How Jamie Gauthier toppled a West Philadelphia dynasty

Longtime Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell lost her seat to Jamie Gauthier. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Longtime Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell lost her seat to Jamie Gauthier. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Political newcomer Jamie Gauthier opened a new chapter for West Philadelphia on Tuesday with a commanding primary win over longtime Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell. Gauthier’s Election Day victory ends 45 years of Blackwell representation of the 3rd District.

“I was surprised,” Gauthier, an urban planner and the former head of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, said Tuesday night outside a jubilant celebration at Booker’s Restaurant and Bar on Baltimore Avenue. “I’ve been knocking on doors for months and I knew it felt really positive and I felt tremendous energy. But it still felt like such a big thing to win in this way.”

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Gauthier gave Blackwell her first competitive race since the 1990s. She successfully tapped into a vein of discontent with the incumbent’s erratic legislative record and a series of recent controversies over her attempted interference in land use apparently at the behest of wealthy developers and political allies. Blackwell has held the seat since 1992 when she took over a seat held by her husband, the late U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell.

But readiness for change was just one factor. Gauthier came to the table with her own policy proposals and a deep and diverse network, built through years of activism and a career in the city’s civic sphere. Gauthier said that her top priority is protecting West Philadelphians from displacement — and that her agenda came straight from her constituents.

“When I’ve been going around talking to voters, the biggest concern is gentrification and displacement,” she said. “People are so scared about property tax increases, so scared that their rents are going up, so scared that they barely recognize their community. That’s what we have to do first. We have to put some measures in place to make sure our long-time homeowners and renters aren’t pushed out of their community. We have to keep the incredible diversity we have here.”

Gauthier — who received a massive boost of funding from the PAC Philly 3.0 — built a strong campaign presence along Baltimore Avenue, and the neighborhoods between the University of Pennsylvania and the 52nd Street commercial corridor.

Further west in the district, Gauthier faced Blackwell’s entrenched incumbency advantage, and her ability to rely on the name recognition stretching back to the early 1970s when her husband Lucien first won election. On Tuesday, older voters explicitly mentioned her husband when explaining why they voted for her.

“I’ve known Jannie Blackwell for years and I knew her husband Lucien, who passed away,” said Erika Swinson, as she relaxed in Malcolm X Park after voting. “They should bring her back in office so she can do good things for the community.”

On the 60th Street commercial corridor, almost every storefront sported signs for Blackwell.

“Jannie Blackwell did a lot for this area, so I voted for her again,” James Hardnett said as he waited for a ride on 56th Street. “The other lady, I really don’t know her and that’s about all I can say about that.”

Throughout her campaign, Gauthier faced criticism for her tie to Philly 3.0, which people consider a pro-development and business PAC.  The victorious nominee dismissed the notion that she was in anyone’s pocket on Tuesday night.

“I have run on my agenda from the beginning of this campaign and I’ve built a broad coalition of supporters and I’ve been very clear about what I want to achieve in this community,” Gauthier said. “From connecting people to jobs, to affordability; that’s been my life’s work and that’s what I want to continue as a Councilwoman.”

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