John Fetterman Is Endorsing Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke for City Council

In a historic move, the Democratic U.S. senator is backing multiple third-party candidates in Philly's council race. The move could further erode Republican influence in the city.

John Fetterman who is endorsing Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O'Rourke, candidates for Philadelphia City Council and members of the Working Families Party

U.S. Senator John Fetterman (left) is endorsing Working Families Party candidates Kendra Brooks (top right) and Nicolas O’Rourke for Philadelphia City Council at-large seats./  Fetterman photograph by Anna Moneymaker/Getty; Brooks and O’Rourke courtesy of their campaigns

With less than two months until the November 7th general election, U.S. Senator John Fetterman, a Democrat, is backing two City Council at-Large candidates who are running not as Democrats but as members of the Working Families Party.

In an exclusive to Philly Mag, Fetterman is officially endorsing incumbent Kendra Brooks and returning candidate Nicolas O’Rourke for Philadelphia City Council.

These are Fetterman’s first endorsements in what has become a contentious City Council election cycle. This season, some Democrats have already defied requests by party leadership to not back third-party candidates. But given the possibility that Republicans could lose both of the at-large City Council seats  reserved for minority parties, progressives like Fetterman and some moderate Democrats are looking at the bigger political picture.

“I’m endorsing Nicolas O’Rourke and Councilmember Kendra Brooks for Philadelphia City Council,” Fetterman told Philly Mag. “I’m proud to support this slate and join the big coalition they are building. As Senator, I want partners in government in Philadelphia and throughout our commonwealth who are champions in putting working families over billionaires and corporate donors. I know Nicolas O’Rourke and Councilmember Brooks are those champions.”

Brooks has received endorsements from notable Democrats including Governor Josh Shapiro, State Senator Nikil Saval, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, State Reps Rick Krajewski, Chris Rabb and Elizabeth Fiedler, and a number of labor unions. Fetterman’s backing is a big boost for O’Rourke, who also just added Gauthier’s backing to that of several labor unions.

“I’m so grateful for Senator John Fetterman’s support of my campaign,” said O’Rourke, who ran in 2019 and finished about 6,600 votes shy of victory. “The senator has been an inspiration to so many across our commonwealth and we are lucky to have him representing us in Washington D.C. His deep commitment to working families and leadership in bringing those values to the Senate is part of the reason why so many look up to him.”

“Senator John Fetterman’s endorsement of our campaigns means a lot to me,” said Brooks. “Nicolas and I were proud to support the senator in his election and saw firsthand the type of support he has in Philadelphia when we were able to walk with him touring local businesses. We are building a welcoming, winning, and big coalition for our campaigns dedicated to defeating Republicans in City Council. We are honored to have Senator John Fetterman’s support in these efforts.”

This major endorsement comes at a time of political friction within the local Democratic Party. Over the summer, Philadelphia Democratic City Committee chair Bob Brady had threatened consequences for those in the party who endorsed candidates who weren’t Democrats.

“In the weeks ahead, we expect that Democratic Party ward leaders and committee people will be asked to engage in actions (or omissions) to aid and support prospective candidates who intend to run against our Democratic nominees,” Brady warned in a letter to ward leaders and committee members in June. “Compliance with this foundational rule is essential and non-negotiable. We truly do not want to see any of our committee people or ward leaders trigger this provision of our bylaws.”

Although he didn’t name the Working Families Party in the letter, Brady has criticized Democrats for endorsing that party’s candidates in past elections.

In an interview with NBC 10 last week, Brady softened his tone regarding concerns that third-party endorsements could legitimately harm the Democrats’ chances of victory in the city’s upcoming general election. (Based on past election tallies, that scenario appears highly unlikely.) Although he doesn’t support the decision of Democrats such as Governor Josh Shapiro who endorsed Brooks, Brady’s stance seems rooted in upholding the party’s state and city bylaws that discourage members from endorsing candidates outside the party.

“You can only vote for five of them,” Brady said in the NBC 10 interview. “So if you vote for someone who’s not a Democrat, you have to cut someone who is a Democrat. You should ask [Shapiro] who he wants to cut.”

In Philly, there are 17 City Council seats, 10 of which represent geographical districts and seven of which are “at-large” (elected citywide). Local election rules state that no more than five of those at-large seats can be from the dominant political party — the one with the most registered voters in the city. At present, that is the Democratic party. The other two seats are up for grabs by candidates from any party other than the dominant one. Prior to 2019, these two minority at-large City Council seats had regularly been won by Republicans. Brooks’s 2019 victory changed that. Now, with David Oh, the top Republican vote getter from the last council at-large race running for mayor, it seems there’s an even bigger possibility that Working Family Party candidates Brooks and O’Rourke could capture both seats — a first in Philadelphia history.

But as the progressive push to further limit Republican power in City Council continues, Democrats such as Fetterman, Shapiro, State Senator Art Haywood, Councilmember Gauthier, and others are pushing back against that notion.

For the most part, Democrats and Working Family Party candidates are similar ideologically. Both are largely against Donald Trump’s influence and oppose the GOP’s growth in state, federal, and local offices; they both swing decidedly to the left on policy. Other than opposing Democrats’ business-friendly budget and their vote to ban safe-injection sites, Brooks has largely voted in favor of legislation proposed by Democrats in City Council. If Brooks and O’Rourke are both elected, liberals will possess all City Council at-large seats — which could help advance a more progressive agenda.

“This was an easy decision,” Fetterman said. “Philadelphia has the opportunity to elect two champions for working families, instead of a Republican Party that’s fighting progress everywhere you look.”