The Brief: The Coffee Can That Can Kill a Politician’s Dreams

Today, candidates' all-important ballot positions will be determined by the luck of the draw.

Tim Dowling with the Horn & Hardart can | Photo Credit: Holly Otterbein

Philadelphia elections official Tim Dowling with the fateful Horn & Hardart can. | Photo Credit: Holly Otterbein

That innocuous-looking coffee can right there — yeah, that one — can kill a candidate’s dreams.

It can also suddenly transform a lackluster candidate into a threat.

That’s because, here in Philadelphia, the order in which a city candidate’s name is listed on the voting ballot is determined by which bingo ball they draw out of a Horn & Hardart coffee can. That can have a big impact on elections because candidates at the top of the ballot tend to fare better than those at the bottom.

On Wednesday at 11 a.m., the fateful lottery for the May 19th primary ballot positions begins.

The race in which today’s drawings matter the least, actually, is the mayor’s race. That’s because voters care (somewhat) about that contest. In other words, they’re not likely to vote for a mayoral candidate simply because they lead the ballot. So we won’t pay too much attention to which mayoral wannabe scores the top spot.

Instead, we’ll be looking at who fares well in the lottery in the down-ballot races, particularly the City Council At-Large race. Twenty-one Democrats, including four incumbents, are currently running for an At-Large seat. That’s a whole lot of people who many voters have never heard of, so where they land on the ballot matters.

The Council At-Large incumbents who are seen as more vulnerable, such as Blondell Reynolds Brown and Ed Neilson, are likely crossing their fingers extra tightly for a top position. When the Democratic Party decides who to endorse for City Council At-Large, they’ll almost certainly take the lottery’s results into consideration. And some of the better-known Council At-Large challengers, such as Sherrie Cohen, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Paul Steinke and Isaiah Thomas, could get a major boost if they score a top spot.

We also wouldn’t be surprised if some candidates who do poorly into today’s lottery drop out of the race shortly thereafter. Seriously. That’s how important this is.

Check back on Citified later today to find out who did — and didn’t — get lucky.

Don’t Miss …
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  • WHYY interviews Superintendent William Hite on everything from Mayor Michael Nutter‘s proposed property tax hike to his own future. He says he plans on staying with the school district for at least five years.