(Photo credit: Jon Geeting)
Next May, voters will head to the polls to elect a new Mayor, with all of seventeen City Council seats also up for grabs. So for the next few weeks, in partnership with Lauren Vidas of the Broad and Market newsletter, we’ll be previewing those likely candidates for the 2023 Municipal Election.
As we predicted last week, Labor Day weekend heralded in the first round of resignations from City Council, with Councilmembers Derek Green and Quiñones-Sánchez declaring their Mayoral candidacies. You can catch up on part one of the series here.
Today, we’re exploring the final batch of rumored potential candidates in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field for Mayor. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to tackle the long list of potential candidates for the seventeen City Council seats.
Meet the Could-Be Candidates: Part Two
Photo Credit: www.phlcouncil.com
Occupation: Philadelphia City Council, Councilmember At-Large
Bio: A former school teacher and journalist, Helen Gym built her reputation as a fierce advocate for city schools. Gym co-founded Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook(now Chalkbeat) andFACTS Charter School. Parents United is a parent-led organization “focused on engaging parents with the budget process” to ensure every child has access to quality education. Gym was the first Asian American woman elected to City Council in 2015 where she has spent her legislative career focused on education and workers' rights. She lives in the Logan Square neighborhood of the City with her husband, with whom she has three children.
Legislative / Policy Focus: In her time on Council, Gym has served as the “tip of the spear” on many progressive issues, and has used her talents for gaining media attention and volunteer power to create public pressure to pass some signature legislation. Gym sponsored the City’s “Fair Workweek” law which extended workplace protections to over 130,000 hourly workers. She has also been a vocal opponent of the city and state extending tax breaks to businesses, and was a main advocate for reform of the City’s real estate tax abatement program. Following the arc of her pre-Council career, Gym has been very active on education issues, including the overall state of disrepair of Philadelphia schools.
Path to Victory: Gym would likely be the most progressive candidate to enter the race. Coupled with strong name recognition and labor support, Gym could ride the recent waves of progressive enthusiasm for local candidates straight to the Mayor’s office. Her strong ties with the labor community could provide her with a leg up in both field activities and fundraising, necessary pieces to any successful campaign. What’s more, if some of the other candidates in the race like Brown, Domb, Rhynhart, and Green end up splitting other constituencies, Gym could potentially win the race with less than a quarter of the vote.
Roadblocks: Gym has built her reputation on being a social movement-aligned advocate for progressive causes, going so far as getting detained at a protest in Harrisburg on education funding. She will have to make the case to voters that she can govern as well as she can protest. For residents frustrated with increasing crime, dirty streets, and erratic city services, it seems possible that more technocratic candidates promising to run city services well could appeal more to voters than someone with more of a social movement brand.
Photo Credit: www.phlcouncil.com
Occupation: Philadelphia City Council, Majority Leader - City Councilmember, 9th District
Bio: Succeeding Northwest Philadelphia powerhouse Marian Tasco, Cherelle Parker has dedicated her career to public service. Prior to becoming the council representative for the 9th Councilmanic District, which covers parts of Northwest Philadelphia, Parker served as a state representative in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Throughout her legislative career, Parker, who resides in Mount Airy, has focused her work on policy designed to improve the quality of life for working families and senior citizens. As a Councilmember, Parker has prioritized closing the racial wealth gap and the stabilization of traditional working class neighborhoods through commercial corridor programs, investment in owner-occupied home repair and financial support for low-income homeowners.
Parker has also proven herself as adept at politics as policy, with close ties to the Northwest Coalition and strong support from the labor community. Parker currently serves as chair of the Delaware River Port Authority, which manages the four bridges between Philadelphia and South Jersey and operates the PATCO transit line.
Legislative / Policy Focus: Parker has focused her efforts on stabilizing middle neighborhoods through a series of legislative measures including an increase to the realty transfer tax to eliminate the backlog for the city’s income-based home repair program and the creation of a low-interest housing preservation loan program. Parker has also provided support to commercial corridors and worked to eliminate roadblocks in the City’s Civil Service system that hurt the City’s ability to hire for open roles.
Path to Victory: Parker has strong political support in the Northwest part of the city and close ties to organized labor. Having money, field and an efficient voter turnout machine behind her could be the boost she needs to separate herself from the pack. While many potential candidates will run far left of center, Parker has continually positioned herself as a relatively moderate Democrat focused on community policing and crime prevention, stabilizing missing middle neighborhoods and eliminating the racial wealth gap through homeownership and small business support. Of the candidates, Parker as a State Representative and Councilmember, has one of the longest and most accomplished legislative records, proving that she isn’t afraid to get in the weeds and address the root causes of problems facing the city and its residents.
