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Democrats who represent Philadelphia in Harrisburg this year faced an unusual number of strong primary challenges, and a few districts had what essentially amounted to open races.
Challengers came from the left, right, and sometimes even current colleagues, whose reelection bids shifted as district boundaries moved around. But the incumbents largely came out ahead Tuesday night, save one upset in Northwest Philly.
This primary is the first Pa. election that uses the recently redrawn state legislative maps, a process that happens every 10 years to adjust for geographic shifts in the commonwealth’s population. The new maps helped set up some unexpected primary contests — and even created a whole new Philly district (the 10th).
The most surprising winner was Tarik Khan, who unseated incumbent Pam DeLissio, who had been in the House for over a decade. In a couple of other races, even the party’s backing wasn’t enough to shake loose the incumbent.
Here’s a look at how things stand.
Prescod fails to unseat Williams in Senate 8th
Anthony Williams appears to have earned the Democratic nomination for the state’s 8th Senatorial District, marking yet another victory for Williams, who’s served in the state Senate since 1998. No Republicans are running for the seat, so Williams is the presumptive victor in November.
Prescod was Williams’ first serious challenger in two decades, and the race wasn’t always pretty.
Prescod, a progressive union organizer and former public school teacher, contended Williams is out of touch with his district, and that Philadelphians have been feeling “a lack of leadership” while facing issues like increased gun violence and underfunded schools.
Pushing back, Williams called the challenge “insulting,” saying Prescod is ill-prepared and part of “a band of socialist Democrats” who propose progressive policies but don’t actually know what it’s like to “[work] in these neighborhoods without pay.”
Williams also accused Prescod, who is multiracial, of trying to hide that fact to appeal to Black voters. Prescod called Williams’ remarks “an effort to delegitimize” him.
Tight race in the House 10th: Blackwell vs. Green vs. Brown
In the Democratic primary for the brand new 10th Pa. House District, which was created during redistricting and includes several West Philly neighborhoods plus a small section of Center City, Amen Brown appears to have narrowly kept his seat.
With 63 of 66 districts reporting, Brown was about 300 votes ahead of the closest candidate, Cass Green, with Sadja Blackwell trailing behind them.
Brown is currently the state rep for Pa.’s 190th District, and is looking to make the switch to the 10th due to the redistricting. Green is a community organizer with a several well-known city elected officials behind her — District Attorney Larry Krasner and Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, and Kendra Brooks.
The new 10th district was created in a recent redistricting. It includes several neighborhoods in West Philadelphia and a small section of Center City.
No Republicans were on the 10th District ballot, so the winner will run unopposed in November’s general election.
Former Krasner aide Waxman takes House 182nd over Gross, Lovitz, Alvarez
In a crowded Democratic primary, Ben Waxman emerged with the most votes in the 182nd Pa. House District.
Waxman saw an early lead once mail-in votes were counted just after polls closed, and he held onto it as the night went on, with more than double the votes of any of the other three candidates: Will Gross, Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez.
They were vying for a seat that was essentially left open, because current Rep. Brian Sims, a longtime outspoken champion of LGBTQ issues, is running for lieutenant governor instead of seeking reelection. He endorsed Alvarez.
Waxman is a former journalist who once worked at WHYY. Once he got into politics, he worked for Pa. Sen. Vincent Hughes and District Attorney Larry Krasner. Issues he has focused on are raising the minimum wage, drug policy reform, and school funding equity.
Waxman will now run against Albert Robles Montas, who ran for the Republican nomination unopposed.
Fiedler appears to hang on vs. Giangiordano in House 184th
Elizabeth Fiedler was well ahead of Michael A. Giangiordano II in the Democratic primary for the 184th district as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Fiedler had well over three times as many votes as Giangiordano with 48 of 67 districts reporting.
This primary race sparked controversy over endorsements. The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee broke with the norm of endorsing the incumbent, in this case Fiedler, giving little explanation for the decision.
Among the district’s three ward leaders, who tend to have influence in who the city party endorses, Fiedler got support from only one — her husband, Adam Rackes. Another of the ward leaders, former traffic court judge Michael Sullivan, told WHYY he didn’t think Fiedler was “engaged enough” and that 28-year-old Giangiordano seemed focused on “public safety, petty crime.”
Shortly after the party made its endorsement, a number of screenshots of Giangiordano tweets supporting Donald Trump were published on Twitter by George Donnelly, a public interest lawyer and Democratic committeeperson. (Donnelly does not live in the 184th District, but he supports Fiedler.) Asked about the apparent Trump support in light of the party’s endorsement, the City Committee declined in April to provide Billy Penn with comment.
The winner will run against Marjilyn Murray, who got the Republican nomination after running unopposed.
