The No-B.S. Guide to the 2023 General Election in Philadelphia
From the historic mayor's race to a potential Council shake-up to the state Supreme Court, here’s everything you need to know for Tuesday's election.
Many politicos are already looking past the November 7th election. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, there’s a pretty high bar for non-Democrats in most races.
But that “most” refers mostly to city-only races, like those for mayor and row offices. The statewide Pennsylvania Supreme Court race is still highly competitive, and the stakes are even higher. And in this cycle, your vote could make a huge difference in the City Council at-large race, where Republicans could be shut out of the two at-large seats reserved for minority parties for the first time in history, thanks to a groundswell of support for the Working Families Party candidates.
Welcome to this year’s Philadelphia general election guide. It’s a frank, easy-to-read explanation of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s an all-guts, no-glory assessment of the race. Here are your choices.
- State Judicial Elections
- City Council At-Large
- City Council Districts
- Register of Wills
- City Controller
- City Commissioners
- Ballot Questions
- City Judicial Elections
The basics: She was a two-term City Councilperson after previously serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She resigned to run for mayor.
The case for Parker:
- She’s got lots of experience. Nobody can deny her city and state governmental experience — seven years in City Council and 10 years in Harrisburg.
- She’s backed by labor. Labor leaders such as Ryan Boyer, Sam Staten Jr. and Mungu Sanchez were influential in her primary win.
- She’s a true-blue Democrat. No one can question her loyalty to the Democratic Party at a moment when some members of that party are leaning more progressive — even endorsing third-party candidates. In a city with a majority of registered Democratic voters, she’s at the right place at the right time. Bonus points: President Biden and VP Harris endorsed her for mayor days before the polls opened.
- She’s got good relationships with Council members. In a primary where so many City Councilmembers ran for mayor, Parker was able to get several of the drop-out candidates (and those who stayed in office) to endorse her. For instance, former City Councilmembers Derek Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez could have backed former colleagues Helen Gym or Allan Domb — but they pushed for Parker, which is notable.
- She’s got personality. Parker speaks her mind when it comes to crime, racism, sexism, and being a proud Philly native with humble beginnings. Her performance during the Democratic primary debates set her apart from her opponents – and played a significant role in keeping her in the race.
- She’ll make history. If she wins, Parker will be the first woman ever elected as the city’s mayor.
The case against Parker:
- She’s a longtime politician who’s an establishment darling. Parker is loyal to the party, perhaps to a fault. That’s why it was no surprise to see leaders in the Democratic machine back her even as the Democratic City Committee honored its rule to not formally endorse during open primaries.
- She’ll owe city unions. Nothing in politics is free, and with the backing of major labor unions, Parker is definitely going to have to consider those interests.
- She’s not in-step with progressives. Parker’s positions on crime (she’s a supporter of “constitutional” stop-and-frisk and having the National Guard help clean up Kensington) have left a sour taste in the mouths of more progressive Democrats.
- She ran a rockier campaign during the general than the primary. The decision to call for the National Guard to aid Kensington, not being as responsive to the press, and avoiding debates with her Republican opponent have made some onlookers feel she’s been dodgy since locking up the primary.
The basics: He was a three-term City Councilperson. He resigned to run for mayor.
The case for Oh:
- He wouldn’t be beholden to the Democratic machine. In a city that’s dominated by Democrats, for better or worse, it would be refreshing to see someone shake things up.
- He has bipartisan relationships in Council. Despite being a Republican, Oh has maintained a moderately positive relationship with his former colleagues over the years.
- He has a unique mix of policy priorities. Oh has been an advocate for the city’s arts-and-culture scene. He’s also been a vocal proponent of public safety after recently being the victim of stabbing. Some diverse Democrats have committed themselves to voting for him based on his aggressive focus on addressing gun violence.
- He’ll make history, too. If elected, Oh would be the first Asian American to be the city’s mayor.
The case against Oh:
- He’s a Republican. Republicans in majority-liberal cities like Philly are even less popular than usual. Although Oh doesn’t represent the extreme views of Donald Trump, he’s still affiliated with the political party that continues to embrace Trump.
- He has spent more time bashing Parker than running his race. So much press about Oh has been related to him calling out the Parker campaign for not debating him or showing up to forums. Yeah, okay – but what about your campaign?
- He is a long, long, long, long shot. Many feel that Oh isn’t charismatic enough to beat Parker in a city where Democrats so greatly outnumber Republicans. Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to see it happening in this race.
State Judicial Races
The basics: Pennsylvania voters will choose between a Democrat and Republican for the sole vacant Supreme Court seat. There are four candidates vying for two seats on the bench for Superior Court — two Republicans and two Democrats — in addition to two current judges who are seeking to extend their terms. For Commonwealth Court, a Democrat and Republican are running for the court’s one vacant seat.
