In the Democratic primary for City Council’s at-large seats, many first-time candidates took their shot at getting on the November ballot. In the end, voters chose compromise. On one hand, all three incumbents won reelection. On the other, voters also gave two millennials a place on the ballot, which, in a city that leans 7-1 toward the Democrats, all but guarantees their election. But the race for the two minority party at-large seats is far from over, with five Republicans and seven Independents on the ballot.
With the decision of two incumbents not to run again, and a burgeoning independent movement, Philadelphia has a unique opportunity to have more than two parties represented in City Council. Unfortunately, voters can only vote for five candidates (there are seven at-large seats). In the spirit of supporting that diversity and new energy, we are favoring challengers in this race and endorsing few incumbents. If we had another slot, it would likely go to Derek Green. A practicing attorney and Council fixture, having served as an aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco, Green brings a focus to small business development, especially minority- and women-owned businesses.
The Inquirer Editorial Board interviewed all seven Republicans and 21 of the 28 Democrats during the primary. (The others didn’t accept the invitation.) In the fall, we interviewed the five independent candidates who responded to our invitation.
A grassroots activist from Nicetown Kendra Brooks, 47, has earned citywide respect as an advocate for better public schools. Her well-funded Council campaign is her first for public office and has collected heavyweight endorsements. Brooks served on the committee that nominated members for Philly’s reconstituted board of education, and describes herself as a “facilitator, organizer, and coalition builder” able to find common ground on contentious issues, such as the city’s 10-year property tax abatement. And she promises to bring an activist’s passion, as well as her negotiating skills, to Council.
Allan Domb, 64, a real estate magnate, remains independent from the usual machine alliances and serves as a pebble in the shoe of Council, challenging the body on term limits and stricter financial accountability. His business acumen has proved to be an asset, such as when he demanded that the city resolve an accounting error that made $33 million disappear. Any frequent visitor to budget hearings knows that most members of Council don’t show up while Domb is there at almost every hearing. In the upcoming years, with the threat of recession looming, Domb could be a critical force in City Council.
Lifelong city resident Katherine Gilmore Richardson, 35, of Wynnefield, says she has mastered the complexities of the legislative process and of constituent services — not just because of her master’s degree in public administration, but as an 11-year staff member for retiring Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. She’s worried about the future of the city’s so-called “middle” neighborhoods and the fact that the redeveloping city is “leaving some people behind."
Before being elected to Council, Helen Gym, 51, had established a public profile as an education advocate. She has expanded that profile as a savvy, progressive leader on workers rights, education, and housing. As a rookie legislator, Gym played an instrumental role in the push to regain local control of the school district, and in drafting and passing Fair Workweek legislation. She also succeeded in securing funding for legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction. One testament to Gym’s effectiveness is the number of first-time candidates citing her as their model to emulate.