Nutter transportation staffer to launch independent Council bid

Andrew Stober, who recently stepped down as Chief of Staff at the Mayor’s office of Transportation and Utilities, will soon announce an independent bid for an At-Large City Council seat, PlanPhilly has learned.

Prior to serving as Chief of Staff to Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler, who also recently departed the Nutter administration for a job at Amtrak, Stober was the Director of Strategic Initiatives at MOTU from 2008 to 2010. He moved to Philadelphia in 2008 from Colorado, where he was a manager with the Colorado DOT’s Investment Analysis Unit.

Stober is a household name around this site, frequently appearing as a source in our stories about Nutter administration transportation initiatives large and small, particularly recently during the roll-out of the Indego bike share program.

For a brief moment, there came a flash of excitement that Stober might be the only City Council candidate running this cycle able to boast of having his very own PlanPhilly directory profile out on the campaign trail, but it appears Paul Steinke also has that notch on his belt.

An independent Council bid is an intriguing and unusual political strategy, and I’m curious to see what readers make of his chances. If Stober is able to collect enough valid signatures to get on the ballot as a first-time candidate as an independent, he would enjoy the much lower bar of competing for one of the two At-Large Council seats that’s guaranteed to a non-Democrat, rather than competing for one of the five majority party seats. 

Philadelphia’s city charter bars the majority party from holding more than five of the seven At-Large Council seats, reserving two seats for non-majority candidates. Those seats are typically claimed by Republicans, as the city’s second-largest organized political party, but nowhere does it say that a non-affiliated candidate can’t hold them.

General elections in municipal years here typically feature much lower turnout than the spring Democratic primary, which is seen by voters–not incorrectly–as the election of greatest import. That means Stober would need to hit a lower vote target in a smaller field than if he had run in the spring. To provide some context, in 2011 Denny O’Brien received 48,675 votes (6.25% of the vote) and David Oh got 38,835 votes (4.99% of the vote). Denny O’Brien got less than half the votes that the fifth Democrat, Bill Greenlee, received (110,544) so the bar for success drops dramatically outside the top five.

2011 General Council At-Large
(City Commissioners’ Office)

Political observers will be watching this race closely because if Stober succeeds, he’ll have cleared an interesting path to a Council At-Large seat for future candidates that takes a shortcut (to some extent) around the Democratic Party’s official organization.

Having official party support is often key because collecting enough valid signatures to get on the ballot and survive a ballot challenge is harder than you’d think. Plus, unaffiliated or minor party candidates are required to collect more signatures than a major party candidate. An independent candidate needs 2 percent of the largest entire vote cast for any officer elected at the last preceding election,” while major party At-Large candidates only need to collect 1000 signatures. The relevant election is the At-Large special election timed to the 2014 Democratic primary, won by Ed Neilson with 66,204 votes. That means Stober would need a minimum of 1325 signatures.

A competitive At-Large race featuring an independent candidate, along with the mixed bag of factors that could impact turnout, promises to make the November election more entertaining than what had been in store. We’re looking forward to covering this fall’s Council forums, which we hope will now feature a higher level of dialogue on the issues that matter to PlanPhilly readers now that a decorated transportation wonk is in the mix. 

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