Krajewski bucks non-endorsement vs. Wright in House 188th
Rick Krajewski appeared to have clinched the Democratic nomination in the 188th House District, securing his seat for a second term. He had faced a challenge by James Wright, who’s worked as development director for the People’s Emergency Center.
Krajewski had more than twice as many votes as Wright at 11 p.m., with 49 of 64 districts reporting.
The Philadelphia Democratic Committee opted to endorse Wright in the race, one of the several instances where progressive Pennsylvania Democratic incumbents were passed over by local party leaders.
Former community organizer Krajewski — who unseated an incumbent himself in 2020 — ran on a platform focused around “mass liberation,” while Wright said he shaped his agenda around promoting change that’s “by the community, for the community.”
No Republican appeared on the primary ballot, so Krajewski will run opposed in November.
Newcomer Khan ousts DeLissio in House 194th
A newcomer to state politics and the former president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, Tarik Khan appeared to win the Democratic nomination in the 194th House District with 59% of the vote as of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 51 of 62 divisions reporting.
At a town hall before the election, DeLissio flexed her experience in the state House, including her decade on the Health Committee and the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee. She positioned herself as someone who’s willing to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to get things done.
Khan, who supports a state-level Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All style legislation, questioned whether the relationships DeLissio has built in Harrisburg have led to effective leadership. He emphasized his background as a nurse, saying he ran because he saw that his “patients were getting left behind.”
Rabb beats former colleague Fitzgerald for House 200th
Rep. Chris Rabb earned the chance at a fourth term in office on Tuesday, while Rep. Izzy Fitzgerald lost out on the Democratic nomination for the 200th District. In November, Rabb will face Kionna West, who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.
The new state legislative map pushed Fitzgerald and Rabb into the same Northwest Philly district this year. Rabb is technically the incumbent in the 200th District, but Fitzgerald has represented a neighboring district, the 203rd, for five and a half years.
Much of the race in the 200th has centered on the contrast between the two candidates. Rabb describes himself as a progressive, while Fitzgerald likes to bill herself as “a worker” who values consensus. Longtime city officials mostly threw their weight behind Fitzgerald.
Some of the negative rhetoric in the race — like mailers that called Rabb “all talk no action” and said he was “trying to take out a Black woman” — has been upsetting to some Rabb supporters in the area, Mount Airy voter Joann Seaver told Billy Penn Tuesday morning.
“A lot of people are here to support Chris Rabb,” she said. “They’ve been very offended by the negative ads, and also the influence of the city machine, the Democratic [party] machine. We really want to have integrity and democracy in our Democratic party.”
Other primary races
Several other primary races for Philly’s General Assembly seats were contested Tuesday.
Rep. Kevin J. Boyle, brother of U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, had a Democratic challenger in the 172nd District this cycle — Bob Stewart, the founder of Spirit News. Boyle emerged victorious and will face Republican Al Taubenberger (a former member of City Council) in November.
In the 201st House District, sitting Rep. Stephen Kinsey faced a challenger, Andre D. Carroll — 2020 Temple grad and community engagement liaison for Sen. Anthony Williams. Kinsey appeared to hold onto his seat; he was in the lead as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 1,000 votes ahead of Carroll with 65 of 79 districts reporting. The winner won’t face a Republican opponent in the general.
Also contested was the Democratic nomination in the 173rd House District, a Northeast Philadelphia district without an incumbent. (New City Councilmember Mike Driscoll, who was tapped to replace Bobby Henon, used to represent the old District 173, which covered a good portion of the same area.) Driscoll chief of staff Pat Gallagher won the race, besting teacher and Mayfair ward leader Pete McDermott. There was no Republican on the primary ballot, so Gallagher will run unopposed in November.
The 203rd House District was also open and made for a three-way race between Democratic committeeperson Heather Miller, retired police officer Yusuf Jackson, and Brendan Boyle advisor Anthony Bellmon. Bellmon walked away with the Democratic nomination. No Republicans ran in the primary.
Democrat takes Senate 5th special election (not a primary!)
Democrat Jimmy Dillon, a grant compliance monitor for the Philly school district and the owner of Hoops 24/7 Basketball Academy, appeared to win the special election for the 5th Senate district, defeating Republican Sam Oropeza, a real estate agent and former mixed martial arts fighter. Dillon had 54% of the vote as of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 250 of 255 districts reporting.
The special election was held to fill the seat after former Senator John Sabatina resigned to become a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman opted to hold the special election the same day as the spring primary to be more convenient to voters and save taxpayers money, he said.
Dillon will serve out the remaining two and a half years of Sabatina’s term. Unlike the primary races, the contest was held amongst the voters of the current 5th Senatorial District, not the new 5th District.