In a crowded Philadelphia primary election, a candidate's position on the ballot can make or break the campaign.
The city commissioners, following a hallowed tradition, made that call Wednesday morning by having seven Democratic candidates for district attorney draw blue, numbered bingo balls from a decades-old Horn & Hardart coffee can for the May 16 primary.
Former city Managing Director Rich Negrin, the only Democrat who did not attend the meeting, drew the first ballot position, thanks to a civil servant who picked the ball in his place.
Negrin was in Northeast Philadelphia accepting the endorsement of three law enforcement groups, including Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.
The candidates drew in an order determined by the timing of their filings last week of nomination petitions.
In positions two through seven will be former city and federal prosecutor Joe Khan, former city and state prosecutor Michael Untermeyer, former First Deputy District Attorney Tariq El-Shabazz, civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner, former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, and former Assistant District Attorney John O'Neill.
The lone Republican candidate, former Assistant District Attorney Beth Grossman, did not attend the meeting and was assigned the first position on the GOP primary ballot.
Negrin was endorsed Wednesday morning by the FOP, the Guardian Civic League (which represents black officers in the Philadelphia Police Department), and the local president of the Spanish American Law Enforcement Association. Negrin, son of Cuban immigrants, said the diversity of support made him proud.
"The most important partner for a district attorney, besides the community and the courts and the public defenders, are the police officers," he said. "Having the support of them and bringing them together was something exciting that I was working on from the very beginning of this campaign."
District Attorney Seth Williams last month dropped his bid for a third term amid controversy about a federal investigation into his personal and political finances and more than $175,000 in gifts he received from 2010 to 2015 but failed to report until 2016 and 2017.
The tradition of drawing ballot positions has fostered a circus-like atmosphere over the years, a spot of levity in what can otherwise be competitive and disagreeable political campaigns. The star of the show is sometimes jokingly referred to as the "Can of Destiny."
The event in 2015 sparked a Facebook page — Mr. Horn N. Hardart — that continues to be updated with information, with the can speaking in first person about the hopes of the candidates as it determines their placing.
Less fanciful — though just as attention-grabbing — have been the raging political disputes between the FOP and Williams.
The union, with 14,500 active and retired members, posted a billboard along I-95 at Aramingo Avenue in January that declared: "Help Wanted: New Philadelphia District Attorney, Please contact FOP Lodge 5." FOP president John McNesby that month said his union's board had voted to spend an "unlimited amount of resources" to defeat Williams and elect his successor.
The billboard was erected just after the FOP lambasted Williams for deciding against prosecution for a 16-year-old girl who was caught on video scuffling with a police officer.
The union had also objected last year to Williams' decision to not charge former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who has been accused of assaulting off-duty police officers in an Old City nightclub.
The commissioners also had a civil servant draw for ballot positions in the Democratic primary election for city controller. The incumbent, Alan Butkovitz, took the third position while Rebecca Rhynhart took second and Bobbie Curry first. Mike Tomlinson, the lone Republican, was assigned the first position.