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Are Berniecrats about to take control of a South Philly ward? | Clout

A group founded by former staffers of Bernie Sanders' presidential bid said they have enough votes to win control of a South Philadelphia ward.

A group founded by former staffers of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid said they have enough votes to win control of a South Philadelphia ward.
A group founded by former staffers of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid said they have enough votes to win control of a South Philadelphia ward.Read moreJohn Minchillo / AP

Philadelphia has been a solidly Democratic city for decades, but it hasn't always been a very progressive one.

Most of Philly's top elected officials backed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. There is no $15 minimum wage here. The School District is charter-friendly.

In the wake of the 2016 election, as the left flank of the Democratic Party has started to gain power across the country, that's changing. Philly progressives have notched victories in recent elections for state legislature and district attorney.

Now some political insiders think they may be on the verge of another win: Nikil Saval, a leading member of Reclaim Philadelphia, told Clout that he has enough votes to win election as leader of South Philly's Second Ward.

Saval said Reclaim, a group founded by former staffers of Sanders' presidential bid, recruited people to run for the ward committee posts on a program of "putting racial, economic and gender justice at the center of the Democratic Party."

It'd be a big freakin' deal if Reclaim and its allies took control of the Second Ward. The city's ward leaders elect the head honcho of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, and can play a major role in influencing local elections. If Team Reclaim is in power, an incumbent like, say, Councilman Mark Squilla might want to watch his back. Plus, crashing the club would be a symbolic win for progressives.

Another group rumored to be jockeying for control of the Second Ward is Philadelphia 3.0, an organization dreamt up by business leaders to create a "more competitive city and a local government." Kevin Price, who said he was tapped last year by incumbent ward leader Ed Nesmith to manage the ward, is also running.

Jon Geeting, of Philadelphia 3.0, said it "sounds like" Reclaim has enough votes to pick the ward leader. Nesmith said Reclaim has more votes than 3.0, and Price has the least of all. That made it sound to Clout like the race was sewn up.

But oh, dear reader, there is intrigue. Price said that "Reclaim doesn't have all the votes they're claiming to, and neither does 3.0."

That means that the committee people supporting Price, while relatively small in number, can swing the election, he said. "At this point in time, I have enough votes to pick the ward leader."

The Second Ward is far from the only place in the city where ward wars are being fought. They're also raging in Northwest Philly, the Far Northeast, other parts of South Philly and beyond.

Ward leader elections will be held throughout the city on June 4. Stay tuned to find who will win the fight for the soul of Philadelphia's Democratic Party.

Johnny Doc talks about his Election Day losses

Speaking of the ever-changing Democratic Party, Clout got labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty on the phone to talk about the May 15 primary.

It wasn't a great day for Doc, who has long been one of the city's top power brokers: He launched a super PAC that spent nearly $1 million on TV ads to help send his ally, former deputy mayor Rich Lazer, to Congress. But Lazer came in third in the Democratic primary.

State Senate aide Jonathan "J.R." Rowan, who was backed by Dougherty's electricians union, also got beat by former WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler in a state House race — in Dougherty's backyard, no less. Another friend of the electricians' union, Sean Kilkenny, was unsuccessful in his bid for the General Assembly. (One Dougherty friend who won her primary was Madeleine Dean, a Montgomery County Democrat vying for Congress.)

So what does Dougherty make of it all?

For one thing, he said that Lazer would be foolish not to run for office again: "He has a grip on the issues … he's super experienced for being 33 years old."

Clout is hearing that Lazer may be a potential candidate for an at-large City Council seat in 2019.

Dougherty also had lots of nice things to say about Fiedler, who was supported by several labor groups as well as the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Dougherty said she ran "a great campaign," and her supporters "aren't enemies of the union movement — they're fans — so we have a lot in common."

Fiedler, for her part, said she looks forward "to working to protect, strengthen and expand unions."

Dougherty also said that "the Philadelphia building trades will be a place where Bernie [Sanders] can come in and put his hat down" in the wake of the 2018 primary. The Vermont senator endorsed Lazer in his bid for Congress, which Dougherty's spokesman said he had "made … happen."

Clout would be remiss if it didn't add that Dougherty has been known to put a finger to the wind, and occasionally shift alliances based on who is in power.

Overall, Dougherty said, "I've woken up after elections and been upset." But this primary wasn't like that, he said. "It was a great campaign cycle. … It was a great women movement. I love it."