Primary day in Philly includes a special election for City Council

 Democrat and state Rep. Ed Neilson (left), Republican Matt Wolfe (center), and Libertarian Nikki Allen Poe (right) are running for Philadelphia's open Council At-Large seat (NewsWorks Photo)

Democrat and state Rep. Ed Neilson (left), Republican Matt Wolfe (center), and Libertarian Nikki Allen Poe (right) are running for Philadelphia's open Council At-Large seat (NewsWorks Photo)

A Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian are each running in a special election for an at-large representative to City Council.

Though most primary voters will be choosing their party’s nominees to run in the November general election, registered Philadelphia voters of any stripe are eligible to cast their ballots in a special election for an at-large representative to City Council.

The special election came about after City Councilman Bill Green left before his term ended. 

Three very different candidates would like to finish out that term.

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A Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian… It almost sounds like the beginning of a political joke, but these are the three candidates running for the remainder of Bill Green’s term on City Council. Green resigned his post to take over as chairman of the School Reform Commission.

The Democrat

Democrat and state Rep. Ed Neilson, whose state legislative seat is being moved as part of redistricting, said he’s devoted considerable time to constituent service for city issues. That should give him more impact in City Council, he said.

“Frankly, I’m tired of hearing neighbors saying, ‘I’ve got to get out of this city. I have to get out of this city.’ I want people to say … and being a father of five I want my kids to say, ‘I want to live in this city.’ Because that’s what I am,” he said. “I was brought up in this city I’ve never left.”

If elected, Neilson would be the second former political director of Electricians Union Local 98 to join City Council, following current Councilman Bobby Henon. Neilson insists he’s no puppet for Local 98’s leader John Dougherty. 

“I’m my own person, I’ve been in the House for two years [and] John Dougherty has not made a call to me and said, ‘Hey, I need you to vote for this. I need you to vote for that.’

“He knows I’m my own guy so I don’t think that influence is going to be greater on me than any other council member here in the chamber,” Neilson said.

The Republican 

Republican Matt Wolfe has promised to bring “common sense” to City Council. He has vowed to block any tax increases or new taxes, and he has pledged to reform the city pension system. With Democrats holding a 6-to-1 voter registration edge in Philadelphia, Wolfe admits no matter what he says, he’s an underdog.

But he said he’s hopeful independents will turn out for the special election.  

“People don’t vote strictly along party lines … because of the nature of the special election we are going to have more intelligent, informed voters going out there, and I believe we have the stronger message,” Wolfe said.  “I understand we have an uphill fight, but I believe we have a chance and we are making this competitive.”

Wolfe says he is more than a sacrificial lamb put up by the Republican Party. Win or lose in the special election, he said, he will run for a full four-year term next year. 

“We’re trying to target voters, trying to identify voters that will be predisposed to vote for me and make sure they know how to find us on the ballot,” he said. “And we’re trying to find voters who are predisposed to vote for us and maybe need some prompting to get to the polls and are trying to find voters who are persuadable and persuade them.” 

The Libertarian

The wild card in this race is Nikki Allen Poe, a comedian and self-proclaimed marijuana protester who is running under the Libertarian banner. Poe spent time in jail for smoking pot in public, but said this is his opportunity to fight from the inside.

“I’ve paid my dues for that, so I figured moving over to doing something like running for office is a way to effect change by being part of the democratic process as opposed to working from outside the system,” he said. “I’ve worked from the outside of the system for a long time now, and it doesn’t really work. So I want to effect change directly.” 

Poe is hoping to win over voters by pledging to abolish the despised Philadelphia Parking Authority, which so efficiently issues parking tickets in the city. With a $80 campaign budget, he’s turned to social media to take his message directly to the voters. His slogan “Spark a change,” is a play on words to promote his plan to decriminalize marijuana possession.

“I mean, let’s be honest, the guys I am running against are dinosaurs. They really don’t know how to use social media to engage the public,” Poe said. “I think the 50-day campaign was the best way for me to do this because I wouldn’t be able to run in a longer capacity. So it’s been a great experience.” 

If elected Poe, said he would loan his city car out to constituents for their use.

“I’m trying to use humor as a weapon to be able to desensitize people to the idea of changing over to someone that’s a little bit different,” Poe said. 

Wolfe says it will be difficult for anyone to find the race on the ballot.

“In this election, we face a voter education problem. Independents can vote in the special election, Democrats can vote for anybody, they aren’t limited to voting in the Democratic primary, this is not a primary,” Wolfe said. “Our job is to make sure that people know that this is not just a lackluster primary and know where the special election is on the ballot, which is kind of an odd place, on the right-hand side, separate from the primary elections as it needed to be.”

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