Philadelphia's City Council-at-large race generating some suspense

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With Philadelphia's lopsided voter registration tilted toward the Democratic Party, most city office elections are decided in the primary. But the City Council-at-large race always stays interesting to the end and, this year, there's an extra twist. It's the most hotly contested race on Tuesday's ballot.

In the City Council-at-large race, each party nominates five people for seven seats, guaranteeing minority party representation. Historically, all five Democrats and two of the five Republicans win. That's what keeps the Republican race interesting. Incumbents often lose to newcomers. It could be any two.

This year, they have a new challenge: A record seven independent and third-party candidates are staking a claim to those minority-party seats.

"Giving these two seats away to people who represent only a small part of the city is a shame. These have been our streets. These are about to be our seats," said Nic O'Rourke in August, when he and activist Kendra Brooks announced they were running with the Working Families Party.

Brooks has raised more than $200,000 and racked up major endorsements, to the point where Republican Party Chairman Michael Meehan thinks they might have a chance.

"I take a dim view of it, because I don't think it helps the city in the long run," Meehan said. 

Meehan notes the state legislature is controlled by Republicans, so he thinks it's good politics to have some Republican officials in Philadelphia.

He points out the Republican party has a base of about 16,000 voters — even in an off-year election — who will vote the straight party ticket, but he's concerned that his candidates are not putting up a united front.

"I'm trying to get people to be together, but unfortunately, it's every man for himself, and at least two of them have to be together," Meehan said. "It's not like I like all five candidates, but I very much like three of them."

Ironically, the Republicans who win do so with Democratic votes. The votes they're able to lure away from Democrats who don't vote the straight ticket go on top of the Republican base votes to give them the margin of victory.

Those are the same votes the independent and third-party candidates are going for.

Brooks is counting on getting more Democrats to break ranks.

"When you're doing the work, it's just natural people would want to support you," she said.

But then, candidate Sherrie Cohen, running not as a Democrat but this time for the Better Council Party, is hoping for the same — "given my name recognition over the years."

Democratic Party Chair Bob Brady resents the strategy, though his five candidates seem safe. Council-at-large is sure to be the race both Brady and Meehan are watching Tuesday night.