Political crowd: Your guide to Philly’s largest City Council at-large field in 40 years

The field of Democratic city council at-large seats is crowded and diverse. (Photos from WHYY files and candidates' web pages)

The field of Democratic city council at-large seats is crowded and diverse. (Photos from WHYY files and candidates' web pages)

When Philadelphia’s Democratic voters go the polls next Tuesday, they’ll be nominating five candidates for City Council at-large, councilmembers who serve the entire city.

Each voter can pick five candidates from the largest field in 40 years, and the winners are all but certain to ascend to Council in this heavily-Democratic city.

The guide below offers context for the race and basic information about the 28 Democratic candidates for Council-at-large. That includes their campaign funds raised this year, according to required finance reports, as well as their endorsements, their websites, and answers to three policy questions.

WHYY asked whether they would vote to repeal the city’s sweetened beverage tax, or modify it; whether they would vote to end the city’s ten-year real estate tax abatement, or modify it; and whether Council should end the practice known as “councilmanic prerogative,” which gives district councilmembers an effective veto over land-use decisions in their districts, or whether the practice should be modified.

A crowded field playing a complicated game

There are two open at-large seats on Council, making the race one of the more competitive in the May 21 primary.

But it’s an odd sort of competition – less like a head-to-head political battle and more like the Broad Street Run: 28 hopefuls start the race with varying levels of talent, training, and experience, and the top five finishers win the nomination.

Some in the field are activists, including Asa Khalif who frequently crashed city press conferences to protest police brutality; and Erika Almiron, who led the immigrant rights group, Juntos; Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender woman and LGBTQ advocate; Beth Finn, who helped organize the Philly Women’s March in 2017; and Ogbonna Paul Hagins, who describes himself as “a recycler” and bears the moniker Philly Green Man.

Some are first-time candidates with connections to mainstream political figures.

Justin DiBerardinis is the son of longtime city official Michael DiBerardinis, who served three mayors of Philadelphia and retired earlier this year. Katherine Gilmore Richardson served as chief of staff to City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Sandra Dungee Glenn was on the School Reform Commission and is a policy advisor to state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

Eryn Santamoor, who served in Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has proven to be a potent fundraiser. And Isaiah Thomas served in the City Controller’s office and his making his third run for Council.

Three candidates, Derek Green, Helen Gym, and Allan Domb, are incumbents, giving them an edge, but not a certain path to re-election.

Why endorsements and money matter

The Council at-large field leans progressive in its policy outlook — it is a Democratic primary in a heavily-Democratic city — but putting together the votes to win is a tricky challenge.

Though candidates do their best to meet voters at community forums and other events, most voters will likely know little about the candidates. So many won’t bother to vote in the Council at-large race, or won’t vote for the full five candidates they’re entitled to.

That means small numbers matter in this race.

In the 2015 primary, two Council at-large candidates won with fewer than 8% of votes cast, and none of the five winners had more than 11%.

So anything that nudges a few voters per precinct in a candidate’s favor is helpful, and the traditional method is to get a candidate’s name on sample ballots handed out at as many polling places as possible.

Historically, the candidates endorsed by the Democratic City Committee were nearly prohibitive favorites in the race, since it theoretically ensured that the ballots of all 69 Democratic ward leaders would carry the endorsed candidates.

But times have changed, and now some individual ward leaders will cut their own deals with non-endorsed candidates, and bands of ward leaders in particular parts of the city will join together and offer support to a candidate they find acceptable — all for a price.

That means that having tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars available for Election Day “street money” is an important weapon in the campaign.

Besides the party and ward leaders, unions and advocacy groups are playing increasingly important roles in at-large races, both by contributing to candidates and running their own ads or street operations.

Philadelphia 3.0, a business-funding committee that favors term limits and efforts to “reform and modernize city hall,” has spent $205,000 supporting its Council slate, which includes at-large candidate Eryn Santamoor and incumbents Allan Domb and Derek Green.

Another business group, called Philly for Growth has budgeted $190,000 for ads supporting Domb, Green, Santamoor, and Katherine Gilmore Richardson (the ad features a talking baby).

Reclaim Philadelphia, a progressive group that grew out of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign,  promises to field supporters for its endorsed candidates: Isaiah Thomas, Justin DiBerardinis, Ethelind Baylor, Helen Gym, and Erika Almiron.

One historically powerful player in Philadelphia politics, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is in an awkward position this year, because its business manager, John Dougherty and other leaders are under federal indictment, charged with embezzling from the union.

