Five upcoming mayoral elections to watch in Pennsylvania

     With the national spotlight already on the 2016 Presidential election, we want to highlight some local mayoral elections that we’ll be following.

    “The office of mayor is a tool. You have extraordinary power to do good and make things better.” 

    That’s one insight on leadership and what it takes to run a local municipality that former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr. shared with WHYY’s mayoral-election blog editor Brian Hickey.  

    In addition to advice from past and current mayors, the NinetyNine blog has been covering debates and giving the “play by play” of Philadelphia’s 2015 mayoral election. 

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    With the national spotlight already looking ahead to the 2016 Presidential election, Keystone Crossroads wanted to highlight the Philadelphia race and other local mayoral elections that will be heating up in the next few months.  Two of the cities with upcoming mayoral races,  Reading and Chester, fall under the state’s distressed municipalities program, known also as Act 47.

    The rundown

    PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia CountyPopulation: 1,553,165

    The field for the next mayor of Philadelphia is wide open with a six-way democratic primary race shaping up in the Commonwealth’s largest city.

    And the candidates are:

    Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams, 58, has represented parts of Philadelphia and Delaware County in Harrisburg since 1998. He collected the most signatures for his nomination petition for mayor. So far in his campaign, Williams has outlined a plan to raise $200 million dollars of city and state funds for the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District, some of which would help fill an $80 million shortfall projected for next school year.

    Former Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abraham, 74, who describes herself as doggedly determined, told the NinetyNine blog that she’s the candidate who can represent the city’s diverse population. “A mayor has to be the mayor for everybody. I am appealing to every person, across racial, ethnic, religious, language, culture, socio-economic spectrum. We’re all in this together.”

     Jim Kenney, 59, calls himself a proud progressive and has been on City Council for more than 20 years. Kenney has racked up the most number of endorsements thusfar and compares leadership at city hall to leadership on the basketball court. “I think in order to be a very effective mayor, you need to be a very effective point guard. You have to run the offense. You have to pass. You have to assist. You have to make all the other players on the team look good. And, the teams wins.”

    Former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz, 67, told WHYY’s Dave Davies that his number one priority as mayor would be to address the troubled state of Philadelphia schools. Diaz said he’d start with changes to the School Reform Commission, fund universal pre-kindergarden and fight for a fair state funding formula for all schools. “I think we could unite our folks together and decide that we have to fix education, because that’s the first thing you have to do in order to grow your economy.” 

    When launching his campaign, former state senator T. Milton Street, Sr. told supporters that his main concern is stopping the city’s violence, reported WHYY’s Katie Colaneri. However, Street’s eligibility to run has come into question over his party registration. The city Board of Elections and the state voter records list Street as an “independent,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Street said it must be a clerical mistake. 

    Doug Oliver, 40, a former senior vice president of marketing and communications for Philadelphia Gas Works and former spokesperson for Mayor Michael Nutter said that his campaign is about education and job creation. “We are blessed as a city because we have so many colleges and universities that constantly attract new, fresh blood. They come for the academic programs. They also come for the nightlife, the urban learning, restaurants, sports teams,” said Oliver to the NinetyNine blog. “But, if they don’t have jobs that can sustain their families after they graduate or they don’t have schools for their children after they procreate, they’re going to leave. We squander that opportunity every year.”The broad field of Democrats will be whittled down to one nominee in the primary on May 19th. On the other side of the ballot for the general election is Republican Melissa Marie Bailey. Bailey, 36, is a business executive for an international company specializing in employer branding, and was a registered Democrat until earlier this year. She told WHYY’s Tom MacDonald that she brings a fresh perspective to the table. “I have to believe that people are open-minded enough to listen to what I have to say and when they hear what I have to say I think they are going to hear that it represents the new Philadelphia and the opportunity that it represents for the city and for themselves.” 


    Reading Berks County Population: 87,978

    Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer, 67, is seeking a second-term in office, but he faces two challengers for the Democratic nomination. When launching his campaign, Vaughn pointed to a reduction in crime during his first term, as well as setting a foundation for economic development and making the city more business friendly, reported the Reading Eagle.

    Challenger and retired district judge Wally Scott, 63, said he’s running to help the city through it’s financial troubles and to be more responsive to residents. “I’m tired of a government that rules and doesn’t serve,” said Scott, reported the Reading Eagle. “For 32 years I’ve served people, and I want to keep doing that. I’m going to bring that to City Hall.”

    Tim Daley, 60, Habitat for Humanity executive director and former Reading police officer said one of the reasons he’s running is to help change the perception of Reading. “This city is the heart of Berks County,” said Daley at the launch of his campaign. “And we need to once again make it a destination for families, businesses and organizations to call home. And it begins today.”

    The winner of the May 19th primary will face Republican candidate Jim McHale. McHale, 53, a businessman and triathlete received 42 percent of the vote against Vaughn in 2011 and questions what has changed in the city over the last four years.

    Upper Darby Township Delaware CountyPopulation: 82,795

    To the west of Philadelphia, Upper Darby Township Mayor Thomas N. Micozzie has held the office for the last 6 years. He was appointed mayor by the township Council to complete the term of F. Raymond Shay, who resigned in 2009. Micozzie held on to his position by winning the general election in 2011.

    This year, Democratic challenger and chair of the Upper Darby Democratic Committee Matt Silva is throwing his hat in the ring to attempt to unseat Micozzie.

    Wilkes-BarreLuzerne CountyPopulation: 41,108

    With Wilkes-Barre Mayor Thomas Leighton’s decision not to seek a fourth term, four candidates are vying for the democratic nomination.

    City Council member and former police chief Tony George said “law and order” will be his priority—in the neighborhoods and among elected and appointed city officials, reported the Times Leader. Also, top on his agenda: reducing the citiy’s debt and spending.

    Similar to the former police chief, first-term City Council member George Brown, 63, also cites crime as a major issue. His campaign platform addresses cleaning up blighted properties and securing funds to upgrade flood protections.

    Darlene Duggins-Magdalinski, president of United We Stand Divided We Fall nonprofit and a community activist, told the Times Leader that, “Nothing will change if nothing changes…I want to effectuate long-term, positive change.” For Duggins-Magdalinski that starts with accountability and transparency in local government and creating a restored and safe community.

    Former IBM worker and college professor Brian Kelly, 66, says Wilkes-Barre needs a mayor from outside of the current political system. Kelly’s campaign platform includes making the city more open and friendly to businessand making Wilkes-Barre a safe, affordable and clean city.

    Only one Republican candidate, Frank Sorick, president of the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association, has entered the race. Sorick said public safety is his main concern along with giving residents a reason to stay in the city, reported the Citizens Voice.

    Chester Delaware CountyPopulation: 34,046

    Chester Mayor John Linder faces a contentious primary against challenger State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland.

    The candidates were once considered friends and allies, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, but have recently gotten into public and personal disagreements. Kirkland, who’s been endorsed by the Chester Democratic Committee, would be giving up the seat he’s held in Harrisburg since 1992,  if he wins the nomination.

    Public safety and the cities financial problems will be major issues for both candidates in the campaign.

    In 2014, there were 30 murders in Chester, the highest number of people killed in more than a decade.  Kirkland told the Inquirer that if elected, one of his first tasks would be to replace the current police commissioner.

    In the general election on Nov.  3rd, either incumbent Mayor Linder or Kirkland will face Republican and former Mayor Wendell Butler, who Linder unseated in 2011. 

    Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, Reading mayoral candidate Tim Daley’s name was misspelled.  His name has been corrected.


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