Omar Woodard challenging City Council President Darrell Clarke

(Courtesy of Omar Woodard's Facebook account)

(Courtesy of Omar Woodard's Facebook account)

Updated 2:04 p.m.

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

City Council President Darrell Clarke will face a new challenger for his Fifth District seat in North Philadelphia, according to documents filed with the city Board of Ethics.

That challenger, Omar Woodard, filed campaign paperwork on Feb. 22 and comes into the race with a large network of backers and experience in multiple political roles. The run for office will be a first for the 35-year-old North Philadelphia native.

“This candidacy is not about Darrell Clarke, it’s not about me,” said Woodard. “It’s about the 100,000 people who are living on $250 a week in North Philadelphia. We don’t need anymore council intrigue or personality-based political campaigns. We need to focus on the people.”

Woodard previously served as policy director for state Sen. Anthony Williams and worked for him during his 2015 mayoral run against Jim Kenney. Woodard served as a frequent surrogate for Williams and became a familiar face in city political circles. Most recently, Woodard ran the Philadelphia office of the Greenlight Foundation, a nonprofit venture capital firm that invests in anti-poverty programs.

Clarke hasn’t filed the nomination papers needed to run for reelection yet. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the race and has not made an official reelection announcement.

Clarke has held the Fifth District since winning the 1999 election when he won the seat previously held by his political mentor John Street.

“Since I’ve been involved it’s been Street and Clarke, years of continuity up there,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia political consultant. “It’s difficult for me to imagine someone else in that seat.”

The district covers much of North Philadelphia, from Strawberry Mansion in the west to slices of Fishtown and Northern Liberties in the east. It also swoops down into Center City.

“Darrell hasn’t had any tough challengers,” said Ceisler. “And Darrell’s district is changing demographically. But not that much. I still he think he is extremely formidable.”

Clarke’s campaign committee ended 2018 with over $195,000 on hand, although he only raised a little over $66,000 of that sum last year. Clarke has won every re-election race with commanding margins.  He did not face a primary challenger in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic in his last race, in 2015.

Two other candidates besides Woodard have filed paperwork to run for Clarke’s seat in 2019. They include Sheila Armstrong, who is running as a Democrat, and Glenn Dawson Jr. who is running under the Republican banner.

Woodard grew up in North Philadelphia and moved back to the neighborhood five years ago.

Before returning to work in Philadelphia, Woodard led Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign effort in Chester County and worked in U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s office on Capitol Hill as an urban policy aide. He worked in the private sector as well, including as a lobbyist for the Whitaker Group, a firm that represents the interests of African nations in D.C.

Woodard also considered a run for the third state senate district, currently held by Sharif Street, and got $100,000 in donations either received or pledged. He eventually decided not to run.

Woodard says he will need to raise between $150,000 and $200,000 to run a competitive district City Council race. He projected raising $50,000 by March 12, when petitions must be filed.

“This is not the kind of campaign where we are looking for political machine support or support from any of the standard institutions that support incumbent candidates,” he said.

Woodard said he isn’t consulting on his campaign with Sen. Williams, who is considering another mayoral run.

This article has been updated with comments from Woodard.

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