Philadelphia Local Primary May 21, 2019

BD’s analysis of upcoming elections is a regular feature here on

Hey, Philly voters!

I reckon this is an election where I earn my keep with the nearly one hundred names on the primary ballot. It seems blue America has been bitten with the bug to do *something* about the state of our country, and one of the ways is to run for office. I applaud those citizens.

That said, I’m not recommending the candidates who are the most activist-y or the most anti-(he-who-shall-not-be-named). There are a few left-skewing candidates here, but these are elections for municipal office. I’m focusing on the ones who will make real changes to make the city and government function better. That may sound like a low bar, but we are in Philly.

The ability to effect big change on some of the huge issues – immigration, poverty, civil rights, etc. is minimal. They’re best addressed on a federal/national level, and keep in mind that Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America. We don’t have tons of money floating around for big idea social programs or income redistribution.

At the root, the job of local government is to provide primary/secondary education, infrastructure, a safe place to live, and a well-run bureaucracy to collect taxes and manage the above. If you’re a candidate with grand societal ideas & policies, that’s cool and all, but I also need solutions to Philadelphia’s governance issues.

So here’s the latest edition of my election recommendations…


Starting from the top of the ballot as you see it in the voting both, here we go:

Judge of the Superior Court (Vote for not more than 2)
#2 Daniel D McCaffery
This one’s a no-brainer. Even though you can vote for 2, McCaffery is highly recommended by the PA Bar, and 2 candidates are not recommended.

Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Vote for not more than 6)

  • #8 James Crumlish
  • #19 Anthony Kyriakakis
  • #20 Chris Hall
  • #23 Tiffany Palmer
These 4 candidates are “Highly Recommended” by the Philadelphia Bar, so make your votes more powerful and only vote for them for instead of the allowed 6.

Judge of the Municipal Court
#29 David H Conroy
Conroy is recommended by the Philadelphia Bar, while the other candidate is not recommended.

#31 Jim Kenney
Kenney is doing alright… I guess. His biggest accomplishment, shepherding the school system to an improved financial footing, is a tough message when everyone seems to hate the public schools. The only real scandal came from outside his administration and enveloped his main backers, Johnny Doc and the electrician’s union.
A legit knock on Kenney is the slow pace of turning the soda tax revenue into the neighborhood improvement projects that he promised. Projects haven’t really begun yet. If the administration’s red tape is the problem for the mayor’s flagship program, it just shows that there’s an even bigger problem of making the government work efficiently. That all comes right back to the mayor, the only one with any power to truly change it.
As for his opponents, Alan Butkovitz doesn’t hold much appeal to me, and Anthony Williams holds even less. Both of them are running primarily on an “abolish the soda tax” platform, while saying little of substance about big picture issues. It becomes starker when you contrast their ideas with some of those running for council (Vidas, Santamoor, Gauthier) who have far more sophisticated and detailed policy proposals.
There’s a 99% chance Kenney is going to win, so I can’t fault anyone for a protest write-in vote.

City Commissioners (Vote for not more than 2)
#45 Jen Devor
The city commissioners run elections in Philadelphia, so that’s why we vote for them….Yeah, again, Philly’s weird.
At least the current city commissioners chair who rarely even bothers to show up for work isn’t running (though he will cash in on the DROP program and receive $500,000 for never showing up to work again)
I’m actually a big fan of the Republican, Al Schmidt, who is running unopposed on his side, but with the primary election, that’s totally irrelevant.
The Democratic field looks wide open with 13 candidates, and the winning candidates pulling in ~20% of the vote. Jen Devor has received the best endorsements/recommendations in my book.

Register of Wills
#49 Ron Donatucci
In the 10+ years I’ve been following local politics, I’ve never once heard of the Register of Wills touched by a scandal. That’s a minor miracle in this city. So since we’re still voting for this office, and with no credible challenger, I guess I’m voting for Donatucci (despite his DROP enrollment).
One of the other candidates with low-grade buzz is Tracey Gordon, a perennial candidate who is making a run for her 4th different public office. Not a good sign.

