Oftentimes, elections feel like they’ve been decided by the powers that be before they’re even over. The 2016 primary was different: It was full of genuine nail-biters. At 8:30 p.m., I headed to state Rep. Dwight Evans’ Election Night party at Temptations on Chelten Avenue, and everyone around me spent the first hour-and-a-half of the celebration hunched over, obsessively refreshing the Department of State’s website on their phones as votes from different areas were counted. They weren’t just tracking Evans’ bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat — they were also following the Attorney General’s race, which looked like it might be won by Stephen Zappala at the beginning of the evening, as well as several close state legislative races.
By the end of the night, a seemingly unstoppable labor leader had lost, along with an indicted congressman, a bajillion-year incumbent, and a state representative who is part of one of the most powerful political machines in the city. What a wild election.
1. The Northwest Coalition
The Northwest Coalition, led by Evans and former Councilwoman Marian Tasco, helped put Jim Kenney in the mayor’s office last year. The alliance was also instrumental in electing Derek Green and Cherelle Parker to Council. Now, one of its own is going to Congress — Evans defeated U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District race yesterday. (Yes, Evans will technically face Republican James Jones in the fall. But, with the district being overwhelmingly Democratic, we all know how this movie ends.) Another sign of the organization’s rising power: Relish, the Northwest Coalition’s Election Day lunch spot, drew bigger crowds yesterday than Famous 4th Street Deli.
What does this mean for the future? Good things for Parker, potentially, if she runs for mayor in 2023. It could also mean bad things for District Attorney Seth Williams if the Northwest Coalition decides to support a challenger when he runs for reelection next year. (Tasco isn’t a fan of Williams’.) It’s worth noting, however, that the coalition did suffer one loss yesterday, which proves it isn’t indestructible: state Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, its pick in the 200th House District race, was not reelected.
2. Tom Wolf
Gov. Wolf hasn’t had a great first year-and-a-half in Harrisburg. Yesterday’s election delivered him a rare win — actually, make that wins, plural. His former chief-of-staff, Katie McGinty, finished first in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary. Sources close to Wolf said he helped raise $60,000 for her. Wolf also threw his weight behind Evans, reportedly raising about $20,000 for him, as well as Democrat Josh Shapiro, who cinched the Democratic nomination in the Attorney General’s race. Sure, Wolf also supported state Rep. Mark Cohen, who lost his reelection bid yesterday, but not even close to the way he supported the other three candidates.
3. Darrell Clarke
This was the first time that the City Council President got majorly involved in a statewide race: He endorsed Josh Shapiro for A.G., appeared in a commercial for him, and helped get several other Council members on his side. After his first taste of success, will Clarke throw his weight behind other statewide candidates in the future? I think so. Clarke’s former aide, state Rep. Donna Bullock, also fought off two challengers in her reelection campaign.
4. The Pennsylvania Democratic Establishment
Pennsylvania Democratic elites hate Joe Sestak. They hate him so much that they spent months trying to recruit someone to run against him in the primary. Eventually, they coalesced behind Katie McGinty. Everyone from President Barack Obama to Sen. Bob Casey endorsed her. For a long time, that looked like a really bad decision: Throughout the campaign, Sestak was walloping McGinty in polls. That only changed the very last week of the election. On April 20th, a poll was released showing Sestak and McGinty neck-and-neck. Then, just one day before the election, Harper Polling came out with a survey showing McGinty in the lead. The establishment is a winner for pulling off this victory at the very last minute — especially in a year in which outsiders have surged.
5. The Philly Suburbs
McGinty is from Wayne. Shapiro is from Abington. John Rafferty, the Republican state senator who won the GOP’s primary for attorney general, is from Lower Providence Township. That means Pennsylvania’s next state attorney general — and maybe the next U.S. senator — will be from the Philadelphia suburbs. The ‘burbs are on a roll.
5. John Fetterman
Technically, the mayor of Braddock lost the U.S. Senate primary yesterday. But the six-foot-eight, 350-pound long-shot candidate performed way, way better than expected: He captured almost 20 percent of the vote. An April 20th poll showed him winning a measly 4 percent of the vote in comparison. John Fetterman also received an embarrassing amount of good press throughout the campaign. I’m betting this isn’t the last we’ll hear of him.
