POLS ON THE STREET: Progressive Votes Were Not Writ at Large

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STARTING AT La Barberia in Suburban Station, State Sen. Christine Tartaglione led a tour of lawmakers and labor activists on a tour of businesses that invest in adequate pay for their workers. She was joined by State Reps. Maria Donatucci, 2nd from R, and Jason Dawkins, 3rd from R. Tartaglione, SB 12 would raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 and ultimately to $15. It has some bipartisan support.

A cluster of youngish newcomers to the electoral fray created a stir in the crowded at-large councilmanic race. Loosely styled “progressives,” their numbers included, in part, Eryn Santamoor, Justin DiBerardinis and Erika Almirón as well as a host of lesser-known entrants such as Adrián Rivera-Reyes, Beth Finn and Asa Khalif.

They tend to have backgrounds in the Women’s March, Reclaim Philadelphia, Black Lives Matter and similar activist bodies.

The three first mentioned were well organized; Santamoor and DiBerardinis were well funded, with strong TV commercials. All three would be on the Democratic ballot this fall – if the primary had been confined to Center City along with gentrifying areas of South and West Philadelphia and the River Wards that are frequented by millennials.

FAIR DISTRICTS PA held a panel discussion on ending gerrymandering in Pennsylvania at Tindley Temple on May 28. Above, L-R were Prof. Wes Pegden, a mathematical expert on gerrymandering; Amanda Holt, the piano teacher whose lawsuit forced rejection of Pennsylvania’s 2012 redistricting plan; and former Congressman Charlie Dent.

But their message did not have legs in the reaches of blue-collar Philly where most city voters still live. There, even the top-seeded progressives rarely cracked the top five and never as a bloc.

As a result, the Democratic City Committee ticket walked home. Incumbent Councilmembers Helen Gym and Derek Green were also popular with the progressive set but they did not rely on progressives alone for their victories. Councilmember Allan Domb also sailed home citywide despite his suspect status as a rich man. Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson wrapped up the race without much money but with solid support from party and labor organizations.

One lesson that the smarter “new faces” should learn from 2019 is: Plan on becoming an older face.

By rights, Isaiah Thomas belongs with the progressive pack. He’s only 34, after all. But this was his third race. He began at age 26, plugged away, won grudging respect from elders as more than a flash in the pan – and garnered party endorsement this time around. By not warring on the party, he won the party over.

A GYM FULL of enthusiastic Eliza Kirkbride Elementary School students heard State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler announce that their school is receiving a $20,000 State grant to help build the school playground.

Helen Gym did win on her first time out. But she had spent a decade or more slogging in the trenches on focused issues – primarily education in her case – before she made a try for a Council seat.

A second lesson: Don’t everyone jump in the pool at once. Think more like a relay race: Coalesce behind leaders and promote your team strategically. Behave like a real party, in other words.

If, after drawing ballot positions, the young progressives had coalesced behind, say, DiBerardinis, Rivera-Reyes and Santamoor, there’s a good chance two of those would have won.

City Commission Progressives Lose Through Overkill

The progressive bubble was even more noticeable in the insanely competitive City Commission race, which drew 13 candidates to a seat on a two-person ticket.

DCC candidates City Commission Chair Lisa Deeley and Omar Sabir romped home handily while a drizzle of newcomers chopped each other up.

STATE REP. Pam DeLissio officially named the Brig. Gen. Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays Memorial Bridge located along Henry Avenue that passes over Wissahickon Creek. DeLissio was joined at the ceremony by family members of Hays, who died last year at 97; and Bruce Hoffman, president of the 21st Ward Veterans Association. Gen. Hayes was an army nurse. It will be only the seventh bridge in the United States named after a woman.

In six core gentrifying wards – the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th, 29th and 30th – a ticket of Kahlil Williams and Jen Devor ruled the day.

In three other wards, Williams led with Deeley. In three other wards, Williams led with Sabir.

Luigi Borda made the top two in his home 39th Ward. Dennis Lee did likewise in the 9th Ward.

In 2023, Will Gym/Domb Come?

