The No-Bullshit City Council At-Large Election Guide

It’s time to cut to the chase. Here’s the best and worst of each candidate, deep links for the undecided, and all the answers you need before the polls open on Tuesday.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

It’s totally OK if you haven’t been paying attention to Philadelphia’s Democratic City Council At-Large race. The contest hasn’t grabbed a lot of headlines, with the mayoral race sucking up so much oxygen. But it’s a doozy, and the race is critically important. Council members have grabbed so much power in recent years that they’re sometimes more influential than the mayor.

So we’ve put together a brutally honest cheat sheet. It’s not meant to be your typical voter’s guide. The candidates’ strengths, weaknesses, everything — we’re calling ’em like we see ’em. There are 16 Democratic candidates, including a dozen challengers you may have never heard of before. You can vote for five in all, or you can vote strategically and choose fewer than five candidates. Here are your options.

W. Wilson Goode, Jr.

The basics: 49. A Democratic City Councilman At-Large. Son of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr.

The Case for Goode …

  • He’s a fierce fighter for low-wage workers. Goode pushed through a measure last year to ask voters if Council should have the power to force city subcontractors to pay their employees a minimum wage of $12 per hour. Voters overwhelmingly said “yes.” Before that, the median annual pay for some full-time airport workers was just $16,000. Years earlier, Goode was the sponsor of a bill that gave a raise to city employees as well as workers at firms that receive city contracts. And he introduced legislation, which was approved, to give a tax credit to employers that create jobs paying at least $12 per hour.
  • He’s pushed for more diversity in and out of government. Year in and year out, Goode has called on city departments to report on the diversity of their staffs. He was also behind a 2012 law aimed at cracking down on city contractors that violate Philadelphia’s minority-participation rules.
  • He’s experienced. He’s been a Councilman for 15 years.

The Case Against …

W. Wilson Goode, Jr. | Photo via City Council's Flickr

W. Wilson Goode, Jr. | Photo via City Council’s Flickr

Blondell Reynolds Brown

The basics: 62. A Democratic City Councilwoman At-Large.

The Case for Brown …

  • She’s a vocal and reliable education advocate. She can almost always be counted on to vote for more funding for the city’s schools.
  • She’s a champion for women. She introduced legislation to ask voters this spring if Philadelphia should create a Commission for Women. She’s advocated for more women on corporate boards. Since 1999, she’s been the only woman to snag a City Council At-Large seat. And she’s the only woman in Council leadership today.
  • She’s made the city a greener place. She got a bill passed to ask voters to make Philadelphia’s Office of  Sustainability a permanent fixture. They gave it a thumbs up. She sponsored legislation that helped bring bike sharing to Philadelphia. She ushered in a law to force owners of big commercial properties to report their energy usage to the city. Just to name a few examples.
  • The law that requires restaurant chains in Philly to post calorie counts was her baby. She introduced that legislation in 2008.
  • She’s experienced. She’s been a Councilwoman for 15 years.

The Case Against …

  • She’s got $49,000 worth of ethics problems. The Board of Ethics slapped her and her campaign committee with a $48,834 fine in 2013 for a host of violations, including using campaign dollars to pay back a personal loan.
  • She admitted in 2012 that she could firm up on the city’s budget. She said at the time she was on the lookout for a municipal finance class.
  • She’s an incumbent. Again, are you unhappy with City Council? Then maybe you shouldn’t vote for a Council leader who’s been in office since the turn of the century.
Blondell Reynolds Brown | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Blondell Reynolds Brown | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Bill Greenlee

The basics: 61. A Democratic City Councilman At-Large.

The Case for Greenlee …

  • He’s the reason paid sick leave is the law of the land in Philly. Making that happen wasn’t easy. It took seven years, and Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed two of Greenlee’s paid sick leave bills. But today, companies with at least 10 employees have to offer paid sick leave to their employees. As many as 200,000 workers could benefit from Greenlee’s new law.
  • He’s advocated for battered women. He introduced a bill requiring employers to provide unpaid leave to victims of domestic abuse. It became law in 2009.
  • He’s experienced. He’s been a Councilman for nine years. He’s currently the Majority Deputy Whip. He also worked for the late progressive Councilman David Cohen for 26 years.

The Case Against …

Bill Greenlee | Photo via City Council's Flickr

Bill Greenlee | Photo via City Council’s Flickr

Ed Neilson

The basics: 51. A Democratic City Councilman At-Large. A former state representative.

