A tight race to lead the nation’s sixth-largest city was unfolding in Philadelphia on Tuesday as voters navigated a crowded field of Democratic candidates in a contest that centered on how to combat gun violence and quality-of-life issues that make people feel unsafe.
Former city council member Cherelle Parker and former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart were in a close contest as early votes were counted. The city was just beginning to count in-person ballots that were cast on Tuesday, which could sway the results.
The Philadelphia race serves as the latest barometer of how residents of some of the nation’s largest cities hope to emerge from the pandemic, which heightened concerns about crime, poverty and inequality. The results have sometimes been tumultuous in other parts of the country, leading to the defeat of the incumbent mayor of Chicago in February and the ouster of San Francisco’s district attorney last year.
Philadelphia voters will choose between front-runner candidates including former council members Allan Domb, Helen Gym and Parker; Rhynhart; and political outsider and grocer Jeff Brown. They are vying to replace Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who is term-limited.
Only one Republican, former city council member David Oh, is running. He and the Democratic nominee will face each other in the Nov. 7 general election. Because Philadelphia is heavily Democratic, it is likely that whoever wins the primary will become the next mayor.
The candidates have pledged to tackle the city’s violence and crime, and address the rampant quality-of-life issues, but how they plan to get there varies. The candidate who is able to muster their base and appeal to the widest cross-section of voters will ultimately tip the scales in a tight contest.
Jamie DeAngelis cast her ballot for Helen Gym after taking an online quiz and matching with her platform the most. She said it was difficult with so many in the race, and she predicts anyone who takes the helm of the city will face tough headwinds.
“Especially with the way the Democratic Party is a little bit fractured this time around, I just think that there’s going to be a lot of pushback on whomever gets voted in,” she said.
James Perelman had narrowed down his mayoral candidates to Gym, Parker and Rhynhart, ultimately casting his ballot for Rhynhart. He described her as having the plans that best match his concerns, particularly what he sees as a need to address gun violence and improve the city’s public schools. He also felt her background suited her for handling any potential economic downturns.
“But it was still difficult,” he said. “I think myself and I think a lot of Philadelphians feel like … maybe it’s time to consider ranked choice voting or something where we’re not having such a small percentage of the city deciding who’s mayor.”
Voters on Tuesday will also elect seven out of more than 30 total Democratic and Republican candidates for city council-at-large seats and three contested district seats.
To the west, voters in Allegheny County, which encompasses the state’s second largest city of Pittsburgh, will choose among six Democratic candidates vying to replace the county’s top official, who is term-limited. The winner will face a lone Republican contender in the November general election. Unlike in the Philadelphia mayor’s race, the primary winner will not necessarily be the person most likely to fill the county executive’s seat.
Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa in Philadelphia contributed to this report.