Justice of the Supreme Court
- Daniel McCaffery. A Superior Court judge, rated “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
- Carolyn Carluccio. Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas judge, rated “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Judge of the Superior Court
- Jill Beck. Attorney, rated “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
- Timika Lane. A Court of Common Pleas judge, rated “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
- Maria Battista. Vice president of a Wayne-based consulting firm, rated “not recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
- Harry F. Smail. A 10th District Court of Westmoreland County judge, rated “recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Judge of the Commonwealth Court
- Matt Wolf. Supervising civil judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, rated “recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
- Megan Martin. Attorney, rated “recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
The case for slate voting: Let’s face it — the courts have been showing up partisan even when they aren’t supposed to. The latest U.S. Supreme Court rulings against abortion rights and affirmative action likely wouldn’t have happened with a liberal majority on the bench. If you’re hoping for a conservative or liberal takeover of the state courts, vote for a straight ticket for the party of your choice.
The case against slate voting: Each judicial candidate has an individual history and credentials — factors that should be considered. Voting straight-ticket could mean voting for candidates who might not be positively rated by the bar – which could potentially impact their performance in the courts.
The bar’s highest rated candidates are Democrats Daniel McCaffery, Jill Beck and Timika Lane, and Republican Carolyn Carluccio. Notably missing the Bar’s “recommended” cut is Battista.
City Council at-Large
The basics: There are five Democrats, two Republicans, and two members of the Working Families Party running for City Council at-large. You can vote for a total of five candidates, and unlike in a primary election, you’re free to vote for candidates regardless of their party affiliation. All five Democrats — incumbents Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Jim Harrity and newcomers Rue Landau and Nina Ahmad — are expected to win. So the real competition is among the Republican and the Working Families Party candidates vying for the two seats reserved by law for minority (a.k.a. non-Democrat) parties.
The basics: A Working Families Party Councilperson at-large
The case for Brooks:
- She’s an incumbent. With a first term under her belt, Brooks understands how City Council works, and this experience has garnered respect from unexpected politicians.
- She’s been consistent in her progressive views. Brooks has made it clear she isn’t an extension of the Democratic Party by being the sole vote against her colleagues’ bill to tamp down safe-injection sites. She’s often vocal about the city’s budgetary priorities.
- She has diverse, broad political support. As a third-party candidate, she’s been endorsed by Governor Josh Shapiro, Senator John Fetterman, and a mix of moderate and progressive Democrats in Philly and Harrisburg.
The case against Brooks:
- She clashes legislatively with colleagues. As the lone Working Families Party Councilmember, she’s been viewed by some as the resident contrarian on City Council. She’s been the only “nay” vote on several bills – which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the politico you ask.
- She’s the only Working Families Party incumbent. It’s going to be hard to build capacity at ground zero as the only elected from your party.
The basics: The former Working Families Party political director for Pennsylvania is running again for Councilperson at-large.
The Case for O’Rourke:
- He’s a young progressive. If elected, O’Rourke will be the second youngest member currently in City Council, alongside Anthony Phillps, 33. This could help build a pipeline of younger political leadership.
- This isn’t his first time running. He was only a few thousand votes shy of making it onto Council in 2019. And O’Rourke has stepped his game up this go-around by raising more money – enough to run two televised ads days away from the election.
- He can expand the Working Families Party influence. Currently, Brooks is the only Working Families Party elected in Philly. If O’Rourke wins, they can be double trouble for Republicans, who would then be cut out of the at-large minority seats.
The Case Against O’Rourke:
- He’s never served in political office. He’s a clergyman, a community organizer, and a former political director – but he lacks governmental experience.
- He hasn’t gotten the same endorsements as his Working Families Party running mate, Kendra Brooks. While Brooks has received the backing of the governor and progressive Democrats like Councilmember at-large Isaiah Thomas, O’Rourke has been snubbed repeatedly. He has shared some notable endorsements with Brooks, including that of Senator John Fetterman.
The basics: A Center City civic leader and a Republican.
The case for Murray:
- He’s focused on prioritizing crime reduction. He wants to see City Council do more to reduce gun violence.
- He’s pro-business and pro-development. He wants to see a reduction in taxes to attract businesses to the city and promote economic opportunity – something he’s championed for years in Center City.
- He’s a former Democrat. He’s not a Republican extremist (although he did vote for Trump in 2020) and recognizes the nuances within both political parties.
The case against Murray:
- He’s seen by some as a “RINO.” The fact he’s considered a “Republican in name only” by some within his local party might keep the Republican machine from pushing for him on Election Day.
- He’s been here before. This is his third time running (his second run for Council, along with a run for the state House), and he has yet to win.