6. Ben Waxman
I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of Ben Waxman, either. The former state Senate aide ran, and lost, in the four-man race for the 182nd House District seat occupied by Brian Sims. But Waxman finished second, earning a respectable 35 percent of the vote. He also secured the endorsement of the Democratic City Committee and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers during the campaign. It looks like Waxman is setting himself up to run in another two years. And if he does, Brian Sims should watch out: Put together, his challengers this year received 60 percent of the vote.
The Silicon Valley-based, Kickstarter-like website that has been pooh-poohed by every political insider in Philadelphia helped someone win an election yesterday. Temple adjunct professor Chris Rabb, the state House candidate who defeated the Northwest Coalition’s Tonyelle Cook-Artis, was originally recruited to run on Crowdpac. After being tapped, Rabb asked his friends on Facebook for support, and got pledges of financial support from more than 100 people. Afterward, Rabb decided to officially announce his candidacy. “People said, ‘I’m going to give you money to prove to you that I believe in you,” he told USA Today.
1. John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty
I almost can’t believe I’m writing this. John Dougherty, the seemingly all-powerful leader of the city’s building trades, was dealt a major blow yesterday. His preferred candidate in the Attorney General’s race, Stephen Zappala, was defeated by Shapiro by a 10-point margin statewide. If you look specifically at Philadelphia, Zappala lost there, too, despite Doc’s best efforts and at least one very, very dirty move. It appears this wasn’t the only race where Dougherty failed to deliver, either. He supported Kevin Boyle in the 5th Senate District race, and it looks like Boyle is going to lose to John Sabatina, Jr. once all the votes are counted.
2. Jim Kenney
During the Attorney General’s campaign, the new mayor of Philadelphia was in a tough spot: His ally Doc was supporting Stephen Zappala; meanwhile, Council President Darrell Clarke, whose good side Kenney needs to stay on, was backing Zappala opponent Josh Shapiro. So Kenney decided to do what any reasonable person would in that situation and stayed out of the race altogether, right? Nope! He jumped right in and endorsed Zappala. Kenney even appeared in a TV commercial for him. Despite Kenney’s help, Zappala went down in flames. So Kenney has expended his political capital for nothing, and he got in Clarke’s way a month before he needs him to support his proposed soda tax. Kenney’s a big loser today.
3. Bob Brady
Bob Brady, the city’s Democratic Party leader, is another person who is likely doing the walk of shame today. Along with Doc, Kenney and many others, Brady supported Zappala to no avail. Pennsylvanians also voted to kill the city’s perennially corrupt, half-dead Traffic Court, which Brady wanted, inexplicably, to raise from the dead. Three Philly Democratic incumbents lost in yesterday’s election, too — Tonyelle Cook-Artis, Lynwood Savage and Mark Cohen — which is a blow to Brady’s Democratic machine.
4. The Boyle Brothers
OK, technically the race between Kevin Boyle and John Sabatina, Jr. is still too close to call. But it doesn’t look good for Boyle: With 98.5 of voting precincts counted, Sabatina is ahead with 51 percent of the vote. Fran Nelms, a former aide to Kevin’s brother and Congressman Brendan Boyle, also lost in the 170th House District race yesterday.
5. The Cohen Family
Mark Cohen, the 42-year state representative, was positively destroyed by challenger Jared Solomon yesterday. He lost by a 57-43 margin. Cohen comes from an entrenched political family: His father, David Cohen, was a “liberal lion” on City Council for decades, and his sister, Sherrie Cohen, is a politically active public interest attorney. In fact, it’s not been a good few years for the Cohens: In 2015 and 2011, Sherrie lost two separate bids for City Council At-Large.
6. Special Elections
Tonyelle Cook-Artis, the state Rep. who was defeated by Chris Rabb, originally won her seat in a special election earlier this year. So did Lynwood Savage, who lost yesterday to former City Council aide Morgan Cephas. Yes, there were others who originally came into office through special elections and then won re-election yesterday, such as Donna Bullock, Joanna McClinton and Ed Neilson. Still, are Philadelphians getting fed up with special elections, in which party insiders effectively handpick elected officials? Or are these incumbents losing simply because they don’t have enough name recognition after serving for just a few months?
Philadelphia — Philadelphia! — rejected corruption yesterday. Not only did city voters help kill Traffic Court, but they also gave the boot to Chaka Fattah, the longtime Congressman who was charged with using taxpayer money and nonprofit donations to pay off a $1 million loan, among other things. You’re not all the things the haters say you are, Philly.
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