Philadelphia hasn’t been able to get collectively excited about the primary election taking place next week. Maybe it’s because the mayoral candidates are tired, and the city isn’t rallying behind one dynamic person to take over.
Or maybe it’s just because we all keep saying it’s boring. Myself included. Plan Philly writer Jim Saksa pointed out in Philly Mag that it’s time we all stop complaining about just how lame this upcoming election is.
While we’ll still contend that the candidates aren’t exactly… exciting… for Philadelphians, the race is interesting! And you should vote. Here are four reasons why:
1. Nothing is a done deal
Prior to last week, not one independent party had released a poll regarding who was going to run away with the mayor’s race. By the end of April last year, at least 10 polls had been conducted by groups like The Daily News, NBC 10 and Pennsylvanians for Effective Government.
Last week, The Inquirer/ Daily News and NBC 10 released the first (and only) independent poll of the season, showing candidate and former city councilman Jim Kenney holding a commanding lead of 27 points over the rest of the field. But, sorry, this thing isn’t a done deal.
For one, if Kenney and his people can’t get out the vote and ensure Philadelphians feeling apathetic about this race actually go to the polls Tuesday, he’ll be in trouble. Because state Sen. Anthony Williams isn’t down and out. He’s popular in his home neighborhoods in West Philadelphia, well-liked in Harrisburg and was the hands-down favorite to win the race not long ago. Oh, and he’s got a boatload of cash.
Not to mention that if Philadelphia votes along racial lines — like it almost always does — Williams could still give Kenney a run for his money.
Prior to last week’s poll, there was simply reporting on internal polls, or polls done by specific campaigns that are hoping to boost up their candidate by telling everyone they’re winning. Franklin and Marshall pollster G. Terry Madonna said he doesn’t assign much value to these because they’re not meant to be accurate — they’re meant to influence electorates and donors.
“They are released to help a candidate. Let’s be honest,” Madonna said. “Why else? If they had a poll showing their candidate doing poorly, do you think they would release it? They wouldn’t.”
The other issue, Madonna pointed out, is that campaigns that release internal polls — like Lynne Abraham’s and Jim Kenney’s — often only show the public short summaries. In these cases, they didn’t outline every question asked of the people who were polled, how they were phrased, or the wording leading up to the horse race question.
2. Few are proven
Only one candidate in this mayoral field has consistently won a citywide election: Lynne Abraham. Do we think she can run away with this race? Probably not. But neither Jim Kenney nor Anthony Williams has shown that he can consistently win an election across all of Philadelphia.
Let’s start with Williams: He took over his father’s seat in West Philadelphia, and has represented that area (plus Southwest Philly, South Philly and DelCo) in Harrisburg ever since. Not once has he won a citywide election.
Kenney’s held a council seat for decades, but in the 2011 at-large, city-wide race, Kenney came in last out of the five candidates who actually won a seat. He was 1,500 votes away from being unseated by Sherrie Cohen, a council candidate who’s running again this time around. In fact, between 2007 and 2011, Kenney lost nearly 50,000 votes — as he got more progressive, he got less popular.
On the flip side, Abraham held her seat as district attorney in Philadelphia for 19 years, or over the course of four terms.
3. City Council could change
Most people focus on the flashiness of the mayoral race and the idea that one person in City Hall could hold all the power (and the purse strings). But in many ways, City Council has more power than the mayor does, as these 17 people control what legislation does — and doesn’t — change how this city works.
And the dynamic of that governing body could drastically change. In the at-large race, Helen Gym, Paul Steinke, Allan Domb, Sherrie Cohen and others are all wild-card candidates that could oust the members of the Old Guard on council — the incumbents who have so long steered the ship.
Darrell Clarke’s whole reason for not running for mayor was because he’s master of Council and he clearly wants the incumbents to return — those are his people, the ones who have supported him in his Council presidency. (In fact, Jim Kenney waited him out — and once Clarke declined to run, and our frontrunner only entered the race when that happened and Ken Trujillo withdrew.) Who knows what a developer like Domb or a firecracker like Gym could bring to the table?
In the 2nd District, a doozy of a race continues between incumbent Kenyatta Johnson and developer Ori Feibush. Johnson represents the Old Guard, and the people in much of South Philadelphia that have lived there for generations. Feibush is the young developer whose projects have led to changes in neighborhoods like Point Breeze — some call it revitalization, others call it gentrification.
Whatever the case, any changes to Council that include outspoken new members could cause a power shift or a change in tone. Time will tell what difference they make.
4. The winners will lead Philly into a transformative period
You’ve heard for years that this city is changing. Tourism is through the roof. The Pope is coming this year. The Democratic National Convention is coming next year. The millennial and immigrant populations in the city are growing.
But education, public safety and poverty issues still plague the city. Whoever wins this primary in both the mayor’s race and the council race will be assigned to carry on the relative success of Mayor Michael Nutter — no easy task, indeed.