When Philadelphia Democrats win a seat in the U.S. House, they can usually bank on keeping it for life.
Incumbents rarely face primary challengers in this one-party town. One of the few exceptions to that rule is politicians who are under the cloud of criminal investigations.
Until a few days ago, it looked like the city's two congressmen running for reelection — Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans — would face nada competition per usual. Zero Democrats had declared campaigns in their districts.
But then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a new congressional district map for the 2018 elections. Thanks to that defibrillator to the city's fatigued political system, we're now hearing that several boldface names are thinking about challenging Boyle and Evans.
Boyle appears to have the most people looking at his seat. There may be a couple reasons for that: For one thing, he isn't allied with some of the ward leaders in the new Second District, where he's running for reelection. The Second District is also home to only half of Boyle's constituents under the previous congressional district map. Compare that to the Third District, where Evans lives. It has 80 percent of the same constituents.
Bill Green, a School Reform Commission member and former city councilman, is rumored to be considering a run against Boyle. On Wednesday, he changed his party registration from independent to Democrat, according a source in the city's voter registration office.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez appears to be thinking about it, too. A source close to Sánchez said the new Second District "lends itself to a viable female candidate with her profile."
Two other potential Boyle challengers, both of whom share the congressman's political base in Northeast Philly, are being whispered about: State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. and State Rep. Michael Driscoll. Prepare for things to get ugly if Sabatina jumps in: The Sabatinas and Boyles have a longtime family feud. Boyle's brother, a state lawmaker, unsuccessfully challenged Sabatina in 2016.
Meanwhile, Michele Lawrence, a former senior vice president at Wells Fargo, officially leaped into the race against Boyle on Thursday.
It won't be easy for challengers to take on Boyle, though: He said this week that he had nearly $1 million in the bank.
Evans, who is running in the new Third District, isn't safe from formidable foes, either.
A source close to Nina Ahmad, Philadelphia's former deputy mayor for public engagement, said she was mulling a bid against Evans or Boyle. Another possibility, the insider said, is that she'll go for the new Fifth District, a wide-open congressional seat based in Delaware County, but with a chunk of South Philly.
We can't help but notice that Ahmad, who previously ran against Brady, has more campaign funding on hand than Evans: At the end of 2017, she had $564,000. He reported only $103,000.
When Clout pointed that out to Ahmad, she not-so-subtly replied, "I know."
Ali Perelman, a member of one of Philadelphia's most prominent families, has already waged war against the city's Democratic machine.
At least, that's how many old-school Democrats see things: Her political organization, Philadelphia 3.0, is training millennials across the city to run for ward committee posts in 2018. They are the foot soldiers of the local Democratic Party and elect the city's ward leaders.
Now, political insiders say Perelman is planning to move the battle line forward in her crusade to transform the local party: Rumor is she's running for Democratic leader of South Philly's Second Ward.
On Thursday, Perelman denied claims that she is eyeing the Second Ward's top spot. She said that political observers are likely just confused: She lives in the Second Ward, and is in charge of Philadelphia 3.0's efforts there to teach candidates to run for committee person.
"We have ward and regional captains who are organizing committee people prospects," she said. "I am leading that process in the Second Ward. So I can see how people would confuse that organizing role with a bid for ward leader."
Perhaps that's true. Or perhaps Perelman is waiting until she sees how many 3.0-trained candidates win their bids for committee posts. If she took over the Second Ward, that would put her in a good position to run for City Council in 2019 — another rumor that's been floating around.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and the ward leaders in her district might all be Democrats. But that doesn't mean they're friends.
In 2011, things got so nasty between Sánchez and the Democratic machine that Carlos Matos, leader of the 19th Ward, reportedly tried to recruit a woman named Maria Sánchez to run against her. (He denied this at the time.) Four years later, he backed a no-name challenger to Sánchez who had compared gay men to flatworms.
All this infighting has potentially deleterious effects on the political power of Latino Democrats in the area.
Something happened this month, though, that indicated that the cold war might be thawing. Democratic ward leaders voted to support Danilo Burgos, a former aide to Sánchez, in the primary for state representative in North Philly's 197th District. It was an unexpected choice: Burgos isn't the incumbent. That title belongs to Emilio Vazquez, whom ward leaders had backed just last year.
We asked Sánchez if the endorsement indicated a peace treaty in her district. She said that some Democrats had recently "put their weapons down" and come together to support Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Burgos, meanwhile, said he won the ward leaders' support because "the party wants to go in a different direction."
But Matos swiftly put an end to the kumbaya vibes we were feeling. He said that he threw his weight behind Burgos so that he and his constituents don't have to rely on Sánchez to obtain city services. Matos has long claimed that Sánchez does a poor job of providing services; Sánchez has long denied that.
"The biggest problem we have in our community is the lack of services by the councilwoman," Matos said. "What I like about [Burgos] being in the House is not only would he be able to deliver state services, but he could deliver city services as well, since he's worked for Council people. He has access to people at City Hall."