Occupy the polls this Nov. 8!
During an Oct. 16 City Commissioner’s debate, Republican Al Schmidt told a small WHYY studio audience that he expected record-low turnout for citywide elections on Nov. 8. He’s probably right. Most voters, if they make it out at all, believe the Democratic primaries of the spring are the only elections that matter in our 7-to-1 Democrat-to-Republican metropolis. About 30 percent of you came out to vote in May. Fewer are expected to show for Tuesday’s general election.
In some districts, like the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th, the incumbent and/or party boss-approved Democrat is running unopposed, which sort of sucks. But if you live in one of the other five districts, you’ve got no excuse not to come out and vote. And even if you live in one of the aforementioned unopposed districts: City Council’s at-large races are alive and well. Since local law requires minority at-large seats, there’s a race on to represent the Republicans in City Hall.
Besides that, hell, there are a number of other seats that need to be filled—commissioners, sheriff, judges—which could change Philly’s political landscape for decades. So below, find what you need to know about the upcoming city races. We’ve left out the unopposed races, Democratic at-large candidates (because all are expected to be re-elected), and judges (because voting for a judge is a pointless endeavor in its own right—the law is the law, right?). But where there’s a race, there’s a reason to care. And vote.
2nd District: Center City, South Philly, SW Philly
City Council President Anna Verna began representing the 2nd District in 1975, but has been collecting a city government paycheck since 1951. She decided to retire this year because of DROP, of course, and will collect a cool $584,777 come January. Democrats Barbara Capozzi and state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson had a tough fight in the Democratic primary, with Johnson barely eking out the win.
Kenyatta Johnson (D): A 37-year-old Penn grad, Johnson has focused on gun control and support for the education nonprofit City Year. As deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus (representing the 186th District since 2008), he’s advocated for more funding for the state university system and has co-sponsored more than 200 bills, including “Ban the Box” and a comprehensive review of the fairness of the state’s prison systems. He’s all over DROP (saying he not only never supported it, but would “review” it for police, firefighters and “other civil service workers,” as well) and thinks Council needs greater transparency and should help Philly’s citizens in job training while lowering small business tax burdens. Which isn’t that much different from his opponent, whom he’s never debated.
Ivan Cohen (R): A 66-year-old former boxing manager and the owner of the Jackson Bottling Company, Ivan Cohen’s been a Republican committeeman for more than 25 years. He’s chosen a Fonzi-style pose to represent himself on his website, with a bold-red splattering of “Incorruptable” across the top. And an automatic MP3 of Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ plays as the page loads. Yes, really! Cohen’s biggest claim is that he “owes no favors” and he’s got “street smarts.” Though Cohen was barred from most Republican debates, he says he’s committed to finding a way to balance the city’s budget without “killing our small businesses,” saying they don’t need to be burdened with pesky things like the business privilege tax, the trash tax and gross-wage tax.
3rd District: West Philly, SW Philly
Issues of crime, economic development, urban blight and University City’s steady expansion into struggling neighborhoods (shhh, don’t mention the G-word) remain paramount. Powerful Democratic Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has been at the helm of the 3rd since roughly the Taft Administration, but this year her throne is being challenged by independent political newcomer Alicia Burbage.
Jannie Blackwell (D): The chair of the Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless is seeking her sixth Council term, and few expect her to lose despite that messy business with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (you know, voting against ditching Carl Greene and all before resigning her post on the embattled PHA board), her polarizing position on prayer in Philadelphia schools (she really, really wants it), and persistent accusations that she’s putting the interests of developers over the people. During a recent Council session debating new zoning rules (and a loophole Blackwell wrote, which would allow a new for-profit prison center in SW Philly), several neighborhood activists came out and taunted her, though she mostly ignored the crowd.
Alicia Burbage (Independent): Proprietor of the popular shoe boutique Isshoes on 60th Street, Burbage, 48, has fashioned a long-shot campaign based on her entrepreneurial spirit, pro-small business perspective, outsider status and her past affiliation with state Sen. Williams, for whom she served as director of Constituent Services for several years before opening her shop in 2009. She steadfastly supports reductions in the wage tax and business privilege tax. She wants cleaner streets. She says she’ll donate 20 percent of her Council salary to the 3rd District and that she’ll be the voice of the people, not “the powerful and connected.” Take that, Jannie!
6th District: Northeast Philly, Bridesburg, Mayfair
After more than 30 years on Council, Joan Krajewski—the poster girl for DROP abuse—is retiring, so the residents of this working-class Northeast district will get some new blood in the form of either Democrat Bobby “The Brain” (sorry, we couldn’t resist) Henon or Republican Sandra Stewart.
Bobby Henon (D): Electricians union guy Bob Henon, 42, is currently political director of IBEW Local 98, so it would certainly be compelling to see how union interests would fare should he nab a Council seat (we’re guessing fairly well). Henon’s job-creation plans include chopping the business privilege tax to spur small business growth and increase the tax base. He’ll also go after absentee landlords, and try to put more cops in the 6th. A recent cancer survivor, he says he’s a “resilient” guy who won’t be outworked.
Sandra Stewart (R): Interior designer and political newbie Sandra Stewart has put quality-of-life issues at the top of her agenda—no surprise, since she recently founded the Tacony Quality of Life Council to address crime, street cleanups and abandoned property issues in her proverbial backyard. Like Henon, the 37-year-old abhors DROP for elected officials. And, like Henon, she wants a bigger police presence in the district (you can often find her out on Town Watch patrols). She’s looking to limit Section 8 housing; she endorses zoning reform; and she’s hoping to give City Council a big dose of her vague-but-predictable “conservative family values and ... ethics.”
8th District: Chestnut Hill, Germantown, Mt. Airy, Hunting Park
The 8th District is arguably the most diverse in the city. Rich liberals in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy are being represented by the same councilmember as the working class in Germantown, Nicetown and Hunting Park. That being said, the entire district, which has been represented by the scandal-ridden Donna Reed Miller since 1995, has been hard hit by the recession—partly due to its proximity to the suburban malls and IKEA parks of Montgomery County.
Cindy Bass (D): Bass, 43, has a long history working in Democratic politics, which includes delegation duty at the last three Democratic National Conventions and staff positions with both Rep. Allyson Schwartz (when she was a state senator) and a senior policy advisor to Rep. Chaka Fattah. Bass got the much-publicized Nutter endorsement in the primary and a boost from District Attorney Seth Williams late in the season. Her main issues (green technology, education over incarceration, supporting public-private partnerships) are pretty vague. Which probably means she’ll fit right in on City Council.
Brian Rudnick (Green): The 57-year-old Chestnut Hill librarian and teacher was not endorsed by the Green Party of Philadelphia and even “circumvented GPOP’s formal process for candidacy approval which requires the general membership to approve his run for public office” when filing his papers, according to a GPOP press release. So, you can call him a Green, but for all intents and purposes, he’s independent. And with that in mind, his ideas aren’t all weird. If the fine people of the 8th stick him in City Hall for the next four years, he’s got his sights set on collecting delinquent property taxes, reducing taxes on small businesses and, uh, distributing rain barrels to reduce the city’s storm-water management costs.