Philly Dems Failed Miserably Last Week. 3 Things They Must Fix Before Next Year’s Midterms

Turnout was dismal in an election with big implications for the courts and bigger implications for 2022 . If Democrats want to retain any of the power they gained last year, they'd better start shaking the table, now.

Is party chairman Bob Brady still the right face for Philly Democrats? (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto)

Depending on whom you ask, last week’s Pennsylvania election results — a major disappointment for Democrats — were a big surprise or exactly what we should have expected.

Democrats are in danger of being swept in statewide judicial races, with Lori Dumas’s candidacy for Commonwealth Court — she’s currently in a virtual tie with Republican Drew Crompton — the party’s only hope of averting a shutout.

Patrick Christmas, policy director for Philly good-government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, called this “one of the most quiet elections we’ve had in a long time.” That should never have been the case. This year’s statewide judicial races should have received much more public interest, given former President Trump’s failed court battle to reverse the electorate’s votes in the state. Sadly, in Philadelphia, the state’s largest voting bloc, only 21.6 percent of voters participated. A year ago, we experienced a prime example of how much the courts really matter, so the lack of noise made about these races — the inability of Democrats to tell that story — is extremely disappointing. Party leadership failed the city by not boosting morale or rallying the get-out-the-vote troops this time around.

According to the committee person for my West Philly neighborhood’s electoral division, only 82 people showed up to cast votes in last week’s general election. Compare that to the 350 votes cast in last year’s election — which, yes, was epic — but also to the 109 votes cast here four years ago in another sleepy post-presidential race.

Turnout in Philadelphia has always been a crapshoot depending on the year. Last year, we turned out, and it was our city that helped Biden clinch Pennsylvania. This year, our lack of participation could foretell an even bigger disappointment in next year’s all-important midterm elections. Here’s what needs to happen immediately in Philly to avert another election disaster.

The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee needs a major shake-up. Chairman Bob Brady needs to resign now.

Leadership starts at the top, and it’s time for a change. Former Congressman Bob Brady has been the leader of the Philly Democratic Party for more than 30 years. (Fun fact: I just turned 30 last month.) With respect to his legacy, that’s too damn long for anyone to run a party, especially one that’s seen so much change demographically and ideologically in recent years. Part of the reason Philly has a reputation as a Democratic machine town is that certain individuals hold onto power for way too long. New energy could boost engagement and feed a pipeline of young leaders who better reflect the city’s changing demographics. Right now, millennials are the nation’s largest voting bloc — it’s time for boomer Brady to acknowledge that.

The party should encourage a one-month moratorium on campaigning for races not happening on Election Day.

This is about etiquette, but it’s also common sense. This election cycle, I heard so much about races not happening this November, I wanted to scream. After the spring primaries, I was bombarded by candidates considering bids for governor, lieutenant governor, Congress and mayor. You might have wondered if Democrats had anyone running statewide in the general election, based on how little you heard about Philly judicial candidates Dumas, Tamika Lane and Maria McLaughlin. There’s been way too much early speculation about the 2023 mayoral race. Imploring these prospective candidates to pump the brakes for a few weeks before Election Day to allow voters to focus on the races in front of them could make a big difference.

Philly Democrats need to put a lot more energy into mobilizing voters to show up to the polls twice a year.

Our current elected officials should use their influence and social capital to get out the vote. This general election, I was wondering where some of the big names were. I feel like highest-vote-getter Councilmember Helen Gym could have done more to get people fired up and out to the polls. Why was DA Larry Krasner pretending he already had his reelection in the bag rather than going hard for candidates who might have ridden his coattails? For what it’s worth, Mayor Kenney could have been more visible during this election cycle, too. But individual efforts (or lack thereof) notwithstanding, the fault still lies at the feet of party leadership. It was great to see enthusiasm during the primaries for Krasner, but that obviously didn’t carry over to down-ticket general-election races. It surely doesn’t help that the party has alienated two of its most popular candidates. (Krasner didn’t get the party’s endorsement against opponent Carlos Vega, and Dems previously scolded Gym for backing Kendra Brooks’s third-party Council run.) Such infighting hurts the party — and the base — when only the highly contested primaries translate into election enthusiasm.  Voters in Philly must understand that they should be going to the polls two times every year — not just for the May primaries (which, yes, are the de facto municipal elections in this Democrat-heavy city). There are statewide and national implications to the November ballot — these elections don’t just formalize the results of the May primary. But this requires acknowledging a sobering truth: The lack of unified Democratic Party support will lead to more disappointment in the midterms and, at this rate, the next presidential election. It’s time for everyone to get on the same page.