William Penn statue atop Philadelphia City Hall. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

With just weeks to go, the 2023 primary mayoral election is in the home stretch. Candidates are switching gears from persuading new voters to firing up their base and working to get out the vote. However, with five candidates remaining in serious contention — Cherelle Parker, Rebecca Rhynhart, Helen Gym, Jeff Brown, and Allan Domb — many voters are still undecided.

The decision can seem overwhelming, but if someone tells you who to vote for, back away slowly. Voting is personal and based on what issues and values are most important to each individual right now. 

“How are you *deciding* who to vote for?” Now, that is a great question! 

In any election, voters must choose who we believe can lead our city in the right direction. But in this election, at this critical moment for Philadelphia, people are looking for a specific kind of mayor. And that’s where the question gets harder to answer. 

Hopefully, the following framework will help you consider and weigh the factors, especially if you are just now tuning in to this tightly contested primary. 

Who is Philly’s ‘match for the moment’?

The reality is, thoughts and emotions shape each voter’s decision. We are all shaped by what is going on around us — from things in our personal lives to the local media landscape. 

For example, during the somewhat similar 2007 election, public schools were a top concern. Michael Nutter, a longshot candidate, ran an award-winning political ad that convinced voters he was a real person and that he was the best match for that moment in time. He had the money to air a catchy video and distinguish himself as the only candidate who sent his child to public school. The trajectory of his campaign changed significantly within days, and he won handily in a come-from-behind victory. 

Today’s top concern for many is gun violence and general lawlessness. How do you determine the best “match for the moment” from the current candidates? 

For me, the calculus relies upon answers to four key questions, plus self-reflection about what values or policy issues matter most to you. 

1) Fundraising matters

Money influences our political systems, sometimes in terrible ways. Major political donors and endorsing institutions wrote checks to candidates early in this mayoral race — and are still writing them — at previously unseen volumes. Maria Quinones-Sanchez, a highly-qualified candidate, broke her own previous fundraising records, yet still exited the race for lack of funds. Allan Domb and Jeff Brown are self-funding multimillionaires. Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, and Rebecca Ryhnahrt also have robust backing from donors and supporting PACs. 

Remember, no amount of money can buy a track record, passionate volunteers, authenticity or charisma on camera. But candidates need funding to introduce themselves and get their messages out. As Nutter showed, that can be key to winning.

In sum: Who has enough money to get and keep the attention of many likely voters? 

2) Solving the public safety problem 

Wealthy donors are relatively few and mostly protected from Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis.

That’s not true for most of the city. According to a poll commissioned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, voters are deeply worried about the bloodshed. It is traumatic for many families, and entire communities. The impact goes well beyond the shooter and the victim.  

Naturally, every candidate has a public safety plan and repeatedly promises to reduce the gun violence epidemic. But respective track records are not all equal. 

For example, Parker prioritized police funding when it was not popular and Rhynhart wants to tackle the crisis with better budgeting. Will voters embrace a woman as the public safety problem-solver, though? Typically, our culture turns to male leadership when safety is threatened. The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Jeff Brown. Will this attract or deter voters? What do you believe matters most on this issue?

In sum: Who has the track record and vision to be a problem-solver for public safety?

3) Calling for a change agent

Further complicating things, change is constant. Technology is driving very rapid changes and can cause doubt, anxiety and fear. Last month, a Wall Street Journal poll found Americans are uncharacteristically less optimistic about the future. 

Maybe this is why every election now feels like a call for change agents. Perhaps voters are sick of political parties and look to an outsider who “beat the machine.” Others may feel tired of privileged leaders knowing what is best for the rest. Voters see “new, different, better” in various ways. The definition of  “change” is fluid and personal. Do you feel a desire for change? Who do you see as a change agent? Why?

In sum: Who, in your view, projects the right change agent persona? 

4) Seeking a trusted unifier

Nobody knows who will win on May 16. But whoever does will be victorious in part because they managed to earn the trust of residents across demographics in our segregated city. 

Being a good ally matters to me. The violence and suffering in many of Philly’s underserved and mostly Black and brown neighborhoods begs the question, “Is my preferred candidate able to inspire trust and be a unifying voice?” and “Are they the best choice for what everyone in the city needs right now? 

In sum: Which candidate do you think is trusted by most Philadelphians and could unify our city? 

5) Everyone has issues! What are yours?  

Finally, consider your two or three top issues.

In 2007, my children were beginning their Philly public school journey and education was my top issue.  Now, it is 16 years later and the new priorities for me are: expanding PHL-PreK, collaboration skills and small business policy. Below is more detail on my issues — what is top priority for you? 

Early childhood education: Because I led the team that designed and launched the PHL Pre-K program, I care deeply about the continued growth, success and efficiency of the program. Early childhood education is the most important investment we can make. 

Advanced collaboration governing: This effectively involves serious, trusted and advanced collaboration skills with peer leaders. Lasting change cannot happen without a mayor who plays well with others. People like the superintendent, councilmembers, congresspersons, the governor, the state delegation, all the county commissioners, department leaders in city government, and many other top executives of major entities, universities, the airport, septa, and the workforce board. Which candidate can put ego and ideology aside, listen, learn and “get to yes” as necessary? 

Independent businesses: Since I started a business in 2022, small business track records and policy ideas matter. The 10k Independents Project launched recently to create community and express the concerns of one-person businesses. Along with co-founder Alex Hillman, I created the 10K Alignment Scorecard to help simplify some issues for very busy people. We want the next mayor to collaborate with us to embrace the future of work and the rapid rise of Independent businesses  Learn more at 10k.city.

Feel good about voting

If you assess the “match for the moment” along with personal values, you will probably feel good going into the polling place on Tuesday, May 16, or mailing in your ballot soon. 

The finish line to this critical local election season is rapidly approaching. But with a little work, you can make your “Match for the Moment” choice. If you want to do more than vote, volunteer to help your chosen candidate win on May 16. It will make a difference because this is anyone’s race. It matters because the winner will shape the future of Philadelphia for the remainder of the decade. 

Lastly, may the best woman win ;). 

Anne Gemmell

Anne the principal of A.Gemm Consulting and a self-described "pragmatic futurist" who works with public and private entities on collaborative solutions. As a public servant from 2017-2020, she led the...