Independent Council Candidate Andrew Stober Endorsed by Nutter and Rendell

It's a big boost for Stober's campaign. But can he win?

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo credit: screenshot of Stober announcement video.

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo Credit: Screenshot of Stober’s announcement video

Independent at-large City Council candidate Andrew Stober’s unprecedented campaign got a big — if expected – boost today, in the form of endorsements from Mayor Michael Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Conventional wisdom — and long history — argues that Independent candidates don’t stand a chance in Philadelphia. But Stober is anything but a conventional Independent candidate.

  • He’s got money: $63,000 on hand, as of Sept. 23, more than any other GOP or Indy Council candidate.
  • Since he’s running for an at-large seat, Stober doesn’t have to beat any Democrats: he’s just got to win one of two at-large seats reserved by the City Charter for the minority party (that would obviously be the GOP) or independents.
  • He’s got union backing, in the form of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Fraternal Order of Police.
  • He’s unusually well-qualified for an Indy candidate (or a non-Indy candidate, for that matter), having served at a senior level in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.
  • Stober’s an Indy in name, and in his politically entrepreneurial spirit, but on the issues Stober is clearly a progressive. In other words, his politics are more closely aligned with most Philly voters than are those of the GOP candidates.
  • And he’s got those Nutter and Rendell endorsements which, on their own, probably don’t do much for Stober. But in the context of these other factors, they do cement the notion that Stober ought to be taken very seriously.

Stober’s not the only independent or third-party candidate running for the job. Also in the contest are Sheila Armstrong, a North Philadelphia activist (and one of the plaintiffs in the PILCOP lawsuit seeking equitable state education funding); Kristin Combs, a teacher and Green Party member, and John Staggs, a member of the Socialist Workers Party and a Walmart employee.

Those candidates are virtually certain to finish at the bottom of the pack, as Independent and third-party candidates have for generations in Philadelphia. They have virtually no money, small public profiles and little institutional support (though Combs is endorsed by the city’s blue-collar employee union, AFSCME DC 33).

How much better off than those also-rans is Stober? It’s difficult to say. The money he’s raised is impressive, but it’s not enough to go on TV or introduce himself to a wide swath of voters. Stober is quite well known in a very small circle of wonks and urbanists, but outside that core he’s likely no better known that Staggs, Combs or Armstrong. The union support and endorsements will surely help some, but are they enough to stop Democrats from automatically voting for all the Ds on the ballot? Or will Independent voters accustomed to the only qualified city candidates being Democrats or Republicans find Stober’s name and connect him with what they’ve heard about the guy?

And then there are the Republicans. The party is fielding two incumbents, Daivd Oh and Dennis O’Brien, but they’ve both got political problems, and the city GOP itself is riven. More than in most years, it seems likely that the Republican nominees will finish in a tight bunch, instead of a clear #1 and #2, followed by also-rans. That works to Stober’s advantage.

Will it be enough? I’ll be honest: I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished well behind the top two GOP candidates. But I don’t know that he ought to be written off as breezily as the Republicans suggest he should be.