Nonetheless, three Democratic Council-at-large candidates accepted contributions from the union: Isaiah Thomas took $21,000, Helen Gym took $20,000 and Katherine Gilmore Richardson accepted a $10,000 donation.

Getting to know the candidates

Philadelphia City Council candidate Isaiah Thomas (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Isaiah Thomas

34, former teacher, now full-time candidate, lives in Oak Lane

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $109,342

Endorsements include: Democratic City Committee, Guardian Civic League, 215 People’s Alliance, Reclaim Philadelphia, Philly Set Go, Millennials in Action, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, Mayor Jim Kenney, State Rep. Jordan Harris and other state legislators, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Laborers District Council, Transport Workers Union, AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and other unions.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Undecided, still studying.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Derek Green (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Derek Green

48, City Councilman-at-large, lives in East Mt. Airy

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $317,770

Endorsements include: Democratic City Committee, Mayor Jim Kenney, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, Council President Darrell Clarke and other members, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Philadelphia 3.0, Neighborhood Networks, Laborers District Council, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Firefighters Local 22, Gas Workers Local 686, SEIU 32BJ, Guardian Civic League, Clean Water Action, Philadelphia Young Democrats, Pennsylvania Young Democrats, Liberty City Democratic Club, and Millennials in Action.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, but modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


City Councilwoman Helen Gym
City Councilwoman Helen Gym (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Helen Gym

51, City Councilwoman-at-large, lives in Logan Square

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $347,521

Endorsements include: Democratic City Committee, Philadelphia Inquirer, Black Clergy of Phila and Vicinity, Neighborhood Networks, Reclaim Philadelphia, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Pa. Chapter, RePoint PAC, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pa., Sierra Club, Asian American Action Fund, Ascend PAC, EMILY’s List, Working Families Party, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, Temple Association of University Professionals, Teamsters Local 115, UNITE HERE, Plumbers Local 690 and other unions.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Allan Domb (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Allan Domb

64, City Councilman-at-large, lives in Center City

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $1,429,150

Endorsements include: Democratic City Committee, Philadelphia 3.0, Philly Set Go, Guardian Civic League, Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Ed Rendell, U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle and other elected officials, Transport Workers Union, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. IATSE Local 8, Plumbers Local 690, United Food and Commercials Workers, Local 1776, Teamsters Joint Council 53 and other unions.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, but modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Katherine Gilmore Richardson (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Katherine Gilmore Richardson

35, chief of staff for City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, lives in Wynnfield

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $145,102

Endorsements include: Democratic City Committee, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Young Democrats, Pennsylvania Young Democrats, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Guardian Civic League, Clean Water Action, Millennials in Action, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Philadelphia Firefighters Local 22, District 1199C, Transport Workers Union.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, but modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Sandra Dungee Glenn (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Sandra Dungee Glenn

61, senior policy advisor to state Sen. Vincent Hughes, lives in West Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $96,980

Endorsements include: Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Working Families Party, Laborers District Council, ​Laborers Local 332, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Curtis Jones, and Jannie Blackwell.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, would modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Eryn Santamoor (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Eryn Santamoor

39, a city management professional, lives in Fairmount

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $236,874

Endorsements include: Philadelphia Inquirer, Guardian Civic League, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women,  Millennials in Action, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Ascend PAC, Philly Set Go, Philadelphia 3.0, Transport Workers Union, Food and Commercial Workers 1776, Teamsters Joint Council 53, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and former Mayor Michael Nutter.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, would modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Ethelind Baylor Council at-large candidate (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Ethelind Baylor

41, a city union representative, lives in Northwood

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $31,400

Endorsements include: Philadelphia AFL-CIO, AFSCME One Philly, Communication Workers of America, OnePa, UNITE HERE Philadelphia (Locals 274, 634, and 54), Reclaim Philadelphia, 215 People’s Alliance, United Food and Commercial Workers, 1st and 2nd Democratic ward organizations, Pa. Association of School Nurses and Practitioners, AFT 2026.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council-at-Large candidate Justin DiBerardinis. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Justin DiBerardinis

37, on leave from position as senior director of programs at Bartram’s Garden, lives in Germantown

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $239,860

Endorsements include: Reclaim Philadelphia, Neighborhood Networks, Philly Set Go, Sierra Club, Conservation Voters of Pa., 215 People’s Alliance, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, United Food and Commercial Workers 1776 and other unions, former Gov. Ed Rendell, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and other elected officials, 1st, 2nd, 8th, 18, and 19th Democratic ward organizations.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Erika Almiron. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Erika Almiron

42, on leave from position as executive director of the immigrant rights group Juntos, lives in Germantown

