Rudnick, 57, knows he’s a long-shot to win the Eighth District seat. Independent candidates in Philadelphia traditionally have a tough time competing against their Democratic counterparts, who benefit from lopsided voter registration numbers and support from fellow elected party officials. So Rudnick embraces the underdog label.
It’s 4:30 p.m., and Brian Rudnick’s campaign office swarms with staffers.
About 15 field workers, many area college students, criss-cross the cozy, second-floor space on the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy, chatting and grabbing a quick bite before hitting the street to canvass.
With weeks to go until Philadelphia’s general election, the independent candidate for City Council has assembled a small army to help spread the word that the Eighth District ballot box will feature two hopefuls, a choice, in 2011.
Rudnick moves to a small side room – labeled “the war room” – and surveys a collection of print-outs that map the district’s seven wards.
“We’ve taken Chestnut Hill, we’ve taken Mt. Airy, we’ve taken Germantown,” says Rudnick energetically as he scans the wall, searching for the next pocket of houses to hit.
Taking heart from Phils’ fall
Rudnick, 57, knows he’s a long-shot to win the Eighth District seat. Independent candidates in Philadelphia traditionally have a tough time competing against their Democratic counterparts, who benefit from lopsided voter registration numbers and support from fellow elected party officials.
So Rudnick embraces the underdog label.
“I wouldn’t want to be anything but an underdog,” says Rudnick, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat as an endorsed Green Party candidate in 2007. A Green Party member, Rudnick is running without the endorsement this time.
The long-time Chestnut Hill resident thinks he can make a splash if he’s able to reach enough voters. He’s made it his goal to at least talk to each of the diverse district’s 25,000-plus frequent voters before Nov. 8, Election Day.
Endlessly pursuing that face-to-face contact between now and then, says Rudnick, could give him a shot.
Referencing his opponent, Democratic nominee Cindy Bass, “I’m not doing a community listening tour, just getting ready to sit down on the throne. I’m knocking door to door. I’m talking to thousands of people.”
Rudnick likens the situation to the Philadelphia Phillies fall from grace this season. The star-studded team was predicted by many to reach the World Series and likely win it. Instead, the team was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
“Perhaps the [St. Louis] Cardinals thought, ‘We’re a pretty good team. We’re going to do the work that it takes to win this series as good as everyone says they are. As unbeatable as everyone says they are’….and they won it,” he says.
“Here I am taking it door to door, person to person, bat by bat,” Rudnick says.
Making a dent
Vivek Ananthan, a long-time friend of Rudnick, says the grassroots candidate has the dedication and the work ethic to run a solid campaign and, if elected, to be an effective councilperson.
Ananthan chairs the Green Party of Philadephia and has known Rudnick for about 25 years. The two first met while Rudnick was a practicing attorney. Ananthan, a landlord, needed some legal assistance with some properties in the Northern Liberties section of the city.
“I’ve been friendly with him since then,” says Ananthan. “I support him all the way.”
Ananthan, who does not live in the Eighth District, points to Rudnick’s successful scramble to get on the ballot as an example of his commitment.
Rudnick, most recently a librarian at Orleans Technical Institute in Northeast Philadelphia, decided to enter the race less than 10 days before the deadline for alternative party candidates to submit their nominating petitions. In the City of Philadelphia, all hopefuls running for a district seat must submit at least 750 valid signatures from district voters.
“He was able to get the signatures in 100-degree temperatures. He was able to manage. He’s very, very dedicated,” says Ananthan, who predicts Rudnick will “make a big dent” in the election.
A nasty ballot fight
Rudnick’s spot on the general election ballot was not always a guarantee.
In mid-August, his nominating petitions were challenged by another independent candidate, Jim Foster. Foster, publisher of Germantown Newspapers, also claimed that Rudnick should be disqualified from the race for falsely identifying himself as a Green Party candidate during the collection process.
“He used them as his party, during the whole process of filing his petitions, to make people think that the Green Party had endorsed him,” Foster told NewsWorks shortly after filing his challenge.
A city judge threw out Foster’s claim and ruled that Rudnick would stay on the ballot, after city election officials determined he had enough valid signatures.
