Party Hopping: Scenes From Philly’s Big Election Night Bashes

As the election results came in and hopes were raised and dashed, Philly Mag's team of reporters captured the highs, the lows and everything in between.

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Last night, Philadelphia magazine dispatched reporters to most of the Democratic mayoral candidates’ Election Day parties (sorry, Milton Street) to document the agony and the ecstasy as election results rolled in. For good measure, we embedded our real estate editor at the party for Allan Domb as the “Condo King” waited to see if his bid to become an at-large City Council representative was successful. (It was.) Below, a diary of five reporters’ adventures on Election Night: Malcolm Burnley (covering the Doug Oliver bash), Jim Jennings (Domb), Holly Otterbein (Jim Kenney), Jared Shelly (Nelson Diaz and Lynne Abraham), and Liz Spikol (Anthony Williams).

Photo by Holly Otterbein

Photo | Holly Otterbein

7:17 p.m., Jim Kenney party: There is a massive shrine to Jim Kenney. Sadly, the son of South Philly did not hold his Election Night party at the Mummers Museum. Instead, it’s at Vie, an opulent venue on North Broad Street. There are sparkly chandeliers! There are buffet stations of meats, cheese and sushi! And there are cardboard cutouts of Kenney’s head everywhere! The entrance of Kenney’s bash (above) is particularly surreal, with way too many Kenney heads and red-white-and-blue “Jim Kenney Mayor” signs contrasting with delicate, flowery wallpaper. At times, it feels like being inside an Anthony Williams fever dream. —Holly Otterbein

Photo by Holly Otterbein

Photo | Holly Otterbein

7:19 p.m., Jim Kenney party: There are even two disembodied Kenney-head cutouts at the bar. That inspires more than one journalist to joke on Twitter that Kenney was enjoying a first celebratory drink. Sorry about that. It was just too easy, and delirium was beginning to take hold after a long day. (The Kenney heads didn’t help with that.) —HO

8 p.m., Allan Domb party: The party at Rittenhouse steak joint Smith and Wollensky is in its early stages and roughly 10 people are here. It’s being held upstairs in multiple rooms dotted with election signs and blue and orange balloons. Photographer HughE Dillon is here and is looking to make the rounds at a few parties tonight. The two big screens are locked on the news channels in anticipation of the election coverage. So far, the only duel is between The Bachelorette and the season finale of The Voice. —Jim Jennings

8:10 p.m., Nelson Diaz party: I arrive at the Nelson Diaz party at the Isla Verde restaurant in Kensington. There’s neon lights and salsa music pumping. Perhaps there’s some solace in knowing that your candidate isn’t likely to win because the mood is upbeat, fun and lively. Sure, people are complaining about the media and the political establishment, but they’re generally positive and supportive. Supporter Ana Molina blamed the media for claiming it was a two-man race between Kenney and Williams. (She assured me that I’m cool.) “The media can give you birth and also can cause your death,” she said. Sharon Newman Ehrich, who’s been a teacher in the neighborhood for 28 years, said the consensus at her polling station was “why vote for anyone else but the two candidates who have a chance?” Both Ehrlich and Molina say they “absolutely” think Philadelphia will one day have a Latino mayor. —Jared Shelly

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Photo | Liz Spikol

8:15 p.m., Anthony Williams party: It has to be 10 degrees in Liberty Ballroom A at the Sheraton Hotel Downtown at 17th and the Parkway, where Anthony Williams’ Election Day party is being held. Right now, there’s no one here except media, and the tables of soft pretzels and Tastykakes are begging for my intervention. I will restrain myself. They are for supporters, not for me. —Liz Spikol

8:25 p.m., Nelson Diaz party: Sara Manzano-Diaz arrives. The wife of Nelson refuses to shake hands with supporters. She’s a hugger. A big hugger. Upon her entrance she hugs seven people in rapid succession, me being one of them. “I’m proud of the fact that he’s run an honorable race, an ethical race,” says Manzano-Diaz about her husband. “For Nelson, it’s not about politics, it’s a mission and a calling.” I tell Manzano-Diaz that I’ve got to run because I’m tasked with covering the Lynne Abraham party as well. “It’ll be more fun here,” she tells me. After being here for about 30 minutes, I’m certain the party is just beginning. —JS

