Philadelphia’s 2023 race for mayor is officially underway. 7 people who could be next.
Mayor Jim Kenney could upend political calculations and timetables if he runs for governor in 2022.
The 2019 race for Philadelphia mayor is over. That means the 2023 mayor’s race has begun.
Mayor Jim Kenney easily won a second term in City Hall on Tuesday, marking the traditional start of the campaign to succeed a term-limited mayor. The epicenter of that race appears to be forming in City Council’s chambers, where six incumbents who won reelection Tuesday are seen as possible contenders.
Kenney could upend political calculations and timetables if he runs for governor in 2022, as The Inquirer recently reported he’s considering, which would require him to resign in the middle of his second term.
The various players, if they agreed to speak about 2023 at all last week, avoided committing the political sin of discussing the next election before the current election had concluded.
Here are some of the potential contenders, along with early indications of whether they will ultimately seek Philadelphia’s top job.
City Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker
City Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker, who won a second term Tuesday, was a state representative for 10 years. She hails from the politically potent “Northwest Coalition,” helmed by her mentor, former City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco.
That group was key to Kenney’s 2015 victory. That may be why, in May, Kenney called Parker “smart enough, strong enough” to be mayor some day.
Why she might run: Parker is known to be ambitious, despite her deflection when asked about higher office. “The machinations of internal politics have never been seductive to me," she said.
Why she might not: There’s widespread speculation that Parker wants to be the next City Council president.
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez says Council could benefit from having so many potential mayoral candidates, forcing them to buckle down and do the work needed to stand out.
“They have to come up with an agenda that provides a vision, demonstrate their ability to create coalitions and processes,” she said. “So I think it’s a good thing when people have aspirations, because we’re going to get the best of them, the best of their ideas."
She recently told Philadelphia Magazine that the chances of her running for mayor one day are “quite good.”
Why she might run: Quiñones-Sánchez was the lone Democrat against Kenney’s controversial soda tax in 2016, and she’s been on the front lines of the debate about whether the city should have a nonprofit open supervised injection sites, where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision. Those are big issues, and she’s a player.
Why she might not: Quiñones-Sánchez has long bucked the party establishment, winning a fourth term the same way she won her first three — by running against the Democratic City Committee’s preferred candidate in a district where voter turnout is generally low. Would her rebellious streak play citywide?
City Councilwoman Helen Gym
City Councilwoman Helen Gym, the first at-large Council candidate in 32 years to win more than 100,000 votes in a Democratic primary, has cultivated a progressive political brand apart from the local party. A former education activist, Gym has pushed for more school funding during her first term while also advocating for hourly employees to have more reliable schedules and renters to have more rights.
The Democratic City Committee planned to meet after this week’s election to consider expelling her from her spot as a committeewoman in the 8th Ward for her endorsement of Working Families Party candidates, a violation of the party’s bylaws. Gym responded with a fund-raising pitch to supporters that said “party bosses are threatening me.”
Why she might run: Gym’s fans and detractors agree on one thing: She knows how to draw attention. That gives her a potential head start and a profile that would produce resources for a run. She started the conversation on removing the statue of the late Mayor Frank L. Rizzo across from City Hall.
Why she might not: Gym has been mentioned as a possible candidate for a variety of higher offices but has not made clear which, if any, she is eyeing. She repeatedly declined to comment about 2023, and also shot down speculation that she might challenge U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans in the 2020 Democratic primary.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who won a third term Tuesday, says she “has been spoken to by a number of different sources” about running for mayor in 2023. She thinks the competition in Council “will be interesting to watch.”
“I know that I’ll be working hard to make sure that we’re all working cohesively, that we’re all playing nicey-nice with each other," Bass said. “Because, you know, we’re all friends, and we’re all competitors.”
Why she might run: Bass gave an attention-grabbing speech calling for the acting police commissioner’s resignation earlier this year, and has repeatedly declined to knock down speculation that she might be interested in the mayor’s office
Why she might not: Although she lives in Northwest Philadelphia, Bass came up through the West Philly-based political organization previously led by former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for federal corruption crimes. Fattah’s political faction has receded in political prominence as a result, and it’s unclear what impact it could have in a citywide election.
City Councilman Allan Domb
A millionaire real-estate investor who oversees a small empire of Center City properties, City Councilman Allan Domb won his first term in 2015 vowing to bring his business acumen to City Hall. He has banged away at a pet issue — collecting old tax debts — but expanded his message in the closing days of the 2019 campaign to focus on lifting tax burdens on low-income residents.
Domb, who has self-funded his campaigns, is one of five candidates to trigger the “millionaire’s provision” in the city’s campaign finance law since it was enacted in 2007. That law doubles contribution limits for candidates who spend $250,000 or more of their own money.
Domb is the only candidate to trigger the provision — twice now — and go on to win.
Why he might run: Domb has made it clear he’s willing to bet on himself and his ideas when the odds are running in his favor.
Why he might not: He also doesn’t waste money, so he won’t sink a fortune into a losing bet.
City Councilman Derek Green
Like Bass, City Councilman Derek Green said “a number of people have reached out to me” about running in 2023 for mayor. Green has developed a reputation in his first term as a technocratic reformer, cultivating expertise on nuts-and-bolts governance issues and rarely pulling stunts.
He’s friendly with the business community, and may appeal to those seeking a less liberal alternative to candidates like Gym.
Why he might run: The conventional wisdom is that Green, who also emerged from the Northwest Coalition and worked for Tasco on Council before winning his first term in 2015, could be a candidate for mayor if Parker decides to seek the Council presidency.
Why he might not: That same wisdom says Green stays out of the race if Parker gets in. Plus — and this may affect Bass’ thinking, too — a rush of Council candidates into the mayoral field can open up more opportunities for anyone who remains on Council.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart is the non-Council member most frequently speculated to be a 2023 mayoral contender. She unseated another Democrat, Alan Butkovitz, during his 2017 bid for a fourth term.
Rhynhart says it is too early to predict what will happen in 2023. She also doesn’t “rule anything out“ about her prospects in that election year.
“I’m focused on being city controller,” she said. “Also have a reelection in 2021.”
Why she might run: Having worked for Bear Stearns and Fitch Rating Service before entering government, Rhynhart would be able to call on deep-pocketed friends in the business community to back her campaign.
Why she might not: The last former city controller to win a mayor’s race was Joseph S. Clark in 1951.