The Case for Neilson …

  • He’s got relationships in Harrisburg. He was a state lawmakers for two years, and that should theoretically come in handy when Philadelphia goes hat in hand to Harrisburg for school funding or other aid.
  • He’s pushed for legislation to combat human trafficking. Along with Councilwoman Reynolds Brown, he introduced legislation that would require hotels to teach workers how to look out for sex trafficking. And he co-sponsored another bill to ban hourly rates at hotels.
  • He just got on Council. OK, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. But Neilson just became a Councilman last August, after winning a special election to replace former Councilman Bill Green. Give him a chance, will ya?

The Case Against …

  • He owes IBEW Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. Philadelphia’s mighty electricians union, where Neilson was once a political director, has contributed a lot of dough to his campaign. Doc already has plenty of Council allies, including Sixth District Councilman and Local 98 official Bobby Henon, and he is supporting mayoral frontrunner Jim Kenney. Does the city really need another Doc soldier in office?
  • He was handed his seat on a silver platter. Ward leaders hand-picked Neilson to be the Democratic candidate in the special election to replace Green. There are no primaries for special elections, which means the Democratic nominee almost always wins.
Ed Neilson | Photo via City Council's Flickr

Ed Neilson | Photo via City Council’s Flickr

Sherrie Cohen

The basics: 60. An attorney at the Tenant Union Representative Network. A candidate for City Council At-Large in 2011. Daughter of the late Councilman David Cohen.

The Case for Cohen …

  • She’s probably the most liberal candidate in the race. The longtime activist fought to keep libraries open when Nutter threatened to close them during the Great Recession — and won. She’s advocated for the rights of poor renters. She supports a $15-per-hour minimum wage. She backs a locally-controlled school board. And she’s a member of a well-known progressive Philly family.
  • If elected, she would be the first openly gay member on Council. Yeah. In 2015, Philadelphia still hasn’t had one of those yet.
  • She’s the only City Council At-Large challenger endorsed by the Democratic Party. 

The Case Against …

  • She’s maybe not the most fiscally responsible candidate. Citified asked Cohen during an interview if there would ever be a scenario in which she would cut funding for libraries or pools — say, in the worst budget crisis imaginable. She said no.
  • She’s the candidate of the Democratic machine. If you’re looking for a candidate to shake up City Hall, she’s not for you.
  • She can be hypocritical. Earlier this year, her campaign was on the hunt for an office manager who would be paid a generous $2.86 per hour. Cohen says the job listing was a mistake, and she was looking for a volunteer only.
Sherrie Cohen | Photo via Cohen's campaign

Sherrie Cohen | Photo by Colleen Stepanian

Helen Gym

The basics: 47. A co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. Board member of Asians American United. Former school teacher.

The Case for Gym …

  • She’s the No. 1 candidate for traditional education. She was the very first City Council candidate to be endorsed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. She co-founded the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a beloved news source for students, parents and teachers. She was instrumental in the fight that led to the school district’s adoption of an anti-harassment policy. She’s against the unregulated expansion of charters. She’s got the most serious plan to fund education of all the Council (and, sadly, mayoral) candidates.
  • She’s fought hard for government transparency. Though she is best known for her education advocacy, Gym has also been a fierce champion for open records. Earlier this year, she and civil rights lawyers won a years-long court battle to obtain a secret report on school closures.
  • She’s a brilliant communicator. And she’s a pro at getting the media to pay attention to a cause.
  • She’d make Council more interesting. Like former Councilman Bill Green (who, ironically, has clashed with Gym repeatedly), Gym would likely use Council hearings to ask challenging questions and demand answers. In her case, she’d focus not just on the mayor, but the school district as well.

The Case Against …

  • She’s divisive. Gym is a polarizing figure who often prefers confrontation to cooperation. Can that style work in Council?
  • She might have tripped up on the city’s campaign finance law. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers may have donated more to Gym’s campaign than allowed by law. Gym’s team says if that’s true, she and her campaign knew nothing about it.
  • She’ll owe the teachers union. If you’re looking for a Council member who would advocate for significant concessions from the PFT, Gym is not the candidate for you.

Allan Domb

The basics: 60. The Center City “condo king.” President of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors.

The Case for Domb …

  • He’s got waaaay more business experience than any other candidate. He’s a mega-realtor/developer who has sold upwards of 33,000 condominiums. If you think City Council isn’t business-friendly, you ought to consider Domb.
  • He’s got a good relationship with City Council members. At his inauguration as prez of the realtors association, eight Council members (including Council President Darrell Clarke) showed up to kiss his ring. Having allies on Council would help him push through his proposals.
  • He’s a fierce proponent of cracking down on property tax deadbeats. You can find out more about his plan to vanquish tax delinquency here.

