What the Working Families Party’s Historic Win Means for Philly Politics

Community organizer Kendra Brooks became the first third-party candidate to win a City Council at-large seat in the modern era. Is this the beginning of the end for Philly’s two-party system?

Tuesday’s election taught us one major thing: The major-party machine has been warned.

For the first time in decades, there will be only one Republican in a City Council at-large seat thanks to the successful insurgence of the Working Families Party. North Philly community organizer Kendra Brooks won one of Council’s two guaranteed minority-party seats, alongside Republican incumbent David Oh. (The next-highest vote-getters were Republican incumbent Al Taubenberger, who’s now lost his seat, and Brooks’s Working Families running mate, Nicolas O’Rourke.)

This was no easy victory — Brooks had to raise a boatload of money, earn a slew of endorsements from Democrats, and garner a bunch of press to gain an advantage. Effectively Brooks ran not as a third-party candidate, but a major-party one with outsider ambition. Philly voters love an underdog, but one with a message, lots of money, and known supporters.

Here are four predictions of what Working Families Party victory will mean for Philly politics.

More big outside money will influence our races.

Just as DA Larry Krasner got a huge financial boost from billionaire George Soros and Mayor Jim Kenney got a million-dollar push from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Brooks got nearly a third of a million dollars from the national Working Families Party. Krasner came into the DA’s race fairly late, and the Soros funding helped get him television ads and other resources fast. Brooks raised more money than any third-party candidate in recent history, and her win wouldn’t have happened without it. Your next unlikely candidate will become instantly competitive too once they can secure a bucket full of imported money.

The Democratic Party is officially a house divided.

Perhaps part of the reason Brooks wasn’t particularly critical of Democrats during the race was that she was being endorsed by several prominent ones. She racked up endorsements from state Sen. Art Haywood; state reps Chris Rabb, Brian Sims, Malcolm Kenyatta, Elizabeth Fiedler, and Movita Johnson-Harrell; DA Larry Krasner;, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren; and even her “competition,” Councilperson Helen Gym. Former congressman Bob Brady, chair of the Democratic City Committee, has threatened to excommunicate committee members and ward leaders who endorsed Working Families Party candidates. Gym, who was the highest at-large vote getter on Tuesday, got a lot of pushback from the establishment for backing Brooks. Now that Brooks is in, it remains to be seen whether Brady will enforce consequences for breaking the rules. Regardless of outcome, it’s safe to say that the public infighting has done more to light a fuse than unite Democrats as we go into 2020’s national election.

Get ready for more third-party candidates to shoot their shot.

“If Kendra can, so can I,” says the next ambitious third-party candidate. The Working Families Party has laid the groundwork for how third-party candidates can win in a party machine town. Step one, get lots of money. Step two, get Democrats to endorse you. And step three, target the Republicans. It should be noted that earlier this year, the Working Families Party tried to push for Pastor Pamela Williams against Democrat Movita Johnson-Harrell during this spring’s special election for state representative in West Philly. Williams, a longtime Democrat, didn’t garner much traction and fundraising. She was also running against a formidable challenger who would later endorse Brooks for City Council in the general election. Will a new third-party candidate learn from such mistakes and use the Brooks playbook? You can bet your luck they will.

The Working Families Party will now play a larger role in the 2020 election in the city.

With this victory under their belt, the Working Families Party has made a lasting mark in Philly politics. Hyper-progressives now have a banner to unite under — the party has the momentum and they will leverage it. First stop will most likely be the spring primaries, where they are pushing for their endorsee Elizabeth Warren for president. Just like with Brooks and O’Rourke, they are already finding alignment with Democrats such as Kenney and Krasner, who have already endorsed Warren. Imagine how many others will soon follow suit with some heavy grassroots campaigning, outside money, and a new GOP-crushing victory to wave around? Expect to see a heavy push for Warren in Philly as one of her biggest competitors has his headquarters right in the heart of the city.

If you thought Brooks would be the last of what you’ve seen from the Working Families Party, guess again.