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Four - or maybe five - new faces headed for Council

Philadelphia voters elected at least four new members to City Council on Tuesday, not the largest overhaul in recent years but still a substantial shake-up sure to change the dynamics of the 17-member body.

(Left to right) Allan Domb, Helen Gym, and Derek Green.
(Left to right) Allan Domb, Helen Gym, and Derek Green.Read moreStaff Photos

Philadelphia voters elected at least four new members to City Council on Tuesday, not the largest overhaul in recent years but still a substantial shake-up sure to change the dynamics of the 17-member body.

A fifth newcomer could come from the race for the two at-large seats reserved by law for minority-party candidates. As the final votes were being tallied, three Republicans were separated by a few hundred votes. But incumbent David Oh and challenger Al Taubenberger appeared to have slight, if not quite comfortable, advantages over incumbent Dennis O'Brien.

With nearly 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns, Oh had 3.82 percent of the vote; Taubenberger had 3.81 percent; and O'Brien had 3.76 percent.

The nail-biter felt familiar. On election night 2011, Taubenberger trailed just 140 votes behind Oh, who ultimately prevailed. This time, Taubenberger felt cautiously optimistic.

"Four years ago, at this moment, I was below 200 votes. Now I'm up by over 400 votes," he said about 10:40 p.m. "And I just can't see how this changes. I mean, it can happen. It's possible. And I'm prepared for any situation. It's a real horse race. But on the other hand, I'd rather be 400 up than 400 down."

With numbers so close, voters could be waiting days for the final results - or weeks, should there be a recount.

The turnover comes from a combination of retirements, resignations, and revolutions against incumbents.

Longtime Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco did not run for reelection after seven terms serving the Ninth District. State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker won that seat Tuesday.

Incumbent Councilmen W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Ed Neilson were ousted in the May primary. Those at-large spots, as well as the one vacated by Jim Kenney when he resigned to make his successful bid for mayor, were all filled by Democrats who coasted easily to victory. They are former Tasco aide Derek Green, real estate developer Allan Domb, and education activist Helen Gym.

Ten incumbent Democrats were reelected: at-large members Blondell Reynolds Brown and William Greenlee, and district members Cindy Bass, Jannie L. Blackwell, Darrell L. Clarke, Bobby Henon, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones Jr., Maria Quiñones Sánchez, and Mark Squilla.

Republican Brian J. O'Neill also was reelected. The two at-large Republicans on top after the final votes are tallied will round out the 17.

In recent years the body has largely moved in lockstep behind Clarke, the Council president, who has held huge sway in getting the group to back proposals he favors and thwart those he doesn't, most notably Mayor Nutter's plan to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works.

It is yet to be seen whether the newcomers will maintain that status quo or buck conventions.

"Many of us have a lot of experience in the legislative world, and some of us like myself are newer to it," said Gym, an activist elected with strong backing from the city's teachers' union. "But I think we come in with the spirit and reputation of being able to get things done. And I don't see that changing once we get into City Council."

Domb said Tuesday that he planned to immediately start putting his campaign platform into practice. He said he was not concerned about his ability to be effective as a freshman councilman.

"I want to get along with everybody, because I'm not interested in anything but what's productive for the City of Philadelphia and our residents," he said. "As long as we can be productive, I'll be their ally, supporter. And I hope they'll be mine, too."

Parker said she, too, was looking to build consensus, and has a strong working relationship with Clarke from her time in Harrisburg that she can build on. She said if people are looking for the new Council members to shake things up, they should look elsewhere.

"That is just not the way I function or operate," she said.

Oh and O'Brien both entered Tuesday's race viewed as vulnerable. Neither was backed by the city's Republican Party in the May primary - some say because they too often voted in line with the Democrats on Council.

O'Brien, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday night, was elected to Council in 2011 after serving more than 30 years as a state representative, two of them as speaker of the House.

One campaign that had drawn arguably the most attention during the Council contest fizzled once the results rolled in.

Andrew Stober, a former member of Mayor Nutter's administration who resigned and changed his registration from Democratic to independent to make a run for one of the minority-party seats, came in sixth in a field of nine.

Stober had argued that a successful bid would expose a path to election that others could follow. On Tuesday, he said his loss was proof that even respectable fund-raising and the endorsement of Mayor Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell were not enough to beat the GOP.

"I think it's a real reminder, there is a very real Republican machine in this city," he said. "But there is clearly an appetite to take them on. And there are a lot of voters, tens of thousands, who want something different."