NinetyNine: Your guide to the coming city elections

Listen
  Candidates for mayor of Philadelphia (clockwise from top left) Anthony Hardy Williams, T. Milton Street, Nelson Diaz, Lynne Abraham, Doug Oliver, and Ken Trujillo. (NewsWorks file photos)

Candidates for mayor of Philadelphia (clockwise from top left) Anthony Hardy Williams, T. Milton Street, Nelson Diaz, Lynne Abraham, Doug Oliver, and Ken Trujillo. (NewsWorks file photos)

We introduce our new blog on the city elections, and explain how it got its name.

Here at WHYY/NewsWorks, we’re rather excited about the upcoming Philadelphia primaries (May 19) and general (Nov. 3) election. We’re fascinated by the challenges facing the city. We savor the never-ending carnival of Philly politics.  And, don’t tell anyone, but we really care about this place.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to naming this blog, which will serve as our online election-coverage hub.

Allow us to explain what’s in a name.

Well, the one we initially selected for this here blog (one with a long WHYY tradition) got scooped up by another media entity in town. We won’t name names. They know who they are.

What ensued was a week(s)-long mulling expedition in pursuit of new possibilities.

Along came the idea to make a blatant play off FiveThirtyEight.com, a now-famous political site whose name originally seemed simultaneously mysterious and precise. (Whoa, right?)

The NinetyNine process

All of which is to explain how we arrived at the number 99. The process that should have been easy. It ended up resembling Rust Cohle’s evidence wall on HBO’s “True Detective.”

It started with a quick peek at Michael A. Nutter’s Wikipedia page. (We know, we know. But research has to start somewhere, and this is where our journey began.)

One thing jumped off the page: Nutter is identified as both the 98th and 125th Mayor of Philadelphia. That just cannot be, for 98 and 125 are clearly different numbers.

This presented an interesting dilemma.

Yes, we could just pick one of the two. (But in doing so, we would totally run the risk of looking like uneducated morons every time we linked to WhyTheHeckDidNewsWorksUseThisIncorrectNumber dot org.)

Orders from above were clear: Do NOT use the incorrect number.

Fine.

The NinetyNine expedition

So, we placed a call to Mayor Nutter’s press office. It alerted us to the fact that they use No. 98 in referring to Nutter’s place in mayoral lineage.

The informational quest could have ended there, but it most certainly did not.

We (ok, I, Brian Hickey) needed to know how exactly they reached that figure. So, I printed out a pair of mayoral-history lists dating back to 1691, when William Penn appointed Humphrey Morrey to the position.

The Philadelphia Information Locator Service’s list helpfully broke the mayors down into sections: Colonial Mayors (1691-1776) and Mayors of Philadelphia (1777-Nutter).

That collection broke the tenures down by terms. All 191 of them. Suddenly, the fog began to lift. A lot of Colonial-era mayors served a couple one-year terms here and a couple one-year terms there.  What a pain this counting thing was becoming.

But a job is a job and, via a handwritten-spreadsheet variant, the count came in at 100 mayors (including Nutter). Then, it was 99. Then, it was 97. Ugh.

Before diving into mayoral list No. 2, a call went out to the Committee of 70, which didn’t have the official count at the ready but asked to call back after it had a chance to do some research of its own.

In the meantime, we checked out the Official Philadelphia Government list (by way of the “List of mayors of Philadelphia” Wikipedia page).

Over the course of the next half hour, some Philly Mayor Fun Facts! made themselves known. For example:

 Hilary Baker served two one-year terms on the cusp of the 19th Century, but Hilary was a Mr. not a Mrs. (Yes, I briefly thought we’d stumbled onto a “Philly DID have a female mayor” scoop with which to launch the election blog.)
 Sixteen mayors had last names starting with the letter “S,” while there’s never been a mayor who had a last name starting with the letters E, O, Q, U, X, Y or Z. (Perhaps if state Rep. Dwight Evans had worked his alphabetical singularity into his 2007 mayoral-primary platform, he could’ve turned that doomed campaign around.)
Charles Willing took over after Mayor Thomas Lawrence died in 1754, but William Plumstead took over when Willing died that November.
 And, some cat named Anthony Morris was elected in 1747 but totally disappeared so he didn’t have to take over the job.

Fun Facts! notwithstanding, the same thing happened with List No. 2 that happened with List No. 1: Namely, it seemed that Michael Nutter was neither the 98th or 125th mayor.

Like Mayor Hilary, that, too, would’ve been a fun scoop. But moments before the Committee of 70 called back with irrefutable evidence that Nutter IS the 98th mayor, Lawrence’s death resurfaced in my frontal lobe.

Wait, if he died in 1754, how the heck is a Thomas Lawrence shown as serving a one-year term after three other candidates declined the opportunity four years later? And why am I counting him as a single entry when he is Not! The! Same! Guy!?

So, yeah, adding another Lawrence to the list is how 97 became 98, and this blog became NinetyNine (or @MayorNinetyNine in Twitter parlance) and Kurtzian madness was averted.

The NinetyNine mission

So, now that you know how we got to the name NinetyNine, let’s talk about what NinetyNine will do.

An election-season blog, it will house the best of our mayoral-race and City Council coverage, presented with a little bit of an edge.

You will get content not only from NewsWorks/WHYY mainstays Dave Davies, Chris Satullo, Katie Colaneri, me and more, but from across the Philadelphia media landscape. (I’ll even link out to that nameless entity which took our original blog name; how’s that for class?)

The coverage will run the gamut from hard-hitting investigative reports to observational musings and event-based reports. It will include the charts and maps of the The Philly Index project, which looks into how Philly has changed during Nutter’s time in office. It will offer links to our election podcasts and radio interviews with candidates and experts.

We intend to curate a site that will give you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the campaign world on any given day, presented in a fashion that gets you caught up quickly, and aims to give you at least one a-ha! moment and a bit of laughter every day.

I’ll be helming NinetyNine, but we’ll have correspondents scattered across the field. However, we can’t do it without you.

So, this is the part of the introductory post where I ask for your help: Have any tips, suggestions, questions we should ask of the candidates, complaints or other things you’d like to share? You can email me at bhickey@whyy.org, call my desk (215-351-1293) or Tweet at me.

Thanks!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.