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Editorial | Democratic Primary

Winners, losers, or both

Michael Nutter was not the only big winner in the Philadelphia Democratic primary on Tuesday.

And the four men he beat soundly in the mayoral primary were not the only losers.

Here's a rundown of groups and institutions that had reason to beam, and others that were fretting and frowning, after Tuesday's results.

Winner: New Philadelphians. Since the city's last election for an open mayoral office, in 1999, it has seen a significant influx of new residents who make well over the city's median income. Some are young professionals or players in the creative economy; others are affluent empty-nesters moving into Center City condos to savor the city's cultural scene. Many of these folks have lived elsewhere. Unlike so many natives, they don't view Philadelphia's bad habits as cast in stone. By and large, they formed Nutter's core constituency, though some were lured by Tom Knox's TV-fueled outsider image. Either way, the town's old political pros didn't count on how much these newbies would matter.

Loser: The notion of a Democratic "machine." Actually, the city's dominant party hasn't been a cohesive machine for a long time, if it ever was. It is a collection of feuding cliques that will unite provisionally against a common enemy (George W. Bush) or for a (mostly) common friend (Ed Rendell). Before Tuesday, you heard much chatter about how the polls didn't take into account these well-oiled election day street operations, which were going to show Nutter's latte-sipping amateurs a thing or two.

Either those get-out-the-vote juggernauts circled the wrong date on the calendar as election day, or their vaunted clout was mostly hype.

Hot-tempered union boss John Dougherty didn't do his last-minute ally, Knox, much discernible good. Ditto Knox's other late-breaking pal, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. Each alliance damaged Knox's cultivated outsider image, though.

The Democratic party boss, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, did better than the polls had suggested, but still got only 15 percent in a party primary.

And U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's long-fabled street machine sputtered. Not only did he tie Brady's weak performance, but his slate of City Council candidates also did only so-so.

Winners and losers: Latino voters. In the Seventh Council District, which had been brutally gerrymandered to limit their clout, Latinos still helped to give challenger Maria Quinones Sanchez a resounding victory. She clearly got other support, too, but her big win showed her community what it could accomplish at the polls. On the other side of the ledger, incumbent at-large Councilman Juan Ramos lost.

Losers: Critics and carpers about the new campaign finance rules, from Mayor Street on down. The rules meant no one could run a TV-only strategy. Candidates had to show up at the dozens of civic forums and bring some substance with them. In the end, the self-financed Knox was not able to buy himself City Hall.

Winner: The William Penn Foundation. Over the last two years, the local foundation sprinkled a lot of its money strategically over an array of civic and advocacy groups, trying to help them put forward-looking issues such as sustainable development, zoning overhaul and ethics reform on the election radar. It worked. (Disclosure: Some foundation funds, given to the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, benefited the Great Expectations' project cosponsored by The Inquirer).

Loser: The race card. It didn't get played much - and in Philadelphia, that's big news. When race was injected (oddly) into the campaign's waning days, the tactic didn't work.

Winner: OK, it's self-serving, but it seems true: the working press. Whether in old media - newspapers, weeklies or public broadcasting - or on Web-based new media, journalists showed they could cover the horse race and substance at the same time. By campaign's end, the wealth of information about the candidates' records, positions and personalities stored on the Web was astonishing.

While Tom Knox wouldn't agree, journalists did a good job of providing the background voters deserved so they could evaluate the image his millions had manufactured for him. He thinks journalists piled on unfairly. But consider: The four other candidates had been in public life for upwards of 15 years, their actions scrutinized all the way. Scrutiny of Knox's long business career had to be packed into the two months after his stunning rise to the top of the polls. So it seemed intense.

Losers with class: Rarely has a candidate been as highly regarded by knowledgeable citizens, yet so little chosen at the polls, as state Rep. Dwight Evans, who accepted his last-place finish with consummate grace. And Brady impressed many skeptics with the good humor and charm he showed throughout a campaign in which he never seemed to really want to be.