Working Families Party nabs Philly’s minority council seats, Republicans shut out in at-large race

The Democratic incumbents easily coast to victory in Philadelphia’s City Council at-large race.

Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke celebrate at an election night party

Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke will join five Democrats to form the body’s group of at-large lawmakers, as well as 10 district council members. (Kendra

For the first time in modern history, Philadelphia City Council will have no at-large Republican lawmakers.

Two of the seven at-large seats on council are effectively reserved for non-Democrats. Starting in January, those posts will be held by candidates with the progressive Working Families Party — incumbent Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke, a pastor and political organizer.

The pair beat out Republicans Drew Murray, a former Democrat who chairs the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition, and businessman Jim Hasher.

“We just left the Republican Party to the dustbin of history by running on a positive vision for Philadelphia,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “Philly can be a city where everybody can get a good job, send their kids to a good school, and feel safe in their neighborhoods. Kendra and I are ready to fight for a city where everyone can thrive, not just the powerful or the privileged.”

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Brooks and O’Rourke will join five Democrats to form the body’s group of at-large lawmakers, as well as 10 district council members.

The at-large Democrats are incumbents Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Jim Harrity, and newcomers Nina Ahmad, who will become council’s first-ever South Asian member, and Rue Landau, who will become Philly’s first openly LGBTQ City Council member.

“In partnership with Mayor-elect Parker and our incoming City Council, we must get to work on the issues that drove Philadelphia to the polls. We need schools that best serve our young people and families, we need to continue to find modern ways to promote public safety, and we need a culture and tax structure that helps more businesses choose Philly and grow in Philly,” said Thomas, who topped the at-large contest, in a statement.

The district council members are Democrats Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Jamie Gauthier, Curtis Jones, Jeffery Young, Mike Driscoll, Quetcy Lozada, Cindy Bass, and Anthony Phillips.

Councilmember Brian O’Neill will be the body’s lone Republican.

O’Neill, who has represented the far Northeast since 1980, was able to fend off Democratic hopeful Gary Masino, a union sheetmetal worker who was considered a real threat to oust O’Neill in the 10th District.

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“I never doubted that Brian O’Neill would win. He’s been the councilman for 44 years, he’s done a good job, and people in the 10th District are not stupid,” said Vince Fenerty, chair of the Philadelphia Republican Party.

Gauthier, the only other district council member to face a challenger, soundly defeated business advocate Jabari Jones, who ran as a third party candidate after failing to secure a spot on May’s primary ballot.

“I’m excited because I feel like we’re going to come out of the dark time we’ve been in, and I look forward to doing that with new colleagues, a new council president, a new mayor. And I foresee us, and I want to be a part of us banding together really to move Philadelphia into a different place,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier, who took office in January 2020, will be one of a dozen lawmakers on council with one term or less under their belt, a highly unusual circumstance brought on by the mayor’s race, and the public corruption case that saw former Councilmember Bobby Henon resign his seat following his conviction on federal bribery charges.

Democrats Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Helen Gym, and Derek Green resigned to run for mayor along with Republican David Oh.

The 17-member body will also choose a new council president to replace Darrell Clarke, who did not run for re-election, and have to work with a new mayor.

Parker, who topped a six-candidate field in May’s Democratic primary, handily beat Oh on Tuesday night.

Longtime political observer Larry Ceisler said there will likely be growing pains as lawmakers learn to work with one another, and as brand new council members learn the ins-and-outs of the political process.

“You’re going to be seeing missteps, you’re going to be seeing disputes out in the open. But at the same time, the citizens of Philadelphia are going to have to understand that it is just part of a process, and once they have a year or two to work with each other and know each other’s rhythms, then I think you’re going to find it a smoother process,” said Ceisler.

Parker and Philadelphia’s next City Council will be sworn into office on Jan. 2. Council will elect its next president the same day.

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