When civil rights activist and onetime presidential hopeful Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived at Relish, a flock of cameras followed him from the door to his table. But on the opposite side of the room, City Council President Darrell Clarke had other things on his mind.
“Look, I love Reverend Jackson,” he said, “but Reverend Jackson does not vote in Philadelphia, so I have more important people to worry about right now: Philadelphia registered voters who haven’t gone to the polls yet.”
That was also true for just about everyone else doing the handshake-and-photo-op dance as they moved through the multiple packed dining rooms at the West Oak Lane jazz cafe that’s become the de facto Election Day HQ for Philly Dems.
As one aide explained to an out-of-town reporter busily taking notes, “Everyone here is either an elected official or former elected official or trying to be an elected official. It’s like that party scene from The Godfather.”
Mayor Jim Kenney showed up early and left early, but many others seemed glad for a chance to rest their feet and dig into some soul food. Count Governor Tom Wolf among them. He’d arrived early too, mostly in order to be sure to have time to eat some of his all-time favorite mac ‘n’ cheese.
“I showed up once and they were out of mac ‘n’ cheese and I almost left,” he joked. Wolf noted that he’s been coming to the Ogontz Ave. spot on Election Day since before it was even Relish. Now he stops by for a meal other times of the year, too, because his barber is just down the street.
“I first went to [Illusions Barber Shop] in 2013, during the campaign,” he said. “It was a photo op, you know? But then their barber Dave, he was just fantastic. So that’s who cuts my hair now.”
A skeptical look at the governor’s mostly non-existent “hair” induced further explanation. “Before that it was my wife who cut it, so it did make a difference.”
“Sure, sure, whatever you say,” teased Donald “Ducky” Birts, special assistant to Congressman Bob Brady, who Wolf noted was one of the first people he got to know in Philly. “This is my man,” the governor said.
Speaking of men, they made up at least three-quarters of the crowd flowing through the restaurant. There was Attorney General candidate Josh Shapiro, who brought his whole family along, as did State Sen. Daylin Leach. Other dudes in the house included former city manager and likely District Attorney candidate Rich Negrin, Councilman Allan Domb, state Rep. Jordan Harris and Ryan Boyer, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists — or as a colleague put it, “In other words, the boss.”
But those women who were in attendance definitely made themselves heard.
US Sen. candidate Katie McGinty whooshed in halfway through and joined WURD host Cody Anderson on his live broadcast. She gave such an energized get-out-the-vote speech — “Let’s get out there and shine!” she roared — that Anderson had to poke fun. “You’re gonna pass out after this election is over,” he said, eliciting a resounding, “No way! Women have plenty of stamina — just look at Hillary!”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was equally effervescent as she traversed the room, stopping every person she didn’t already know and introducing herself. When it came time for state Rep. Joanna McClinton to step up to the radio mic, she was just as vigorous.
After she made the case for voting a full Democratic ticket because of the way her colleagues would help their constituencies, Anderson tried to compliment her. “You’re a great politician,” he said. “No,” McClinton responded, “I’m a public servant.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans, host of the annual Relish luncheon, avoided the spotlight, perhaps preparing for the new office he’s expected to hold after the votes are counted.
“Congressman!” someone shouted after him as he stepped out a side door. “Congressman!” Evans didn’t stop. “He’s still getting used to it,” said another friend. “If you’d have said ‘State Representative’ he’d have turned right around.”