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City Council at-large seats likely to see competition

Here’s a rundown of the 2015 race for City Council.

People walk through the newly opened Dilworth Park, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, at City Hall in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
People walk through the newly opened Dilworth Park, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, at City Hall in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Read more

BESIDES THE race for mayor, all 17 members of City Council are up for re-election next year and while the first day to circulate nominating petitions is not until Feb. 17, some have already begun the crusade.

Council politicos are saying the seven at-large seats will be the most hotly contested, while most in the 10 district races are safe.

"No one is secure until people vote, but what you can count on is that if you put in the work, [you're] 50 percent there," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., Democratic majority leader.

"If you come to community meetings, if people believe that you are prone to working on their behalf, then you're halfway there," he said. "So, there are going to be a couple contested races, but I believe the real action will be at-large."

Consider, for a moment, Paul Steinke, general manager of Reading Terminal Market. Steinke is exploring a run for one of the at-large seats that will be up for grabs in the spring.

"Yes, I'm very serious about it," he said. "I will have more to say by the end of the year, or the beginning of 2015. It would be for one of the Democratic at-large seats."

On City Council, there are five open Democratic at-large seats and two at-large seats reserved for Republicans. The top five Democratic vote-getters and the top two Republican vote-getters win, and everyone is defending his or her seat. That includes W. Wilson Goode Jr., William Greenlee, Ed Neilson and Blondell Reynolds Brown. Republicans Dennis O'Brien and David Oh are also expected to defend their seats. But the wild card is Jim Kenney, a Democrat, who has been eyeing a move to the Mayor's Office. (Mayor Nutter is finishing out his last term.)

"I'm still considering myself in the ballgame," Kenney said.

"No one yet with any substance has made a move [to declare their candidacy]. We'll see. [For me], I think it's going to be an after-the-general-election decision, but before the Christmas holidays."

One contender in the at-large race will be Sherrie Cohen, daughter of David Cohen, who served on Council for more than two decades.

It will be Sherrie Cohen's second time running for an open Democratic at-large seat since 2011. The first openly gay Democratic candidate, Cohen said an LGBT voice is needed on Council to represent the disenfranchised.

"I'm a bold progressive, a coalition builder, a strong fighter for working families in our community, and I think that voice is needed on City Council," Cohen said.

The test to keep their seats is no different for district Council incumbents, many of whom are secure in their re-election.

Sources say that rumors that 10th District Councilman Brian O'Neill is retiring are just that, and that he has been actively campaigning among his constituents.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Bobby Henon and Mark Squilla look safe, sources say, as do Councilwomen Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Cindy Bass, Marian Tasco and Jannie Blackwell.

Council President Darrell Clarke, said to be contemplating a run for mayor, also would more than likely retain his 5th District seat if he runs for re-election.

The one exception, however, is the seat in the 2nd District.

The 2nd District, represented by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, includes parts of Center City, South Philly and Southwest Philadelphia in addition to the airport and the Navy Yard.

Democratic challenger and real estate developer Ori Feibush has been critical of Johnson, blasting him for what he says is a major disconnect with his constituents.

"There are real issues in the 2nd District that require a lot of planning and consensus and efforts to improve them," Feibush said.

Johnson "does not have a vision," he said. "He does not have a plan and collectively, constituents are frustrated with the path and direction of the city, the path and direction of the 2nd District."

Johnson's campaign was quick to reply.

"Voters in 2015 will have a very clear choice - Kenyatta Johnson's proven record of results and consensus building, or Ori Feibush and his my-way-or-the-highway approach that only serves to benefit his own personal interest," said Mark Nevins, Johnson's campaign spokesman.

Council's primary election is May 19.