8:30 p.m., Allan Domb party: The benefit of getting to this type of event early is that there is little competition for the complementary food and beverages. Various finger foods, including tasty flatbread and whole cheesesteak spring rolls, are being pushed by well-dressed waiters. A solid mix of beer, wine and soda are also available as people start to make their way into the party. —JJ

8:30 p.m., Nelson Diaz party: A pickup truck draped in Nelson Diaz signage arrives blasting salsa music. It’s super loud. —JS

8:31 p.m., Anthony Williams party: A few more people have trickled in. Next door is Kenyatta Johnson’s Election Day party room, and the music they have on over there is thumping through the walls. There is no music in here. It’s more like a library. —LS

Tony-Williams-Party-Sign-4008:40 p.m., Anthony Williams party: Someone is coming up onstage to the mic! There are blue and white balloons and a sign that says “ONE PHILADELPHIA.” Oh, this guy isn’t anyone. He’s just doing a mic check. He says something like, “I wonder if there’s a basketball game going on anywhere.” I don’t know what he’s talking about, but the mic is working just fine. —LS

8:41 p.m., Anthony Williams party: We now have music for the 12 supporters who are here. As happens with smooth jazz, the music frees people up to go over and start digging into the food, i.e., the snacks. They get shooed away by someone who works here, who then tries to cover up the food with small linen napkins to symbolize its untouchability. —LS

8:45 p.m., Nelson Diaz party: A bartender changes the channel to ESPN for the NBA draft lottery selection show. She’s way too late and the draft order has been selected. I’m the only one at the party that seems to care that the Sixers got the third pick. —JS

8:45 p.m., Doug Oliver party: This might be the least-attended party of the mayoral hopefuls’ tonight, but also the least-defeatist in tone. It’s a small, intimate, gathering at the Pegasus Room in Germantown, wholly authentic to Doug Oliver’s frugal and inspired campaign. It’s the same room in which he began the campaign three months ago. Stevie Wonder is crooning in the background; two TV screens are primed for streaming election results on one wall, a tray of cookies and three warming buffet trays (Chinese food and chicken wings) sit idle at another. Only a dozen people (three of them reporters) linger about so far. Talking to Oliver’s sisters — who are showering glitter and free pens around the tables — the mood seems buoyant despite the inevitable news to come from the polls. They compliment my bright purple shirt (media relations are a long con, apparently) and then discuss the ascendance of their brother in this race. “A celebration of his progress,” is how sister Denise frames tonight. —Malcolm Burnley

8:46 p.m., Anthony Williams party: The linen napkins have been removed. Maybe they were waiting for Williams to get here before eating. Is he here? Where is Williams? —LS

Photo | Jim Jennings

Photo | Jim Jennings

8:50 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Allan Domb party: Domb arrives at the party. His entrance causes a buzz around the scene, which has now swelled to a gathering of 50 to 100 people — including a large group from Domb’s real estate office and members of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors (GPAR). Everyone seems cautiously optimistic that Domb will take home a seat on City Council, but the main theme remains, “It’s still early.” Cheesesteak spring roll portions have now been cut in half. As reports from roughly 60% of the precincts start to roll in, people are starting to get excited. It’s happening. —JJ

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Photo | Liz Spikol

8:54 p.m., Anthony Williams party: There are at least three tables full of supporters at this point. It’s a very diverse crowd, both in terms of ethnicity and age. Also diverse, in a different way: this carpet! This hotel may be old and stained and down at the heels, but this carpet makes me want to ask Lynne Abraham if she’ll get high with me so we can look at it together. It is trippy. —LS

8:59 p.m., Jim Kenney party: Everyone takes credit for Kenney’s blowout. Before the news media even declares that Kenney has won, an AFSCME letter is handed out to reporters that reads, “AFSCME Mobilizes Thousands of Members in Support of Jim Kenney.” Henry Nicholas, president of the city’s health care workers union, also says he lent Kenney a big hand by being the first labor leader in the city to back him—HO

