POLS ON THE STREET: The Charge of the Independents!

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ITALIAN AMERICANS and their friends from across the region celebrated their traditional Sunday parade in honor of Christopher Columbus last Sunday. Enjoying the day were, L-R, Judge Dan McCafferty, State Sen. Larry Farnese, Councilmembers David Oh, Allan Domb and Domb’s dog Allie, Councilmember Mark Squilla, South Philly singer Erica Gagliardi and Michael Blichasz. Photo by Wendell Douglas

While the ordinary voter tends to sleep through a November municipal election, given that the Democratic slate is sure to sweep in an increasingly one-party town, political insiders are agog this year as they watch an unprecedented effort by progressives to knock two Republicans off their at-large perch on City Council.

This race is more interesting because there are actually two separate progressive factions pressing three candidates.

Sherrie Cohen has long hoped to follow her legendary father David Cohen’s footsteps into City Council. This is her third run. The first two times, she finished in the middle of the pack in the crowded Democratic primary and didn’t make it on the ballot. That was her fate as well this year – until she decided on an end run and filed as an independent (technically the “A Better Council Party” ticket).

THE NAACP honored many individuals at its annual awards dinner at the National Museum of American Jewish History. L-R were awardees Ward Leader Tasco, Sean Andre Parker and Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, who received their plaques from Minister Rodney Muhammad. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Cohen’s candidacy was challenged by the Democratic Party on the grounds that she had failed to withdraw as a Democrat and re-register in time according to statute. Party-backed challenges to insurgents almost always succeed and this one did too – up to the State Supreme Court, which stunningly reversed lower-court rulings and placed Cohen on the ballot.

Cohen lays out the math that all progressive outsiders are studying: “Each voter gets five at-large votes. All five Democratic at-large Council candidates will get around 90,000 votes. The top two Republicans, on the other hand, will get at best 35,000. When I ran in the Democratic primary, I got 45,000 votes. There are enough committed progressives in this city to beat the Republicans’ numbers. Republicans do not have a right to those seats. Now is the time to replace them on City Council.”

The other progressive campaign is led by the Working Families Party, a national organization. Its candidates are Kendra Brooks, a community organizer in Nicetown with a track record in educational issues, and Nicolas O’Rourke, a pastor in Oxford Circle who is active in criminal-justice and incarceration matters. As of the latest reckoning, these two have outraised all five Republican at-large candidates, in large part thanks to an infusion of funds from their national movement.

SERVING a shift in the kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House that provides a stay for the families of children under treatment at St. Christopher’s Hospital, State Rep. Angel Cruz proved to have a fine hand with the cupcakes. Photo by Wendell Douglas

All three independents are facing an odd task: to persuade progressive Democratic voters to vote for them instead of for one, or two, or three names on the Democratic ballot. There aren’t enough true independents to carry the day and they will lose all straight-ticket Democratic voters.

Engaging progressive voters to their cause is therefore essential. And in practice, they will need the aid of progressive committee people in educating these voters.

Brooks sent a letter to Democratic City Committee asking its members “to join the coalition of elected Democrats, leading labor unions, and progressive organizations who support my campaign.

“Committee people play vital roles in their divisions, educating people in their neighborhoods about elections and providing important information on candidates that will stand for working families in Philadelphia. My campaign is built on grassroots organizing like this in neighborhoods across the city. We are excited to provide opportunities for supportive committee members to be a part of this historic campaign.”

TRACEY GORDON, 3rd from R, candidate for Register of Wills, was a surprise visitor during the birthday party for Kathy Huggins in the City Line Hilton. Huggins is a member of Democratic State Committee, 34th Ward committeeperson and community organizer. Seen with Kathy are Laureen, Baby and Latrice Bryant, Tracey, Huggins, and Keith Harris. Photo from Latrice’s Facebook page

This isn’t music to the ears of DCC Chairman Bob Brady. “What Democrat are they knocking off? I’m not for knocking off anybody that we’ve endorsed that won the primary that she didn’t run in,” he complained.

But there are defectors from the party line. Prominent D’s have already endorsed Brooks, such as State Sen. Art Haywood; State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, Movita Johnson-Harrell, Malcolm Kenyatta, Chris Rabb and Brian Sims; and Councilmember Helen Gym. In addition, Brooks garnered a thumbs-up from a star outsider to city politics: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president.

Cohen laid out the mathematical counterargument to DCC’s position: “Even if progressives cut an endorsed Democratic at-large candidate, that person is still certain to win. So there is no way our independent candidacies will hurt the party’s lineup. I will add to their voices on City Council.”

Brooks and O’Rourke have racked up endorsements including SEIU, NUHHCE Local 1199C, Unite Here, AFSCME DC 47, PASNAP and TAUP AFT Local 4531, along with a host of progressive issue lobbies.

PETE SMITH, C, held a fundraiser at Curran’s Irish Inn to push his campaign in the 6th Councilmanic District. He was hosted by Republican 55th Ward Leader Chris Vogler and 54th Ward Leader Fran Woodruff. Photo by Harry Leech

Cohen’s campaign was long absorbed by her legal struggle but she is starting to rake in endorsements as well: the Faculty & Staff Federation of CCP, the Sierra Club Pennsylvania and Our Revolution PA. She is also well known in the city’s LGBTQ community.

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