Independent candidates are expected to enter the race for mayor in Philadelphia next week. But don’t look to Mayor Jim Kenney to engage with them, or even acknowledge they exist.

Kenney is still treating the Nov. 5 general election as if it is already over. That is unlikely to change if a few new faces enter the race, given that Kenney barely acknowledged two challengers in the Democratic primary.

Marty O’Rourke, a Kenney campaign spokesperson, said the mayor “is not going to comment or speculate about any supposed or hypothetical independent candidates.”

This comes eight weeks after Kenney made clear he will not engage with the Republican nominee, defense attorney Billy Ciancaglini. We asked O’Rourke if Kenney had reconsidered that.

“Nope,” O’Rourke replied.

Ciancaglini welcomes independents to the race, predicting they too will be ignored. “Jim Kenney will find a contrived reason to not debate anyone who jumps into this, because he’s a gutless coward,” he said.

The best known of the independents expected to file nomination petitions by next Thursday’s deadline is T. Milton Street Sr., the former state senator who went to federal prison for not paying his taxes and then ran for mayor as a Democrat in 2011 while still on probation. He also lost a bid for mayor in the 2015 Democratic primary.

Street, who was until recently a Republican ward leader and briefly supported President Donald Trump in late 2015, is running with a familiar campaign slogan: “Make Philadelphia Safe Again.” That sounds like Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again,” but Street says he has no intention of backing Trump for reelection next year.

“I’d rather remove a mosquito from my testicles with an ax before I did that,” Street told Clout, marking the strangest thing we’ve ever heard him say. And that’s saying something.

Street is hosting a community meeting Saturday to discuss his plan to pay 5,000 people $15 an hour to patrol their neighborhoods. Those jobs would cost $156 million per year, which Street says he would cover with income from the city’s sweetened-beverage tax.

Arnett Woodall, owner of West Phillie Produce, says he too will run for mayor, vowing to oppose the city’s 10-year tax abatement on new construction while fighting crime and increasing funding for public education. Another political novice, Jonathan Steward, says he also will file to run.

Democrats, who have held the mayor’s office for seven decades, make up 77% of the city’s registered voters, while Republicans are 11%, and independents and smaller political party members are 12%.

Woodall could be vulnerable to a legal challenge to his candidacy, since he switched his voter registration from Democrat to independent on May 30, nine days after the primary election. The state Election Code says independent candidates must disaffiliate from political parties at least 30 days before the primary to be eligible to run in the general election.

Woodall is unworried. “Someone is going to have to challenge me in court,” he said. “I’m up for that.”

City Council at-large candidate Sherrie Cohen is running as an independent after dropping out of the 2019 Democratic primary.
Photos: CLEM MURRAY / Staff photographer
City Council at-large candidate Sherrie Cohen is running as an independent after dropping out of the 2019 Democratic primary.

Speaking of potential legal challenges for candidates

Sherrie Cohen, a Democrat turned independent, may qualify as the candidate most likely to face a legal challenge as she attempts to get on the ballot (again) for a City Council at-large seat.

Cohen, making her third bid for Council, earned a spot on the May 21 Democratic primary ballot this year but dropped out of the race (and the Democratic Party) on April 18 after her campaign stumbled through a controversy involving her manager’s heckling a transgender candidate at a trans pride event.

Clout hears that the Democratic establishment, and maybe some Republicans too, are waiting to pounce on Cohen, one of several progressives taking aim at the two Council at-large seats set aside in the City Charter for candidates not belonging to the majority political party. Those seats traditionally have been held by Republicans.

The Election Code says an independent candidate in the general election can’t have filed nomination petitions to qualify for the primary, as Cohen did. But a 2005 Commonwealth Court case draws a distinction between a candidate removed in a legal action from a primary ballot and one who voluntarily withdraws, as Cohen also did.

So Cohen’s campaign could lead to an election law precedent if she is challenged.

Cohen did not respond to a request for comment. Local Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady and Republican Party Chairman Michael Meehan are taking a wait-and-see stance on what Cohen files on Thursday.

New Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas, seen here at the 2016 Republican National Convention, is making changes to the party's leadership since taking over two weeks ago.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
New Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas, seen here at the 2016 Republican National Convention, is making changes to the party's leadership since taking over two weeks ago.

A new crew for the Pa. Republican Party

Lawrence Tabas, the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, has started putting his stamp on the organization. First up, Tabas this week named Lycoming County lawyer Denise Dieter as the party’s compliance officer, declaring that “every organization has an obligation to provide a safe, respectful environment and culture.”

That’s a clear nod to the circumstances that brought Tabas to power. Former Chairman Valentino DiGiorgio III resigned June 25 after The Inquirer reported claims from a former Council candidate who accused him of sexual harassment. The race to replace DiGiorgio stirred other claims of sexual harassment in the party.

Tabas also tapped Gerry Wosewick as the party’s new executive director. Wosewick was the party’s finance director until Tabas lost a bid for the chairman’s post to DiGiorgio in 2017.

Clout hears more changes are coming for the state party’s leadership ranks.