Write-in challenger Robin Aluko and the sole Council District 5 candidate on the ballot, Jeffrey Young. (Courtesy Aluko and Young campaigns)

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For a moment, it looked like residents of North Philly’s 5th district might see a competitive primary for the chance to represent them in City Council. That opportunity quickly dissolved.

Seven candidates submitted nomination petitions to succeed Council President Darrell Clarke after he announced his pending retirement. Six failed to make it onto the ballot. Now just one name is left — though there’s also a write-in contender. 

Jeffery “Jay” Young, a lawyer and Ward 32 committeeperson, will be the sole District 5 candidate on the May primary ballot. 

His petition also initially faced questioning, part of the political flurry that occurs every election season. But after the potential opponent was disqualified over their own petition problems, lawyer Kevin Greenberg dropped the case and congratulated Young on getting enough signatures.  

There is still one other district resident vying for the seat with a write-in campaign: Robin Aluko.

Outside of ward and committeeperson positions, write-in campaigns are rarely successful, though a 2017 write-in candidate did win a Pa. House seat. 

Confusion over what’s allowed in a write-in campaign

Aluko is a real estate agent, insurance agent, and public notary who lives in Strawberry Mansion. She also worked for over a decade in city government, as a member of the team that got Philly311 off the ground and in the Water Department.

Concern over education is what spurred her to consider running, she told Billy Penn.

“Things changed in our district, when those eight schools were closed down, and many of the schools are still vacant today,” Aluko said. “The school that’s closest to where I live is a frequent site for illegal dumping.”

In Young, who worked as an attorney in the council president’s office, she sees someone who was part of the system when that happened. 

“I think Mr. Young was part of the problem,” she said. “That’s why I am saying, ‘No, I don’t want him to be the councilperson,’ because I feel that it would be a continuation of Darrell Clarke.”

She points to development as another area where she would offer a new perspective. “I think it’s important for development to occur,” Aluko said. “I want to say ‘laissez faire.’ I don’t want to interfere with development — we need [it] in this district, there is a lot of vacancy.”

Aluko didn’t try to collect signatures to get on the official ballot, she said, because Clarke waited so long to announce he wouldn’t run again. 

“Councilman Clarke didn’t give an indication of his [decision] to retire until well into the time period where people should have been collecting signatures,” she said. “Initially, I didn’t think I could beat him.”  

A lack of clarity around what write-in candidates can and can’t do under election law has slowed her actual campaigning. 

“The part that’s unfortunate about this whole thing is I’ve made requests for information about what the rules were,” she said. “Whether I could create flyers and all of those things. And the information that I received was inconsistent.”

To avoid any legal missteps, Aluko has campaigned mostly via free online resources. When an article about Young’s past racist and sexist social media posts appeared in the Inquirer, Aluko used it as an opportunity to try and alert people to her candidacy as they shared the story online. 

She says her only campaign expenditure to date is a $50 banner, which she plans to hang on her car to drive around the district.

Clarke’s pick is skipping a write-in push

With his name the only choice pre-printed on voters’ ballots, Young is feeling confident as Election Day nears, notwithstanding Aluko’s attempt to pull off what would be a very improbable upset. 

“Our approach has not wavered from the start: to connect with voters and enable them to get to know me and my vision for the 5th district, while also listening to what’s important to them,” Young told Billy Penn.

 “We have a unique opportunity to reach voters without much distraction of others. But we do not take that for granted … we will continue to engage voters and work hard to earn their support.” 

Then there’s the case of Curtis Wilkerson, a former candidate who was understood to be Clarke’s chosen replacement but got booted off the ballot by a signature petition challenge. 

Wilkerson told some Ward 18 committeepeople he would be running a write-in campaign, but social media accounts made for the campaign have not been posting. 

Based on recent finance filings, Wilkerson’s campaign committee is still active, but Billy Penn could not reach Wilkerson or anyone associated with the campaign by phone or email.

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...