With two veteran members of City Council retiring this year, the next council was guaranteed to have some new faces. On Tuesday’s election, we learned those new members are young, progressive, diverse and likely to push the council leftward.
As expected, Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore-Richardson breezed to victory and will be sworn in next January.
More of a surprise, however, was the historic victory of Kendra Brooks, a candidate with the Working Families Party. Brooks and the Working Families Party campaigned on issues such as affordable housing, public school funding and workers’ rights. Brooks is from Philadelphia and raises his family here – but her campaign is among many successfully replicated by the Working Families Party in municipalities across the nation.
Particularly interesting is that Brooks won a seat previously held by Republican Al Taubenberger. City Council laws guarantee five seats for the majority party (typically Democrats), and two for a minority party (typically Republicans). Brooks’ and the Working Families Party’s strategy was to run progressive candidates as third-party candidates in order to grab those seats held by Republicans.
The freshman class will be also joined by a primary upset winner, and now solidified Councilwoman-elect, Jamie Gauthier. Gauthier unexpectedly beat Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in the May primary and will now officially be sworn in – adding the chorus of younger, progressive voices in City Hall.
With the majority of City Council members entering their first or second term, Philadelphians can expect a different tone and set of policies coming out of City Hall for the next four years. As usual, education, housing, jobs and gun violence will take center stage. But with the diverse backgrounds and passion of the new members, expect divergent viewpoints and intense debate.
Institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Philadelphia Democratic Party openly campaigned against the Working Families agenda – which is considered too far left-leaning by many mainstream Democrats. Some of them are anxious that the party is shifting too far to the left, especially in a town that is already fairly left-leaning and Democratic.
Progressive candidates such as Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas and Brooks are likely to be sees as further left than many of their colleagues. This could lead to internal opposition to controversial members and, as voters saw the Chamber weigh in on the election, we can expect that third-party interests will also get involved in policy debates. It should be noted that while many vocal opponents saw these progressives as worrisome to their interest, Gym and Thomas were the top vote getters for the majority party and Brooks was the top vote getter for the minority party – a message sent loud and clear by voters across the city.
Mayor Kenney, as expected, coasted to victory in his primary and general election. While many noticed that Kenney was not a presence on the campaign trail, rumors have circulated that the mayor may be prepping for a run for the Governor’s mansion in 2022.
A run for higher office would require Kenney to resign from his current office, presenting a changing dynamic on City Council only halfway through this upcoming term.
An internal vote for City Council president does not typically receive much external attention. But if Kenney resigns to run for governor, the Council president will become mayor until a new one is elected. Thus, there is a sense that the next Council president could end up as the city’s mayor for up to two years.
That makes the Council presidency far more intriguing for several current members considering a mayoral run as their next political move; rumored candidates include Councilmembers Cherelle Parker, Gym, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Cindy Bass and Allan Domb, In the upcoming transition months, Philadelphians will see freshmen and incumbent councilmembers announce staff hires, policy positions and endorse other candidates for office. These announcements will give a greater sense of the tone and policy agendas proposed from City Hall for the next four years. Voters came out in numbers slightly higher than in 2015 (the last time Philadelphia voted for mayor and City Council) and it’s important to follow these members past Election Day to make sure the values and candidates we voted for are fully represented.
Max Weisman is a Senior Associate in Ceisler Media’s Philadelphia Office.