Philadelphia’s 2019 municipal primaries are happening in just a few months on May 21st, and if the past two election cycles are any indication, the political mood both nationally and locally seems likely to remain unusually favorable to upstart political candidates independent from the traditional party structure. Is that trend going to hold this year? We’re still more than a month away from the petition period to get on the ballot, but here’s what we already know about the 2019 field.
City Commissioner Anthony Clark has basically never shown up to work, but now he’s ready to make it official by retiring from his seat. Incumbent Commissioner Lisa Deeley is planning to run again, with Democratic City Committee’s strong support, but the single open seat has attracted numerous contenders already, including community activist Jen Devor; attorney and former Brennan Center staffer Kahlil Williams; Omar Sabir, a previous candidate for this seat from 2015; Luigi Borda, a teacher and Working Educators Caucus organizer; and activist Moira Bohannon. Former deputy City Commissioner Dennis Lee is also rumored to be preparing for a run.
Per the Charter, one of the three Commissioner seats is reserved for a non-majority party candidate. It’s currently held by Republican Al Schmidt, who so far does not seem likely to have a primary challenge.
Disgraced incumbent Sheriff Jewell Williams is seriously planning to run again, despite being dogged by allegations and one confirmed instance of sexual harassment of his employees in the recent past, and more of those employees’ accounts are still being investigated.
So far Williams has drawn two primary challengers, Rochelle Bilal, head of the Guardian Civic League, the black officers’ police association. Unlike its counterpart in the FOP, the Guardian Civic League is known to be quite a bit more liberal, having endorsed Larry Krasner for D.A. in 2017 in stark contrast with the over-the-top opposition to Krasner from FOP head John McNesby. Deputy Sheriff Malika Rahman has also announced that she’ll be running. With two challengers in the race splitting the opposition vote, Williams’s odds of winning reelection only increase.
Mayor Kenney has called on Williams to resign, as has Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and a number of other figures, but Williams is still retaining a lot of support despite the confirmed harassment. Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady says he wants to take a “wait and see” approach before the allegations were confirmed, and Philly Council women members put out only a generic condemnation of harassment without naming Williams. Unless the confirmed allegations change any of his defenders’ minds, it looks like Williams could have some significant pockets of party support.
I’ve already written about attorney Lauren Vidas’s challenge to 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in the 2nd District Democratic primary, and there are a few other District challengers who have announced.
The At-Large race is expected to be crowded, although it probably won’t attract as many candidates as the year 100+ people ran during the height of the Frank Rizzo backlash. The overall upstart political mood following Donald Trump’s election combined with the expectation of one or two retirements from At-Large members is the driving force here tempting a lot of new candidates to explore the opportunity.
The incumbents definitely running again are Allan Domb, Derek Green, and very likely Helen Gym, despite some non-committal comments Gym made to the Inquirer. The incumbents rumored to be wavering are Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Bill Greenlee.
So far, several candidates have officially declared, including Beth Finn, Melissa Robbins, Eryn Santamoor, and Billy Thompson. And several other candidates have formed exploratory committees or are all-but-announced.
Those include Justin DiBerardinis, currently at Bartram’s Garden and a former staffer for 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez; teacher and two-time At-Large candidate Isaiah Thomas; Obama campaign organizer Fernando Trevino-Martinez, Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania activist Asa Khalif (distinct from Philadelphia’s Black Lives Matter organization); Erika Almiron the Executive director of JUNTO; cancer biologist and union organizer Adrian Rivera-Reyes; former Council candidate and activist Sherrie Cohen; transgender advocate Deja Alvarez; and towing magnate Lew Blum.
On the Republican side, Logan Square Neighbors Association President Drew Murray, and Dan Tinney of the Steamfitters Union are expected to challenge incumbent Republicans David Oh and Al Taubenberger.
The Charter reserves two of the seven At-Large Council seats for non-majority candidates, and they’re usually won by Republicans. But there’s no reason a third-party or unaffiliated candidate couldn’t technically win those, and there are always rumors that someone will try. Andrew Stober gave it a go in 2015, and so far bike messenger Joe Cox is the only candidate to declare as an independent in 2019. We’ll soon see if this is the year somebody finally mounts a successful challenge to the Republicans.
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 in both The Citizen and 3.0’s blog.Photo via Philadelphia 3.0