Election Shockers Rock City Democrats

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LARRY KRASNER won a seven-way Democratic primary race to win the nomination for district attorney

Black Lives Matter mattered in this week’s Democratic primary.

Insurgent civil-rights attorney Larry Krasner walked away with the prize in the seven-way race to succeed incumbent District Attorney Seth Williams. With more than 98% of the votes tallied by Wednesday morning, Krasner had won 38.2% of 152,316 overall votes – 58,165.

Former US Attorney Joe Khan came in second, with 20.4% of the vote. Former Managing Dir. Rich Negrín finished third, with 14.3%, despite his first-place ballot position. Former Assistant DA Tariq El-Shabazz drew 11.6% of the vote. Michael Untermeyer’s long television ad campaign did not pay off, netting him only 8.2% of the vote. Late entry Jack O’Neill never caught fire, winning 6.0% of the vote. Former Judge Teresa Carr Deni didn’t make a dent, taking only 1.5%.

What happened? Citywide turnout was typically low, following the pattern of downballot municipal elections.

REBECCA RHYNHART unseated a three-term incumbent in a season for dissidents to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for city controller.

But with no incumbent or Democratic Party endorsement, an enthusiastic and motivated progressive minority turned out in good numbers to outpace the scattered support for the other candidates, all of whom had decent establishment credentials.

Money surely played a role as well – specifically the $1.2 million billionaire George Soros dropped on Krasner’s race via a PAC. It purchased a strong TV campaign in the last two weeks, when ordinary voters were beginning to wake up to the contest. Khan’s good showing may also reflect the value of timely TC commercials.

But Krasner also made inroads in key parts of the party structure, drawing support from some influential Black ward leaders.

Organizational support completely failed, however, in the other major race, that for city controller. Three-term incumbent Alan Butkovitz was handily defeated by a former mayoral fiscal administrator, Rebecca Rhynhart, 58.0% to 40.7%. (A minor candidate, Bobbie Curry, polled 1.3% of the vote.)

Television undoubtedly helped Rhynhart, who unleashed an on-air campaign – unprecedented in a controller’s race – that depicted Butkovitz as a sinister party hack. Anti-establishment progressives who were already pumped by Krasner’s campaign may have found this ad inspiring, although it is likely few of them know what the duties of the city’s fiscal watchdog consist of.

But Butkovitz must look as well to quiet defectors within Democratic City Committee who may have pulled their official punches on his behalf.

Broad labor support for O’Neill did not translate into votes. This outcome did not burnish the reputation of IBEW leader John Dougherty, who appears to have been a key, if somewhat covert, backer of O’Neill’s candidacy for DA.

DCC and ward-level backing appears to have still been valuable in the judicial races.

As expected, the three top-ballot Common Pleas Court candidates all won, led by Judge Sheila Tsai with 62,754 votes. Vikki Kristiansson, at second position, finished second with 61, 534; Debbie Cianfrani, at third position, finished fourth with 43,079.

But endorsed Judge Lucretia Clemons bested a 25th-place position to come in third with 46,068. It took organizational effort to get her there. Endorsee Deborah Canty finished sixth with 38,545, despite a number-14 position.

Four other candidates won places on the Democratic ballot for Common Pleas, tireless campaigners all. Zac Shaffer finished fifth, with 39,003; Shanese Johnson finished seventh, with 36,109; former State Rep. Mark Cohen will join his brother on the bench, with 35,767; and Judge Vincent Furlong retained his seat by a whisker, with 35,326.

Finishing just out of the money was an underfunded first-time candidate with a background in public-interest law, Jennifer Schultz, with 33,470, even though she was buried in the middle of the ballot. Had an appellate court not voided one of the vacancies in Common Pleas Court, Schultz would have taken it.

Close behind Schultz were Judge Dan Sulman, with 33,375, who will undoubtedly be reappointed to the court at an early opportunity, and Leon Goodman, with 32,779.

Originally there were three openings in Municipal Court, but an appellate decision reduced that number to two.

Marissa Brumbach, who has seemed to be everywhere in Philly at the same time for the last three months, will finally get a chance to sit down – on the bench. She polled 77,092 votes from her number-two position. Lead-position candidate matt Wolf won 51,654.

George Twardy got a respectable 31,149 votes. He too would have been elected if the appellate court had not swept away his opening.

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