POLS ON THE STREET: At-Large Council Candidates Mount the Catwalk

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Erin Finn threw an imaginative fundraiser at a supporter’s home in Queen Village during Hanukkah – befittingly latke-themed. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Running for Philadelphia City Council at Large is one of the most-challenging feats any politician can attempt.

You’re going in a year when most popular attention is focused on the mayor’s race. So you start off down ballot.

But you have to reach the same number of voters that the mayoral jocks are vying for, with their fat budgets. There are a million voters out there, most of them clueless on the mission of the job you’re running for. And as a Democrat, you’ll only be one of five to make it to the general election. Where’s your fat budget going to come from?

TURNING out for Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown at her inaugural campaign fundraiser were, L-R, former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, Mary Hurtig, Steve Masters, Reynolds Brown, Council President Darrell Clarke and Lan Nguyen.

Nevertheless, there are quirks in the electoral system that make Council at-large races more exciting. Chief among them is ballot position. If you draw a high number, you may gain thousands of extra votes that may push you over the top.

In the end, though, you’re going to need friends. Endorsers with clout. People who can move votes by many digits.

With the May 21 municipal primary in mind, more than a dozen politicos are eyeing the race for at-large Council member on the Democratic ballot. There are seven at-large Council members, five of them necessarily Democrats in these times. So the top five Democrats in the primary election are sure to be elected to that office in the November general.

At-large incumbents are at an unusual disadvantage; any one can be swept out of office in any year. It is hard for them to entrench an economic base because they lack councilmanic privilege – the power to say yea or nay to real-estate moves in their district. Therefore, all at-large candidates run scared all the time.

FOR HIS CAMPAIGN announcement, Isaiah Thomas drew the backing of four state representatives: L-R, Danilo Burgos, Isabella Fitzgerald, Morgan Cephas, Thomas and House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris.

Council President Darrell Clarke (4th Dist.) is not himself an at-large councilman. But he is content with the at-large shuffle he got four years ago and has made clear that he prefers to start off the 2020 season with as few trades as possible.

One teammate he emphatically wants by his side is Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Clarke was the keynoter at an intimate high-rolling funder at the Bellevue. “This one is not broke; don’t replace her,” he emphasized.

Reynolds Brown has a long, productive track record in artistic, educational and environmental issues.

Third-time contender Isaiah Thomas launched officially this Monday, although everyone knew he was coming. This educator has been Mr. Millennial in North Philly politics for some time now.

CITY COUNCIL candidate Eryn Santamoor hosted a campaign fundraiser at the Dalian in Fairmount. Among those in attendance: Santamoor’s old boss, former Mayor Michael Nutter, who gave her a rousing endorsement.

Thomas is cited as an inspirational mentor by a wide host mostly of North Philadelphia leaders. His work with youth, based on his employment at Sankofa Academy, has drawn wide praise. Everyone agrees he’s a hard worker and a straight arrow.

Endorsements? Too early yet. But note that Thomas’ affair was hosted by NUHHCE Local 1199C; and that Joe Ashdale of IUPAT and Cathy Scott of AFSCME DC 47 both showed up for it.

Eryn Santamoor has been running for this office in this cycle longer than anyone else. This young attorney, a Fairmounter, is raising two schoolchildren and is sensitive to education issues.

Santamoor served as Philadelphia deputy managing director. She worked to develop Philly311 and PhillyStat. She claims to have saved the City over $21 million. As a city management expert with PFM, Eryn helped other cities to re-imagine their role in meeting community needs and expectations.

COUNCILWOMAN Cherelle Parker, C, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Wadsworth Avenue street lighting that she inaugurated. A large outdoor party filled the 1500 block, bringing cheer and Santa Claus to all. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Political gyrations are often required of City Council members. Santamoor’s experience on Cornell University’s gymnastics team may help her here. Her service as a board member of the Center for Grieving Children and as a former board member of Women’s Way document a taste for public service.

Beth Finn emerges from the Women’s March. An unabashed progressive, she touts “20 years as a technology leader which have taught me how to improve efficiency while working within a budget. I am a longtime advocate of supporting girls in STEM education.”

Finn also notes she is a brain-tumor survivor and a Jew. “’Never Again’ is more than a reminder for me; it’s a call to action,” she said. “So when I heard a presidential candidate talking about registering Muslims, I could not sit idly by. I grabbed a clipboard and started knocking doors to get out the vote.”

Brown’s Case Raises Concern for Constituent Service

State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, re-elected last month by her West Philadelphia constituents, was convicted of a felony but is appealing her conviction.

REJOICING in his new holiday bike from Council President Darrell Clarke and the Police Athletic League of Strawberry Mansion, young Marad Millhouse enjoyed the backing of, L-R, State Rep. Donna Bullock, Officer Hinton, Councilman Bill Greenlee and Clarke. Photo by Leona Dixon

The rule is that a convicted elected official should be stripped of office as well as all pay and benefits. But what if that official contests her conviction? What should happen to her varied forms of compensation during her appeal? If she loses some but is later exonerated on appeal, does she win back all she lost in Round 1?

A Dauphin County lawsuit sought to make that resignation happen quickly: Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo urged the judge in Brown’s case to modify her probation to include her resignation as a condition; in addition, Chardo wanted jail time for her.

These are important questions that must be answered sooner or later. It might be smarter to think about them sooner, from a sound-government point of view.

Lowery Brown decided in the end to resign, without pay for December. But now what for her constituents? Does that mean they now get no service?

Lowery Brown’s position should have been that as long as she continues the primary function of a state representative – providing a productive window for State services in her district – then she should be paid for it. Is anyone else stepping up to this task for the remainder of December in the 190th Legislative District.

All Philadelphians are entitled to working political representation at all times. Beware Harrisburgers bearing pink slips; they’d rather hand them to us than to themselves.

Will Soda Tax Put Fizz into 2019?

As the municipal primary season opens, the main issue on the horizon remains the controversial Sweetened-Drinks Tax.

SHERIFF Jewell Williams pioneered outreach to the Asian American community with information on how to buy at Sheriff’s Sales, offering multilingual assistance, at 1st District Plaza in University City. L-R were Naroeun Chhin, Karen Smith of the Sheriff’s Office, State Rep. Maria Donatucci, Williams, Nicole Johnson of the Sheriff’s Office, Lan Nguyen, Carlos Colón of the Sheriff’s Office, and Kim Cheng. Photo by Wendell Douglas

This signature issue of Mayor Jim Kenney’s endeared him to a base that wants improvements in early education, libraries, parks and recreation centers. But it earned him fierce opposition from sellers of sodas. Their voting base is not insignificant – thousands of retailers earn a living by selling these beverages.

More important for a costly mayoral election, though are the deep pockets of the national beverage industry. Soda manufacturers have all the reason in the world to spend heavily to overturn the Philadelphia tax, since it serves as a model for similar municipal taxes across the nation.

The Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity, long influential in city politics, has come out in opposition to the soda tax, saying it unfairly burdens consumers and businesses in low-income minority communities.

The question before political strategists: can these votes, dollars and passions be transferred to a successful challenger to the incumbent mayor?

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