During that same hearing, Foster, who also ran as independent in 2007, was knocked off the ballot. He, too, decided to join the race just days before the deadline. Both Rudnick and Bass challenged Foster’s nominating petitions.
Foster was not particularly surprised by the outcome, telling NewsWorks afterwards that he was not as careful with the paperwork as he should have been.
“This was just to offer the community some kind of option,” he said after the Court of Common Pleas decision.
Rudnick says he wasn’t gunning for Foster, but isn’t upset that he’s the only opponent going up against Bass. He says he was disappointed in 2007 when both Foster and Jesse Brown entered the race.
“Being the sole challenger takes my candidacy from the impossible to possible,” says Rudnick.
Why the odds are long
Sole challenger or not, Rudnick is pedaling uphill, says John O’Connell, the Democratic Ninth Ward Leader.
O’ Connell, whose ward covers Chestnut Hill and part of Mt. Airy, says he doesn’t know anyone there that’s supporting Rudnick’s campaign. But he also doesn’t know of anyone who’s particularly against it.
Rudnick is known around town as a stand-up guy, someone who could perform the duties of a councilperson, says O’Connell.
“His problem is, as an independent candidate, he can’t draw enough of a distinction between him and the Democratic nominee,” he says. “He’s for public transportation; he’s for rooting out corruption. These are not unique to Brian Rudnick. Any decent elected official wants the same things.”
And all things being equal, Democratic voters in a Democratic city usually vote the party line.
O’Connell says things would be different if Rudnick were going up against an unpopular incumbent
Some Eighth District activists express concern that Bass, who has close ties to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, may not be a true reformer, that she does not represent enough of a change from outgoing incumbent Democrat Donna Reed Miller, who is often criticized for her lack of transparency and visibility, among other things. But right now that’s all they have, concerns.
Rudnick also suffers from his lack of endorsements, says O’Connell. Bass is running with support from Fattah, Mayor Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams and a number of labor unions, among others.
“Brian Rudnick has Brian Rudnick,” says O’Connell. “He doesn’t have anyone other than himself saying he’s capable of being a better leader than Bass.”
Making the case, one voter at a time
Rudnick is pressing on nonetheless. He says paying particular attention to the specific needs of individual voters will go a long way.
“Don’t see people as just a mass,” says Rudnick. “The people want this. The people are angry about that. Talk to people individually. Treat each person as an individual.”
Rudnick says the nature of voters’ needs change as you go across the district that includes upper-class neighborhoods like Chestnut Hill to working class neighborhoods like Germantown.
“The farther south part of the region has greater needs for city services. There are more quality of life issues, more crime issues, more drug issues, more school issues,” he says.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Rudnick took his up-close-and-personal strategy to the 6000 block of Greene Street in Germantown.
Sitting on the steps of the Church of the Atonement, near the corner of Greene and West Tulpehocken Sts, is Anthony Ross.
The three-year Germantown resident tells Rudnick the city’s public schools don’t make students enough of a priority. Ross laments that the basketball program was cut at one of his daughter’s schools.
“They’re running all the schools like corporations and business,” says Ross as a SEPTA Route-H bus glides up Greene Street.
“There are a lot of us parents out there,” says Rudnick, who has two kids in public school. “But it’s not just a concern to parents. These are children in society. We need them to have a good education and get good paying jobs.”
Rudnick hands Ross one of his palm cards.
“I’m the only alternative to the Democratic machine-endorsed candidate and I think we need a change,” Rudnick tells Ross.
A peaceful warrior
For Rudnick, presenting Eighth District voters with a choice is paramount. It’s about creating some semblance of a democracy in a city, he says, that aoften fails to uphold that concept.
When even the Republican Party can’t field a competitive opponent, or any candidate, as is the case in the Eighth, “you’ve pretty much reached the bottom of what democracy is all about,” says Rudnick.
It’s a situation Rudnick is fighting to change even if the odds are against him.
“It’s a peaceful war we’re waging,” says Rudnick.
Due to an editing error, an early version of this story implied erroneously that Brian Rudnick’s campaign has been endorsed by the Green Party. It is not.