Philly's Democratic Ward Leaders Nominate Sharon Vaughn and Jimmy Harrity for At-Large Council Special Elections

(Photo: Jon Geeting)

Last week we told you about Philly Democratic City Committee’s pending selection of the special election nominees for At-Large Council seats, after Council President Darrell Clarke did an about-face on the question of whether to hold the At-Large election.

The ward leaders officially voted on Thursday night, and the rumor mill got this one right: Sharon Vaughn and Jimmy Harrity will be the official nominees in the November special election.

Vaughn, who worked for Councilmember Derek Green and is the 42nd Democratic Ward leader, and Harrity, who is the Executive Director of Democratic City Committee, had been rumored for a couple of months to be the favored picks if there were to be a special election for At-Large. Harrity plans to run for a full term in the May primary, while Vaughn has said she will not. Vaughn's position became a little squishier after she was voted in, however, according to Sean Collins Walsh at the Inquirer.

"Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady said Tuesday that Vaughn had previously indicated she would not run for a full four-year term in the 2023 elections if she is nominated for the special election.

But Vaughn said Wednesday night that she evaluated her options after the special election.

“I’m focusing on this one right now. We’ll see where that takes me,” she said."

After CP Clarke called the election, there was some pretense that other names were under consideration, including 35th ward leader Bill Dolbow of Northeast Philly. In the end, though, there were no surprises. 

This was an interesting exercise though for learning about who may be City Committee’s first or second-string picks for the Party’s primary endorsements next year. Sean Collins Walsh got the scoop on who all interviewed for the special election.

“Longtime Council staffer Sharon Vaughn is poised to win the Democratic nomination for one of the upcoming special elections to fill Council’s two vacant at-large seats, while veteran party hands Jimmy Harrity and Bill Dolbow are vying for the second slot, party officials said Tuesday [...]

Brady said that others who are slated to be interviewed include Nina Ahmad, who served in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and ran for state auditor general; Sherrie Cohen, a lawyer and longtime LGBTQ activist; South Philadelphia community organizer Anton Moore; former Domb chief of staff Eryn Santamoor; public interest attorney Rue Landau; former city commissioners candidate Marwan Kreidie; and Gary Masino, president and business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 [...]

Brady and other party leaders typically reward candidates with endorsements or nominations if they help the party by waiting their turn to run for office or doing volunteer legal or election work. They often craft the party’s roster of endorsed candidates with a blunt and transactional approach to diversity — setting aside specific slots for Black candidates, women, and representatives from other committees — and they rarely, if ever, nominate candidates from the left wing of the party.”

Councilmembers Isaiah Thomas and Kathy Gilmore-Richardson are expected to be running again, but at some point Councilmember Helen Gym is expected to resign, creating three open seats where the Party will be making endorsements. City Committee can be expected to endorse the two incumbents, and it seems likely with this move that likely-to-be-incumbent Jimmy Harrity will be endorsed again as he campaigns for a full term. 

Democratic City Committee has made some ruthless moves in the past though, like when they endorsed and then un-endorsed Sandra Dungee Glenn in 2019, so it’s not a certainty that Harrity will be a shoe-in for the Party’s endorsement in May, but it’s also a little hard to imagine them cutting somebody who was the Party’s own director. So it may be the case that there are realistically only two endorsement slots open next year, not three. 

Because of the “blunt and transactional approach to diversity” Walsh mentions, the main upshot of having Harrity on the May ticket may be that other white candidates running next year will have a much harder time getting a City Committee endorsement because Harrity is taking up that space in the quadrant. That doesn’t mean City Committee’s endorsements will be determinative of who is elected in the primary, of course, but it’ll have an impact on the campaign strategies of different candidates if their odds of getting the party nod become less likely.

In a sign of the growing influence of the Open Wards movement in the Party, the Thursday night endorsement meeting featured an interesting moment where Chairman Bob Brady gave the ward leaders of open wards—where committee people vote on endorsements and other business—the option to vote “present” on the special election endorsements, out of recognition that they had not been given enough time to hold ward votes on the candidates.

Overall, that is probably for the best since it would have taken longer to make the endorsements, and would have delayed the printing of mail ballots for even longer. That’s ultimately Council President Darrell Clarke who is to blame for the too-tight timing, not Brady, but it’s an interesting moment because it seems to be one of the first times where the open wards’ processes got a little respect and acknowledgment from Brady, as opposed to undiluted derision. There are now 15 open wards, out of the 69 total (including the A-B wards), which is still clearly a minority, but that’s about three times as many as there were prior to 2018, so it makes sense why the Party might want to start dialing back on the open contempt for the movement.

Open wards like the 18th Ward have been making moves and swaying other endorsements too, like the nomination of Quetcy Lozada in the 7th Council District special election—a fascinating break from the many cycles of official party opposition to Maria Quinones-Sanchez and her camp. The various shake-ups that happened in this spring’s ward elections could continue to make ripples and perhaps some unexpected outcomes in the 2023 endorsements for Mayor and City Council. 

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  • Jon Geeting
    published this page in Blog 2022-09-23 13:27:28 -0400