Tuesday’s election was a weird mix of pre-ordained results, huge upsets and one photo-finish.
It was, in the main, a very good night for Democrats. And Philadelphia being a Democratic town, the list of winners in this election is a lot longer than the losers.
1. Big city liberals
Pennsylvanians put two Allegheny County residents and one Philadelphian on the state’s highest court yesterday. Jim Kenney, a rowhouse champion with big labor backing, swept to an easy victory. Cities turned up big yesterday in Pennsylvania.
2. John Dougherty
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Johnny Doc had a really good election day. His brother, Kevin M. Dougherty, won a seat on the state Supreme Court. Kevin Dougherty was the top vote-winning Supreme Court candidate statewide. His victory speaks well of him, of course: Kevin Dougherty is a well regarded Common Pleas Court judge. But it also says plenty about Johnny Doc’s statewide juice. This was the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history, and Doc just crushed it.
3. Marian Tasco and Dwight Evans
Their joint victory was really won in the primary, but it was sealed last night when two of their proteges — Cherelle Parker and Derek Green — were formally elected to City Council, and their endorsed mayoral choice Jim Kenney won running away. At a time when Chaka Fattah’s political organization is reeling, and Anthony Williams‘ is still recovering from his crushing defeat in the mayoral primary, the Evans and Tasco-led Northwest coalition is making big, big moves. They’re looking to capitalize on that momentum: Evans announced Monday that he’ll challenge Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District.
4. Helen Gym and other Council newcomers
The first-time candidate and fierce public schools advocate was the top vote-getter in the City Council at-large race. Gym racked up about 143,000 votes, or about 8,000 more than Democratic incumbent William Greenlee, which gives her bragging rights and a modest boost in political capital as she joins Council. The Democrats all got way more than needed to win, as expected. But it seems notable that the order of finish featured newcomers 1. Gym, 2. Derek Green and 3. Allan Domb, with incumbents Blondell Reynolds Brown and Greenlee bringing up the rear.
5. Jim Kenney
He won in commanding fashion, just as he was expected to. Kenney has seemed a bit uncomfortable during this weird non-campaign campaign. Now he’s mayor-elect, and the stage is clearly his. Look for him to hit the ground running, with a lot of staff announcements far earlier than Nutter made them. His team has been working on the transition more than the campaign itself. That made sense, given the competition. It was the best use of Kenney’s time. But it has kept Kenney out of the spotlight. Now he needs to seize it.
6. Melissa Murray Bailey
She was destroyed at the polls, and raised only a pittance. And yet, Bailey acquitted herself as well as a wildly overmatched candidate could. If she wants it, she has a future in the city’s Republican party.
7. Christopher Sawyer
This atypical, muckraking, aisle-crossing GOP sheriff candidate was the top Republican vote-winner in Tuesday’s election. He got 9,000 more votes than did Republican mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey, and he was running in an ultra-obscure office that plenty of voters opt not to vote for at all. Sawyer, who runs Philadeliquency, can build on this.
Dougherty’s Local 98 used its statewide leverage and local street muscle to help elect three Democrats to the Supreme Court. The PFT-endorsed Helen Gym topped all Council candidates in votes. And it looks like Taubenberger — backed by the PFT, the police and firefighter unions and other labor groups — has won a Council seat. Dan Tinney, another labor favorite in the GOP Council race, placed a solid fourth. That’s a strong showing for labor.
9. Al Schmidt
The Republican was re-elected as City Commissioner, but that was automatic. All the commissioners were unopposed. Schmidt makes the winners list because he is single-handedly making the long somnolent Commissioners office — which runs elections in this town — a go-to source for deeply researched voting data. His office produced a fascinating, totally non-partisan analysis of bullet voting last month, for instance. This is work that goes above and beyond the formal duties of his office. Compare that to Anthony Clark, the incumbent Democrat and chair of the City Commissioners, who rarely votes and rarely comes into the office that he theoretically runs. And yeah, Clark was also re-elected. No word yet on whether or not he voted yesterday.
1. Pennsylvania Republicans
The easy Democratic sweep of three Supreme Court seats is a huge, huge development — and a crushing defeat for the GOP. This race was supposed to be really close. It wasn’t. Now Democrats have what could be a very durable majority on the high court. That’s likely to yield rulings on an array of hot-button issues that Republicans won’t like, not to mention more favorable redistricting for Democrats. For the state GOP, this election was a hugely consequential embarrassment.
2. Andrew Stober
The City Council at-large candidate was conducting a fascinating experiment: can a well-funded, highly-qualified Independent candidate with big-name endorsements compete against city Republicans? The clear answer, right now, is “No.” Not close. Stober finished 6th out of nine non-Democratic at-large Council candidates. His 16,000 votes were just 4,881 more than Kristin Combs, the Green party candidate, who campaigned with way less money and received considerably less media attention than Stober. Today, in an email to supporters, Stober pointed out that he, Combs and other non-GOP candidates received about 32,000 votes — which is a lot more than the past record of 6,000 votes cast for non-Republican candidates.
Perhaps that will lead other independents to explore this route in the future. But to have a shot at winning, they’ll either need much greater name recognition than Stober had, or a lot more money.
3. The Philly GOP’s insurgent wing
Incumbent GOP councilman Dennis O’Brien will likely lose his seat when all the votes are counted. But if he does, he’ll be replaced by challenger Al Taubenberger, who’s very much a part of the city’s GOP establishment. Terry Tracy, the young candidate who represented the new guard in Philadelphia’s Republican party, finished fifth.
4. Mayor Nutter
The guy probably doesn’t care, and I can’t think of a good reason why he should, but Nutter’s endorsed City Council picks — Stober, Greenlee, Green and Brown — did not fare particularly well, as a group. Stober was smoked. And Brown and Greenlee finished fourth and fifth in the Democratic race, respectively. Green did well, but so did Gym and Domb, who Nutter snubbed.
5. Row office reform
There are some really smart people who think the city’s elected row offices — that’d be Sheriff, Register of Wills and the City Commissioners — shouldn’t be elected positions at all. Voters seem not to agree. Or at least, they’re not bothered enough to register their objections at the polls.
MIA City Commissioner Anthony Clark ran unchallenged by a Republican, and he collected nearly 153,000 votes; or about 116,000 more votes than incumbent GOP Commissioner Al Schmidt (who we mentioned above as basically a super-commissioner). Meanwhile, Democratic Register of Wills Ron Donatucci was re-elected to a TENTH four-year term, against opponent Ross Feinberg, who vowed to disband the office if elected. So much for row office reform — for now, at least.