The Philadelphia primary: a night for upstarts

    Should Mayor Nutter be embarrassed by the fact that Milton Street, yes Milton friggin Street, got 24 percent of the vote?

    Nutter’s 76 percent would be a landslide in any normal election, but in this one he was running against a guy just out of jail who raised no money and ran no discernible campaign.

    On the other hand, the guy running against the mayor had a long public profile and the previous mayor’s last name. The truth is we’re in hard times and voters everywhere are angry at incumbents, so a vessel for dissent like Milton is going to attract some votes in a low turnout election.

    Nutter’s political future will be governed by how well he articulates a vision for the city, manages his own team and deals with City Council in his second term. If he performs well, nobody will remember the novelty of Milton’s vote.

    If you want to talk about change, though, look at the Republican party. The insurgents challenging the party leadership delivered a humiliating defeat to the regime of chairman Vito Canuso and party counsel Michael Meehan, who’s father and grandfather ran the Philadelphia GOP.

    The insurgents accuse the existing leaders of accommodating Democrats and choosing to negotiate for patronage crumbs rather than compete for city offices.

    Al Schmidt, the champion of the insurgents who ran for city controller last year won a spot on the Republican ballot for city commissioner yesterday, knocking off party-endorsed candidate Marie Delaney for one of the for the commission nominations.

    And upstart mayoral candidate John Featherman, the self-described libertarian so distasteful to party leaders that they chose a flaky Democratic committeewoman to push for the mayoral nomination managed to take the race to a dead heat. It won’t likely be decided for a couple of weeks.

    There are about 127,000 registered Republicans in the city, and about 13 percent of them voted. If the party machinery can’t win a race in that kind of turnout against an unknown with no money or troops, they need to take a hard look in the mirror.

    Finally, there’s electricians union leader John Dougherty. He became Democratic leader of the 1st ward in South Philadelphia last year after an aggressive campaign, and he flexed his political muscles again yesterday with a convincing win for his lieutenant Bobby Henon in the Northeast Philadelphia City Council seat abandoned by the retiring Joan Krajewski.

    Riding on the political connections of Dougherty’s union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Henon’s campaign raised over $600,000 and overwhelmed former ward leader Marty Bednarek. Henon will be a heavy favorite over Republican Sandra Stewart in November.

    Henon, the political director of Local 98, has said he’ll run his own office and be his own man. I emailed spokesman Frank Keel to ask if Henon would relinquish his union job when he takes the Council office. Keel responded that Henon will be a “a full-time member of City Council, provided he wins in November.”

    Finally, how about good government nerd, math professor and center city ward leader Stephanie Singer? Years ago, she was so frustrated with the city commissioners’ inability to post past election returns on the web that she set up her own site and did it herself. And this spring she took on the party organization and nine-term commissioner Marge Tartaglione, saying it was time to change the way elections are run.

    All she did yesterday was lead the pack, easily capturing one of the two Democratic nominations for city commissioner. It’s not clear yet whether her running mate will be incumbent Anthony Clark or Marge, whom Singer has been mercilessly attacking all spring.

    Marge was clearly weakened by health problems and the ethics investigation that forced the resignation of her daughter Rene, and Singer ran an energetic campaign. But Marge was also undercut by Democratic ward leaders because of animosities that had nothing to do with her office or Singer’s complaints. See my post yesterday on those issues here.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal