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Lessons of Phila. vote: 'Be prepared' for bigger races

Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) had warned the city's political foot soldiers Election Day would be slow, quiet. "I told my committee people, 'Not much you can do about this one,' " he said Wednesday. " 'But be prepared. It won't be like this next year.' "

Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) had warned the city's political foot soldiers Election Day would be slow, quiet.

"I told my committee people, 'Not much you can do about this one,' " he said Wednesday. " 'But be prepared. It won't be like this next year.' "

After a low-turnout, off-year election that once again featured little Republican resistance, Philadelphia's political attention will shift quickly to the big races on the horizon - the governor's next year and the mayoral contest in 2015.

But were there any lessons in Tuesday's festivities?

Several political observers said the day, if nothing else, was a reminder of the outsize weight Philadelphia voters carry in the state.

"It does point to this: The only way Gov. Corbett has a chance to be reelected in 2014 is if the Democrats don't participate," Democratic political consultant Neil Oxman said. "Republicans need to count on a low turnout."

Corbett announced his reelection bid Wednesday and was to visit Northeast Philadelphia on Thursday. A handful of local Democrats are among those vying to challenge him.

Brady, longtime chair of the city's Democratic Party, noted that Democrat John McVay Jr. narrowly lost a statewide run for Superior Court after barely setting foot in the city - and getting little support from it.

"He should have paid a little more attention to the city of Philadelphia," Brady said. "No one knew who he was, including me."

Elections with no major national or even local contests on the ballot are dubbed "committeeman's elections" - meaning well-organized parties can have an outsize impact.

For John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who commands a vast labor army at Local 98 of the electricians' union, Tuesday was a sort of dry run for the more consequential elections to come.

Dougherty said the union had 5,000 people on the street Tuesday working for candidates.

"A low-turnout election is when we can have a lot of influence, and we did," he said. "We were just fine-tuning our operation."

He said he fielded the biggest "vote yes" contingent on judicial-retention races, and one of the union's lawyers, Henry Lewandowski, won a Municipal Court seat. Lewandowski was "not recommended" by the Philadelphia Bar Association but he was hardly alone in that. Voters elected four judges with negative reviews from the bar.

Oxman called the races for district attorney and city controller, easily won by incumbents Seth Williams and Alan Butkovitz, "absolute non-events" - a finding echoed by the turnout, tagged unofficially Wednesday at 11.4 percent.

"Most people didn't even know there was an election," said State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, a potential mayoral candidate - even "people in politics."

Those who vote on such days are often labeled "super-voters" - generally older, well-informed party faithful who never miss an election.

Their preferences can be instructive.

Butkovitz, who said he would soon decide whether to run for mayor, called Tuesday's totals encouraging. He won 94 percent of voters who did not vote either party's straight ticket.

"Alan knows how to count votes well," Brady said. "He'll make a decision that's right for him."

Sen. Williams said he thought Seth Williams (no relation) had proved a galvanizing political figure. The district attorney garnered slightly more votes than Butkovitz, and grew his base after winning a bruising primary four years ago with about 40 percent of the vote.

But the D.A., once rumored to be considering a run for mayor, ruled that out on election night.

Next year features not only the governor's race, but several hot congressional and statehouse contests, plus neighborhood slugfests for parties' ward and committee slots.

The sorting of mayoral candidates also will begin. A dozen people have been mentioned as possible candidates, and those with any chance will begin testing messages and support with donors and power brokers. "It's as wide open as I ever remember," Oxman said.

The city's GOP, despite a reorganization in the spring that installed State Rep. John Taylor as chairman and lawyer Joseph DeFelice as executive director, remained moribund at the polls Tuesday.

Now outnumbered better than 6-1 among registered voters, the party had credible candidates for district attorney and controller, but neither gained much traction or financial backing.

Sen. Williams said an energized Republican base could have won a race on Tuesday. "Thank God they didn't do any more work than we did," he said.



Inquirer staff writer Bob Warner contributed to this article.