In Philadelphia, special elections are usually decided by behind-the-scenes dealmaking among local Democratic Party insiders, and the upcoming races to fill two vacant at-large City Council seats are no different.
Longtime Council staffer Sharon Vaughn is poised to win the Democratic nomination for one of the upcoming special elections to fill Council’s two vacant at-large seats, while veteran party hands Jimmy Harrity and Bill Dolbow are vying for the second slot, party officials said Tuesday.
The vacancies were created by the recent resignations of Allan Domb and Derek Green, who both held at-large seats on Council, meaning they were elected citywide. Green stepped down to run in next year’s mayoral election, and Domb is also considering joining the race.
» READ MORE: Who is running for Philadelphia mayor in 2023?
Party ward leaders pick the nominees for special elections, and the Democrats’ choices are all but guaranteed to prevail in the Nov. 8 special elections thanks to the party’s more than 7-to-1 voter registration advantage in the city.
The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee’s policy committee, which is composed of top party leaders, will interview candidates seeking the party nod Wednesday night and make recommendations to the ward leaders, who will vote on the nominations later in the week, Democratic City Committee Chair Bob Brady said.
Brady said that others who are slated to be interviewed include Nina Ahmad, who served in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and ran for state auditor general; Sherrie Cohen, a lawyer and longtime LGBTQ activist; South Philadelphia community organizer Anton Moore; former Domb chief of staff Eryn Santamoor; public interest attorney Rue Landau; former city commissioners candidate Marwan Kreidie; and Gary Masino, president and business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19.
Some, like Landau and Masino, are not actively campaigning for a special election nomination but wanted to speak before the policy committee in advance of potentially running in next year’s elections, when all 17 Council seats and the race to replace Kenney, who is term-limited, will be on the ballot.
Brady and other party leaders typically reward candidates with endorsements or nominations if they help the party by waiting their turn to run for office or doing volunteer legal or election work. They often craft the party’s roster of endorsed candidates with a blunt and transactional approach to diversity — setting aside specific slots for Black candidates, women, and representatives from other committees — and they rarely, if ever, nominate candidates from the left wing of the party.
The winners of this year’s special elections will complete terms that end in January 2024. Early in the process of haggling over the nominations, some party leaders hoped to find candidates who would not run for a full four-year term in next year’s regular Council elections.
Vaughn, a Feltonville resident who was Green’s chief of staff before he resigned and is still a Council staffer, has promised not to run for a full term if she wins this year’s special election, Brady said.
Vaughn declined to comment.
Harrity, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s political director and a former staffer to State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Phila.), said he plans to run for a full term in 2023 if he wins the special election.
Harrity, who lives in Kensington, said he believes he has secured the votes to win the nomination for the second slot but is facing a late challenge from Dolbow, a ward leader in Northeast Philadelphia who works in the state auditor general’s office.
Dolbow, who is president of the Lawncrest Community Association, is promising his fellow ward leaders that he would not run for a full term, Harrity said. Dolbow did not respond to a request for comment.
“I’m not sure if it’s all wrapped up, but I have overwhelming support from the leaders, so we’ll just keep on working,” Harrity said in an interview. “Tomorrow will be the tale of the tape.”
The two at-large seats will be one of four Council races on the Nov. 8 ballot. The other two are for district seats vacated earlier this month by two other mayoral hopefuls, Cherelle L. Parker and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.
Democratic ward leaders in Parker’s 9th District, which includes parts of North and Northwest Philadelphia, have nominated Anthony Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit Youth Action.
In Quiñones-Sánchez’s Kensington-based 7th District, the Democratic nominee is Quetcy Lozada, Quiñones-Sánchez’s former chief of staff.
Winners of the special elections will be sworn in when the election results are certified, likely in late November. Until then, Council will operate with only 13 members, just one more than required to override mayoral vetoes or approve ballot measures for city Home Rule Charter amendments.
While the special elections will ensure Council is full or nearly full of lawmakers, they have also slowed down the work of the city commissioners, who run Philadelphia’s elections, as they prepare for Pennsylvania’s nationally watched U.S. Senate and governor races, which are also on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke ordered the special elections for the 7th and 9th Districts on Sept. 9, the first day he could do so under state law. At the time, it appeared he did not plan to call for special elections to fill the at-large seats.
But last Thursday, he issued writs of election for those seats as well, pushing the timeline for printing and distributing mail ballots to Philly voters to the second week of October.
Clarke’s decision to add the at-large seats was in part a reaction to Kenney issuing a rare veto to kill a bill by Parker on the first day Council returned from its summer break.
Council’s remaining 13 members on Thursday will hold their first in-person meeting since the early days of the pandemic.
While they’re set to gain new colleagues after November’s special elections, more vacancies could be on the horizon: Councilmembers Helen Gym and David Oh are also said to be eyeing the mayor’s race, and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson faces a retrial in a federal corruption case in October.
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.