If the great State of Virginia boasts of being “Mother of Presidents,” Philadelphia City Council may rightfully boast of being “Mother of Mayors.” The last three mayors in a row – John Street, Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney – all served on that body.

Understandably. What other office enables one to prep for the complete range of City-government issues (aside from, perhaps, City controller)?

THE ANNUAL Memorial Day service at the Korea Memorial is attended each year by City Councilmen Mark Squilla and David Oh in a bipartisan devotion to the fallen. Here they joined in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Photo by Joe Stivala

If Mayor Jim Kenney becomes a lame duck in November, political players will immediately start scoping out the 2023 field. And they’ll begin with Helen Gym and Allan Domb.

Both run at large, covering the entire city. Both have fat war chests. Both are revered and/or feared for their fearlessly informed ferocity on major issues. Both have shown an ability to appeal to a broad range of constituencies.

Gym’s astonishing performance – taking 15% of the total vote in a 30-candidate race – will put the fear of God into anyone who takes her on, should she seek the mayoralty then.

But when a two-term mayor passes the baton, there will always be more than one hand reaching out for it.

Quiñones-Sánchez vs. Cruz – a Cliffhanger

COUNCILWOMAN Maria Quiñones-Sánchez narrowly won re-election in the 7th Councilmanic District.

In Democratic City Committee’s effort to unseat the only dissident incumbent councilmember, the 7th District’s Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, challenging State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington) appears to have fallen just a hair short.

Just 485 votes separated the two in Quiñones-Sánchez’s 52% victory.

It was a matchup between party and money. In a part of town where money is often hard to come by, Quiñones-Sánchez’s campaign fund was well endowed. Cruz had no money but, not just as a long-established State rep but also a leader of the 7th Ward, he had institutional support.

It was almost enough.

Cruz bested the incumbent in his own ward, which is central to Latino politics. He also won the 19th, 33rd and 62nd Wards.

But the 7th District sprawls across chunks of eight other wards. It is difficult to get 12 ward committees to work as one in such a district. As a result, Quiñones-Sánchez squeezed out another narrow win in a district that has not had a leadership at peace with itself for a couple of decades now.

Sheriff Clocked Outside His Base

Cursed with the worst ballot position and sexual accusations, Sheriff Jewell Williams went down this month.

He held onto 18 of the city’s 66 wards, though. Most were in his North Philadelphia home district, where he had previously served as State representative and as Temple police officer.

Williams also won the 17th and 50th Wards in the Northwest; the 35th, 57th & 62nd Wards in the Northeast; the 4th, 34th and 44th Wards in the West; and the 36th Ward in South Philadelphia.

U.S. HOUSE Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the Philadelphia suburbs in support of two local congresswomen.

Malika Rahman took two wards in Center City, the 8th and 30th. The winner, Rochelle Bilal, swept the rest of the city.

Black Judges Missing On Democrats’ Ballot

One unintended casualty of the Horn & Hardart selection process for judicial candidates this year: new Black judges.

Although Democratic City Committee nominated three African Americans on its six-person slate for Common Pleas Court, none of them made it. They had bad ballot position and little money.

This casts a pall on a judicial system where most defendants, especially criminal defendants, are Black.

Some leaders are already calling for immediate intervention. Two sitting judges have already announced their resignations in the wake of the primary and 6th Ward Leader Pete Wilson has demanded that their slots be filled by appointment of qualified Black candidates.

Pelosi Weighs in with Scanlon, Dean on Education

PENNSYLVANIA Senate President pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is proposing to open the state’s primary elections to all voters regardless of party.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought her powerful aura to the region last Saturday when she joined Congresswomen Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Phila.) and Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) to discuss college affordability and career training at Delaware County Community College.

This may signal Pelosi’s desire to shore up these two freshman congresswomen, both of whom represent suburban Philadelphia communities of the sort that are key to the House Democrats’ new majority in Washington.

Scarnati Wants Open Primaries

If State Sen. President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) has his way, Pennsylvania’s closed primary system will become a thing of the past.

He has a bill in committee that would allow all registered voters to cast ballots in primaries. This practice is standard in most states. Pennsylvania is one of only nine states where only registered party members can votein a party’s primary.

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