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Primary results for at-large City Council seats make it likely Philadelphia will get its first openly LGBTQ lawmaker in Rue Landau, and first South Asian American lawmaker in Nina Ahmad.
“To my wife, my son, my team, my city: Thank you,” Landau posted on Twitter after her win.
“This has been a long journey for a young woman from Bangladesh who came to find an opportunity for a better life,” Ahmad said in a statement after her victory. “Now, to have the chance to represent the city that has been so good to me, it is the epitome of a dream come true.”
The two women were among the top five on the Democratic side, and will advance to the November election, alongside incumbents Isaiah Thomas — the top vote-getter overall, with more than 90,000 voters choosing his name — and Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Jim Harrity.
Republicans Drew Murray, Frank Cristinzio, Jim Hasher, Gary Grisafi, and Mary Jane Kelly will also appear on the general election ballot this fall.
These contenders will be vying for seven of City Council’s seven at-large seats, roles that represent the whole city and not a particular part of it. Two of those seats are reserved for candidates from a minority party.
Philly’s system for electing at-large councilmembers allows five candidates from each of the Democratic and Republican parties to advance to the general election. This year, those 10 candidates are also expected to face two candidates from the Working Families Party in November.
Democratic winners had establishment and progressive backing
Among Democrats, the primary was hotly contested, with the ballot including 27 contenders. Just three were the winning incumbents, and none had served more than one term on Council.
The two newcomers, Rue Landau and Nina Ahmad, received 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
Councilmembers Isaiah Thomas (who garnered 13% of the vote) and Katherine Gilmore Richardson (11%) are reaching the end of their first term, while Councilmember Jim Harrity (6%) has served just half a year in the legislative body, after winning a special election to fill a vacancy last November.
All the Democratic primary winners were either endorsed, or in the case of Ahmad, recommended, by the Democratic City Committee.
Thomas and Landau also garnered support from progressive groups like the Working Families Party and Reclaim Philadelphia. All the candidates had at least some labor union support.
Landau, a Bella Vista resident, has previously directed both the Fair Housing Commission and the Commission on Human Relations. If elected in November, she’ll become the city’s first openly LGBTQ councilmember.
Ahmad has previously served as deputy mayor for public engagement in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and led the Pa. chapter of the National Organization for Women. She’s run for statewide office twice before: lieutenant governor and auditor general. Originally from Bangladesh, Ahmad will be the first South Asian American to serve on Philly’s city council if she wins the fall election.
The lack of long-serving incumbents in the next Council can be attributed in part to Philadelphia’s resign-to-run rule, which prevents city officials from keeping their jobs while running for any office that isn’t the one they currently hold.
Four at-large councilmembers — Democrats Helen Gym, Derek Green, Allan Domb, and Republican David Oh — have resigned to run for mayor within the past year. Gym’s and Oh’s seats remain vacant due to the timing of their resignations, while Domb’s and Green’s were filled in November by Councilmember Sharon Vaughn, who chose not to run for reelection, and Harrity.
In the battle for those five Democratic spots, various interest groups looked to sway things. Some groups ran canvassing operations for their preferred slates, while others directed their resources toward TV ads and mailers.
Philly For Growth — a PAC funded by business interests and the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund, a conservative education group funded by Republican billionaire Jeffrey Yass — dropped a big sum of money to run television ads supporting a slate of candidates the group saw as business-friendly, including Gilmore Richardson, Thomas, Job Itzkowitz, Donavan West, and Eryn Santamoor. Yass’s association caused some controversy, which prompted several candidates to renounce support from the group.
Republicans fended off an upstart challenger
Unlike the crowded Democratic side, the Republican primary had just six contenders.
The only candidate not to advance to the general primary was Sam Oropeza, a real estate agent and former MMA fighter from Bridesburg. Everyone in the race except for Oropeza — who also happened to draw the last ballot position — had support from the Philly GOP..
Drew Murray, a storage system sales manager who lives in Logan Square, emerged as the top Republican vote-getter, with 19% — about 9,500 people..
Oropeza did garner a few organizational endorsements of his own, like the Fraternal Order of Police and Temple Police Association. He also drew support from former Councilmember and Republican mayoral candidate David Oh, but the local Republican Party didn’t seem to be happy about it: Oh was left off the party’s sample ballot for not endorsing the party’s at-large slate and candidate for city controller.
Though the five nominated Republicans will move on to November’s election for the seven at-large seats, not many of them are likely to ultimately take office, since Philly is heavily Democratic. It’s also possible that none of them will make it onto Council.
Two council seats are reserved for a minority party, and for several decades that had meant two Republican spots — until last cycle, when Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party successfully captured one of the two minority seats. This year, Brooks is running for reelection, and Nicolas O’Rourke, a pastor and organizer who’s also a part of the Working Families Party, is aiming to win the other minority seat in the general election.
Updated May 24 to fix a typo: There are 7 at-large Council seats, not 17.