#50 Rochelle Bilal
The incumbent, Jewell Williams, is most likely a serial sexual harasser, and demands political kickback contributions from his staffers. He needs to go. With several challengers running, the clearest path to getting rid of Williams seems to be Rochelle Bilal, but I’m not enthused. If the race was completely consequence free, I’d 100% write in Christopher Sawyer who challenged Williams 4 years ago and was supremely capable and ready to reform the office. However, Williams needs to be replaced, so vote for Bilal.

Council At-Large (vote for not more than 5)
#66 Allan Domb
He’s a rich, white guy, real-estate tycoon …and I whole-heartedly endorse him. Despite labels like neo-liberal, moderate, centrist, pro-business, etc. Domb is THE council person who is consistently seeking accountability from the city: looking for answers when the city was “missing” $33 million of misplaced money; trying to get the city to collect back-taxes from out-of-state landlords; getting full value from real estate properties that the city sells; considering city council term limits! Every time there’s a councilperson asking the tough questions of the way the city handles money and land, it’s Allan Domb.

#60 Eryn Santamoor
Just super smart. Super practical. Super savvy. Super prepared. Would be a tremendous asset to council and the city.
(To make my votes a little more powerful, I plan to just vote for Domb and Santamoor, but there are many other good candidates.)

#80 Justin DiBerardinis
Again, super smart and well-spoken, with a hint of veering off into pie-in-the-skyness.

#56 Helen Gym
I like Gym because she’s willing to take a goddamn stand. I don’t always agree with all of her positions, but she continues to buck council president Darrell Clarke and his position that seems to be: “OK, now everyone just get along, don’t make waves, and don’t ever let council make tough decisions.”
Unlike 4 years ago, Gym is not one of the only stridently progressive candidates for council, but she is still the best at what she does.

Also strong candidates:

  • #54 Adrian Rivera-Reyes
  • #68 Erika Almiron
  • #71 Isaiah Thomas
  • #78 Derek S Green

District Council
These depend on where you live and for the first time in a long time there are multiple legitimate, incumbent-challenger races. You can vote out some of the chief “that’s why can’t have nice things” political relics!
The three biggest races are western South Philly and Southwest Philly (2nd District), West Philly (3rd District), and parts of North and Northeast Philly (7th District)

1st District
#85 Mark F Squilla
He faces nominal opposition, but though he’s no superstar and is tied a bit too closely to Johnny Doc, Squilla is generally on the right side of issues. I know from living in his district that he shows for events and meetings all the time, when his predecessor rarely bothered. He gets funding and makes neighborhood projects happen, and is even vaguely progressive when it comes to environmental and smart planning issues. You’ll see in my blurbs on the 2nd and 3rd district races that the sales of city-owned property and land is a huge council issue (the whole councilmanic prerogative that you keep reading about).
Squilla’s commonsense approach to sales in the 1st district – just use a damn auction – appears positively genius compared to what happens in other districts. It gets the highest value, gets the property quickly onto tax-paying rolls, and removes all impropriety or the appearance of impropriety from the transaction. Stunningly simple, yet not standard procedure.

2nd District
#84 Lauren Vidas
The incumbent, Kenyatta Johnson, epitomizes the shady land deals that have been standard operating procedure on council for decades. You donate to the councilperson’s campaign, you get preferences and favors when the city is selling properties to develop. What’s even more galling in this race is that Johnson placed the dreaded “gentrifier” label on Vidas when HE’S THE GUY SELLING DISCOUNTED LAND TO DEVELOPERS IN NO-BID DEALS. Vidas is hugely qualified as an organizer, policy wonk, and finance expert.

3rd District
(This will be THE #1 RACE that I will be watching.)