8:59 p.m., Anthony Williams party: I chat with Lamont Hudson, who lives in University City. He’s here because he’s a Williams supporter. “I’m a father,” he says. His daughter is 7. “Education is a big issue and has been one for too long.” He says our other mayors and governors haven’t gotten it right. Does he think Williams can win tonight? “We’ll find out,” he says. “That’s why we’re here.” He’s sitting at the same table as a woman named Joy. She too likes Williams because of his position on the schools. “And he’s put funding back in the community,” she says. “I think he would make a great mayor.” Does she think he can win? “I think he has a good chance but we haven’t heard anything yet.” —LS

9:07 p.m., Anthony Williams party: I tell a guy in a green Carpenters union t-shirt that Kenney has been declared the winner. The man, whose name is Stanford, doesn’t seem to hear me, perhaps because a Spanish-guitar smooth jazz version of “Walk on By” has just been cranked up to 11. “I think he would do a fantastic job if he won,” the man says of Williams. Why does he like him? “He supports labor.” Doesn’t Kenney support labor? “No.” Then: “My union is backing Williams.” I ask Stanford what part of the city he lives in. “I don’t live in the city. I live in Trevose.” He assures me he voted in Trevose, though, then “came into the city to do my campaign work.” —LS

Photo | Holly Otterbein

Photo | Holly Otterbein

9:12 p.m., Jim Kenney party: The crowd at the Kenney party goes wild as an article goes up on the screen declaring that he won. —HO

Photo | Jared Shelly

Photo | Jared Shelly

9:14 p.m., Nelson Diaz party: Diaz arrives to chants of “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” from a group of enthusiastic supporters meeting him outside. He goes down the line slapping high-fives and giving people hugs and kisses. His wife Sara is beaming. —JS

9:15 p.m., Doug Oliver party: Reaction to the news that Kenney has won is a slowly rippling out. There’s shock, not because Oliver has lost — the room seems resigned to that reality — but because of how quickly news outlets called the race. Neither Oliver nor his campaign manager have arrived yet, nor a majority of the crowd. And the race is over. Several people tell me that if they hadn’t voted for Oliver, they would’ve gone for Kenney. —MB

9:18 p.m., Jim Kenney party: The head of Philadelphia’s largest municipal union says he is “looking forward” to contract negotiations with Kenney. Pete Matthews, president of the city’s blue-collar District Council 33, tells us that he anticipates “good, honest negotiations” with Kenney. If Kenney wins the November election (which he almost certainly will because this is Philadelphia), will he be able to say “no” to the unions? —HO

9:31 p.m., Anthony Williams party: The broadcast media illuminates their cameras. Word is in: Williams will be here in 10 minutes. Quel frisson! —LS

9:33 p.m., Anthony Williams party: Adolphus Bey, a retired carpenter and a committeeman in Northwest Philadelphia, approaches me and sits down to talk. He wants to tell a journalist his concerns. This is refreshing. Everyone has been eyeing me so warily. Bey’s concerns pertain to Johnny Doc, who, he feels, is consolidating power in a discomfiting way. He mentions his brother’s run for State Supreme Court, his opposition to Kenyatta Johnson, and his support for Kenney. “He’s a power broker, a power monger, and I just don’t know how he’s going to use that power. Will he do so in a constructive manner? Will it be for the good of the people? Or will he be a tyrant?” He has other concerns regarding statements Kenney made vis a vis policing, but, he concedes, that was a long time ago. “I hope that he has evolved in certain positions. But he came from a place…” He also mentions an interview with Kenney he heard in which Kenney touted the city’s growth and revitalization. Bey worries about gentrification, about the fact that so much of the city’s growth is spurred by the universities. “My concern is the growth is not geared toward low-income and minority communities.” As a Northwest Philly committeeperson, Bey admits, his support of Williams goes against the grain. “My name is mud right now. But I went with my heart. I made my decision before the leaders in the Northwest made theirs.” —LS

9:36 p.m., Lynne Abraham party: I arrive at the Lynne Abraham party at the Olde Bar in Old City. For a candidate who fought against age stereotypes the entire campaign, the choice of venue is curious. Most of the people are wearing suits and business attire. I can’t help but notice that there are only three African Americans in the room. —JS

