POLS ON THE STREET: Progressives Bump Republican off City Council

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THE NEW SHERIFF in town, Rochelle Bilal, L, and the incoming Register of Wills Tracey Gordon were congratulated by Gov. Tom, Wolf at the must-show Election Day lunch at Relish in W. Oak Lane. Photo by Leona Dixon

BY JOE SHAHEELI
A city that within living memory was run by a Republican machine has just seen an at-large Republican expelled from City Council. How times have changed!

Minority Republican Councilmember Al Taubenberger (at Large) was turfed out of office by the Working Families Party’s Kendra Brooks. As of yesterday morning, Brooks had won 55,599 votes, topping Taubenberger’s 44,784.

Taubenberger’s running mate Councilman David Oh (at Large) survived Brooks’ running mate Rev. Nicholas O’Rourke with 49,700 votes to O’Rourke’s 43,012. By definition, Oh becomes the only model for a successful urban Republican in a competitive citywide campaign.

L-R AT RELISH were Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Derek Green, Darrell Clarke and Cherelle Parker with State Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald. Photo by Leona Dixon

Four other at-large Council candidates took a shot at this office. Sherrie Cohen, a longtime LGBTQ activist, won 8,354 votes while Libertarian Maj Toure got 5,676.

But Working Families Party had the budget to do the job – $350,000 as of last report. This puts you in the ballpark of a contested citywide election.

The shrinkage of Republicans in City government traces back decades. It mirrors the general decline of the Republican Party as a practical voice for urban and suburban concerns. Increasingly, national Republican muscle favors declining rural areas and seeks to tilt against rising urban metropolises like Philadelphia. This places Philadelphia Republicans at a disadvantage as they seek to appeal to their neighbors.

THE PENNSYLVANIA Democratic Party held its inaugural Independence Dinner at the Convention Center on Nov. 1. Star of the evening was U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, posing here with Congressman Dwight Evans, L, and Philadelphia Democratic Chair Bob Brady. Photo by Bonnie Squires

In District Council races, the closest was the 10th. Incumbent Republican Brian O’Neill, who has been in office since the 1970s, had to break a sweat this time to ward off a strong challenge by Democrat Judy Moore, 55-45%.
6th.

In the 6th, incumbent Democrat Bobby Henon could post only 60-40% against a respected but underfunded Republican civic leader, Pete Smith. Henon’s federal indictment as part of the Johnny Doc investigation has shaken many of his constituents.

No such challenges faced other District Democratic incumbents. Mark Squilla (2nd District) trounced Republican Duke Orsino with 83% of the vote. Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District) buried two indie opponents with 88%. Cindy Bass (8th District) dismissed sometime Ward Leader Greg Paulmier with 81%. Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) blew past the GOP’s Michael Bradley with 79%.

BEFORE DINNER, leaders like, L-R, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, Congressman Brendan Boyle, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and State Democratic Committee Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills listened to State Sen. Sharif Street, among other speakers. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Oh, the mayoral race. Incumbent Kenney took it 80-20% in a lackluster campaign that neither side took much interest in.

In the contest-free sheriff and register of wills races, unopposed Democratic rebels Rochelle Bilal and Tracey Gordon delivered a double upset that set Democratic City Committee back on its heels. For what it’s worth, Gordon outpolled Bilal by 3,403 votes.

The City Commission race played out as expected. Incumbent Chair Lisa Deeley nudged out her Democratic running mate Omar Sabir by 5,305 votes. The minority commissioner, Al Schmidt, waltzed in with 11% of the vote. But as Schmidt is universally respected by all parties, this is a happy outcome for the city. Most knowledgeable Democrats would be sorry to lose this Republican from his important City job.

GOV. TOM WOLF and First Lady Frances Wolf, seated, were visited by Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella. Photo by Bonnie Squires

Local judicial elections went as planned. For Common Pleas Court, Tiffany Palmer was Democratic ticket-leader, followed by Jennifer Schutz, Anthony Kyriakakis, Jim Crumlish, Carmella Jacquinto, Joshua Roberts and Crystal Powell.

David Conroy is the uncontested new addition to Municipal Court.

At all levels across the commonwealth, sitting judges won their retention by 75%. No controversy here this year.

Statewide ballot issue Marsy’s Law won 3-1 but will not go into effect because the State Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional. All Philadelphia ballot questions passed.

AS COUNCIL President Darrell Clarke addressed Philadelphia’s Veterans Parade on market Street, L-R, Councilmen David Oh, Allan Domb and Mark Squilla; City Controller Rebeca Rhynhart; and State Rep. Mary Isaacson gave respectful ear. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The results of Tuesday’s election will force the leaders and activists of both the city’s Democratic and Republican organizations into a state of radical reflection. Are they in tune with the winds of change in their home town? How should they go about the task of representing it and playing a role in governing it going forward?

At the statewide level, the Superior Court race was a close bipartisan draw, with Republican Judge Megan McCarthy King and Democratic Judge Dan McCaffery taking the two vacancies while losing their ticket-mates, Christylee Peck and Amanda Green-Hawkins. So this court will continue with a razor-thin Republican majority.

Philadelphia delivered for both Democrats in this race: 206,478 for hometown hero McCaffery and 198,799 for Green-Hawkins. By contrast, GOP ticket-leader McCarthy King polled 44,010. That’s a good measure of the generic party balance in Philadelphia today: five Democrats for every one Republican.

SPRUCE HILL’S fabled Halloween Parade draws more than its share of topical commentators. This year, political costumes abounded, among them Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the whistleblower and – what else? – fake news.

Meanwhile, out in the ’Burbs…

While Philadelphian voters were debating whether the GOP had become a third party in their bailiwick, the suburban electorate unleashed a truly epochal revolution.

In one fell swoop, the County Commissions of Bucks, Chester and Delaware Counties flipped from Republican-controlled to Democrat-controlled. In this they were following the lead of Montgomery County, which lost its Republican majority two years ago.

History was made in two ways. As a matter of principle, all these counties have voted Republican pretty much since the Republican Party was formed in the 1850s.

Furthermore, after World War II, when auto-based suburbia as we now know it came into being, these “collar counties” of Southeastern Pennsylvania increasingly defined themselves as socially and politically apart from the inner city that many of their new residents had spurned and fled. City and suburban interests were seen to be inherently in conflict.

That age has passed. Increasingly, suburbanites feel the links between their subdivisions and their inner city. They identify with a common metropolitan cause. And in the age of Trump, the defining political division lies between coastal metropolis and stagnant hinterland. The former increasingly votes Democrat, the latter increasingly Republican.

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