If Philly Had Ranked-Choice Voting, Here’s What I’d Do

With so many strong candidates, it can be hard to choose just one. Which is why Philadelphia should let voters rank the candidates. Here's how I’d vote if we did.

ballot box philadelphia ranked choice voting mayoral election

What if Philly had ranked-choice voting?  / Photograph by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

We’re almost there: It’s a week until the Democratic primary election! After several months of campaign highs and lows, voters are days away from knowing who’ll most likely run the city next. The campaign has gotten heated, and we’ve learned a lot about the candidates in the past few weeks: their policies, their temperaments, their strengths and weaknesses. There are several candidates with a range of types of experience, which makes it particularly difficult to narrow the choice down. Making the decision even more difficult: knowing that it appears to be anyone’s race, and that a vote for one candidate could ultimately lead to someone you really don’t like winning. That’s why I’ve been daydreaming about what it would be like if Philly had a ranked-choice voting process.

While there’s no requirement in ranked-choice voting as it’s generally practiced to rank every candidate, here’s how I — and I’m speaking for myself here, not on behalf of the magazine — would rank all the leading candidates, with number six being my least preferred and number one my top choice.

6: Jeff Brown

jeff brown getting nasty with helen gym at Thursday's debate

ShopRite mogul Jeff Brown at a mayoral forum / Photograph courtesy of PhillyCAM

Brown began this campaign with no previous political experience, and it shows. If his sloppy and problematic campaign is indicative of how he’d run Philadelphia, I’m turned off. From instances of racial insensitivity to major ethics allegations, Brown doesn’t appear ready to lead a changing city in the midst of a crisis. Before this primary, I admired Brown’s notable deeds in the community. His campaign has been so rough, though, that I’ve begun to question his character and the motivation for those deeds. His lying, code-switching, and casual mean-spirited behavior have made him seem Trumpian to me. I’d prefer a long-shot candidate like Judge James DeLeon (if he were more viable; shout-out to his thoughtful Local Incident Management System) over Brown. Jeff’s campaign is a prime example of why not everyone with big ideas should run for office. 

5: Amen Brown

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Amen Brown/ Photograph provided by Amen Brown

The other Brown shines brightest when he shares his lived experiences as a victim of gun violence and with deep poverty. But those circumstances alone don’t make him ready to become the 100th mayor of Philadelphia. Brown, a state Rep and the only millennial running for the top job, has already shown he has the grit to run for office and win. In just a few years in Harrisburg, he’s already made a name for himself among his colleagues. Yet it’s clear from his immature policy plans (like pledging to ban ski masks in response to gun violence) and bizarre gaffes that Brown needs more governmental experience. He deserves an “E” for effort for staying in the race far longer than anyone expected. 

4: Helen Gym

helen gym, a candidate for mayor of philadelphia

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym / Photograph via Getty Images

Gym’s mayoral campaign is a case study in how the characteristics that make for a vibrant, change-making City Councilmember might not translate to the city’s top job. At her best, Gym’s passion is contagious — she speaks with conviction on how Philadelphians deserve better. Her rhetoric and appeal are unmatched. But her actions have raised red flags. As a progressive, anti-establishment politician, she’s appeared hypocritical on matters ranging from her coziness with now-convicted Bobby Henon and Johnny Doc to hanging out at the Union League days after calling it out for bigotry. Beyond those issues, some observers have raised questions about how she’d fund all the big ideas she’s proposing. There was chatter in political circles before this race that Gym was pondering a run for Congress, and at times, it feels like she is running for Congress, what with her slate of national endorsements. Being mayor is less about ideological individualism and more about collaborative compromise — and I have concerns that compromise isn’t a Gym strength.

3: Allan Domb

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Allan Domb / Photograph by Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

Domb is everything you want from a businessman-turned-public-servant: He listens, learns and leads. Although he’s made a name (and money) for himself outside of politics, he’s not dismissing the importance of governmental experience. Throughout the various candidate debates and forums, Domb has maintained a reassuring sense of calm while his opponents were all throwing shade. Is he ready to be mayor? Absolutely … he’s the safest (if perhaps the least exciting) option. In a city with a majority of citizens of color that hasn’t ever elected a woman for mayor, the demographic issue remains real, but Domb’s plainspoken, problem-solver message is resonating. Whether he wins or loses, Domb will be an important figure in the future of Philadelphia, given the amount of influence he’s already earned. 

2: Cherelle Parker

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker / Photograph by Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

Parker isn’t exaggerating when she proclaims that she has the most intergovernmental experience in the race. She’s served more than a decade in office — first as a state Representative and more recently as a district City Councilmember – so there’s no doubt Parker is ready for the job on the second floor of City Hall on day one. She has deep connections with politicians from across the aisle in both Harrisburg and City Council and the lived experience of a Black woman from working-class beginnings to inform her decision-making. In 2015, she would be a sure bet for this seat. But in 2023, Parker — with her establishment ties and hyper-moderate stances on policing, safe injection sites and stop-and-frisk — seems like a bit of a throwback to the city’s political past rather than a glimpse of its future. To me, a vote for Parker is a vote for the status quo.

1: Rebecca Rhynhart 

Rebecca Rhynhart, who will run for mayor of Philadelphia

Rebecca Rhynhart / Photograph via Getty Images

Rhynhart isn’t the most charismatic voice in the race — Gym and Parker beat her by a mile on that front. But to me, she’s the most insightful candidate with the most relevant experience for the job. Beyond her nearly two terms as Controller, Rhynhart served under two different mayors, as city treasurer, budget director, and chief administrative officer. For years, she’s been doing the hard and important budget work, and she’s earned a reputation as the city’s top watchdog. Not for nothing, three former mayors (Ed Rendell, John Street and Michael Nutter), all with very different styles and approaches, endorse her. She’s already accomplished several things her opponents are currently campaigning on: She defeated the establishment to win her first election, she’s repeatedly called out the mayor with data, and she’s collaborated with various agencies/community groups to explore solutions.

While some dismiss her troubleshooting nature as robotic and technocratic, she has maximized the tools she’s had in her various roles in order to better the city. Now, as she seeks to become the first woman ever to serve as Philly’s mayor, I’d expect Rhynhart to take all of the information and lessons learned over the years and apply them with the right temperament and discernment. Throughout the campaign, she’s made the legislative limitations of her previous administrative roles clear — as mayor, she’ll be able to staunchly act. She’s the most ethically astute candidate in the race, with an impeccable track record of getting shit done and having the courage to take unpopular but necessary action. I think Rhynhart is the pragmatic progressive we need at a time when we need as many smart leaders in government as possible.