Election 2021

Procrastinator’s Guide to the 2021 November election in Philadelphia

A cheat sheet for being informed when you vote.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

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There aren’t a lot of big-name races in this year’s general election in Philadelphia. Candidates for governor and U.S. Senate are already drawing attention, but they won’t be on the ballot until 2022.

Still, the upcoming November election is important for Philly residents. Choices for statewide judges could affect Pennsylvania policy for decades to come, and there are several ballot questions with implications for day-to-day life in the city.

The biggest city race — for district attorney — was effectively decided in the May primary, which drew more than 185,000 voters. That’s less than 20% of the city’s million-plus eligible voters, but turnout greatly surpassed the previous odd-year election in 2017.

A slew of judicial candidates fill up most of the Nov. 2 ballot. While a lot of them are basically guaranteed a seat, some of the higher courts have contested races. Who are these people, and what do they stand for?

The Billy Penn procrastinator’s guide is here to help. Take a look through, then bookmark the guide for reference as you fill out your mail ballot or head to the polls.

Jump to a section:

Registering to vote

Are you registered? You can find your status with the state lookup tool here. The deadline to register to vote in the general election this year is Oct. 18.

Your polling place

Where do you vote? Find that by entering your address here, which will also have info about what ward and division you’re in.

If you go vote in person, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Unless it’s your first time voting at a particular location, you do not need to show any identification.

Mail ballots

For the second year in row, you don’t need a reason to vote by mail in Pennsylvania. You can drop off your voted ballot at 15 secure drop box locations around the city.

Mail ballots must be received by the time the polls close: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Ballot questions

Click through for an explanation on each initiative you’ll see on the ballot.

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District Attorney

The district attorney is the city’s top prosecutor, tasked with investigating and charging thousands of criminal cases every year.

Larry Krasner (Democrat, incumbent)

Unlike four years ago, when Krasner won a fractured primary despite having no prosecution experience, the former defense attorney easily trumped his single challenger this year, winning with more than twice as many votes.

Krasner treated the primary victory as the start of his second term, relying on the city’s 7-to-1 Democratic voter registration advantage. He has not campaigned in advance of the general election, dismissing calls from his Republican opponent to debate as a waste of time.

When he took office, Krasner vowed to transform the criminal justice system from the inside out. He’s had some successes, including overturning wrongful convictions, stopping prosecution for simple drug possession, and increasing prosecution of corrupt law enforcement officials. Critics note that he limited but did not fully eliminate cash bail, and advocates say he hasn’t done enough to end juvenile incarceration.

The major point his critics cite is the city’s ongoing gun violence surge, blaming his reformist policies for abetting the shooting spike, and saying he hasn’t stepped up enough for crime victims. He has also publicly sparred with the police commissioner over approaches to stopping the violence.

Charles ‘Chuck’ Peruto (Republican)

An Overbrook native who was until recently a registered Democrat, Peruto is a criminal defense attorney known for representing high-profile cases and making a splash with the media. His clients have included accused serial killers and mafiosos, as well as everyday people facing DUIs and drug charges.

A vocal Krasner critic, he said his campaign is focused solely on “saving the district attorney’s office” from the reform-minded DA.

The 66-year-old, known as “Chuck,” caught national attention over his unorthodox campaign website. In addition to a tell-all about the death of a 26-year-old in his bathtub — the story of which was turned into a TV movie — it presents a number of unconventional policy proposals. A now-deleted section about prosecuting “gay-bashing” argued he would protect LGBTQ crime victims by assigning what he later described to Billy Penn as a “very macho prosecutor.”

Although he backs the death penalty in some cases, Peruto’s views on criminal justice don’t fit neatly into the standard Republican platform. He says he’s a fan of the Movement for Black Lives, and he supports decriminalizing most marijuana offenses. On the opioid crisis, Peruto supports what he calls “tough love” policies and “forced rehabilitation,” and suggests turning the city’s decommissioned jails into “first class detox facilities.”

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City Controller

The city controller is tasked with overseeing the city’s operations and auditing them when they seem fishy. This official is elected to a 4-year term, and is not subject to term limits.

Rebecca Rhynhart (Democrat, incumbent)

The first woman ever elected City Controller, Rhynhart has acted as the city’s financial watchdog since 2018. She’s running unopposed for her second term.

She made a name for herself in her first term by launching major investigations into the city’s spending and operations — including its sexual misconduct policies, the handling of racial justice protests, and the procurement of new voting systems,

Rhynhart has also made the controller a go-to office for information on the city’s gun violence epidemic. The office maintains an updated map of shootings around the city, and created a tool that breaks down City Council’s touted $155 million anti-violence budget.

Before she was elected city controller, Rhynhart served as the city’s budget director. In her early days in office, she and Mayor Jim Kenney locked horns when she discovered that $33 million in the city budget had gone missing. She’s rumored to be considering a bid for mayor in 2023.

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Justice of the Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state’s highest legal branch, has a Democratic majority and only needs to fill one seat. Find out more about how state courts work here.

