"DO THE candidates want to inspect the balls?"
That delicate phrase was yelled by a Philadelphia County Board of Elections staffer inside a crowded City Hall courtroom yesterday, moments before the start of a little Punxsutawney Phil-like tradition: electoral bingo.
Veteran politicians and eager political hopefuls took turns reaching into a Horn & Hardart coffee can and pulling out a numbered bingo ball that would dictate their ballot positions for the May 19 primary election.
Some people were delighted with their slots. Others looked as if they wanted to chuck the can out the window.
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams landed the No. 1 slot among the six Democratic mayoral candidates.
"I've never won a lottery in my life," Williams said. "If one believes in omens, it's a good trend."
T. Milton Street Sr. - whose candidacy is facing a legal challenge over whether he's actually a registered Democrat - nabbed the second slot. He'll be followed by former City Councilman Jim Kenney, former Nutter administration spokesman Doug Oliver, former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham.
But does snagging the golden pingpong ball really translate into cold, hard votes? That's not exactly clear, according to some political veterans.
"I don't know that it matters very much in the two top races, for mayor or Supreme Court. Where it's going to matter is Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas and Council at-large," said election lawyer Adam Bonin. "Where position matters is with those casual voters, where every little bit counts when you're just trying to catch someone's eye."
In the ultracrowded Democratic race for Council at-large, a quartet of newcomers landed the top four spots: Derek Green, a longtime aide to City Councilwoman Marian Tasco; Jenne Baccar Ayers, daughter of former Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers; community activist Wilson Alexander, and real estate mogul Allan Domb.
Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. had the misfortune of ending up with the last ballot slot, No. 21. Two other Democratic incumbents, Councilmen William Greenlee and Ed Neilson, drew the 15th and 18th slots, respectively.
"It does mean something, and those people who placed higher, particularly in the first five, clearly benefit from it," Goode said. "But I'd note that I drew the last position four years ago and still won, so it's clearly not fatal."
Incumbent Councilman David Oh took the first slot among a field of seven Republican candidates.
Bonin questioned how much of an impact nabbing a top slot would matter even for at-large Council candidates, who will appear on ballots buried below a horde of largely unknown judicial candidates for both courts.
Additionally, because there are so many candidates this year, there could be up to six columns for each office, meaning that multiple people would wind up at the "top" of each ballot section.
"Part of the problem is that a lot of this is myth and guesswork, and I don't think anyone has done that much research on how much this all matters," said Bonin, a consultant to both Anthony Williams and 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Earlier in the day, a host of judicial candidates picked their ballot spots by pulling numbers out of a pouch in Harrisburg. David Wecht nabbed the top spot among seven Democratic candidates for state Supreme Court justice, while Correale Stevens took the the top spot among four Republican candidates.
Defense lawyer Scott DiClaudio landed the No. 1 slot among a field of 59 Democratic candidates for Common Pleas judge in the 1st Judicial District. Lawyer George Twardy landed the first spot among four Republicans.