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Elizabeth Warren endorses third-party progressive running for Philly City Council

Warren's endorsement of Brooks marks the second time a presidential contender has waded into local Philly politics this year, following Bernie Sanders' participation in a July protest against the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has endorsed progressive insurgents in Philadelphia's at-large City Council race.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has endorsed progressive insurgents in Philadelphia's at-large City Council race.Read moreRobert F. Bukaty / AP

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the progressive presidential hopeful aiming to push her party to the left, on Monday endorsed a Philadelphia City Council candidate with similar aims: Kendra Brooks.

A lifelong Democrat running under the Working Families Party banner, Brooks is hoping to win one of the two City Council at-large seats that are reserved by Home Rule Charter for candidates outside the leading party and which have always been held by Republicans.

“Kendra Brooks is a mother, a grandmother, and a fighter. As an organizer, she’s been a leader in protecting our public schools and ensuring every kid gets a chance to get a good education, no matter where they live," the Massachusetts Democrat said of Brooks, a public schools advocate from Nicetown. "Her passion, commitment, and ideas … will break the decades-long Republican stranglehold of minority seats and help make real change for Philadelphia’s working families.”

There is no recent precedent for an out-of-state official with a national profile getting involved in a race for city office in Philadelphia. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama endorsed former Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro in a three-way Democratic primary for state attorney general, which Shapiro won.

The endorsement follows a pattern for the progressive movement, which since President Donald Trump’s election has seen an explosion of activity in national networks of activists but has won some of its most significant victories in local elections. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, for instance, won in 2017 with the backing of national progressive groups and largely without the blessing of the local Democratic establishment.

Brooks and her Working Families Party running mate Nicolas O’Rourke say their fight is against Republicans, not the Democrats on Council. But the Democratic City Committee has opposed their efforts, noting that their success likely depends on thousands of traditionally Democratic voters forgoing at least one of the party’s five nominees in order to choose a Working Families Party candidate.

While there are seven at-large Council members, each party can only nominate five, and each voter can only pick five.

Brooks and O’Rourke contend that their efforts won’t threaten Democrats because the party has a 7-to-1 voter-registration advantage in the city. Democrats in at-large Council seats typically win more than 100,000 votes, while successful Republicans take about 35,000.

While Warren has steadily risen in the polls, Brooks and O’Rourke’s campaigns remain long shots, due in part to the relative complexity of what they’re asking their supporters to do in the ballot booth and in part due to their lack of name ID among voters. Both are first-time candidates.

Brooks’ campaign has used endorsements from local elected Democratic officials — City Councilwoman Helen Gym and state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, Chris Rabb, and Malcolm Kenyatta — to bolster her visibility. Warren’s endorsement is the most high-profile to date.

Brooks said in a statement that Warren “has elevated the national conversation about the issues we’re fighting for in Philadelphia — affordable housing, access to health care, quality public schools, and criminal justice reform — and is advocating on a national scale for the change I’m working for in our communities.”

The endorsement marks the second time this year a liberal presidential candidate has waded into Philadelphia politics. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) in July joined a protest against the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital.