Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philly’s Democratic establishment and progressives again facing off over state House seats

This time, progressives will be playing as much defense as offense, with a trio of state representatives up against party-establishment-backed candidates in contentious races.

Party-backed Democrats and progressives are battling it out in seven of the nine contested Democratic primaries for Pennsylvania House districts in Philadelphia.
Party-backed Democrats and progressives are battling it out in seven of the nine contested Democratic primaries for Pennsylvania House districts in Philadelphia.Read moreDave Newman/Dreamstime / MCT

Philadelphia’s Democratic establishment will once again battle with a roster of candidates backed by progressive groups in Tuesday’s primary elections for seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Of the nine contested Democratic primaries for state House seats in Philadelphia, seven feature showdowns between party-backed candidates and those endorsed by progressive groups like Reclaim Philadelphia, the 215 People’s Alliance, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This time, progressives will be playing as much defense as offense, with a trio of state representatives up against party-establishment-backed candidates in contentious races.

The primary will be a test of the resiliency of the local progressive movement that flourished under former President Donald Trump’s administration but has since faced vocal opposition from more centrist Democrats.

Progressives on the defensive

Three progressive representatives who won their seats against establishment-backed candidates are in tense reelection fights this year.

All three failed to secure the backing of the Democratic City Committee, which almost always favors party incumbents, and were the subjects of widely criticized campaign literature mailed to voters by an outside spending group with ties to Republicans and the city’s Democratic Party. The mailers criticized efforts to “defund the police” and attempted to link the representatives to the city’s soaring homicide rate, despite state lawmakers having no role in setting the Philadelphia Police Department budget.

The highest-profile race is between State Rep. Chris Rabb, a progressive who represents the 200th District in Northwest Philadelphia, and State Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald, who was paired in the same district as Rabb thanks to legislative redistricting.

Fitzgerald is a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, one of the leaders of the Northwest Coalition, a storied political organization that has twice backed candidates against Rabb.

In South Philadelphia, State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, who represents the 184th District, is up against Michael Giangiordano II, a real estate professional and self-described moderate Democrat who won the backing of local ward leaders.

Fiedler supporters have honed in on Giangiordano’s social media history, in which he has retweeted conservative talking points and once posted that Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham was a “true American patriot.”

» READ MORE: The ballot questions in the Philadelphia 2022 primary election, explained

Giangiordano said he is a lifelong Democrat who wants to see the party return to centrism and move away from progressive priorities like cutting police funding.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski is being challenged by party-endorsed James Wright, who leads the community services organization the People’s Emergency Center, for the 188th District in West Philadelphia.

New targets for the left

Progressives are also hoping to expand their ranks in Harrisburg, and three House races feature incumbents being challenged on the left.

In the 10th District, Rep. Amen Brown is being challenged by Cass Green, who has won endorsement from numerous progressive groups and elected officials, and community radio personality Sajda Blackwell, whose husband is the grandson of former Councilmember Jannie Blackwell.

» READ MORE: What to know about Pennsylvania's 2022 primary

Brown became a target for progressives after introducing legislation in 2021 that would have increased mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related crimes.

Meanwhile, Tarik Khan, former president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, is challenging Rep. Pam DeLissio in the 194th District, which includes parts of Northwest Philly and Montgomery County.

In the Northwest Philly-based 201st District, Andre Carroll, who worked on the Working Families Party’s 2019 campaign for City Council, is challenging Rep. Stephen Kinsey, former chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

Crowded race in Center City

Four Democratic candidates are competing in the race for the 182nd District, which is being vacated by Brian Sims as he runs for lieutenant governor. Sims was the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly, and the district includes the Gayborhood section of Center City.

Former city LGBTQ care coordinator Deja Lynn Alvarez, who if successful would be the first trans woman elected to the General Assembly, has won the backing of many party leaders and is close with Sims.

Reclaim Philadelphia, which has hundreds of members who are active in the district, has endorsed Ben Waxman, a former journalist and ex-spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner.

The other candidates are Jonathan Lovitz, vice president for the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and Will Gross, owner of OX Coffee in Queen Village.

Northeast Philly showdowns

The only part of the city free from the establishment-vs.-left wing dynamic in the primaries is Northeast Philadelphia, where there are two competitive Democratic primaries for House seats.

In an open race for the 173rd District, which is being vacated by Rep. Mike Driscoll, Democratic ward leader Pete McDermott faces Pat Gallagher, Driscoll’s chief of staff.

(Driscoll on Tuesday will also be on the ballot in an uncontested special election to replace City Councilmember Bobby Henon, who resigned in January after being convicted on federal corruption charges.)

» READ MORE: Philly’s mail ballot drop boxes are easier to get to for white residents than Black and Hispanic ones

Meanwhile, embattled State Rep. Kevin Boyle has drawn a primary challenge from Bob Stewart, a journalist who founded the North Philadelphia-based community news publication Spirit News.

Boyle made headlines last year when he was arrested on suspicion of trying to enter his estranged wife’s house in violation of a protection-from-abuse order. The case has since been withdrawn.

Boyle said the episode stemmed from a mental health crisis, and has asked constituents for forgiveness and understanding.