POLS ON THE STREET: Striking Outcomes in Contested Philly Races

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NIKIL SAVAL looks to be on his way to defeat State Sen. Larry Farnese in but one of many incumbent upsets in Philadelphia as a result of yesterday’s primary vote. But the final numbers won’t be in for another week as there are huge piles of mailed votes to be tallied.

The results are in – sort of.

The June 2 primary election appears to have delivered knockout blows to several incumbent State lawmakers in Philadelphia.

The key word in the preceding sentence is “appears.” As of Wednesday afternoon, only machine vote tallies have been posted by the beleaguered City Commission’s Board of Elections – and not all of those. The county board had only listed the results of 1,540 divisions out of 1,703.\

But the machine tallies numbered 145,807. And due to the public-safety crisis caused by coronavirus, new State regulations permitted absentee voting at will for the first time. City Commission Chair Lisa Deeley said 226,000 mail-in voting applications have been received. Their votes will not all arrive and be counted until Friday, June 12, she estimated. And in fairness, City Commission is in uncharted waters managing an election under new rules, with sparse resources, in the time of coronavirus; so any estimate of when this election’s results will be final is a cross-your-fingers guess as of today.

But if preliminary results can be trusted, a political thunderstorm toppled many incumbents in Philadelphia yesterday. Outcomes pointed to weakness in Democratic City Committee’s time-honored vote-getting mechanism and rewarded well-run progressive insurgents with victories.

Top of the list is the 1st Senatorial District race. At this time, preliminary returns show State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-S. Phila.) losing solidly to challenger Nikil Saval, a former 2nd Ward leader who emerged from the Reclaim movement. The current tally is 10,361 (68%) for Saval to 4,826 for Farnese. Unless Farnese had an amazing mail-in campaign up his sleeve, he will leave office next January.

One ward leader, who wished not to be named, noted that Saval got $25,000 from IBEW Local 98’s PAC. These funds are controlled by John Dougherty, a political powerhouse, who ran against Farnese, a protégé of South Philly kingmaker State Sen. Vince Fumo, when Fumo vacated his seat. Fumo beat Dougherty then. In 2020, Dougherty beat Fumo. “It was a grudge match,” the ward leader said.

But Johnny Doc’s cunning cannot account for the size of this victory. Saval’s cohorts in the younger progressive activist community turned out the vote – probably using social-media tools that older pols were not so skilled at wielding.

There were many contested races in Democratic State House seats. And the bloodbath spread there. These gory races included four (!) four-way faceoffs, which demonstrated that in a four-way race, you don’t need 51% to win – mathematically, 26% can do the job.

In West Philadelphia’s 188th Legislative District, Reclaim leader Rick Krajewski is ahead of incumbent State Rep. Jim Roebuck (D-W. Phila.) with 1,808 (34%) to Roebuck’s 1,579 (30%). 51st Ward Leader Greg Benjamin is third with 1,251 (24%) while Karen Dunn trails with 678.

In another West Philly district, the 190th, incumbent State Rep. Roni Green (D-W. Phila.) appears to have been whomped by Amen Brown, a challenger supported by Green’s predecessor Vanessa Lowery Brown. Brown drew 3,801 votes (49%) against Green’s 2,261 (29%). Attorney Danyl Patterson got 1,230 votes while radio host Van Stone won 412.

In the 198th District, where State Rep. Rosita Youngblood (D-Northwest) is retiring, three outsiders crushed Democratic City Committee’s endorsed favorite Darisha Parker in another four-way. The machine preliminaries show Supreme Dow with 1,947 votes (26%), progressive activist Bernard Williams with 1,906 (26%), Fareed Abdullah with 1,891 (26%) and Parker with 1,604 (22%). Honestly, no one can know the outcome of this race for a week. It depends on their mail-in campaigns.

In the 175th, State Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Kensington) may be squeaking past her three opponents in an area that runs along the fashionable riverfront from Fishtown to Queen Village. Isaacson is clocking 993 votes (30%), followed by Fishtowner Jeff Dempsey with 878 (26%), attorney Vanessa McGrath with 837 (25%) and former councilmanic aide Andre Del Valle with 609i (18%). Once again, nothing can be said about the outcome of this race for a week.

Two other incumbents are in bad shape today. State Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-S. Philadelphia) is not looking good in the 185th with only 1,832 votes (34%) against her challenger Regina Young, who has registered 3,572. Donatucci’s political family pedigree does not seem to be holding up in 2020.

In Center City, State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) is in trouble with a challenger, Marisa Shaaban, who currently holds an edge over him of 1,723 (52%) to Sims’ 1,595 (48%). Perhaps Sims had a stronger mail-in campaign; we’ll find out next week.

It has been quite a race, folks. But one thing impresses: turnout. In a year when there is no significant fight at the top of the ticket, a 25% turnout for a presidential-year primary is a big deal.

“Despite all the problems in this season,” said Deeley, “the people were undeterred. They voted.”

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