The Case Against …

Paul Steinke

The basics: 51. The former boss of the Reading Terminal Market.

The Case for Steinke …

  • He’s run successful organizations. He was the top dog at the Reading Terminal Market for 13 years, a finance director at the Center City District, and the first executive director at the University City District. So when he says he wants to revitalize commercial corridors as a Councilman, you can take him seriously. He’s done it already. He also knows how to get businesses, nonprofits and city government all rowing in the same direction, which isn’t easy.
  • He’s got a diverse coalition of supporters. Everyone from former Gov. Ed Rendell to gay business owners to the Philadelphia Tribune is backing him.
  • If elected, he would be the first openly gay member on Council.

The Case Against …

  • Like many of the Council candidates, his plan to fund schools is shaky. To raise money for the cash-starved school district, Steinke doesn’t support Nutter’s plan to raise property taxes by 9 percent. He says he’s “open” to a lower property tax increase, though he doesn’t have a firm number. He’s also proposed reassessing properties more often, cracking down on tax deadbeats, and collecting PILOTs, or “payments in lieu of taxes,” from nonprofits. It’s not clear all of this would add up to the $103 million that officials say the school district needs this year.
Paul Steinke (on right) | Photo via Steinke's Facebook

Paul Steinke (on right) | Photo via Steinke’s Facebook

Isaiah Thomas

The basics: 30. An adjunct professor at Lincoln University. A candidate for City Council At-Large in 2011.

The Case for Thomas…

  • He’s racked up a ton of endorsements from a diverse array of elected officials and interest groups. Here are a few of them: Former Mayor John Street. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle. The Philadelphia AFL-CIO. The firefighters’ union. The Teamsters. The progressive Pennsylvania Working Families. The pro-biz group Philadelphia 3.0 That’s a pretty stunning list, given that Thomas has never held elected office before, and only ran for City Council once before.
  • He’s intimately familiar with the two very different poles of Philadelphia’s education system: K-12 schools and the city’s universities. He’s an adjunct professor in Lincoln University’s human studies department and an associate dean at Sankofa Freedom Academy, a charter school.
  • He’s got a good relationship with City Council members. He’s been endorsed by lawmakers Curtis Jones, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Cindy Bass, Kenyatta Johnson and Marian Tasco.
  • If elected, he’d be the first millennial on Council.

The Case Against …

  • In a way, he’s an establishment candidate. Even though he’s a fresh face, he’s got the backing of old-school politicians.
  • He’ll probably end up disappointing someone. How could you not when you’ve won over both Pennsylvania Working Families and Philadelphia 3.0?
Isaiah Thomas (in blue tie) | Via Thomas' campaign site

Isaiah Thomas (in blue tie) | Via Thomas’ campaign site

Tom Wyatt

The basics: 43. A partner at the Center City law firm Dilworth-Paxson.

The Case for Wyatt …

  • He’s got business chops. As a lawyer, he’s represented clients in acquisitions, mergers and stock sales. He was the chief ethics and compliance officer at New Jersey’s American Water Works Company, a utility with more than three million customers. It’s no wonder Philadelphia 3.0 is supporting him.
  • He’s a neighborhood leader, too. He heads the education committee at the Passyunk Square Neighborhood Association, where he’s been a bulldog for Andrew Jackson Elementary, helping to install a green roof and fix up the playground.
  • He has a compelling life story. He almost flunked out of high school, lived in a trailer park, and worked at Burger King for a time. But he got into college on academic probation, and today, he’s a lawyer at a big-time firm.
  • He wants to reform the city’s business taxes. Wyatt’s jobs plan would eliminate Philadelphia’s business tax on profits, and make up for the lost revenue by temporarily hiking the city’s business tax on sales.

The Case Against …

  • Wyatt’s plan to reform the city’s business taxes isn’t new. And it didn’t pass when Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and former Councilman Bill Green proposed it a few years ago.

Derek Green

The basics: 44. A former top aide to City Councilwoman Marian Tasco. A past assistant district attorney and deputy solicitor. A candidate for City Council At-Large in 2007.

