The Pennsylvania Working Families Party is naming former Philadelphia City Council candidate Nicolas O’Rourke as its new director of organizing, a move that is part of a push to establish the group as a permanent fixture in city politics.
O’Rourke’s hiring comes a month after Kendra Brooks won an unprecedented victory for a Council at-large seat as O’Rourke’s running mate with the progressive third-party group. O’Rourke, a pastor, came up short in that race, finishing behind Brooks; Republican Councilman David Oh, who won another term; and Republican Councilman Al Taubenberger, who lost a bid for reelection by finishing third in the race for the two seats that are effectively set aside for non-Democrats.
O’Rourke, an Indiana native, impressed local progressive activists on the campaign trail and helped set third-party fund-raising records in the process.
“We want to be the political home for those in America — but specifically in the commonwealth and in Philadelphia — that want their commonwealth and their city to be for the many and not the few,” said O’Rourke, pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ in Oxford Circle. “Kendra’s success shows that there is interest in that, that there is a willingness to support that.”
O’Rourke didn’t rule out a future run for office, but said his current focus is on “working on the same issues that I always have and continuing doing that going forward.” In the near future, he said, the group will advocate for criminal justice reform priorities to be included in the next collective bargaining agreement for Philadelphia police, and for the city to adopt on its own a version of the “Green New Deal.”
While O’Rourke’s role is statewide, his focus will be on Philadelphia politics, he said. The party will continue to work with Democrats who share its progressive values, as well as look for additional opportunities for third-party campaigns under the party’s banner.
The Working Families Party, which is backed primarily by service employee labor unions with a more liberal bent than building trades unions typically have, is most established in New York, where it began in 1998. O’Rourke said that while the party is looking to expand its organizing in Philadelphia, that doesn’t mean it will look the same as it does in New York.
“Philadelphia is Philadelphia. New York is New York,” he said. “I think that we here in Philly, a largely POC [people of color] city … that there is a lot of people who want for us to really nail down the need to organize around the issues at the intersection of racial and economic justice.”