Who Will Be Philly’s 100th Mayor?
One day from Primary Day in Philadelphia, there are no favorites and a lot of undecided voters. What does the field look like?
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Editor's Note: Reporters Carlos Nogueras and Alan Nuñez contributed to this report alongside Digital Editor Nigel Thompson
Polls weren’t really a thing in 2023’s Philadelphia Mayoral Election until around two weeks ago, as the good government group Committee of Seventy dropped the first independent survey of the race.
The results confirmed what many have already known to be true — no one knows who will be the 100th mayor of Philadelphia and those that guess are just taking a shot in the dark.
Of the nine candidates that will be on the ballot in another week, five came out of the independent poll in a dead heat and undecided voters represented 20% of those that responded — a higher percentage than any single candidate garnered. The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3.8%. It means in theory, everyone on the ballot still has a chance to win, even those that got 1%.
AL DÍA interviewed six of those remaining on the ballot — Cherelle Parker, Rebecca Rhynhart, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Jeff Brown, and Judge James DeLeon. It did not interview Amen Brown, Warren Bloom or Delscia Gray.
In total, AL DÍA interviewed nine candidates, including Derek Green and María Quiñones Sánchez, who have dropped out, and the sole Republican candidate David Oh.
At the top of the pack by just one percentage point (18%) is former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who has run a campaign walking the line between progressivism and the moderate talking points of more conservative Democratic candidates. In the process, she’s also leaned heavily on her prior experience as both City Controller and its budget director.
“We need a mayor that has courage,” she said in an interview with AL DÍA back on Friday, Feb. 17.
That “courage” is something Rhynhart showed in her time as City Controller, as her reports revealed the frequent oversight in city government operations. It didn’t make her many friends in that same city government — especially Mayor Jim Kenney — but Rhynhart said it has made her plenty of fans on the campaign trail to replace the outgoing leader.
As mayor, Rhynhart proposes a mix of both progressive policies regarding things like public safety and the opioid crisis, and more moderate approaches to equitable economic development and increasing job opportunities.
On public safety, Rhynhart has a six-point plan that calls for a state of emergency, evidence-based violence intervention programs, and using her 2022 police department audit to inform more reforms — like bringing back more officers that were found to be abusing the department’s injured leave policy, auditing its Operation Pinpoint strategy to target violent offenders in communities and implementing civilianization to boost officer numbers on the street.
For the opioid crisis, Rhynhart offers a vision of better inter-departmental coordination under the direction of what she’s calling an “opioid czar.”
“We, as a city, fund significant operations, but they're not coordinated for the best care for those that are on the street and suffering from substance use disorder,” she told AL DÍA.
Using her financial background, Rhynhart also proposes a city that cuts red tape for small businesses, tax reform and a promise of 40% of the city’s contracting dollars going toward minority-owned businesses.
The Party’s candidate
Coming second (at 17%) in the independent poll was Cherelle Parker, who has built arguably the broadest support coalition in the race among establishment wards and major unions.
Among Latinos, the poll found Parker was favored the most, at 28%. All of the Latino old guard in politics — including María Quiñones Sánchez — have also thrown their support behind the former Majority Whip in City Council and PA State Rep. from Northwest Philly.
Parker’s message on the campaign trail has been shaped by more than a few catchphrases when discussing the major issues. For example:
Public safety — a community policing approach that will bring 300 more uniformed officers to neighborhoods across the city, but “zero tolerance for any misuse and abuse of authority.” She emphasizes it because she’s been called out on the campaign trail for her appeared comfort with a return to a form of stop-and-frisk.
Opioid crisis — no “youse people policy making,” which is a direct reference to her opposition to safe injection sites.
Environment+street cleaning: Parker speaks of a “greener, cleaner Philadelphia,” which she says will also reduce the city’s crime problem.
On economics, Parker told AL DÍA of leveraging more investment in technology to make the process of working with the city more seamless and developing more private-public partnerships to further her mission for Philly.
“We have to stop thinking that we need everything done via legislation. We have a strong mayoral form of government. If I thought that the only thing we could do to move Philadelphia forward was to enact it through legislation, I would still be a member of the City Council,” Parker told AL DÍA.
