POLS ON THE STREET: Philadelphia Sheriff’s Race Promises a Complicated Contest

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MALIKA RAHMAN was the first challenger to enter the Philadelphia sheriff’s race in the Democratic primary.

2018 – we got all that behind us. Now it is time for the main event in a true city politico’s heart: the May municipal primary elections. This campaign season already looks to be filled with unprecedented races rich with wild cards.

One of the top row offices at stake is that of Sheriff. This important office, while not subject to the mayor, helps fund the rest of City government because it is charged with auctioning real estate in addition to executing law-enforcement operations. So it’s a complex job that requires a multitalented chief executive.

ROCHELLE BILAL followed soon after to enter the sheriff’s race.

First out of the gate was Malika Rahman, who announced her candidacy in early December. Rahman has experience in the Sheriff’s Office, having served under its current leadership. She began her career in law enforcement in 2009, working as a correctional officer in the Philadelphia Prison System – a system that the Sheriff’s Office plays an essential partnership with.

SENATORIAL aide Jimmy Harrity cut a fine figure at the New Year’s Day Mummers Parade.

Rahman has made transparency the key issue in her campaign, saying, “Philadelphia residents not only have a right to be informed of the actions and activities of their elected officials; they also have a right to use that information to comment, make complaints, or raise concerns that will hold me and others in this office accountable for our actions. If elected, I will provide timely access to resources, information and opportunities.”

She is the founder of Be A Great You, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing and empowering the lives of young women in urban communities. As an advocate for change and a member of various committees for youth engagement in Philadelphia, she takes pride in serving as “a voice for the voiceless.”

FORMER Congressman Bob Brady, L, conferred with Councilman Al Taubenberger in the parade crowd. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Rochelle Bilal entered the race a week later. The long-serving president of the Guardian Civic league, which represents Black police officers, Bilal has made excellent connections with many new-wave progressives as well as traditional players. DA Larry Krasner and Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Philadelphia NAACP Chapter were both at her launch.

Bilal cites “over three decades of experience in leadership, an unparalleled background of ensuring women’s rights are protected in the workplace, and being the driving force of compassionate reasoning while community policing.”

Last but not least is Sheriff Jewell Williams. Like most incumbents, he is under less pressure to go through ceremonial announcements early; he will do so after Martin Luther King Day. But he’s in.

An incumbent gets to run on his track record. And Williams’ record is strong. The revenue he delivers to the City has doubled since the time of his elected predecessor, John Green – from $28 million to $61 million. Meanwhile, operational costs were driven down by $1 million in the last fiscal year.

FOP PRESIDENT John McNesby watched the parade with his daughter.

Williams asserts a strong record on transparency and change. “I’ve promoted females. I have created more public seminars.”

But he argues against candidates with a detective background; that’s a police responsibility that does not contribute to the Sheriff’s Office, he says. And he stresses that “a sheriff’s job is to take orders from the court.”

An oddity is that all three formally announced candidates are based in North Philadelphia. So whoever wins this race must reach beyond their home neighborhood.

HUD REGIONAL Director Joe DeFelice and his son Joey, who march with Froggy Carr, got a chance to meet Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

Williams has his share of North Philly-based backers such as Laborers’ Local 332. But AFSCME District Council 33, the Black Ward Leaders and the Northeast Ward Leaders are also in his camp.

Some have speculated that a row among three North Philadelphians will open a door for a fourth candidate from another part of town. If so, expect a public announcement from another candidate before the end of January – but not without extensive background research first, which is necessarily quiet during the week when the City is sweeping up after Mummers Parade. ’Tis the season to be snooping.

City Commission Race Also Popping

Another important row office is up this year. That’s the three City commissioners.

These officers oversee Philadelphia’s elections. In bygone years a favorite national scandal, since the turn of the century they have been radically reformed and now deserve to be held up as a national model for running urban elections fairly, safely, transparently and cheaply.

NEWLY retired from City administration, former Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis was free to enjoy the show with no worries. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The one minority commissioner, Republican Al Schmidt, will face no primary opposition.

On the Democratic side, one incumbent, Commission Chair Lisa Deeley, has not formally announced for re-election. She will. And she will be hard to beat.

Commissioner Anthony Clark, on the other hand, is retiring. His seat is effectively vacant. And many eyes are cast upon it.

One candidate, Omar Sabir, enjoys the backing of the powerful Laborers’ Union. He formally announced on Dec. 19 at Mingle in Overbrook.

Sabir has an ironic history of electoral success. He was elected as Traffic Court judge in 2013; unfortunately, that office was abolished in the same year, so he never got to serve. But Sabir knows how to run for office.

“I recognized at an early age that voter access and participation are vital to ensuring systemic change,” Sabir said. “Ensuring that all communities and stakeholders have equal access to the institutions of voting should be a fundamental focus and my candidacy will be based on achieving that goal.”

But Sabir faces challenges for that vacancy. Three others have already declared for that office: Kahlil Williams, a Ballard Spahr attorney with an impressive pedigree; Moira Bohannon, a North Central single mom whose most-striking brag is that she helped write the DREAM Act; and Jen Devor, a Point Breeze resident who was director of partnerships at Campus Philly before she launched her campaign.

These are only the “announced” candidates. At least as many more are lurking in the wings. We’ll update you on them in coming weeks.

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