run for Controller without first resigning from the office, and rumor has it that she isn’t planning on resigning. Jack Inacker, Karen Javaruski, Gregg Kravitz, and Dwight Evans’s former chief of staff Anuj Gupta are rumored to be considering getting into the Controller primary.)
Council President Darrell Clarke has one declared challenger, and could perhaps draw more. One of the candidates has already declared, Jon Hankins, who is a young member of the PA Democratic State Committee who runs the Mr. Philadelphia fashion label. Young developer Logan Kramer has also been discussing his interest in the race. Clarke’s presumed successor, State Rep. Donna Bullock, has all but ruled out running for the seat.
Council President Clarke, who always likes to keep everyone guessing, has been tight-lipped about his reelection plans all year.
Most interesting, however, is the possible addition of State Senator Sharif Street’s staffer Aissia Richardson, who has been having some meetings with ward leaders around town where she has said she is exploring a run for the 5th District. Publicly at least, the relationship between Darrell Clarke and Senator Street has seemed to be a very positive one, so it would be odd to see an adversarial move from the Street camp — unless what is happening is more akin to a friendly hand-off of the seat from Clarke, if he is planning on retiring. Council President Clarke, who always likes to keep everyone guessing, has been tight-lipped about his reelection plans all year, and could wait until just before petition period — or even a bit into petition period — to make a decision.
Recently vacated by Maria Quiñones Sánchez to pursue her campaign for Mayor, former MQS chief of staff Quetcy Lozada has been sworn in after winning the special election in November. In the lead-up to the Democratic Party’s selection of a nominee for that seat, Lozada and former state Rep. Angel Cruz were vying for ward committee support in the wards overlapping the 7th District, and sources close to those lobbying efforts all thought the race to be pretty close.
Lozada’s nomination was significant because it was the first time in four election cycles when the Democratic Party organizations backed a candidate from the MQS faction in the District.
Lozada’s nomination was significant because it was the first time in four election cycles when the Democratic Party organizations backed a candidate from the MQS faction in the District. Rep. Cruz had run against Councilmember Sanchez in 2019 with the Party’s support, and is expected to be considering a rematch this May, though the Party endorsement math would only get harder for him on net with the specific new precincts the 7th will be picking up post-redistricting.
Also rumored to be eyeing this primary is Mo Santana, a neighborhood activist in Kensington who is said to be courting the support of the PA Working Families organization.
Councilmember Cindy Bass is drawing a challenge from Seth Anderson-Oberman, whose candidacy was announced by 200th District Rep. Chris Rabb in an email to supporters. According to Anderson-Oberman’s LinkedIn profile, he is an organizer with the American Federation of Teachers.
Perennial candidate Greg Paulmier has told people that he will run, and former Bass staffer and current 59th ward leader Patrick Jones is rumored to be eyeing the race. Jones started a campaign for the seat in 2019, but did not get on the ballot.
Neither did Tonya Bah, who was set to run with the support of Reclaim and Neighborhood Networks. Former Helen Gym staffer Steve Paul and former 2019 City Council At-Large candidate Erika Almirón Niz were said to be considering the primary as well, though Almirón is now expected to enter the At-Large race instead.
Anthony Phillips, who recently won the special election to replace Cherelle Parker in the 9th District, will be running for a full term. Phillips is expected to face a competitive primary from Yvette Young, a 9th District resident who works as facilities director of the Pottsgrove School District — along with Janay Hawthorne, a third-generation public servant and a recent candidate for the state’s 200th District. Hawthorne, a New Leaders Council co-chair and visiting professor at Arcadia University, had started a campaign to run against Isabella Fitzgerald, but then dropped out of the race after Rep. Chris Rabb was drawn into the same district with Fitzgerald.
Phillips won the Democratic nomination with the unanimous support of area ward leaders, in an area where the party organization is very strong.
When she exited the race, Hawthorne endorsed Rabb, who went on to win the primary, and the episode endeared her to the PA Working Families organization that has supported Rabb, and has also been skeptical of Councilmember Parker’s stances on policing and public safety. It is still unclear this early on how much of a continuation of Councilmember Parker’s political agenda can be expected from Anthony Phillips, who seems to have a very clear sense of his own agenda and priorities. Phillips, who will soon be a PhD and has had a successful track record of leadership in youth mentorship, won the Democratic nomination with the unanimous support of area ward leaders, in an area where the party organization is very strong.
The Northeast Philadelphia district could see both a competitive primary for incumbent Republican Brian O’Neill and a competitive general election. O’Neill has served in City Council for over 40 years, since the late 1970’s, and is a Republican institution. Recently, Roman Zhukov, leader of the town watch organization Northeast Philly Connected, and a real estate professional, announced he will be running against O’Neill in the primary.
O’Neill has served in City Council for over 40 years, since the late 1970’s, and is a Republican institution.
And in the general election, Gary Masino, president of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, announced he would run for the Democratic nomination. As of now, it does not appear Masino will have any serious competition in the Democratic primary. O’Neill had previously won over Democratic challenger Judy Moore in 2019 by around 10 points.
Stay tuned for the next column, where we will take a closer look at the large and growing field for the five City Council At-Large positions.
Jon Geeting is the director of engagement at Philadelphia 3.0, a political action committee that supports efforts to reform and modernize City Hall. This is part of a series of articles running on both The Citizen and 3.0’s blog.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Anuj Gupta’s current position. Gupta left the position with Congressman Dwight Evans on January 6.
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