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At-large Council challengers are intent on change

Philadelphia voters in the mood for change will have a bounty of accomplished at-large City Council challengers to choose from in Tuesday's primary.

Philadelphia voters in the mood for change will have a bounty of accomplished at-large City Council challengers to choose from in Tuesday's primary.

Though the pack is arguably led by mayoral sons Sharif Street and Bill Green, 12 other Democrats are looking to knock off the five incumbents. Included is a loose and unofficial slate of candidates who disagree on some issues but share the same core message: The city's political system is broken, and it needs new leadership.

That group - most prominently including Derek Green, Matt Ruben, Marc Stier and Andy Toy - is generating significant buzz in the growing ranks of the city's self-described progressive reformers.

Its members remain underdogs. Most are political amateurs, and they generally have less money and establishment backing then do Democratic incumbents Blondell Reynolds-Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr., William K. Greenlee, Jim Kenney and Juan Ramos.

Yet with voters saying they are interested in shaking things up, one or more of the challengers could win enough votes to join Council.

"We have a government that's dysfunctional, major decisions that are being made without public input - the casinos, the stadiums," said Toy, an economic-development specialist and former employee in the city's Commerce Department. "I think that people are ready for a change."

Which is not to say Toy and the others are above seeking establishment support. Theirs are not Ralph Nader-like campaigns designed less to win than to raise concerns. Most are courting ward leaders and cutting deals to win spots on the mayoral candidates' endorsed ballots.

Stier, whom many observers consider the front-runner of the bunch, said he had the support of 23 of the 66 ward leaders, and was courting 16 more.

"If I picked the right father, I'd be a shoo-in right now," he cracked, alluding to Bill Green and Street.

Stier, who left his job as a Temple University professor to run, has been building toward this election for years. He cofounded Neighborhood Networks - an organization designed, in part, to counter the political power of the Democratic establishment - and is a prominent public-transit advocate and a principal foe of the casinos.

"If one or two or three of us get elected, we can use that as a platform to help build a progressive movement in the city," said Stier, who has a doctorate in political science from Harvard University.

Ruben arrived on the city's political scene as a key figure in the fight against the Foxwoods and Sugarhouse casinos.

He is president of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association (his support in that area is intense), and a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is on the cusp of earning a doctorate in English and urban studies.

Derek Green comes from a different mold. Though he largely shares the ideology and priorities of the other leading challengers, Green is no amateur. Before resigning to run, Green was chief legislative aide to influential Councilwoman Marian Tasco.

A lawyer who has worked for the district attorney and the city's Law Department, Green said he had the support of ward leaders across the city.

Both Republican and Democratic voters will select five at-large nominees Tuesday. Because only five Republicans are running, they will automatically face the top five Democrats in November.

Council has seven at-large seats, but the City Charter reserves two for the minority party. They are all but certain to go to the top two Republicans in the general election.

Democratic At-Large Candidates

Wilson Alexander

The screen printer lives in West Philadelphia.

Maceo Cummings

The Wynnefield resident is a former director of the Philadelphia Housing and Development Corp.

Michael K. Ellis

The Germantown resident is an executive with Scotlandyard Security Services.

W. Wilson Goode Jr. (i)

An independent two-term incumbent, Goode often focuses on economic issues, including equity in city contracting and fair lending practices.

Bill Green

The business lawyer is a former options trader. He is former Mayor William J. Green III's son.

Derek Green

The lawyer is a former aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco, a former deputy city solicitor, and a former assistant district attorney.

William K. Greenlee (i)

A ward leader and a longtime aide to Councilman David Cohen, he was nominated by the party in the fall to replace his deceased mentor.

Caryn Hunt

An casino opponent, she is a writer and publisher of Green City Journal, a Philadelphia planning and policy publication.

Jim Kenney (i)

The 15-year incumbent is chief champion of a 311-system to improve city services and has cosponsored significant planning and zoning legislation.

Rodney Little

The police officer is a community activist and a sergeant major in the Army Reserve.

Harry Massele

The financial accountant lives in Wynnefield.

Ben Ramos

He is a former state representative and a former executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Juan Ramos (i)

A first-term incumbent with significant labor backing, he sponsored the city's trans-fat ban.

Blondell Reynolds-Brown (i)

The two-term incumbent, a former teacher, emphasizes family and children's issues, including menu nutrition labeling.

Matt Ruben

A teacher, an English graduate student, and a former president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, he is a leader in the movement to keep casinos out of neighborhoods.

Marc Stier

A former Temple University professor, a founder of Neighborhood Networks, and president of Mount Airy Neighbors, he is a key player in anti-casino movement.

T. Milton Street

The indicted former state representative and state senator became a Council candidate after a short-lived mayoral run. He is Mayor Street's brother.

Sharif Street

A lawyer, he has received important labor endorsements. He is Mayor Street's son.

Andy Toy

An economic-development expert with experience in brownfields redevelopment and small-business growth, he is a former Commerce Department employee.