#85 Jamie Gauthier
Good lord, we need to get rid of Jannie Blackwell, and Jamie Gauthier is actually a highly qualified candidate. Blackwell’s tale is similar to Johnson’s, but with an ego twist. Jannie controls all real estate projects in West Philly, including those that involve Penn, Drexel, and the Science Center. She demands campaign $, but also loyalty and fealty. Basically, nothing happens in West Philly without Jannie’s blessing. She holds the purse strings to most neighborhood groups, so rarely has a real candidate been able to challenge her seat. Oh, and she basically “inherited” her seat from her late husband. Time and time again she’s held up legitimate improvements in her district, while greenlighting the complete student-ification of huge swaths of her district. Basically, she encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Philadelphia politicians.

5th District
write in someone other than Darrell Clarke.

6th District
write in someone other than Bobby Henon
Henon was indicted by the Feds in the Johnny Doc/Local 98 scandal and will most likely go to prison (the Feds don’t miss), yet no real opposition to Henon emerged. Embarrassing.

7th District
#85 Maria Quinones Sanchez
Quinones Sanchez has been a good and independent councilwoman and she’s running against yet another machine-backed candidate, this time Angel Ortiz. Like Helen Gym, I don’t agree with Sanchez 100% of the time, but she’s able to work with many different coalition partners on big-picture city issues and get things done.

4th, 8th, 9th, 10th Districts
No recommendations

Ballot Questions

  • Proposed Charter Change Question #1 – Yes
    “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to change certain gender specific references (such as “councilman,” “councilmen,” and “Councilmanic”) to gender neutral references (such as “councilmember,” “councilmembers,” and “Council”)?”

    Yes, make the changes. It’s time.
  • Proposed Charter Change Question #2 – Yes
    “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to establish and define the functions of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, headed by a Director of Immigrant Affairs?”

    I hate all of the do-nothing commissions on various issues that they try to cram into the charter, but this appears to be a substantive governmental change. So much has been made of savior millennials or college-educated professionals “bringing the city back”, but when you dive into the data (population, entrepreneurship, etc), it’s actually immigrants driving the growth.
  • Proposed Charter Change Question #3 – No
    “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call on the General Assembly to either increase the Pennsylvania minimum wage now, so that it reaches $15 an hour, in stages, by 2025; or allow the City of Philadelphia to itself provide for a decent, family sustaining, living wage for working Philadelphians?”

    This is a public opinion poll masquerading as a change to the city’s constitution. Get out of here. The $15 minimum wage has been a grandstanding campaign issue for many candidates, and it will only get bigger. Note that the whole matter is irrelevant unless there’s a change in Harrisburg.
  • Proposed Charter Change Question #4 – Yes
    “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to require the establishment of “Public Safety Enforcement Officers” to assist the Police Department in regulating the flow of traffic; to enforce and assist the appropriate City officers in the enforcement of ordinances relating to the quality of life in the City’s neighborhoods; and to perform such other related duties as the Managing Director or Council may require?”

    There seems to be support and cause for these officers to exist, but it appears unclear why this issue should be addressed by a charter change. My understanding is that there is a great amount of detail yet to be worked out, but this change helps open up the path. A hesitant yes from me.

* Cheat Sheet *

  • Judge of the Superior Court: #2 Daniel D McCaffery
  • Judge of the Court of Common Pleas:
    • #8 James Crumlish
    • #19 Anthony Kyriakakis
    • #20 Chris Hall
    • #23 Tiffany Palmer
  • Judge of the Municipal Court: #29 David H Conroy
  • Mayor: #31 Jim Kenney/write-in
  • City Commissioners: #45 Jen Devor
  • Register of Wills: #49 Ron Donatucci
  • Sheriff: #50 Rochelle Bilal
  • Council At Large:
    • #66 Allan Domb
    • #60 Eryn Santamoor
    • #80 Justin DiBerardinis
    • #56 Helen Gym
  • District Council:
    • 1st – #85 Mark F Squilla
    • 2nd – #84 Lauren Vidas
    • 3rd – #85 Jamie Gauthier
    • 7th – #85 Maria Quinones Sanchez
    • 5th, 6th – write in, your choice
    • 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th – no one
  • Ballot Questions:
    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. No
    4. Yes

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