City election candidates draw for ballot positions

This is the sound of political fate in Philadelphia: Bingo balls jangling around in a Horn and Hardart’s coffee can.

In room 676 in City Hall Wednesday the coffee can got a workout as ballot positions were drawn, the old-fashioned way, for the May 17 city primaries.

It was democracy in action, audibly so.

Voices shouted “Go Tracy!” from the back of the room when this decades-old system for determining ballot position put Tracy Gordon at the top of the list in the six-person race for the open Second District City Council seat.

Similarly, Lillian Paulmier walked slowly back to her husband, smiling, after she’d pulled a numbered ball from that famous old can. Greg Paulmier is making his fourth attempt at the Eighth District City Council seat but this time incumbent Donna Reed Miller will not be there to block his or anyone else’s way. He was part of a large group gathered near the front of the courtroom for the drawing.

The Eighth is the city’s most crowded district council race with 10 candidates so the conventional wisdom is ballot position could mean a good deal. Lillian Paulmier raised a single finger as she returned to her husband.  “No. 1,” she said.

“The more people are in the race the more important the ballot position is,” Ken Smukler, a political strategist, said in a phone interview.

In most crowded races, he said, “If you draw a one, two or three ballot position, regardless of if you are an endorsed candidate or not, you are going to have a far better race.”

This may be why Gregg Cravitz, campaign manager for Eighth District candidate Donna Gentile O’Donnell smiled widely and laughed out loud when he drew his candidate’s position.

“If you don’t get No. 1, you might as well take No. 10,” he said. His theory was that O’Donnell wouldn’t get lost somewhere in the middle of the list of names.

At-Large City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown had a similar view.

“I’m a living testimony that ballot position matters,” she said.

The first time she ran for City Council, Reynolds Brown drew number 52, the last position on the at-large list that year. She was more than a little discouraged, she said, until she realized she could use it to tell voters clearly where to find her name on the ballot.

Another election year she drew number 17 out of 19 and came in last of all the incumbents in the at-large race. She has number five this year.

“This is really a milestone in a candidate’s life,” she said of the position drawing.

But in races like the Democratic mayoral primary, where Milton Street drew the first position today over incumbent Mayor Michael Nutter – two person races where both candidates have some kind of name recognition – ballot position is virtually meaningless, according to Smukler.

This brushes on another Smukler rule about ballot position: “The less the race means the more ballot position is important.”

In the case of the Eighth District, where a new City Council person is guaranteed, interest in the race is high. Smukler said this could counteract the crowded field rule.

“Those voters will know about their district race because that’s the highest profile race they are voting on,” he said.

This brings up political strategist Mark Nevins’ only rule about the importance of ballot position: It helps or hurts only in situations of chance, but if a candidate really gets out in public and connects with voters all bets are off.

“If you don’t do the work you leave it up to chance,” he said. “But if you do the work you take chance out of the equation.”

The lists below show the order candidates drew in city races. The actual number next to the candidates’ names could still change if any candidates are successfully challenged or drop out. Only the relative order of the candidates will stay the same on election day.




John Featherman
Karen Brown


Milton Street
Michael Nutter


City Council by district:

District 1 


Verna Anastasio
Joe Grace
Mark Squilla
Jeff Hornstein


District 2 


Ivan Cohen (R)

District 2 


Tracey Gordon (D)
Richard DeMarco (D)
Barbara Capozzi (D)
Damon K. Roberts (D)
Vincent DeFino (D)
Kenyatta Johnson (D)


District 3 


Tony Dphax King (D)
Alicia Burbage (D)
Jannie Blackwell (D)


District 4

Curtis Jones (D) is unopposed


District 5


Darrell Clarke (D)
Suzanne Carn (D)


District 6


Sandra Stewart (R)


Bob Henon (D)
Martin Bednarek (D)


District 7


Daniel Savage (D)
Juan Rodriguez (D)
Maria Quinones Sanchez (D)


District 8


Greg Paulmier (D)
Cindy Bass (D)
Andrew Lofton (D)
Robin Tasco (D)
Howard Treatman (D)
Fay Dawson (D)
Verna Tyner (D)
Bill Durham (D)
Jordan Dillard (D)
Donna Gentile O’Donnell (D)


District 9


Rhaim Dawkins (D)
Marian Tasco (D)
Thomas Lamont (D)
Sabriya Bilal (D)
Bobby Curry (D)


District 10


Brian O’Neill (R)


Bill Rubin (D)



City Council At-Large


William Greenlee (D)
Isaiah Thomas (D)
Ralanda King (D)
Michael Jones (D)
Blondell Reynolds Brown (D)
Sherrie Cohen (D)
Lawrence Clark (D)
Humberto Perez (D)
Alexander Wilson (D)
Janis E. Manson (D)
Bill Green (D)
Denise Ripley (D)
Ralph P. Blakney (D)
James Kenney (D)
Andrew Toy (D)
Francis Graff Jr. (D)
Edward Nesmith (D)
Darryl LeFountain (D)
Louis Borda (D)
W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D)


City Council At Large


Michael Untermeyer (R)
Malcolm Lazin (R)
Joe Mccolgan (R)
David Oh (R)
Dennis O’Brien (R)
Al Taubenberger (R)
Frank Rizzo Jr. (R)
John Giordano (R)
Elmer Money (R)
Steve Odabashian (R)

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