PoliticsPA’s Philly City Council Election Preview
By Tom Mulkeen, Contributing Writer
PoliticsPA brings you this handy reference on the upcoming Philly City Council races: who’s ahead, and who needs to worry.
The field of challengers looks to be pretty much set as it is with a few exceptions. A hearty thanks to the Committee of 70 for its outstanding work collecting information on each of these candidates.
Here are the rules: the primaries for City Council will be held on May 17. There are ten districts in Philadelphia, each with one member plus seven at large members voted on by the entire city. The minority party (GOP) is guaranteed at least two at-large seats on the Council. Therefore, in the primaries, both parties will nominate five candidates to be on the ballot in the general election where voters can vote for up to seven candidates. Four council members have confirmed that they are retiring, Anne Verna (D-2), Joan Krajewski (D-6), Donna Miller (D-8), and Jack Kelly (R-at large). Every district is represented by a Democrat except for the tenth district in Northeast Philly.
Frank DiCicco is a four-term incumbent who has become the poster boy of the highly controversial DROP pension program. He has tried to run away from the issue by introducing a bill that would let lawmakers opt out of the program, but it is unlikely that the city’s pension board would allow that to happen according to the Inquirer. As such, this district has the most crowded field of any district and is arguably the most interesting. Joe Grace, the former communications director for Mayor Street has the most political experience of any challenger and has seemed to build his entire campaign around the DROP issue. (Including this hilarious website, What would you buy with DiCicco’s DROP money.com) Vern Anastasio, is a lawyer and community activist in the city who has run against DiCicco before. Karen Brown is a former teacher and committeewoman in the city who is trying to portray her lack of political experience as a positive. Jeff Hornstein is a union official with a background in academia who will need to mobilize union support in the city to have any chance against his fellow challengers with far more political experience. The same could be said for Dan Stevenson, whose brother is an agent in the powerful Electricians’ Local 98 union (run by John Dougherty whose political influence was recently profiled by the Daily News). The only Republican in the race right now is Lou Lanni who has an uphill battle ahead of him in the heavily Democratic South Philly district. Lanni is a former Philadelphia police officer who has been in real estate for the past 18 years.
Anna Verna has been President of the City Council for the last three terms and has been in office for nine terms, so her upcoming retirement will leave a major void on the Council. This race is still developing because Verna only announced her retirement at the end of January, but there are “about ten” candidates considered running according to the Philadelphia Sunday Sun. The favorite has to be State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson who is very popular in his state district, which overlaps with the second in the city. The only other official candidate is Center City lawyer Damon Roberts who was quoted in the same article as saying that Johnson had told him he was not interested in the seat. Roberts added, “apparently he got an epiphany as soon as Verna announced she wasn’t running.”
Jannie Blackwell has represented the district since 1991 and was majority leader from 2000-2008. She currently chairs two of the most important committees, Education and Housing. Her only challenger is Alicia Burbage, a former staffer for State Sen. Anthony Williams and long-time community activist. Burbage has a hard road ahead of her of beating the long-time and powerful incumbent.
Curtis Jones Jr. is a freshman member and is not facing any opposition as of the present.
Darrell Clarke is the current majority whip for the Democrats and is facing an intra-party challenge from Suzanne Carn. Carn is the wife of former State Rep. Andrew Carn and has mostly worked in community activism throughout her life. She is also a Baptist minister and the founder of an HIV/AIDS counseling website. Clarke is a former Chief of Staff to Mayor Street and is believed to be looking for a promotion to either Majority Leader or President of the Council with the retirement of Verna.
Joan Krajewski is a retiring eight-term incumbent who took advantage of the DROP loophole to pocket $274,587 in 2008 according to FoxPhilly. Sandra Stewart is the rare Republican challenger in a district race, but she has no political experience and will very little chance of defeating the Democratic nominee. That race is very interesting because it pits Marty Bednarek, a former School Reform Commission member with Krajewski’s endorsement, against Bobby Henon, the political director of the aforementioned local 98 electricians’ union. “Bobby Henon will have everything he needs to run one of the best campaigns this city has ever seen,” union head John Dougherty said to the Inquirer. Two democratic ward leaders immediately switched their endorsement from Bednarek to Henon after he announced. Does anyone still think unions aren’t powerful in Philly?
Maria Quinones-Sanchez is a freshman incumbent who is also the first Latina to be elected to the Council. Danny Savage is running against her, which would be a rematch of the 2007 race, in which Sanchez defeated the incumbent Savage by a 50%-40% margin. Savage will have a difficult time defeating Sanchez in the increasingly Hispanic North/Northeast Philly district.
Donna Miller is retiring from her seat after four terms and the race to replace her is very crowded (though it may not be as high-profile as the elections to replace Verna and Krajewski). Verna Tyner, a former aide to Council members Cohen and Greenlee is running along with Cindy Bass, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, ward leader Greg Paulmier. Several other candidates have expressed an interest, but none have the name recognition of those three. Bass finished second in the Democratic primary to Miller four years ago, which may make her the favorite to win it this time, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Northwest Philly district.
Marian Tasco is the current majority leader of the Council and has the option of “retiring” for one day and receiving $488,507 should she decide to take advantage of the DROP loophole according to the Tribune. She has no credible opposition at this point, but she will have to answer questions about DROP until the election. The Inquirer ran an editorial on February 16 that said they would not endorse any candidates participating in the program.
Brian O’Neill is the only Republican Council member that represents an actual district and will not face opposition in the Republican primary. Bill Rubin, the former Board of Elections supervisor after his recent resignation in compliance with city ethic rules is expected to win the Democratic nomination and face the long-time incumbent in the general election. Rubin is well known in political circles, but defeating an eight-term incumbent is not easy in Philadelphia.
At large seats (Democrats)
W. Wilson Goode Jr., William Greenlee, Bill Green, Blondell Reynolds Brown, and James Kenney are all incumbents seeking reelection and it would be an upset if any one of them lost in either the Democratic primary or the general election. Community activist Lawrence Clark; committeewoman Sherrie Cohen who is also vice-president of the LGBT caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic party; Christopher Hayes, an openly gay state legislative assistant; Donna Gentile O’Donnell, a public policy consultant; and Andy Toy, an economic development specialist for the city, are challenging them.
At large seats (Republicans)
Jack Kelly is retiring and Frank Rizzo Jr. is a four-term incumbent who stands to collect a check worth $194,518 should he win his election, “retire” for a day and then return thanks to DROP. The Republican ward leaders held their endorsement meeting on February 15, where it was announced that David Oh, John Giordano, Malcolm Lazin, Al Taubenberger, and Joseph McColgan would be the official endorsements by the party. However, that will not stop Rizzo from running. He told the Inquirer, “I’m going to win the Republican primary and the general election.” It is believed that his involvement in DROP was the reason he was not endorsed. Taubenberger got the most votes at the meeting and he probably is the favorite because of his name recognition in the city having formerly run for mayor. McColgan has lost twice in bids for a U.S. house seat and currently works in banking. Lazin is a lawyer and executive director of the Equality Forum, an LGBT civil rights organization, Giordano is a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer, and Oh is a ward leader and center city attorney.
Note: An earlier version of this story referred to the 7th district as being in “North Philly.” Thanks to the astute reader who noted it comprised noth and northeast Philly. Additionally, previously cited breakdown of the 2007 results in the district switched the primary and general election results. They have been corrected.