9:40 p.m., Lynne Abraham party: At this point, the mayoral race had been called for about 45 minutes. But many people at the Abraham party had no clue. I asked one guy: “How do you feel?” “Confident,” he responded. “In what?” I replied. “Lynne winning,” he said. When I told him Lynne got trounced, he couldn’t believe it. —JS

9:45 p.m., Anthony Williams party: Bill Green is here, first inside the ballroom, then in the hallway on his cell phone, perhaps talking about a run for office? —LS

9:45 p.m., Lynne Abraham party: I speak to a very nicely dressed older gentlemen named Larry Weiss. He’s disappointed Abraham lost and is very worried about the future of Philadelphia. “I have great concern that Kenney really owes his soul to the unions,” he said. “We may have a recipe for financial disaster on our hands.” —JS

9:46 p.m., Anthony Williams party:  It’s getting really crowded now. —LS

Photo | Jared Shelly

Photo | Jared Shelly

9:48 p.m., Lynne Abraham party: Lynne Abraham takes the podium. In her concession speech, she calls running for mayor a “unique experience” and said that she was encouraged that the candidates stuck to the issues and didn’t resort to mudslinging. “I hope all future elections in Philadelphia are just like this one,” she says. Even though she lost, Abraham says she’s excited for Philadelphia’s future. No longer is it just the place between New York and Washington D.C. “We’ve been overlooked for far too long,” she says, noting that the Pope Francis visit and Democratic National Convention will showcase the city to an international audience and give Philadelphia the chance to become “the next great American city.” Twice during her speech she calls campaign finance rules “tough” on her campaign. But she says that playing by the rules of the ethics committee was ultimately a good thing. “People have to understand who is supporting these candidates.” Abraham is outspoken in her notion that more women need to seek top government and corporate positions. “More women ought to get the gumption and grit to run for mayor and be CEOs and CFOs,” she said. —JS

9:52 p.m., Anthony Williams party: Chaka Fattah arrives, walking very briskly. The seas part for him. Still no Williams. —LS

Photo | Liz Spikol

Photo | Liz Spikol

9:57 p.m., Anthony Williams party: Fattah has disappeared behind a large black scrim, which seems to indicate either that he’s hiding from someone or Williams is back there, too. And he is. Now Williams and a crew of 15 or so people come running out from behind the scrim. Williams allows everyone else to get onstage first — his wife, his mother, Fattah and numerous campaign workers. Finally, he stands at the podium with a typed paper and begins with a Rudyard Kipling excerpt. He delivers a gracious concession speech with kind words for Kenney, for his mother, staff and kids. He says he’s always smiling because “my wife is fine.” He and his wife, he says, are going to go home and sit on their porch and talk about the future of Philadelphia. “Because we’re not going anywhere.” —LS

Photos | Malcolm Burnley

Photos | Malcolm Burnley

10 p.m., Doug Oliver party: Nelson Diaz has already conceded before Oliver arrives in Germantown. Tall and affable, he slides through the crowd with a smile and outstretched hand, giving hugs and daps to everyone — family, friends, the caterer, reporters. He makes it a point to greet everyone in the room before talking to reporters. Denise put me at the front of the line (see: purple shirt). —MB

10:05 p.m., Jim Kenney party “Kenney! Kenney! Kenney!” the crowd roars as he takes the stage for his victory speech. U2’s “Beautiful Day” is playing. —HO

Photo | Jeff Fusco

10:07 p.m., Jim Kenney party: Kenney doesn’t cry once during his victory speech. He’s an emotional guy, so we thought we might see some waterworks. It doesn’t happen. Kenney delivers a speedy speech, in which he thanks his parents, his teachers at St. Joe’s Prep, and members of the “historic coalition” that backed him. “The challenges that are facing our great city are underfunded public schools, poverty and a strained relationship between the communities and our police,” Kenney says. “And we are also facing tremendous opportunities. All eyes will be on Philadelphia with next year’s Democratic National Convention. … I will need this coalition’s help to tackle both our challenges and meet our great potential.” —HO

