Updated 2:05 p.m.
Though Mayor Jim Kenney waltzed to a second term, the results of Tuesday’s election present a major shakeup for Philadelphia local government.
Incumbent Republican Councilmember David Oh clinched a third term with more than 49,000 votes, despite heavy opposition from his own party — but the other at-large Council seat held by law for a minority candidate did not go the GOP. In a historic first, a third-party candidate won a seat on City Council amid what looks to be a record-breaking turnout for an off-year election.
The second minority party seat was won by the Working Families Party’s Kendra Brooks, who pulled off the biggest upset of the night. She’ll be one of at least four new faces to join the legislative body in 2020.
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Newcomers Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, both endorsed by the city’s Democratic party, will take over two of Council’s seven at-large seats, while Democrat Jamie Gauthier, another first-timer, will take the keys to veteran Councilmember Jannie Blackwell’s district in West Philly.
Thomas and Gilmore Richardson, along with incumbent Democratic lawmakers Helen Gym, Allan Domb and Derek Green, ended the day with the highest vote totals in the Council at-large race.
Election night saw long delays with the city’s fleet of new voting machines. For much of the night, Oh raced neck and neck with Brooks’ running mate on the Working Families Party ticket, pastor Nicolas O’Rourke, who finished behind incumbent Councilmember Al Taubenberger, according to unofficial tallies.
But as the dust settles on the ballots, it’s clear that at least one Republican is leaving City Hall next year.
Taubenberger: ‘Looks like I’m cleaning out my office’
The Brooks win means it’s one term and done for Taubenberger, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for four different elected offices before finally winning a seat on Council in 2015. The Republican conceded his loss to Brooks by phone Tuesday night.
“Looks like I’m cleaning out my office,” Taubenberger told WHYY. “Numbers are numbers.”
Taubenberger added that he “enjoyed every second he had being a councilman.” The stakes were high for the former president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Prior to his election in 2015, he had racked up a litany of political losses, including flopped bids for mayor, City Council, state representative and even Congress.
Councilmember Oh, meanwhile, chalked up his victory to his diverse base.
“If you look at this we have whites, we have people from the Northeast, Center City, we Have Democrats, Asians, we have Muslims, we have African Americans, we have LGBTQ,” Oh told reporters at his campaign party. “If you look at who’s in my room, versus who’s in their room. You are going to see a very different type of room.”
Tinney disappears from campaign party after heavy loss
Dan Tinney, a Northeast Philly steamfitter who billed himself as a pro-union Republican, was long perceived as a well-backed frontrunner who could replace one of the sitting GOP lawmakers.
Tinney and his campaign staff were difficult to locate at the election night party at Nick’s Roast Beef in the far Northeast as the results rolled in. At the end of the night, a bartender started asking the remaining crowd where to find the candidate, and a reporter overheard questions about what to do with the pending $2,600 bar tab. [Editor’s note: After this article published, the bartender told Billy Penn she had known all along Tinney’s relatives were taking care of payment, and was simply trying to locate the candidate.]
There was once great hope for Tinney after the May primary. The 37-year-old GOP ward leader finished first among his Republican rivals in that race, and he continued to galvanize support with the aid of building trades unions and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Northeast Philly gives O’Neill *11th* term
Far Northeast Philly voters re-elected Councilmember Brian O’Neill to his 11th four-year term by a wide margin.
With the departure of Councilmember Jannie Blackwell, O’Neill is the longest-serving legislator by a long shot. With 55% of the vote, he declared victory over challenger Democrat Judy Moore. He won his first election in the 10th district in 1979 — the year his opponent was born — and has held the seat ever since. O’Neill and his champions chalk up his success to his moderate politics and hawkish approach to urban planning in the suburban-like district.
O’Neill has won accolades for his availability to his constituents. Living in the furthest district from City Hall, the councilmember funds four satellite offices in his district so residents can get facetime with their elected officials with relative ease.
Moore, a former Garces restaurant group executive, was perceived as a serious contender against O’Neill early on in the race. Outside political group Philadelphia 3.0 — a so-called “dark money” political nonprofit — showed some early investment in her campaign. But the group appears not to have spent a dime in support of Moore since the summer, according to campaign finance reports.
Establishment Dems still win big
For the five Democratic nominees, the night lacked surprises, thanks to the city’s 7-to-1 Democratic voter edge.
Incoming lawmaker Isaiah Thomas took an early victory lap shortly before 10 p.m. with more than 75 friends, family, and longtime supporters cheering him on at a South Philly campaign party.
With a crowd of fellow party leaders, Thomas, who ran for Council twice before, said he would side with establishment Democrats or align with progressive Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks.
He said he didn’t favor one over the other.
“I’m for Philadelphia and that’s the top priority, you know, and specifically for people who often don’t have a voice to be able to speak for themselves and when you look at the ills in our city from bad schools, to poverty, to violence people of color are the ones who suffer the most,” he said. “I lean for the people who are in need the most.”
Billy Penn’s Michaela Winberg and WHYY’s Ryan Briggs, Ximena Conde and Jake Blumgart contributed to this report.