The basics: Real estate broker/businessman and a Republican.
The case for Hasher:
- He’s a small-business owner. As someone who owns local businesses and has dealt with the challenges of the pandemic, he can speak for others in our city who still are reeling from the hardships.
- He’s passionate about tackling the opioid epidemic.
- He’s a centrist Republican. He’s not really big on political labels, and in a city where Republicans are in decline, he could represent a more center-right-leaning voter base.
The case against Hasher:
- He’s inexperienced. Though he’s a former GOP ward leader, he’s never been elected to political office. He previously ran for Council in a special election (and lost).
City Council Districts
The basics: There are 10 district City Council seats. In eight of those races, candidates are running unopposed – so those seats are essentially decided. The races in the 3rd and 10th Council districts feature more than a single candidate. Jamie Gauthier is considered a strong favorite in her race against Jabari Jones, who ran originally as a Democrat but is now on the ticket as a third-party candidate. Brian O’Neill, the longest-tenured member of Council, is facing a challenge from labor leader Gary Masino, who has strong union backing. O’Neill still must be considered the favorite, but Masino represents one of the toughest opponents O’Neil has faced.
The 3rd District candidates:
- Jamie Gauthier. Democrat. The incumbent.
- Jabari Jones. West is Best Party.
The 10th District candidates:
- Brian O’Neill. Republican. The incumbent.
- Gary Masino. Democrat.
Register of Wills
The basics: Register of Wills is a row-office job that processes paperwork like marriage licenses and wills. Many people believe we shouldn’t be electing this office at all.
- John Sabatina. Democrat.
- Linwood Holland. Republican.
The case for (and against) Sabatina: Having defeating one-term incumbent Tracey Gordon in the Democratic primary, Sabatina would be yet another “new” face in an office that, before Gordon won in the last election, had been held by Democrat Ron Donatucci for more than four decades. But Sabatina is a longtime ward leader and a favorite of the Democratic City Committee (it boldly endorsed him against Gordon during the primary), and it’s not clear he’d shake up the status quo in this row office.
The case for (and against) Holland: Holland, a Black Republican, can bring a unique perspective to the position. As an outsider, he might be able to call for more accountability in an office that’s been dominated by Democrats for years. But he’s not a name anyone has heard of until now.
The basics: The Sheriff is tasked with property foreclosures and ensuring inmates are taken to courtrooms in Philadelphia – another position many argue shouldn’t be an elected office.
- Rochelle Bilal. Democrat. The incumbent.
- Mark LaVelle. Republican.
The case for (and against) Bilal: If elected, Bilal will be the first woman ever re-elected to the role. But outside of this historical moment, she’s been engulfed in controversies that have caught the interest of the F.B.I.
The case for (and against) LaVelle: A Republican in this position could potentially restore trust and accountability that have eroded under Democratic rule.
The basics: The Controller conducts independent audits that provide financial information about the city to the public. In recent years, the role elevated the political profiles of prior holders Rebecca Rhynhart and Alan Butkovitz.
- Christy Brady. Democrat.
- Aaron Bashir. Republican.
The case for (and against) Brady: Brady is no stranger to the Controller’s office; she had to resign from her position as Acting City Controller to run for this permanent position. In a three-person Democratic primary race, Brady appeared to be the least progressive candidate — she was backed by the Democratic City Committee and the local Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP).
The case for (and against) Bashir: Bashir is no rookie — he’s been a financial accountant for the city for a decade. But he hasn’t made a name for himself publicly until now — a major hurdle for a Republican battling against a very visible Democrat in Philly.
The basics: The City Commissioners oversee elections in Philadelphia. Like other row offices, this one has good-government types wondering if it should be held by elected officials. In this election, there are three open seats and three candidates, meaning this has been a wrap since a Working Families Party candidate was removed from the ballot in August.
- Omar Sabir. Democrat. An incumbent.
- Lisa Deeley. Democrat. An incumbent.
- Seth Bluestein. Republican. An incumbent.
The basics: Voters will be asked to make a decision on one proposed change to the City Charter: to decide whether or not to implement an Office for People with Disabilities. Click here for a breakdown of the question.
Local Judicial Elections
Common Pleas Court: These contests were entirely decided in the May primary election. There are 13 candidates and 13 spots to be filled, all Democrats.
Municipal Court: Voters will be asked to choose two candidates to fill two spots. There are two Democrats (Colleen McIntyre Osborne and Barbara Thomson) and one Republican (Rania Major) running.
Retention elections: Voters will be asked to keep or fire 11 additional Common Pleas Court judges who are up in a “retention” election. With very rare exceptions, retention candidates win. Seven Municipal Court judges and two Superior Court judges are also up for retention.