Allan Domb Election Night

Photo | Jim Jennings

10 p.m. p.m., Allan Domb party: Anne Marie Rhoades, Domb’s campaign manager, pulls me aside and says she’ll have some exciting news to share with me in roughly six minutes. We head to a quiet part of the restaurant where a makeshift war room has been assembled. Domb sits calmly to the side as the staffers go over the numbers. Although they’re not sure where he’ll ultimately finish, the Domb camp calls the race in his favor and readies the victory speech. Here’s Domb mere moments after the word comes that his campaign has been successful: “It’s feels really good. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to finish, but it looks good right now. We’re cautious, but I think, at the end of the day, [the goal] is to help all Philadelphians achieve more in the next four years than we have today. People are in poverty. People need jobs. I want to help everybody. that’s my goal.” —JJ

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Photo | Jim Jennings

10:15 p.m., Allan Domb party:  Here comes the victory speech. The place is now packed with ecstatic supporters. “I can’t believe we actually made it here,” says Domb at the podium. The place erupts with laughter as he says, “I can’t believe that, ah, I have to call my mother now and tell her about this.” He starts to outline the “whirlwind tour” of a day, which took him all over the city including, Mayfair, Port Richmond, North Philadelphia, Center City, Chestnut Hill and South Philly. “It makes selling real estate look easy.” Domb sends a bunch of thanks to those around the room. Bill Green, who quietly found his way into the back of the room, gets a shout-out as well. Domb says that former Governor and Mayor Ed Rendell called earlier in the day and told him that if Philadelphian’s didn’t vote him in it would be a big mistake. Domb asks 92-year-old Louis Starkman, former GPAR president, to give a speech. He’s met with a warm reception. State Senator Larry Farnese has made an appearance and Domb brings him up to say a few words. Councilman Bobby Henon calls to congratulate Domb as he starts to outline his goals. “Bobby Henon wants to say hi,” says someone from the crowd. “I’ll call him back. I’ll call him back,” Domb nonchalantly replies. “I couldn’t do that yesterday,” he jokes amid laughs from the crowd. As the speech ends, it’s met with a rousing chant: “Mister Mayor in eight years.” —JJ

10:20 p.m., Doug Oliver party:  Oliver sits down with me for over 20 minutes to dissect the campaign and talk about his political future. “At this point, I don’t know what’s next,” Oliver says, equivocal on whether he’ll soon end up in city government or the private sector or run for mayor again in four or eight years. All possibilities. When I ask him about his biggest obstacle over the past three months, his typically suave and composed demeanor shows the slightest of cracks. The biggest setback, he says, was the media’s portrayal of him at the onset of the campaign. “To have all my work minimized to being a PR guy,” Oliver says. “is tantamount to saying that you were once in the fourth grade, so you must be a fourth grader.” —MB

10:30 p.m., Jim Kenney party: There was a very important Kenney ally missing. Without the support of labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, it’s unlikely that Kenney would have won Tuesday. But we didn’t spot Doc in the crowd. Doc has been largely been off-screen throughout the mayor’s race, and there’s a good reason for that: He was affiliated with a pro-Kenney super PAC, which was barred from coordinating with Kenney by law. —HO

10:40 p.m., Doug Oliver party: Proud, accomplished, fulfilled, encouraged, supported. All words that Oliver used to describe his mood when we were talking, prior to the concession speech. When he addressed supporters on the dimly-lit dance floor, oscillating lights flickering across his face Oliver spewed out thankfulness and positivity. Although he didn’t win the election, the campaign he ran was a victory. “We raised $43,000 and went to war with people who had $8 million,” he said. —MB

10:45 p.m., Jim Kenney party: Kenney looks ahead to a day in which Philly “can just get away from some of the negativity” and “do a good job in helping each other all grow.” While speaking to reporters afterward, Kenney is asked if the fact that he was supported by a diverse group of voters — young and old, black and white, poor and wealthy — meant Philadelphia was a different kind of city than it was in years past. “I think the city was always there,” he says. “I think it was always under the surface. If you look at how we interact with each other outside of politics, in sports and culture, in community festivals … we all like each other.” He adds, “We all have these life, neighborhood experiences that we all share in common, and if we can just get away from some of the negativity and the extraneous issues of fear and misunderstanding about each other, we can really do a good job in helping each other all grow.” —HO

11 p.m., Allan Domb party: Domb takes out his cell phone. He’s finally going to call his mother to tell her the news.—JJ