The Case for Green …

  • He’d be a crusader for kids with special needs. Green’s son Julian was diagnosed with autism at 30 months, so he knows what it takes to fight for services in the school district. When Julian first started going to Houston Elementary, a public school, it had no autism support classes. Today, because of Green’s advocacy, it has three. Green wants to create a committee on Council specifically aimed at helping children with special needs as well as their families.
  • He’d be a voice for a small business owners. As an owner of a Mt. Airy shoe store, he’s all too familiar with the city’s bureaucratic red tape. “Just getting a tax account and a business privilege license was really a challenge,” he told NewsWorks.
  • He’s experienced. After working for one of the Philadelphia’s veteran lawmakers, he has relationships with a bevy of Council members, staffers, lobbyists and department chiefs. He’s also written legislation himself.

The Case Against …

  • He might have a campaign finance problem. It’s against the law for city workers to collect political donations. But while in Councilwoman Tasco’s office, Green was the guest of honor at a fundraiser held by a political action committee called the “Green Fund.” And when he became a Council At-Large candidate, he took over the Green Fund. But Green insists he had nothing to do with the Green Fund while he was a city employee. For this part, the Ethics Board has not taken any action against him.
  • His school funding plan is shaky. Green is opposed to Nutter’s plan to raise money for the city’s schools by hiking the property tax by 9 percent. But his alternative proposal is full of “maybes”: He says he would consider seeking PILOTs from nonprofits, hiring fewer people than the administration has budgeted for, and shifting some of Philadelphia’s property tax revenues from the city to the school district.
Derek Green | Photo via Green's campaign site

Derek Green | Photo via Green’s campaign site

Frank Rizzo | Photo via Rizzo's Facebook

Frank Rizzo | Photo via Rizzo’s Facebook

Frank Rizzo, Jr.

The basics: 72. A former Republican City Councilman At-Large. Son of past Mayor Frank Rizzo.

The Case for Rizzo …

  • When he was a Councilman, Rizzo’s office was known for delivering top-notch constituent services. If you were unhappy with Philly311, the city’s non-emergency call center, you could call him.
  • He’s experienced. He served on City Council for 16 years, and was the Minority Whip from 2000 to 2011.
  • He introduced ethics legislation in 2008. The bills would have banned outside employment for Council members, reigned in nepotism, and limited campaign donations.
  • He’d keep the Rizzo flame alive. If you’re into that sort of thing.

The Case Against …

  • Beside the ethics bills, Rizzo doesn’t have a well-known legislative record. It’s the downside of fixating on constituent services.
  • He enrolled in DROP. When Rizzo lost his reelection campaign in 2011, pundits said it was because he participated in the city’s loathed retirement program, which allows some elected officials to retire for one day, collect a six-figure check, and then show up for work 24 hours later.
  • He’s a political opportunist. After being a Republican for decades, he switched his party registration to Democrat in 2013.

Jenne Ayers | Photo via Ayers' Facebook

Jenne Ayers | Photo via Ayers’ Facebook

Jenne Ayers

The basics: 26. A Yale University law student. Daughter of former fire commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

The Case for Ayers …

  • She’s been active in civic life since she was a kid. She was president of Philadelphia NAACP’s Youth Council and co-president of YOUTHadelphia.
  • She’s got a bright future. She’s a graduate of Harvard and Masterman High School. Now she’s at Yale. She’s going places.
  • If elected, she’d be the the first millennial on Council.

The Case Against …

  • She’s a long-shot candidate. She raised $8,300 in 2015. Compare that to the top challengers in the City Council At-Large race, who have amassed donations in the six figures. Money isn’t everything, but such a small amount of cash makes it difficult (or impossible) to air TV ads, send out fliers, and pay ward leaders to place your name on their sample ballots.


Marnie Aument-Loughrey | Photo via Aument-Loughrey’s Facebook

Marnie Aument-Loughrey

The basics: 49. Head of the Kensington Independent Civic Association.

The Case for Aument-Loughrey …

The Case Against …

  • She’s a perennial candidate. She ran for Traffic Court in 2011 and 2013, City Council in 2007, and the state House in 2000. Lost every time. For this campaign, she raised $4,800 in 2015.

Wilson Alexander | Photo via Alexander's Facebook

Wilson Alexander | Photo via Alexander’s Facebook

Wilson Alexander

The basics: 62. A board member of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

The Case for Alexander …

  • He’s got an impressive resume. He was a press secretary for the late state Sen. Hardy Williams and, in the poorest big city in the country, he has fought for impoverished residents at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

The Case Against …

Carla Cain | Photo via Cain's campaign website

Carla Cain | Photo via Cain’s campaign website

Carla Cain

The basics: 47. A Democratic committee person in Mt. Airy.

The Case for Cain …

The Case Against …

  • She doesn’t have a chance. She raised $665 — that’s not a typo — in all of 2015.