Maria McLaughlin (Democrat)

McLaughlin began her legal career as a Superior Court judicial clerk before spending two decades in the District Attorney’s Office as an assistant and then chief of the child support enforcement unit. She was elected Superior Court judge in 2017 and is currently serving a 10-year term. Her biggest contribution from a PAC was $500,000 from the Committee for a Better Tomorrow, which is run by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Kevin Brobson (Republican)

The only Republican Supreme Court candidate endorsed by the state GOP, Lycoming County native Brobson was a state trooper before entering into commercial litigation private practice. He joined the Commonwealth Court in 2010 and was elected president judge last December. Some of his biggest contributions have come from the Commonwealth Leaders’ Fund, a school choice PAC closely tied with Pennsylvania’s richest person, Jeff Yass.

Highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Note: You may see other judicial candidates listed on the ballot who are up for retention — where voters can reaffirm a 10-year term for someone already on the court. Retention candidates almost never lose.

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Judge of the Superior Court

The Superior Court hears appeals in criminal and civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas, and some cases involving children and families. Hearing more than 8,000 cases a year, it’s considered the busiest appellate court in the nation. The 15 judges are chosen in statewide elections, and serve 10-year terms. (Vote for one.)

Timika Lane (Democrat)

West Philly native Lane has been on the Court of Common Pleas since 2013, assigned to the Major Trials program in the Criminal Division. Before that she worked at the Defender Association of Philadelphia Major Trials and for Philly state. Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

She beat two other Democrats in the May primary with 49% of the vote, and has the support of the city’s firefighters and paramedic unions, the Philadelphia’s Laborers District Council, and the Philly Trial Lawyers’ Committee for a Better Tomorrow.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Megan Sullivan (Republican)

Sullivan has been a prosecutor based out of West Chester for 12 years now. She used to work for the Chester County DA’s office, where she focused on child abuse cases, before becoming a deputy attorney general for the state, where she prosecuted cases of insurance fraud.

She has the support of Pa. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and Philadelphia’s sprinkler fitters and steamfitters unions.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

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Judge of the Commonwealth Court

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania the state’s other appellate court. It mostly decides civil disputes involving the state itself and hears appeals against decisions made by state agencies. Candidates on the ballot are the top two vote-getters from each party’s primary. (Vote for two.)

Lori A Dumas (Democrat)

Dumas might be a familiar name to some local voters. She sat on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2003, spending most of her tenure working in the Philadelphia Family Court. She is supported by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers and the Laborers District Council.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

David Lee Spurgeon (Democrat)

Spurgeon has been a judge on the Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas since 2016, assigned to the family division in Allegheny County. Before that he was deputy district attorney for Allegheny County. He struggled to raise money, loaning himself $20,000, but he does have the support of Harrisburg’s AFSCME Council 13.

Highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Stacy Marie Wallace (Republican)

Wallace runs her own practice, doing consulting work with other attorneys. She’s the general counsel for CJ Wallace Engineering, LLC and also the president of the McKean County Bar Association. She is supported by the PA Future Fund, a GOP-leaning PAC whose biggest cash infusion comes from Independence Blue Cross.

Specifically not recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. (A rare negative rating.)

Drew Crompton (Republican, incumbent)

Crompton is already on the Commonwealth Court after being confirmed by the state Senate to fill a vacancy in 2020 along party lines. He used to work as chief of staff to Pa. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and as general counsel to the Senate Majority Caucus. Much of his financial support came from Republican colleagues in the Senate.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

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Judge of the Court of Common Pleas

This is Philly’s general trial court. The judges have original jurisdiction over most civil cases. (Vote for 12.)

Note: Since there are only 12 candidates on the list, all of them are basically guaranteed a seat — even the three who didn’t run in the primary. Those candidates were hand-picked for what’s known as a “magic seat” by the Philadelphia Democratic Party after three incumbent judges opted to retire after the May election passed.

Nick Kamau (Democrat)

The Wynnefield resident is a trial lawyer and partner at Legis Group LLC, as well as chair of the legal ministry at Mother Bethel AME Church. He got his law degree at Howard University, and then became a public defender in Philadelphia. Kamau says he wants to hold law enforcement accountable and keep non-violent offenders out of jail using diversion programs.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Wendi Barish (Democrat)

A Northeast Philly native, Barish currently works as senior deputy general counsel at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. She interned at Community Legal Services during law school, and became a partner at the firm Weber Gallagher.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Cateria R McCabe (Democrat)

McCabe is currently a judge in the Juvenile Branch of Family Court, where she was appointed by Gov. Wolf in 2019. She previously worked at the SeniorLAW Center, which provides low-cost legal services to older Pennsylvanians, and was also a city solicitor.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Betsy Wahl (Democrat)

Wahl is a nearly 20-year hearing officer in juvenile court, determining placements and outcomes for a ton of Philly youth. A UPenn alum who got a law degree at Boston University, she spent time as a public defender in Philadelphia and as an adjunct professor at Temple.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Chris Hall (Democrat)