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $97,609

Endorsements include: Philadelphia Inquirer, Reclaim Philadelphia, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Liberty City Democratic Club, Our Revolution, Working Families Party, Mijente, Sunrise Movement, Conservation Voters of Pa., 215 People’s Alliance, Neighborhood Networks, 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 27th Democratic ward organizations, Unite HERE 274, Temple Association of University Professionals, SEIU 32BJ and other unions.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Beth Finn. (Emma Lee/WHYY(

Beth Finn

42, project manager in health care analytics, lives in Washington Square

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $98,192

Endorsements include: Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Millennials in Action, Americans for Democratic Action Southeastern Pennsylvania, Progressive Philly, State Sen. Katie Muth, State Rep. Joanna McClinton, Upper Darby City Council member Laura Wentz, Turn PA Blue founder Jamie Perrapato.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, but modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Deja Lynn Alvarez (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Deja Lynn Alvarez

In her 40’s (declined to give an exact age), works at an HIV prevention program, lives in Port Richmond

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $22,738

Endorsements include: The Trans United Fund, Liberty City Democratic Club, Victory Fund, RePoint Philadelphia, State Rep. Brian Sims.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Council Candidate Fernando Treviño Martinez (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Fernando Trevino-Martinez

42, political consultant, lives in Passyunk Square

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $77,792

Endorsements include: Philadelphia Inquirer, The Latino Victory Fund.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No, but modify.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Adrian Rivera-Reyes (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Adrian Rivera-Reyes

26, post-doctoral fellow in cancer research, lives in Schuylkill-Greys Ferry

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $26,050

Endorsements include: Working Families Party, 350 Philadelphia, Americans for Democratic Action, SEIU Healthcare, Community College of Philadelphia Union, Philly Progressives, Temple Faculty Union, 5th Square, state Rep. Brian Sims, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Victory Fund, Latino Victory Fund, and Sunrise Movement.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No, but modify.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Fareed Abdullah (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Fareed Abdullah

40, educator, lives in Germantown

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $1,147

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Wayne Allen (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Wayne Allen

60, drug and alcohol counselor and therapist, lives in Germantown

Campaign funds raised in 2018: No report filed.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Latrice Y. Bryant (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Latrice Bryant

47, teacher and former City Council staffer, lives in Germantown

Campaign funds raised in 2018: No report filed.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Asa Khalif (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Asa Khalif

48, activist, lives in Northeast Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $805

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Edwin Santana (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Edwin Santana

41, runs summer camps and after-school programs, lives in Overbrook

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $1,745

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Ogbonna Paul Higgins (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ogbonna Paul Hagins

53, a self-described recycler, lives in South Philly

Campaign funds raised in 2018: Less than $5,000, according to the candidate.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? No.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Joseph Diorio is a council candidate at our candidate convention at WHYY. Monday, April 22, 2019. (Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News)

Joseph Diorio

75, retired city worker, lives in Northeast Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $51,550

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? No.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


City Council candidate Billy Thompson (Thompson campaign)

Billy Thompson

Pastor and musician, 46, lives in Cobbs Creek.

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $2,781

Endorsed by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Muslim League of Voters, Returning Citizens for a Better Philadelphia.

Policy Questions: 

1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement?  Open to modifications.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? Yes.


Devon Cade (Cade Campaign )

Devon Cade

Campaign funds raised in 2018: No report on file.

Policy Questions:
1. Would you vote to repeal soda tax? Yes.
2. Would you vote to repeal the ten-year tax abatement? Yes.
3. Do you support ending the practice of councilmanic prerogative? No, but modify.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Hena Veit (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Hena Veit

52, forensic mitigation specialist, lives in Northeast Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $7,672

Policy Questions: Did not respond.


Council at-large candidate Vinny Black (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Vinny Black

39, member of the Ironworkers Union and lives in Fox Chase, according to the Northeast Times

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $0

Policy Questions: Did not respond.


Bobbie Currie

70, has run for Council in the past, lives in Northwest Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $0

Policy Questions: Did not respond.


Philadelphia City Council candidate Mark Ross (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mark Ross

56, lives in North Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: $1,100

Policy Questions: Did not respond.


Wayne Edmund Dorsey Dorsey Campaign

Wayne Edmund Dorsey

54, lives in West Philadelphia

Campaign funds raised in 2018: No report on file.

Policy Questions: Did not respond.


You can also learn about the candidates at Billy Penn’s Procrastinator’s Guide to the primary, and at a candidates database maintained by Broke in Philly, a media collaborative focusing on issues of poverty and economic justice.

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