Five and a Half Lessons From Yesterday’s Election

David Oh's close race, Al Schmidt's victory for insurgent Republicans, Bill Green's popularity and more

Yesterday’s Philadelphia election unfolded just about as expected. There weren’t any competitive marquee races, and only one truly close contest. But like all elections, it still provided a snapshot of the city’s political landscape, and it’s worth zooming in on a few races.

1. City Commissioners
The biggest story of the election was the contest for the obscure title of City Commissioner. There are three of them, two Democrats (usually) and one Republican. Last spring, Stephanie Singer—a former mathematics professor, of all things—beat out old-time Democratic ward leader and power broker Marge Tartaglione in the primary. But that was just a preview for Republican Al Schmidt’s handy win last night over GOP incumbent Joseph Duda. That race was a proxy fight between the old Republican forces in the city, led by Michael Meehan, and an insurgent wing that wants the party to become a relevant political force again, and not just a small scale patronage machine. Schmidt won easily, meaning Meehan’s long reign could be in real trouble.

2. David Oh Survives, Probably
Despite a brutal series of stories in the Daily News outlining old weapons arrests and questions over his military service record, it looks like David Oh will just edge out Al Taubenberger for the second at-large GOP City Council seat. This too can be seen as a victory for the new GOP guard, presuming Oh can hang on to his 140-vote lead (with 96.32 percent of precincts counted). If he wins, Oh will be City Council’s first Asian American member. The other GOP winner was former state house speaker Dennis O’Brien, who cruised. He could be a real force on council in the years to come.

3. Demographics Aren’t Destiny in the Northeast
The insiders figured 32-year GOP incumbent City Councilman Brian O’Neill had a 50-50 chance of holding on to his Northeast Philadelphia seat. All the trends were against him: rising Democrat registration, increasing diversity in the Northeast, and a viable and energetic challenger in Democrat Bill Rubin. The insiders were wrong. O’Neill won by nearly 20 points.

4. Bill Green Bests Council Colleagues in Popularity Contest
It’s a given that all five Democratic at-large City Council nominees will win in November. But it was a little interesting that Green, who intends to run for mayor in four years, got a few more votes than the rest of his party’s nominees: 20,000 more than last-place Democratic finisher William Greenlee. This suggests either that Green got a few Republican votes, or that Democrats who cast votes for Oh or O’Brien made sure to save a vote for Green. His performance won’t do anything to dampen the expectation he’ll be a major contender next time around.

5. Did Voters Send Mayor Nutter a Message?
Not really. True, Karen Brown—a hapless candidate who ran without even the meager support of the GOP establishment—got about 22 percent of the vote. But it’s hard to find all that much weakness in an incumbent who wins a second term with 75 percent of the electorate supporting him. For comparison’s sake, Mayor Rendell won 79 percent of the vote in his re-election campaign.

Bonus observation: Once again, incumbent Democratic City Council candidates won by margins that would make the late Saddam Hussein blush (99.8, 99.9, 89.9, 99.84, etc.). Those figures are an indictment not so much of the incumbents, but of a Republican party that fails to even find challengers in many races. No wonder Schmidt, Oh and others within the party are so bent on upending it.