Roadblocks: Whether Parker’s popularity in the Northwest can translate to a citywide victory remains to be seen. This will be her first citywide election, having previously run in very friendly and familiar districts without serious competition. Also, while her list of legislative accomplishments is long, count on opponents to use previous controversies of a more personal nature to attempt to tarnish that record.
Photo Credit: www.phlcouncil.com
Maria Quinones-Sanchez (Declared)
Occupation: Philadelphia City Council - City Councilmember, 7th District
Bio: A Puerto Rican native and North Philadelphia resident, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is no stranger to overcoming adversity. Raised by a single mother and living in public housing, Quiñones-Sánchez has lived through many of the challenges faced by the quarter of Philadelphians who are living in poverty. As a young adult, Quiñones-Sánchez got involved in advocacy work and politics, working for Councilmembers Marian Tasco and Councilmember Angel Ortiz, the first Latino Councilmember. Putting her government experience to good use, Quiñones-Sánchez returned to the nonprofit and advocacy world, serving as director of a number of organizations focused on improving educational and economic opportunities for Latino communities in Pennsylvania.
After decades of helping other Latino leaders get elected, Quiñones-Sánchez ran an insurgent campaign against a party backed candidate for City Council. In 2007, she became the first Latina elected to City Council, representing North Philadelphia’s 7th Councilmanic District. During her time on City Council, Quiñones-Sánchez has been focused on affordable housing and making Philadelphia more economically competitive. Quiñones-Sánchez, mother of two, lives in Norris Square with her husband Tomas.
Legislative / Policy Focus:Drawing on her experience living in public housing as a child, Quiñones-Sánchez has made affordable housing a primary focusof her legislative career. Quiñones-Sánchez has worked on inclusionary housing bonuses, increasing funding to the City’s Housing Trust Fund and was the architect of the creation of the Philadelphia Land Bank. Quiñones-Sánchez has also built a record of success on small business tax reform efforts, having sponsored major pieces of legislation over the course of her legislative career.
Path to Victory: Quiñones-Sánchez is no stranger to hard-fought campaigns, having faced and vanquished a party-backed challenger every election she has run. Philadelphians love an underdog, and no one fits that bill better than Quiñones-Sánchez. She’s the rare pragmatic pugilist - someone with deeply-held beliefs about policy, but willing to compromise to get things done for her constituents. In addition to her decades-long political relationships, Quiñones-Sánchez has built strong relationships with segments of the business community who could provide the financial support she needs to run for Mayor.
Roadblocks: Making the jump from District Council to citywide elected is no small feat and requires sizable financial resources. With a number of self-funders expected to run, the likelihood of Super PACs getting involved, and little to no likelihood of unified party support, Quiñones-Sánchez has her work cut out for her getting the resources needed to get her very personal and very powerful story out to voters.
Photo Credit: Philadelphia Controller’s Office
Occupation: Controller, City of Philadelphia
Bio: An Abington native, Rebecca Rhynhart made history when she was elected the City’s first woman Controller in 2017, defeating the party-backed incumbent Alan Butkovitz. The Controller’s office, however, was not her first foray into public service. While Wall Street is not a common pit stop for most government employees, for Rhynhart, who worked for Fitch Ratings and as a Managing Director at Bear Stearns & Co., her private sector experience inspired her to pursue a career in public service. Appointed City Treasurer by then-Mayor Michael Nutter, Rhynhart fought to make the City more financially competitive and secure in its financial transactions and helped improve the City’s bond rating, saving taxpayers millions. Following her stint as Treasurer, Rhynhart served as Budget Director and Chief Administrative Officer before resigning to run for Controller.
As Controller, the City’s chief financial watchdog, Rhynhart has focused her office’s work on strengthening internal financial controls for the city, performing performance audits on various departments, including the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and the Behavioral Health system. Rhynhart has also used the office’s powerful research team to dive deeper into issues of great import to the City, including the on-going gun violence crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and the local law enforcement response to the 2020 civil unrest.
Rhynhart resides in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood with her husband and daughter.
Path to Victory: Rhynhart has a few distinct advantages heading into 2023 - experience running and winning a Citywide election, a robust war chest of funds and a strong policy background. For local residents frustrated with the quality of city services - an issue Rhynhart herself highlighted in a Controller’s report on trash delays- Rhynhart could be the answer to their technocratic prayers. Rhynhart is one of the only candidates with direct leadership experience in a Mayoral administration–and no experience on City Council–something that sets her apart from the many legislators seeking the job.
Roadblocks:A looming question for the Rhynhart campaign is whether she will be able to earn the support of voters in the neighborhoods most negatively impacted by issues like gun violence and poverty. Having an effective plan to address problems is only one piece of the puzzle, while building trust and credibility with voters to earn their support is an entirely different matter.