Election 2019

Kendra Brooks asks 3,000 Democratic leaders to back her City Council campaign — despite party opposition

The surging Working Families candidate already has a pile of endorsements and cash.

Kendra Brooks
Sahar Coston-Hardy/Courtesy of Kendra Brooks campaign

Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks has penned an open letter to the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia asking more than 3,000 committee people to break party line and support her run for City Council at-large.

The letter follows a half a dozen endorsements for Brooks — a third-party candidate in a traditionally one-party town — that have already caused a rift within the Democratic base.

The Democratic City Committee has pushed back on leaders crossing party lines. Brooks’ champions in the Nov. 5 general election say supporting Brooks is not a statistical threat to any of the Democrats running for Council.

In the letter, to be sent Tuesday, the Brooks campaign is making that same argument. The letter is addressed to committee people, who are like the party’s neighborhood representatives within the city’s 66 political wards. Conventional wisdom holds they carry the personal clout that can sway votes at the polls.

“This is an open call,” Brooks said of her letter. “The committee people play an important role in educating their communities about this election. We have a historic opportunity here to get rid of the Republicans…and ensure Council is full of progressive Democrats.”

Brooks is one of several third-party candidates running for an at-large seat. She and her Working Families Party running mate Nicholas O’Rourke have pitched their campaign as running for the two seats — of seven total — that are by law reserved for minority party candidates.

The city’s top Dems don’t see it that way.

Committee chairman Bob Brady views Brooks’ candidacy as filching votes from the party’s five Democratic nominees for Council’s at-large seats. Yes, there are seven available spots, but each voter can only cast ballots for five candidates. That means every Democratic voter who pushes a button for Brooks is likely skipping a vote for someone else on the official Dem ballot, Brady explained.

“What Democrat are they knocking off? I’m not for knocking off anybody that we’ve endorsed that won the primary that [Brooks] didn’t run in,” Brady told Billy Penn.

Brooks’ supporters say the logic doesn’t hold water.

With the city’s 7-to-1 voter registration edge, Democratic candidates are all but guaranteed to clinch 100,000 votes or more on Election Day, while the Republican candidates usually win their reserved seats with around 35,000 votes.

Brooks’ campaign is offering committee people the option to keep their support of her campaign private.

‘An opportunity to get more progressive’

Committee person Alison Stohr in the 36th Ward, which covers parts of Point Breeze, said she plans to sign the letter in support of Brooks.

“This is not at all a threat to Democrats,” Stohr said. “This is an opportunity for us to get more progressive people in city Hall — which would only benefit Democrats. I see that as advancing the agenda of the Democratic Party.”

Brooks, a longtime community organizer and Nicetown resident, has already raised more money than any local third-party candidate in Philadelphia history. She’s also picked up endorsements from political heavyweights like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The letter from her campaign doesn’t necessarily ask Democrats to stump for her outside of polling places.

“Some of the committee folks who have expressed interest in me and my camp are people I’ve already worked with for the last 20 years,” Brooks said. “Their decision to spread their support throughout their committee or their ward is up to them.”

Alvina Brown, a committee person in the 13th Ward in Nicetown, will also sign onto the letter, she said. It is a “people over party” question for her — but she stressed that her endorsement is personal, and not a reflection of her local committee as a whole.

“I can only speak for myself,” Brown said. “People are very private with their votes.”

Brady said committee people who do endorse Brooks’ won’t be allowed to use the party’s resources. That could mean printed ballots — and also street money that the party hands out to push the candidates.

“I’m not paying for printing a ballot that doesn’t have the five Democratic nominees that won the primary,” Brady said Monday.

Said Stohr, the committee person in Point Breeze: “The number one goal of the Democratic party right now should be getting the party of Trump out of office.”

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