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Democrats sweep races for Philly sheriff, controller, and register of wills

Rochelle Bilal defeated Mark Lavelle for a second term as Philadelphia sheriff among other row office races in the city.

(Top row) Philadelphia city commissioner incumbents Omar Sabir, Seth Bluestein, and Lisa Deeley. (Bottom row) City Controller candidate Christy Brady, Philadelphia Sheriff incumbent Rochelle Bilal, and Register of Wills candidate John Sabatina.
(Top row) Philadelphia city commissioner incumbents Omar Sabir, Seth Bluestein, and Lisa Deeley. (Bottom row) City Controller candidate Christy Brady, Philadelphia Sheriff incumbent Rochelle Bilal, and Register of Wills candidate John Sabatina.Read moreFile photos

Philadelphia’s elections for “row offices” — city commissioners, city controller, register of wills, and sheriff — ended with predictable results Tuesday after lackluster fall campaigns.

Most of the action in those races came long before the general election, with Republicans holding off a third-party attempt to seize a city commissioner post and an incumbent ousted in May’s Democratic primary for register of wills. A race for city controller that normally doesn’t appear on the ballot got into the mix this cycle in addition to an incumbent sheriff who survived primary challenges while plagued with controversies.

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City Commissioners

Three incumbent city commissioners — Democrats Lisa Deeley and Omar Sabir, Republican Seth Bluestein — were easily elected to new four-year terms in posts overseeing voter registration and elections in the city.

Bluestein, appointed as commissioner in 2022 to replace his departing boss, Al Schmidt, who is now Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State, was seeking his first full-term in office.

Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter requires that one of the city commissioner seats be reserved for members not in the majority political party. For seven decades, that meant two Democrats serving with one Republican as city commissioners.

Jarrett Smith of the Working Families Party, a progressive group, targeted Bluestein’s seat in a general election challenge. But a judge ordered Smith removed from the ballot in August for failing to file his candidate statement of financial interests correctly.

Deeley, who serves as chair, won a third term. Sabir, the vice chair, won a second term.

City Controller

The office of City Controller, which normally would be up for grabs in the 2025 election, was on the ballot this year because two-term incumbent Rebecca Rhynhart resigned in October 2022 to run for mayor. She finished second in May’s nine-candidate Democratic primary.

Christy Brady, a deputy city controller who had worked for the office for three decades, was appointed in November 2022 as acting controller. She attempted to run in the Democratic primary while holding the post but a judge ruled that she was not an elected incumbent so her campaign would violate the city’s “resign to run” law.

Brady resigned and ran for the office with the backing of the Democratic City Committee, easily defeating two primary opponents.

Brady on Tuesday easily defeated Aaron Bashir, a Republican who has previously lost races for the U.S. House and the state House of Representatives.

The city controller serves as an independent auditor of city agencies, including the School District of Philadelphia.

Register of Wills

John Sabatina, an estate lawyer and Democratic ward leader in Northeast Philadelphia, easily defeated Republican Linwood Holland, who works for Americans For Prosperity, a conservative-leaning non-profit.

The Register of Wills receives wills for probate, maintains estate records, collects inheritance taxes, and issues marriage licenses.

Sabatina defeated one-term incumbent Tracey Gordon in May’s four-candidate primary. Gordon’s administration has been marred by scandal, including lawsuits from five former employees who accuse her of firing them for refusing to donate to her reelection campaign.

Gordon shocked the city’s Democratic establishment by winning the 2019 primary, defeating 10-term incumbent Ron Donatucci, who died on the day of that year’s general election.


Rochelle Bilal also unseated a Democratic incumbent, former Sheriff Jewell Williams, in the 2019 primary. Bilal on Tuesday won a second four-year term, defeating Republican Mark Lavelle, a warehouse manager who unsuccessfully ran for the state House of Representatives in 2022.

Bilal, a former Philadelphia police officer, campaigned in the three-candidate primary on her record of community outreach. She won, despite a challenger who drew repeated attention to Bilal’s considerable list of office scandals.

Among Bilal’s controversies: Hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for new hires had instead been used to cover $500,000 in raises for top aides. Her undersheriff was fined $16,000 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics in February for running a legal practice on the side representing criminal defendants in Philadelphia. And she spent nearly $7,000 in city money for a party at Chickie’s & Pete’s last year.