Yes, a lot of people are running for City Council at-large. How do you tell who’s for real?
By one traditional measure, new fund-raising reports filed Wednesday suggest that about half the field of 36 candidates has enough cash to run a serious campaign in the May 21 party primaries.
Money isn’t everything, of course, and grassroots efforts can succeed, but it helps in getting a candidate’s name out to voters, especially in the low-information Council race with so many people on the ballot.
Cash in the month before the primary can buy critical ads on TV, radio spots, or mailers, as well as ward endorsements, which mean the candidate’s name will be on sample ballots circulated at the polls.
“Money definitely tells a story about the resources you have and what you’re realistically able to do six weeks out or so," said Mustafa Rashed, a political strategist who heads Bellevue Strategies.
Here’s a quick look at the early at-large money race:
Twenty-nine Democrats, including three incumbents, are running for five open Democrat at-large seats. Of those, five candidates reported having $175,000 or more as of April 1.
Councilwoman Helen Gym has $410,000, about half of it raised since January. Gym got the maximum $11,900 contributions from the American Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the Plumbers Union Local 690.
First-time candidates Eryn Santamoor and Justin DiBerardinis each raised about $190,000. Santamoor’s support is almost entirely from individual donors, including $3,000 from former Mayor Michael Nutter, for whom she used to work.
DiBerardinis also brought in significant money from individuals as well as $5,000 from the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, an environmentally focused PAC, and Excellent Schools PA, a nonprofit that supports charter schools. A day after his report was filed, DiBerardinis, who supports a moratorium on charter expansion in the city, said he would be returning that money.
Longtime political observer Larry Ceisler called those numbers particularly impressive for non-incumbents who have less time to raise funds or attract labor support.
“If you can raise money, it shows that people have confidence in you,” Ceisler said. “If someone gives you $10 or someone gives you $1,000, the thing those two contributors have in common is if they live in the city of Philadelphia, they’re going to vote for you.”
Incumbent Councilman Derek Green also has about $190,000, with maximum donations from District Council 21 PAC and the Steamfitters Local Union 420.
Councilman Allan Domb, who has already spent $666,408, much of it on television commercials, has $176,000 remaining. He received $10,000 from the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, $3,000 from the Chamber of Commerce, and $3,000 from the Toll Brothers developers.
Several candidates raised between $30,000 and $75,000, including two who are also endorsed by the Democratic City Committee — Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson.
Thomas, who is running for the third time, has $70,000, including the maximum $11,900 from AFSCME, the union representing government workers. Gilmore Richardson has about $50,000, which includes the maximum allowable from the committee of her former boss, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Gilmore Richardson also received $10,000 from the Laborer District Council.
Immigrant-rights advocate Erika Almirón has $55,000 which includes $16,000, combined, from herself and several family members and $2,000 from the PAC Second Generation, which supports first- and second-generation immigrants.
Joseph Diorio reported a single $50,000 contribution, which he gave himself.
Sherrie Cohen, who also ran in 2015, has $37,000 and Fernando Trevino, a political consultant who worked for the Nutter administration, has $30,000.
Ceisler said he thinks the role of money in Council elections is somewhat overhyped, considering candidates needed much more just 10 years ago to be competitive.
“It used to be you have to have enough to be on broadcast TV for a couple weeks, do radio, and do five or six mailers," he said. "That was the baseline. I don’t know if it’s the same today. I think social media has changed the dynamic. And following [President] Trump’s election, people are more engaged.”
Seven Republicans are vying for two seats reserved for the city’s minority party. Councilman David Oh had the most with $143,000, the majority of it carried over from what he raised last year. The other incumbent, Al Taubenberger, has $60,000.