The GOP City Council At-Large Race Is Too Close To Call

Incumbent Dennis O'Brien could be in serious trouble.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

The most fascinating race in Philadelphia’s municipal election is too close to call.

With almost 98 percent of voting precincts posting their results, Republican Councilman David Oh and GOP challenger Al Taubenberger are currently in the lead in the contest for two City Council at-large seats reserved for minority parties.

But they’re just barely ahead: Oh has 34,220 votes, Taubenberger has 34,064 votes, and Republican Councilman Dennis O’Brien is trailing closely behind them with 33,614 votes. Once all the votes are tallied, a recount could possibly be demanded by whoever finishes third among the Republican and independent at-large candidates.

One sure loser in the minority at-large race is Andrew Stober, a former transportation aide in the Nutter administration who mounted a campaign as a progressive-minded independent. Stober finished a distant sixth of nine.

In a typical election, O’Brien and Oh would have been untouchable. Since 1983, only 13 Council incumbents who were in office for at least four years have been beaten by challengers. But O’Brien and Oh had viable rivals, big money and, in some casesbad press working against them.

On top of that, neither O’Brien nor Oh won the endorsement of the Republican Party in the primary election. And Oh admitted to a serious campaign violation earlier this year and lost the support of many Republican elites.

Taubenberger is the former president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. If he’s successful, it would be an achievement of a lifelong dream. Taubenberger has previously run for Congress, mayor, City Council and state representative, and lost every time.

A Taubenbeger win would also be a win for city unions. Taubenberger was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters and Paramedics Union, and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, among other labor groups. His spokesman is Frank Keel, the longtime PR man for electricians union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty.

Though the race is a toss-up as of Tuesday night, it is clear that Republicans will win the two at-large seats set aside for minority parties. That’s a blow to progressives who had hoped to prove that you don’t have to be a Republican to win one of them.

Stober raised significant campaign dollars, and was endorsed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor Michael Nutter and several labor groups. But that wasn’t enough; he secured only 16,014 votes with nearly 98 percent of precincts reporting. That’s not far off from the 11,140 votes that fellow independent Kristin Combs received, and she had significantly less campaign funding and institutional support than Stober.

If Stober or Combs had been successful, the GOP would have lost one of the few elected positions it has left in Philadelphia and likely inspired other liberal independents to follow in their footsteps. Whether this election discourages independents from running for Council in the future is an open question.

This race was also a sort of proxy war between foes Council President Darrell Clarke and Nutter, and Clarke looks like he’ll be successful, though to what extent is unclear. He donated thousands of dollars to Oh and O’Brien, while Nutter defied rules of the Democratic Party to endorse Stober.

As expected, Democrats Blondell Reynolds Brown, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Bill Greenlee and Helen Gym won the general election for City Council at-large. Gym, an education advocate, is currently the top vote-getter among the at-large contenders. Democrat Cherelle Parker took the Ninth District Council seat, and the nine incumbent District Council members comfortably kept theirs.

That means at least four new voices, and perhaps five, will be on City Council next year. In Philadelphia, that’s a veritable shakeup.