Working Families Party Candidates For City Council Deserve To Lose On Principle

Running as an independent in this town should mean more than just beating Republicans. It should also mean teaching Democrats a lesson.

Working Families Party

Nicolas O’Rourke and Kendra Brooks are two Working Families Party candidates running for City Council in November’s general election.

We’re roughly one month away from the general election, and I can’t wait for it to be over. Not because I don’t value the democratic process, but because I hate the messy politics that occur during the final weeks.

What was supposed to be a calmer fall after a highly contested spring primary season has now become a whirlwind of bizarre politicking for independent City Council candidates. Nothing has been quite as disappointing as seeing the 180-degree turn of the local Working Families Party’s campaign this cycle and observing their desperate cozying up to the Democratic Party.

Last week, I got an email inviting me to an “LGBTQ+ fundraiser” the party is hosting later this month at Rosewood, a Gayborhood bar owned by controversial businessman Michael Weiss. Given that both of the party’s City Council candidates, Nicolas O’Rourke and Kendra Brooks, are Black, I didn’t understand why they would choose to raise money in an establishment that’s surrounded by venues and owners who have had a long history of racial discrimination. (And why would anyone think “Rosewood” would be an inclusive name for a bar in the first place?)

But once I saw who the other co-hosts are — State Representatives Brian Sims and Malcolm Kenyatta — it became obvious that this was a power move not intended to be empathic, but strategic. The party’s recent strategy of aligning itself with self-proclaimed progressive Democrats has raised its profile (and finances) while distracting them from the bigger picture.

Which begs the question: Are these Working Families Party candidates actually independents who want to challenge both parties, or just Democrats in disguise trying to co-opt City Council? 

If the latter is true, O’Rourke and Brooks deserve to lose. I’m not a Republican, but I would definitely prefer to have the other independents running in this race be given a true shot, rather than supporting some cowardly Democrats who wouldn’t run in their own primary. What City Council needs right now are progressive leaders who aren’t in bed with the Democratic political machine. I get that such integrity doesn’t raise money as fast as an Elizabeth Warren endorsement or fundraisers being hosted by establishment politicos in Center City. But the point of running as an independent should be about making a true break from the two-party system and giving voters a real alternative. Unfortunately, I fear we’re getting much of the same with these two candidates.

Both Working Families Party candidates have run on the slogan “Republicans out. Working Families in” as a way to emphasize that their targets are the Republicans. Given that the general election pits minority party candidates against one another (Democratic primary winners for City Council are typically a lock to win), this tactic makes perfect sense politically. But when you see the ongoing support the party’s candidates are getting from Democrats in City Hall (Councilperson Helen Gym) and Harrisburg (State Reps Kenyatta, Sims, Chris Rabb and Elizabeth Fiedler), it’s clear the Working Families Party isn’t going to hold Democrats accountable in the same regard. And some of these Democrats might be looking to make new friends across the aisle now that they’ve lost some within their own party.

I recognize the strategy behind this move; I made a similar case for it a few years ago. But that was before it dawned on me that in Philadelphia, where Democrats heavily outweigh Republicans, the former can be just as regressive, if not worse, than the latter. In truth, I’d prefer that prominent independents quit bashing Republicans who really don’t rock the boat in City Hall in comparison to lazy Democrats who are long overdue for a necessary wake-up call.

If the Working Families Party isn’t trying to put both political parties in the hot seat, it might as well prepare to deliver its concession speech in November. If it surprisingly pulls an upset after shining the shoes of trendy Democratic progressives, we can expect to see “Philly politics as usual.” At this point, I couldn’t tell you which outcome is worse.