The 2019 municipal primary in Philadelphia drew a lot of young, fresh faces — especially in the City Council races, where 27 of 54 candidates were first-time candidates. The Inquirer reached out to some first-time candidates after Tuesday’s primary election to find out what they learned on the campaign trail and what’s next for them.
Quotes have been edited lightly for length and clarity
Ran for: City Council, Fourth District (Democrat)
What did you learn about Philly? “I didn’t know that there are so many great organizations and committees out there dedicated to changing how Philadelphia is run that are outside of the political spectrum.”
What did you learn about Philly politics? “I didn’t understand how difficult the signature process will be. Just getting on the ballot itself was a really difficult situation."
Would you recommend running? “It is definitely a very, very, very hard process. ... I would recommend it, but I would warn them about how difficult it is.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “Probably the most successful candidates are the ones who knew that they were going to run, maybe even a cycle ago, but definitely a year or two in advance. ... Nobody that knows you, loves you, supports you should be surprised that you are running.”
What’s next? “Getting more heavily involved in the causes that really touched me while I was running ... finding ways I can get involved with organizations that help improve my community."
Ran for: City Council, at-large (Democrat)
What did you learn about Philly? “What I actually learned is that the wealth gap in this city is actually wider than I ever really realized. ... I got a chance to see places in other parts of the city with ginormous houses and it was apparent to me that there is a ton of wealth in this city, but it’s not being evenly distributed.”
What did you learn about Philly politics? “I realized more deeply how entrenched the Democratic machine is in the city.”
Would you recommend running? “Absolutely. We need people to run. But we also need people who are prepared for the kind of fight that we’re up against. The thing that I’ve been thinking about in the last couple days is what kind of infrastructure do we build for progressive people of color to be able to launch effective campaigns.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “Be prepared to fight. Not just you — the fight has to be for the people of Philadelphia and for the people who need it the most. Have a commitment to that.”
What’s next? “I don’t know. I want to get back to doing social justice work. That’s where my heart is.”
Ran for: City commissioner (Democrat)
What did you learn about Philly? “You really get a much bigger sense of how large and diverse the city really is and how the different communities throughout it interact with each other and how things are very different too."
What did you learn about Philly politics? “I’ve been a committee person for a few years, I’ve been politically engaged for a long time, I was even more surprised by how many intersections there are between people and political organizations, and political families, and how it all interacts behind the scenes. ... It goes even deeper than what I knew on the surface.”
Would you recommend running? “Only run for office if you are willing to give it your all, because if you are not then it is going to be really difficult, even more so than one would expect.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “Don’t take it personal. You put up with a lot of stuff. When you run for office you are trying to get an entire city to like you and to get behind your ideas. ... Not everyone is going to agree with you. ... You can’t take it personally.”
What’s next? “Something great. I’m not sure what that is yet, but I’m excited to find out.”
Ran for: City Council, at-large (Democrat)
What did you learn about Philly? “You think you know a city well, but you will learn a whole other thing when you run a citywide race. ... It’s a powerful expression of how diverse American cities are.“
What did you learn about Philly politics? “It is the intersection of some of the most profound cynicism that I ever experienced and a place of some of the most profound faith.”
Would you recommend running? “Absolutely. Yeah. People should run. … We have to care and we have to try. We have to.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “There is value in running to lift up an issue or make a point, and there is value in running and running to win. You need to decide early on which of those two you are doing or what the combination is. … You should think long and hard about what you are trying to do in that respect before you get out there because it will affect the decisions you’ll have to make down the line.”
What’s next? “I believe public space can bind us together. That’s the work I’ve been doing, that’s the work I’ve been talking about, that’s the work I’m going to keep doing.”
Ran for: City Council, at-large (Republican)
What did you learn about Philly? “I just didn’t realize how many more people were suffering, but now I have a face to all the suffering. ... It becomes a lot more personal. ... I didn’t know that only 25 percent of people cared enough to vote. I really thought that more people care and that more people wanted change."
What did you learn about Philly politics? “I didn’t realize who was behind the most powerful people in Philly. ... I really truly believed in a democratic process in Philadelphia. I truly believed that ... changes were always on behalf of constituents. I was looking at it through rose-tinted glasses.”
Would you recommend running? “If you are going to run as a first-time candidate, there’s got to be something bigger in it for you than just running for office. It will bring out the worst and the best in you and the worst and the best in your family and friends.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “What’s really important is to narrow down very quickly who your key demographic is, which key polling places you need to win, and focus only on them. Even if you are a citywide race ... there are no friends in politics. It’s really not a place for kindhearted, faithful people to go."
What’s next? “I am a business owner. I have two businesses.”
Ran for: Sheriff.
What did you learn about Philly? "A lot of people fear young people. I think they associate young people with change and new ideas and this city has been very comfortable with a lack of faith. They are regimented in what they know and what they think and what they express. That was something that truly came to light for me during this process.
What did you learn about Philly politics? “The perspective of Philly politics is true: It’s a machine that humans have put together to try to control the outcome of leadership in this city. And I think it has been proven and effective over, and over, and over again.”
Would you recommend running? “Absolutely. I would recommend that anybody who has a perspective, a necessity to want to see change, and has the courage and the tenacity to stand up against what’s wrong and actually format a formidable plan that they can actually execute -- I think people should definitely stand up and run.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “Despite what people say, despite what you may see, you should look beyond that. Stand firm on your integrity. Do not lose yourself, and push forward until the final straw is drawn.”
What’s next? “We shall see.”
Ran for: City Council at-large (Democrat)
What did you learn about Philly? "A specific issue, which is an issue all over the city, is trash pickup. How in some neighborhoods trash is so bad. And we know this, but actually seeing it and hearing the specific stories from people and seeing how bad the problem is from a public health perspective.”
What did you learn about Philly politics? “I witnessed firsthand how entrenched Philly politics are. A lot of what goes on behind the scenes in terms of campaigns and politics and how our campaigns are financed. We know it’s a problem, but actually seeing it and living it. ... ”
Would you recommend running? “I absolutely think that more people should run — not necessarily more in quantity but [in terms of diversity]. [We need] people who come from different backgrounds and who are not part of the political machine.”
What advice would you give first-time candidates? “Start earlier than I did. I officially announced in January. I think I formed my political action committee around mid-September. But fund-raising is a skill, and infrastructure is really important.”