The Winners and Losers in Philadelphia’s 2023 General Election
It was a history-making race: Progressives, true-blue Democrats and Black candidates won, while Republicans and the establishment lost ground.
Philadelphia’s election on Tuesday was historic for a number of reasons. For the first time ever, the mayor of Philadelphia will be a Black woman: Democrat Cherelle Parker, who ran on a tough-on-crime campaign in a city that’s experiencing a public-safety crisis. The city elected the first-ever openly LGBTQIA candidate to City Council: Democrat Rue Landau. Democrats in statewide judicial races handily bested Republicans, a potential signal of the Dems’ chances of keeping the Commonwealth blue in 2024.
Two Working Families Party City Council candidates, Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke, are among the night’s biggest winners — shutting Republicans out of at-large seats, another first in Philly politics. But who are the other winners and losers — the issues, interest groups and kingmakers — in the election? Here’s our list:
The General Election Winners …
Philadelphia is a Democratic town, and it helped make the state bluer. The party here has to be pleased that Philly votes were crucial to Dems locking up all of the statewide judicial seats that were up this cycle. Democrats will now extend their majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and have new Superior and Commonwealth court members on the bench. At a time when battleground states such as Pennsylvania continue to be unpredictable at the polls, this victory should provide fuel for Democrats rolling into 2024 (when a more competitive and high-stakes election should boost turnout).
2. The Working Families Party
Here’s a fun fact: There are now more members of the Working Families Party than there are Republicans on City Council. Thanks to aggressive grassroots campaigning (and massive fund-raising), this progressive political party kept its word when it proclaimed “Working Families Party in, Republicans out.” The election of Council at-large candidates Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke is a paradigm shift in local politics. For the first time since the city charter created the current Council configuration in 1952, Republicans are completely shut out of at-large City Council seats. This momentum portends more political shake-ups in the future.
After a disappointing primary, progressives had something to celebrate this time around. Jamie Gauthier, the only Democratic district Councilmember to be challenged this cycle, rolled to victory against West Is Best Party candidate Jabari Jones. Incumbent Isaiah Thomas remained the highest vote-getter in the City Council race. Brooks’s and O’Rourke’s major victory shushed establishment detractors once and for all. In a city that’s majority Democratic, perhaps the new distinction isn’t liberals vs. conservatives, but moderates vs. progressives.
4. Democratic Judicial Candidates
Statewide races aren’t always easy for Democrats, especially in judicial races. But this time around, those backing blue came out strong across all levels of the court. Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery is now going to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, with Jill Beck and Tamika Lane set to join the court he’s about to leave. The supervising civil judge of Philadelphia Municipal Court, Matt Wolf, is now going to be a Commonwealth Court judge. These statewide victories suggest that Democrats still have sway.
5. Black Candidates
Across the board, Black candidates won big. Whether Democrat or Working Families Party, moderate or progressive, citywide or statewide, Black candidates increased representation across the board. The city’s first woman mayor is Black (Parker). For the first time in history, both minority at-large seats in City Council will be held by Black politicians (Brooks and O’Rourke). Lane became one of the few Black women ever elected to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The top two vote-getters for City Council are Black (Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson). In a city that’s majority of-color, these electoral victories better reflect the population.
… and the Losers
Brian O’Neill, the longest-tenured member on City Council, is now the only Republican there as well. No one was predicting that former at-large member David Oh would defeat Parker for mayor, but now his party is in the minority of the minority. Between statewide judicial losses and the fact that only two Republicans (O’Neill and City Commissioner Seth Bluestein) hold elected seats in the city, it’s looking bleak for the GOP here.
2. Philly Democratic Party Leader Bob Brady
Yes, Dems had a big night, but Philadelphia Democratic Committee leader Bob Brady did a lot of trash-talking (and committeeperson-cutting) about members of his party backing Working Families Party candidates. There was so much chatter over loyalty and the threat of consequences for those backing WFP candidates Brooks and O’Rourke. In the end, Democrats — especially those in the second ward and the river wards — defied him anyway and no doubt helped oust Republicans.
3. Councilmanic District Challengers
Regardless of political affiliation, those challenging an incumbent in a district race lost notably. In the 3rd Councilmanic District, West Is Best candidate Jabari Jones ran a negative campaign attacking Democrat Jamie Gauthier’s progressive stances and lost badly. In the 10th Councilmanic District, Democrat Gary Masino couldn’t defeat longtime Republican incumbent Brian O’Neill despite his strong union backing. In a city that loves to shake up its citywide seats, that energy has yet to hit the district ones.