An attorney at a Center City firm, Hall focuses on areas ranging from health care to financial services, energy, and government contracts. In his 30-plus years as a lawyer, he touts wins against a predatory mortgage lender in North Philly and a $1.5 million settlement from a corporate asbestos dumper in Cobbs Creek.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Michele Hangley (Democrat)

Hangley has handled commercial and legal malpractice cases, but is most recently known for defending the Pa. Secretary of State on challenges to mail voting practices, and defending the commonwealth in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A Penn Law grad, she’s endorsed by progressive groups and labor unions, and pulled in a hefty 76,000 votes in the primary.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Craig Levin (Democratic)

A trial lawyer and senior partner at a private Center City law firm, Levin has been an attorney for 33 years. The Philly native and Temple alum is chair of the Philly Democrats’ legal department, and is endorsed by a slew of sitting elected officials, including state Rep. Jordan Harris and Councilmember Isaiah Thomas.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Daniel R Sulman (Democrat)

A Philly native and Temple Law graduate, Sulman is already a Court of Common Pleas judge, having served in the family division since 2016. The Mt. Airy is endorsed by state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Monica N Gibbs (Democrat)

One of the “magic seat” candidates who didn’t run in the primary, Gibbs is assistant general counsel at the Delaware River Port Authority, where she handles its negotiations with unions. She’s a Philly native who worked as a public defender before becoming a civil litigator. She did not respond to The Inquirer’s or the Citizen’s requests for comment on this election.

Leanne L Litwin (Democrat)

Another hand-picked candidate who skipped the primary, Litwin is a 34-year trial lawyer who owns her own practice in Philadelphia. She’s active in the Philadelphia Bar Association, where she’s secretary of the criminal justice section, and is a past vice chair of the Pa. Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

Mark J Moore (Democrat)

Moore was appointed Common Pleas judge in 2020 by Gov. Wolf to fill a vacancy. He used to work for Allstate, where he defended policyholders in civil lawsuits, and before that spent 13 years as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. He also authored a crime-fiction thriller called “The People’s Business.”

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

John P Sabatina Jr (Democrat)

Hand-picked for one of the “magic seats,” Sabatina is leaving his position as state senator to become a judge. He’s a Northeast Philly native who was assistant district attorney under DA Lynne Abraham, then won a seat in the Pa. House in 2006, where he served 13 years before getting elected to the Pa. Senate in 2015, replacing Mike Stack, who became lieutenant governor.

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Judge of the Municipal Court

This is a trial court divided into three divisions: criminal, civil and traffic. The 27 judges hear trials for some misdemeanors, summary offenses and felonies. Since there are only five candidates on the list, all of them are basically guaranteed a seat. (Vote for five.)

Greg Yorgey-Girdy (Democrat)

If elected, Yorgey-Girdy says he’d be the first openly gay man to serve as Municipal Court judge. A graduate of Widener Law who also has an MBA from Temple, he worked for Philadelphia as a city solicitor. He currently works at a Wilmington law firm, and lives with his husband in South Philly.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Michael C Lambert (Democrat)

Lambert is a lawyer with a private practice that specializes in personal injury, family, and criminal litigation. He’s a Temple Law graduate who has the endorsements of many of the city’s labor unions as well as two state reps and three members of City Council.

Specifically not recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association. (A rare rating.)

George Twardy (Democrat)

Twardy is currently a Family Court judge. Before that, he owned his own practice where he worked on workman’s comp, criminal defense and personal injury cases. Even though he’s running as a Democrat, Twardy used to be a Republican. In fact, he was the head of the Haverford GOP — where he orchestrated land sale deals for political gain and was asked to resign.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Christian A DiCicco (Democrat)

DiCicco originally filed for the May primary as a candidate for the Court of Common Pleas but then withdrew — and was subsequently picked to fill one of the “magic seats” on this court instead. Former deputy general counsel for the Pa. Senate, he’s currently a private bankruptcy attorney whose firm owns the domain name myphillybankruptcylawyer.com.

Fran McCloskey (Democrat)

Originally a candidate for the May primary, he withdrew before the election and then was hand-picked by the city’s Democratic Party to be on the ballot the general. Currently in private practice, where he handles child custody disputes, he’s a prior member of the Gun Violence Task Force in the District Attorney’s Office.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

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Judge of Election and Inspector of Election

These are the people who run Philly’s polling places. Different for every ward and division.

This year, you’ll be asked to elect a judge of election as well as a majority and minority inspector, who will serve as the administrative election officials in your local voting precinct.

The city is divided into 1,703 divisions, and the candidates that appear on your ballot will vary accordingly.

Who are they? By law, they have to reside in your division, so they’re likely your neighbors. There also may not be anyone on the ballot — in which case you can cast a write-in vote. These officials are paid a small stipend for their twice-a-year work to make sure your local polling place runs smoothly.

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Want some more? Explore other Election 2021 stories.

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