By Tom Mulkeen, Contributing writer
The Republican nomination races for Mayor and the City Council at large seats has been more interesting than anything Philadelphia has seen recently for the party that only makes up 12.5 percent of the electorate according to the Examiner.
Nine candidates are running for the five spots available in the November election for the Council at large seats, in which two of them are guaranteed to win because of the city’s election rules designed to guarantee the minority party some involvement in government (Barring the entry of former Mayor John Street or other candidate as an Independent). Generally speaking, nomination races in Philadelphia for the GOP tend to be uncontested because it can be difficult to find multiple candidates willing to run who have a chance at winning in the general election.
The only incumbent running, Frank Rizzo, may have a tougher election campaign than he has been used to in his previous four victories because of the DROP issue. Rizzo could potentially make $194,517 if he chooses to “retire” for a day and collect that pension and then return to work.
The Inquirer recently featured a run-down of the council candidates featuring short profiles of the nine candidates. A joint debate for the Council at large candidates and the mayoral candidates was held last Wednesday although the two offices were separated for clarity.
Rizzo only introduced himself to the audience watching last week and then left the stage before any questions were asked. The candidates used his absence to attack him on the DROP issue, for example former mayoral candidate Al Taubenberger called him immoral to take a DROP payment regardless of the legality of it.
David Oh is probably the favorite among the challengers because of his close third-place run in the general election for Council at large in 2007. Eight of the candidates have experience in public service or have run for political office before and the only one who doesn’t may be the most familiar face to some in the area. Steve Odabashian is a Philadelphia attorney known for impersonating Eagles head coach Andy Reid perfectly.
The scheduled mayoral debate between John Featherman and Democrat turned Republican Karen Brown turned into a town hall for Featherman when Brown canceled at the last minute. Philadelphia Weekly has a breakdown of the one-man debate. Featherman openly conceded that he has no chance of beating Mayor Nutter in a general election, but said if John Street decided to run as an independent, he could end up deciding who wins between Street and Nutter.
Many of the council candidates also will appeal to Democratic constituencies, which certainly will impact the election. For example, Malcolm Lazin is openly gay and heads an LGBT civil rights organization that will definitely appeal to voters in certain corners of the cities although his campaign says they are focused on fiscal issues.
At the very least though, the GOP has at least forced the city politicos and press to pay attention to what happens in their primary on May 17.