The City of Brotherly Love actually loves a really good fight, and they’ve sure got one ahead of them in the Democratic mayoral primary coming up on May 16th.
With incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney term-limited, eight major candidates are running in the Democratic primary to succeed him. Given that Philadelphia hasn’t elected a GOP Mayor since 1947, the Democratic nominee will also be the de facto Mayor-Elect.
Furthermore, in order to run for an office in the city of Philadelphia a candidate must resign from any other office they currently hold, so these candidates are all taking a massive risk as they try for the top job.
Before you read these candidate descriptions, however, I’d suggest taking the time to peruse this fantastic study of the city’s various voting blocs by the Philadelphia Inquirer. They found six major categories of Democratic primary voters: Pro-Establishment Black Voters; Less Politically Affiliated Black Voters; Poor Voters and Latino Voters; Working-Class White Moderate Voters; Wealthy, White Liberal Voters; Younger White Progressive Voters.
Keep those factions in mind as we pore over these candidate descriptions and consider who can pull together a winning coalition for the May 16th primary.
A State Representative from West Philadelphia, Brown had just won his second term before deciding to give it up and seek out City Hall. Brown turned some heads just before he jumped in, when he was seen at a PA Society event with some past Philly power brokers who also just so happened to serve time in prison for corruption. Amen Brown will try to compete for the centrist path in this contest, but that’s likely to be a crowded lane.
Speaking of said centrist lane, that’s the same path business executive Jeff Brown is aiming for in this race. Brown’s family runs a string of local grocery stores that are part of the larger ShopRite network, and he’s making his first foray into electoral office.
In an attempt to get ahead of a crowded field, Brown was the first to hit the airwaves with TV ads touting his business experience. One of those commercials featured decade-old footage of Michelle Obama praising Brown, giving the incorrect impression that the popular ex-First Lady was supporting him.
Jeff Brown’s real strength, though, comes from his labor endorsements, with the local AFSCME, Teamsters, Transport Workers and UFCW all supporting his campaign. So far, two polls (three if you count a Brown internal survey) show Brown in the lead, so he’s our front-runner, at least for the moment.
If you’re familiar with Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, who won a plurality in his primary last week and is the favorite to win the general next month, you might notice some similarities to Philadelphia’s Allan Domb.
Of course, they’re far from identical cases. Domb, for instance, first ran for Philly’s City Council back in 2015, and spent six and a half years there. Additionally, so far Domb hasn’t gotten the same strong polling numbers or editorial endorsements that Vallas received.
What Domb does have, though, is a ton of money, with five times more cash on hand than his closest competitors. He’s also trying to leverage the antipathy towards the incumbent Mayor to his advantage, as Domb highlights Jim Kenney’s desire to retire in one of his TV spots.
Speaking of the Philadelphia City Council, Green is the second of five members of that body who chose to step down and seek the mayorship. Like Domb, Green ran for an at-large seat on the City Council in 2015 and won. In fact, Green even got more votes in that primary contest than Domb did. Unlike Domb, however, Green is having trouble gaining traction and breaking out from the pack. While Domb is leading the money race, for instance, Green ranks seventh in cash on hand. To succeed, he’ll need to somehow put together a coalition of Black establishment and progressive voters.
When it comes to that progressive wing, Helen Gym appears to be their early favorite. Gym, like Domb and Green, is an at-large City Council member elected in 2015. So far she’s been able to stand out by both raising money and earning endorsements, rivaling the labor support of Jeff Brown. Perhaps most crucially, this former school teacher has the support of both the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Working Families Party.
In fact, Gym is such a progressive favorite that at one candidate forum, moderator and former Mayor Michael Nutter openly criticized her – a confrontation that may well work in her favor as Nutter is still quite unpopular.
In terms of Gym’s popularity, the aforementioned Brown internal poll that found their candidate in the lead had Gym in second place, just six points behind (22% to 16%). Should Gym ultimately win, she’d make history as both Philly’s first female and first Asian-American Mayor.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Cherelle Parker was first elected to the Philadelphia City Council in 2015. Parker, though, didn’t represent an at-large seat but rather a district in Northwest Philly where many of the city’s Black establishment voters live. Beforehand, she also spent ten years there as a State Representative.
While Parker lacks financial heft, she was able to score a few major labor endorsements, earning the support of the local Building Trades Council and SEIU. Fundamentally, Parker’s path to victory will depend on consolidating the Black vote and building out from there.
Quinones-Sanchez is the fifth and final member of the City Council who stepped down to run for Mayor. Serving from 2008 to 2022, she represented the heavily Hispanic precincts in North Philadelphia. That experience, and the reality that she’s the only Latino candidate in the race, suggests she’ll have an edge with the city’s Latino voters. In point of fact, she’d be the first Latino Mayor in Philly’s history, and is one of four candidates seeking to become the city’s first female Mayor.
The fourth aforestated female candidate is City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. After serving in the Administration of Mayors Nutter and Kenney, Rhynhart pulled off a 2017 primary upset of the three-term incumbent Controller. In her capacity as City Controller, Rhynhart oversaw an audit of Philadelphia’s Police Department, a review that infuriated Philly’s Fraternal Order of Police.
Rhynhart won the backing of former Mayor John Street and has a decent financial warchest available. Her target demographics are the city’s young progressives and wealthy, white liberal voters. Expanding out to working-class whites and voters of color, though, could be more of an uphill battle for her.
We’ll be keeping an eye on this race over the next few months, so be on the lookout for updates here.