Move to open Philadelphia’s Democratic Party gains seats in ward elections

A lot of turnover came from some of the elections, with loud rancor from one of them

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A movement to open up Philadelphia’s Democratic Party leadership gained ground this week when party officials elected new ward leaders. Several pledged to open ward decisions on endorsements and spending.

A lot of turnover came from those elections, amidst a major brouhaha in one of them.

Ward leaders generally control candidate endorsements, the source of party power and funding, as endorsed candidates are expected to provide get-out-the-vote money.

About a dozen of the party’s 69 ward leaders are new, several of them from the open wards movement that’s trying to bring greater transparency to party operations. Pat Christmas of the Committee of Seventy said it’s a fairly small number, but an important trend.

“It was really kind of surprising and promising to see the number of wards that seemed to shift this way,” said Christmas.

An influx of younger committee people, elected in 2018 and in last month’s primary, helped open ward candidates win in South Philadelphia, Fairmount, and Fishtown.

For Jon Geeting, engagement director for Philadelphia 3.0, getting just a few seats out from under traditional party leadership is good for civic engagement.

“Party reform is a game of inches, and I’m always optimistic about what will come out of all these new people running,” said Geeting.

Other wards changed hands, too.

Danilo Burgos, an ally of Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, won in Hunting Park.

Quiñones-Sánchez may resign soon to run for mayor, so a friendly ward leader may help her select a chosen candidate for a special election to fill her seat. Former aide Quetcy Lozada is rumored to be a favorite.

In the 22nd District, Councilmember Cindy Bass held on by just three votes, after a judge ordered her to seat “open ward” candidates.

There was also turnover due to retirements, including that of Edgar “Sonny” Campbell, the last of a West Philadelphia political dynasty.

In at least two wards, there were disputes over whether to seat committee people who had won as write-in candidates with less than 10 votes. They had been given a vote in previous ward elections, but the city committee declared they should not be, citing a state ruling.

One ward leader who staved off a challenge is former Councilmember Jannie Blackwell. Her ward meeting turned into chaos for a while, as opposition committee people began shouting and chanting.

“That’s not democracy, is it?” one person asked amid the rancor.

The opposition held the majority of committee seats but did not initially nominate a challenger to Blackwell. There was an effort to do so after the disruption that did not succeed. Sources familiar with what happened say there was a division among the opposition over which candidate to nominate. Others say they were united but wanted to contest points of order first and then were not allowed to make a nomination.

In any case, Blackwell was re-elected unanimously, even though it was with less than half the votes.

Party chair Bob Brady said it’s time to put those disputes aside.

“I’m really happy with the results. We got some new people, and I’m looking forward to moving on and beating the opposition. You know, we’re not the opposition. The opposition is the Republican Party,” said Brady.

“We got some new people. I’ve talked to them all. They’re all eager to work.”

Republicans held ward elections this week as well. Former Councilmember Al Taubenberger lost to Peter Gill.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images