Brian Sims Hangs On; Tonyelle Cook-Artis and Mark Cohen Get Booted

Here’s all the dirt from from Philly’s rough-and-tumble state legislative races yesterday.

Mark Cohen, Brian Sims and Tonyelle Cook-Artis

Mark Cohen, Brian Sims and Tonyelle Cook-Artis. Photos | Facebook

There was a pretty shocking upset in the Democratic state House primary races yesterday: A very briefly tenured representative — who was the preferred candidate of Philadelphia’s surging Northwest Coalition — was knocked out of her seat. Harrisburg’s longest-serving Harrisburg representative was dumped by voters, too. And in the state Senate, an incumbent is holding onto a slim lead over a young challenger, but the race is too close to call.

None of the city’s Republican state representatives faced challenges in this year’s primary, but there were contested elections in 11 House and Senate districts on the Democratic side overall. In all but one of the races — the one in the 170th House District in the Northeast, where a Republican holds the seat — incumbents, some of them elected only last month, faced challenges from one or more candidates.

Five of the contests warrant special mention:

200th House District

(Upper Northwest Philadelphia: Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy)

State Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, who was chief-of-staff to the previous occupant of this seat, Cherelle Parker, won in a special election last month after Parker left the state House for City Council. Cook Artis’s tenure in office was effectively cut short yesterday when challenger Chris Rabb, a professor at Temple’s and Drexel’s business schools, upset her by a 7-percentage-point margin, 47.4 percent to 41.4 percent. What makes this especially surprising is that Cook-Artis was supported by the Northwest Coalition, an alliance of politicians that has been seemingly impenetrable in the last year. The group helped get Mayor Jim Kenney elected, and it achieved a major victory last night when state Rep. Dwight Evans, one of its leaders, defeated longtime U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District race. Rabb announced his candidacy last year after being nominated to run on Crowdpac, a Kickstarter-like website, and seeing that he had grassroots support there.

202nd House District

(Lower Northeast Philadelphia: Oxford Circle, Castor Gardens, Lawncrest, part of Mayfair)

It’s finally the end of the line for the longest-serving legislator in Harrisburg, Mark Cohen, who has held this seat since 1974. Castor Gardens native, lawyer and community activist Jared Solomon, who came within 100 votes of beating Cohen two years ago, won this time, picking up 56.9 pecent of the vote to Cohen’s 43 percent. Cohen’s defeat also means that next January, for the first time since 1974, no member of Philadelphia’s leading liberal political family will hold elective office. The race was an acrimonious one at times: Cohen sued Solomon for libel over a campaign flier. Cohen had received a good bit of bad press in recent years, for his liberal use of “per-diems” and for state Rep. Brian Sims’ claim that he is known for “arguing with plants.”

5th Senate District

(Parts of Northeast Philadelphia: Somerton, Bustleton, Pennypack Park, Torresdale, Homesburg and Bridesburg)

The Fifth District race between state Sen. John Sabatina, Jr. and challenger Kevin Boyle is close, but Sabatina appears headed for victory with a 51-49 margin with 98.5 percent of precincts counted. Sabatina, the son of powerful ward leader John Sabatina, Sr., won his seat in a special election last May. Boyle is a state representative and the brother of Brendan Boyle, who won a Congressional seat in 2014 after serving in the state House. If Sabatina holds onto his lead, it will be a significant loss for the Boyle brothers, who had been on a winning streak.

182nd House District

(Center City West, Washington Square West, Midtown Village, Bella Vista, Hawthorne)

Babette Josephs still hasn’t gotten over incumbent Brian Sims’ upset victory four years ago, when he became Pennsylvania’s first openly gay man elected to the state legislature. She will have to go on nursing her wounds for two more years at least, for Sims rolled to victory with 39.7 percent of the vote to 34.5 percent for Ben Waxman, the union activist and former aide to state Sen. Vincent Hughes who was backed by Josephs. However, the presence of two other challengers in the race, drawn by Sims’ distraction as he briefly pursued the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Fattah, helped hold down vote totals for Waxman. Sims might want to pay attention to his overall vote share: His critics charged him with not paying enough attention to the interests of his district as a whole, and when the challengers’ votes are taken together, a majority of voters in the district agreed with the criticism.

190th House District

(Temple University campus and western parts of North Central Philadelphia)

State Rep. Vanessa Brown‘s victory in a crowded field of six candidates should not be taken as a sign that her constituents don’t care that she was indicted in a sting that led several other local pols to give up their offices. After all, the combined vote totals for her five challengers were greater than her own 36.5 percent share. Wanda Logan, who ran against her before, was the top finishing challenger with 28.4 percent of the vote.

Here are the results of the other contested primaries:

1st Senate District

Incumbent Larry Farnese flattened token opposition in the First District, despite the fact that news broke earlier this month that the FBI was questioning Farnese’s election as the Democratic leader of the 8th Ward.

170th House District

(Far Northeast: Somerton, Bustleton, Chalfont, Millbrook, Parkwood)

Two young former associates of Northeast Democrats faced each other for the right to challenge incumbent Republican state Rep. Martina White in the fall. Matthew Darragh, a former intern for former State Sen. (now Lieutenant Governor) Mike Stack, beat former Brendan Boyle aide Fran Nelms, 56.2 percent to 43.8 percent.

175th House District

(Old City, Fishtown, Northern Liberties, parts of Kensington and Society Hill)

Incumbent Mike O’Brien easily defeated challenger Sean Sullivan, 56.2 percent to 43.7 percent.

181st House District

(Parts of Northern Liberties, Kensington, Francisville, North and North Central Philadelphia)

Incumbent W. Curtis Thomas racked up an even bigger margin against two-time challenger Kenneth Walker Jr., 62.3 percent to 37.7 percent.

192nd House District

(Overbrook and part of Millbourne)

Another March special-election winner, state Rep. Lynwood Savage, lost in a rerun of that election with the same four challengers. Savage, who has close ties to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, came in third with 14.7 percent of the vote. This time, the winner is Morgan Cephas, a former aide to City Councilman Curtis Jones. She received 44.5 percent of the vote.

194th House District

(A Montgomery County seat that includes a piece of Roxborough and Manayunk)

A cakewalk for incumbent Pam DeLissio, who beat challenger Sean Stevens by 72.7 percent to 27.3 percent.

195th House District

(Parts of Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown, Francisville, Spring Garden, Powelton Village and Mantua)

In this election, a special-election winner held on to her seat. Donna Bullock, who was elected to this seat last August, crushed her two challengers, racking up 78.4 percent of the vote against Jimmie Moore (11.5 percent) and Jamar Izzard (10 percent).

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