Mayoral races are particularly chaotic. With Democrats dominating cities, mayoral contests are the rare races where a candidate can win a powerful political office just by prevailing in a crowded, low-turnout party primary.
It’s simply too enticing an opportunity for too many hopefuls, which is how we ended up with a field of eight major candidates in this Democratic primary. Nonetheless, now that we’re about a month out from the May 16th contest, we can use endorsements, fundraising, and some limited polling to compare how each of these contenders is faring.
So with all due respect to State Rep. Amen Brown and Councilman Derek Green, at the moment it appears that only the five other major candidates have a real shot at winning this Democratic nomination. Therefore, I’m going to break down where each of these half-dozen hopefuls stands right now (with candidates presented in alphabetical order).
If we had to pick a front-runner in this race, right now we’d have to go with grocery store executive Jeff Brown.
The most recent polling we have, which was conducted from March 8th to 13th, was done on behalf of a PAC that’s backing Brown (a PAC that the city’s Ethics Board is looking into). Even keeping all that in mind, the poll found Brown ahead of the pack with 24%.
Furthermore, by the end of March, Brown recorded the highest fundraising number of the group with $2.1 million. He’s used that cash to run the most TV ads of any campaign out there, including some ones featuring Michelle Obama that falsely implied he had her support.
In his latest commercials, Brown positions himself as an outsider while also attempting to draw a link between his numerous City Council challengers and the unpopular outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney, portraying them all as do-nothing politicians.
One major obstacle for Brown, however, is that he’s got competition in the businessman outsider lane.
Competing with Brown in that lane is real estate developer and City Councilman Allan Domb. If we count self-funding, then Domb actually leads Brown in the money race, thanks to the impressive $7 million he gave himself. Comparatively, Brown was the only other candidate who self-funded to any serious degree, although his gift was “just” $1 million.
It’s a strategy that earned Domb 15% in that March poll, putting him in a tie for second. One factor to keep in mind, though, is that as other candidates air their own TV ads, Brown and Domb’s own numbers may well fall. They were both likely unnerved by the results in Chicago, where businessman outsider Paul Vallas fell short of victory.
Speaking of that aforementioned tie for second place, the other candidate to hit 15% was Councilwoman Helen Gym. Thanks to endorsements from the Working Families Party, the local AFSCME and AFT, as well as Our Revolution, Gym is the most prominent progressive in the race at this point. In fact, she’s even won the support of famous actor and activist Jane Fonda.
At the end of March Gym was sitting on $1.42 million, the second-highest cash on hand total behind Domb. In a marked contrast to Brown and Domb, Gym decided to wait until last week to hit the airwaves.
Her initial TV spot seeks to try and retake the issue of safety away from some of the more centrist calls for additional policing. Instead Gym cites her work against evictions and for school safety zones, while pledging to “put mental health responders on the street.”
There’s a growing Asian-American community in Philadelphia – according to the 2020 Census they now make up 8.3% of the city – which could make a real difference for the only Asian-American contender in the race. Ultimately, so long as another candidate doesn’t manage to break out from the pack, Gym will possess a real advantage: her motivated progressive base could potentially provide enough support to win this scattered primary and secure the nomination.
Unlike the outsiders and insurgents described so far, Parker is the most experienced candidate in this race, and that background is beginning to pay off for her. She won a recent endorsement from Congressman Dwight Evans, who’s represented Northern Philadelphia in either Washington or Harrisburg for forty years.
On top of that, last week she secured the support of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. There was a time when the backing of the IBEW 98 was considered golden in Philly Democratic politics. Of course, that was before the union’s Business Manager and leader John Dougherty was convicted of fraud, a case that also brought down Parker’s former fellow Councilman Bobby Henon. So it’s a bit tougher now to determine just how effective the IBEW 98’s support will be.
In her TV spots, Parker touches on her background while also painting herself as a moderate influence. She cites her bipartisan work to keep schools open and hire more police officers, all while promising to “end this sense of lawlessness and bring order back to our city.”
At the same time, she’s also emphasizing the potentially historic nature of her candidacy as she seeks to become Philly’s first female Mayor. On that point, if the city’s Black political establishment coalesces behind her, Councilwoman Parker could well emerge as a late front-runner. For now, however, that survey from Brown’s PAC has her at a so-so 7%, while her campaign warchest is just $462,000.
Philadelphia’s City Controller is another potential breakout candidate. In fact, she’s already moving up, as she received 12% in that previously mentioned poll. Rhynhart’s path to the nomination will depend on combining enough support from wealthy white liberals and establishment Black voters, somewhat similar to how Jim Kenney built his 2015 coalition.
Although Rynhart doesn’t quite have the money of an establishment favorite, $1.5 million worth of fundraising leaves her with $854,000 cash on hand going into April, she has been able to win some establishment endorsements.
Former Mayors John Street (1999-2007) and Michael Nutter (2007-2015), for instance, are both supporting Rynhart and even cut a TV commercial together putting aside their differences to endorse her. Furthermore, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board chose to back Rhynhart as well.
In a low turnout, off-year May primary, the backing of such well-known figures may be enough to lift Rhynhart past the rest of this crowded field and score her the nomination.
Finally we’ve reached Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who dropped out of the race on Easter Sunday due to lackluster fundraising. Her exit presents all the other candidates a fresh opportunity to appeal to the city’s Latino voters, who make up about 15% of Philadelphia. Therefore, make sure to watch whether Philly’s Hispanic political leaders begin to consolidate behind one of the five remaining contenders.
I’ll be keeping you up to date on this race, so stay tuned and make sure to visit Decision Desk HQ on May 16th for up-to-the-minute election returns.