What Do We Know So Far About the 2018 Ward Elections?

For the past year and a half, Philadelphia 3.0 has been promoting the 2018 ward elections as a great opportunity for people to dive into local politics by running for committeeperson—the smallest elected position that matters in Philadelphia politics. Now that we're past the deadline for candidates to file, and petition challenges are wrapping up, we're finally getting a picture of where things stand. 

Registered Democratic and Republican voters will have the opportunity to collectively elect over 3,200 committeeperson candidates citywide in each party—two from each party per voting division. Read our FAQ to get up to speed on how the ward system works. 

While we're still analyzing the petition filings to see where things landed in the different wards, there are some early takeaways we wanted to share that suggest our candidate recruitment drive was successful. 

We recruited about 250 candidates to run

Between November 2016 and February 2018, a little over 1,000 candidate prospects came in through our program to run for committeeperson in 2018, representing all but two out of sixty-six wards. About 250 of those candidate prospects will officially be candidates on the ballot on May 15th—about a 25% conversion rate.

We expect that when the dust settles on petition challenges, candidates who came through our program will make up between 8-9% of the total candidates running citywide, and a much higher percentage in some specific wards, namely those in greater Center City, South Philly, and the Riverwards. All-in-all, candidates coming through our program are represented in 43 of 66 wards, or 65% of all wards.

Half the candidates running are non-incumbents

The party line on the petition filing numbers has been that efforts by Philadelphia 3.0 and other groups must be a failure because the total citywide filings increased by just five candidates, from 3,262 filings in 2014 to 3,267 filings in 2018.

But according to Commissioner Al Schmidt, almost exactly half of the candidates running in 2018 are new candidates. The top line number is masking tons of churn below the surface. As this map from Schmidt's office shows, in most wards the non-incumbent share of filings is surging.

(Image: Office of Commissioner Al Schmidt)

The most extreme examples you see are in wards 58, 64, and 66 in Northeast Philly, where there was some serious turf warfare between the Sabatina and Boyle camps largely unrelated to our efforts. But there were also large increases in the share of non-incumbent candidates in growing areas of greater Center City, South Philly, and the Riverwards, where many more of our recruited candidates filed. In the 15 or so wards we paid most attention to, incumbents make up only 44% of the filed candidates on average, and only in four of those wards do incumbents make up more than 50% of filed candidates. 

To be clear, not all of these non-incumbents are running to vote in a new ward leader. Many of them were likely recruited by incumbent ward leaders to fill vacated seats, of which there were many. The city Democratic Party is a very old party, demographically speaking. Just anecdotally, looking through the filings, the number of petitioners whose occupation was listed as "retired" was remarkable. It makes sense that we would see a wave of retirements in these elections every 4 years. Unfortunately, the 2010 committeeperson election results have not been compiled digitally, so there is not a ready way to compare retirements from the 2010-2014 cycle to the 2014-2018 cycle. Nevertheless, it's objectively a lot of turnover.

Again, anecdotally, several candidates running in South Philly in the 1st ward told us that on more than one occasion, when they approached their current committeeperson about running, many were excited to step aside and be rid of the responsibility. In some other places, the reaction was exactly the opposite, with the prospect of a challenger spurring people to action.

Open Seats

There are 381 open seats that no one is running for in 2018, compared to 349 open seats in 2014. In a follow-up post we'll be digging into which wards had the greatest number of open seats. Any party member in the division can run a write-in campaign to win these seats, rather than leave the ward leader to appoint someone.

Someone can win a write-in seat with a single vote, but if you're serious about winning, it's best to get a lot of neighbors to write your name in just for insurance. If you didn't make the ballot but are interested in running as a write-in, sign up on our form and we'll let you know if there's an open seat in your division. 

Watch this space over the next few days for more fresh ward elections content or sign up for our newsletter to receive it in your inbox


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  • Joe Shay
    commented 2018-04-17 08:28:17 -0400
    3.0 cannot take credit for committee candidates in many wards where there are factional fights.
    Overall, the recruitment figures should have been greater.
    Recliam Philadelphia is not mentioned and has had high success in certain areas.
    It is true that former tasks of Committeepersons are no longer, but they must learn in the modern era
    to raise public awareness of issues and lead the effort, instead of making a phone call to a politico.
    In duties of a committeeman instructions, I saw no real mention of 24/7 availability to assist constituents with their family needs with government – it was more about taking power.
  • Joe Simiriglio
    commented 2018-03-25 10:29:01 -0400
    The need for a committee person is becoming obsolete.
    Their was a time in Philly Political history, where the committee person could assist a local citizen with neighborhood issues,getting a parking ticket waived, allowing a fireplug to be turned on forcthe kids during a hot summer day, getting a politically appointed summer job or permanent job in various departments. While some of this happens today,it’s the ward leader who has favor with the Elected Mayor who prevails. Committee -people serve a limited capacity as social media, TV advertising and other marketing methods elect council,row offices and the Mayor.
    The, role of the committee person is only relevant in the primary in a one party (Democrat). The GOP, continues to struggle for viability. While a REPUBLICAN PARTY resurgence is possible, committee people won’t be the answer. The bottom line is money for media marketing and persuasive candidates is the answer. Find candidates and raise funding if you want to unseat those who have become landmarks and stiffs on the city council