The progressive powerhouse
In third place on the poll, but only three percentage points behind Rhynhart (at 15%) is Helen Gym. The two-term City Councilmember, former teacher and longtime advocate for public schools, immigrants and progressive policies has seen a lot of hate (some warranted, some not) on the campaign trail, but more than anything, it’s a testament to the movement she leads and the power it’s garnered since she was first elected to City Council in 2016.
“In 2016, I ran for a very specific reason. And that was largely because the city had just closed down 30 public schools,” she told AL DÍA. “And I felt like this city was actually not going to be able to rise if it left the core functions of government behind.”
The message for Gym’s campaign for mayor in 2023 is all about systems change — from the way the city approaches law enforcement to school funding. Much like Rhynhart, much of Gym’s solutions also hinge on her being a better coordinator of city departments.
For public safety, Gym said she’d call a state of emergency and organize weekly cabinet meetings with department heads and target blocks where violence is the worst. In terms of approaches, Gym told AL DÍA she’d expand her previously-piloted mobile crisis response units to respond to instances of mental health crises encountered on the beat.
On education — her bread and butter — Gym said she’d “fight like hell” at the state level to get more funding for the city’s schools, especially after it was determined PA’s previous funding model was unconstitutional. Her approach is “investment-based,” and involves making the superintendent “a lead part of the mayor’s cabinet and vice versa.”
“I do want the city and the school systems to be united and to be held accountable for one another,” she said.
Part of the investment also includes a 10-year school modernization program and a new database for facility issues.
Dark horse Domb?
Coming in fourth in the independent poll was real estate magnate Allan Domb (at 14%). Of any candidate, Domb has poured by far the most money into his campaign — $7 million of his own personal fortune per the last campaign finance reports.
Policy-wise, Domb is a moderate, but does agree with his more liberal counterparts on some things. His 10-point public safety plan calls for a crime emergency for gun violence, “aggressively” cracking down on illegal guns, a public health emergency and Kensington, and tripling funding to recruit more police officers, to name a few.
“I will have a public safety cabinet consisting of the District Attorney, the police commissioner, the Attorney General,, FBI, ATF, security for PATCO and SEPTA,” Domb said in an interview with AL DÍA.
Domb’s other major talking point at AL DÍA was education, which addresses the root problem of poverty and lack of opportunity that leads to people engaging in illegal activity. In a Domb Philadelphia, he envisions schools that teach both technology and entrepreneurship to better prepare high school students for the ever-digitizing world of 2023 to compete for jobs, or create something on their own.
In polls commissioned by his own campaign, Jeff Brown is ahead in the race, but the independent one by Committee of Seventy put him in fifth at 11%.
There’s still a major chance the only non-politician in the race could be Philly’s next mayor, but the constant blows to his campaign — whether an investigation by the Philly Board of Ethics or his “lynching” comments — have taken a toll and made him the most common target of all the candidates.
When he spoke to AL DÍA, Brown leaned into his outsider label and pushed the different vision he could offer with his non-politician experience.
“I feel we need a bolder mayor that is going to push through the politics of things that tend not to like changes, that they have their own deals, their special interests and the things that aren't necessarily helpful to the citizens,” he said.
Brown’s platform puts poverty as the top issue, and solving it would address the city’s other issues.
The solution he offered to AL DÍA was through getting more support to Black and Brown businesses with creating micro grants at the city level, and cutting down red tape to operate a business in the city.
On gun violence, Brown proposed more investment into forensics to help solve more crimes and to better train officers to deal with mental health crises.
Amen Brown and Warren Bloom came in at 2% in the poll and Judge James DeLeon, who told AL DÍA about his silver-bullet Local Incident Management System, was bottom with 1%.
It’s anyone’s election on May 16.
The Republican challenger
Whoever wins next Tuesday will face off with Republican nominee David Oh in the November general election — on Nov. 7. Oh’s message, while representing the Republican Party, is very similar to the more moderate Democrats in the race. He calls for police to be empowered to enforce “laws on the books” regarding gun violence and wants expanded city services for those struggling with opioid addiction.
Like many Democratic candidates — from progressive to moderate — Oh is also in favor of major tax reform to make the city friendly for small business and residents alike.
He can relax on Tuesday and begin to plan for his opponent.