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Everyone Wants to Be Philadelphia’s Next Mayor

So far, nine Democrats have officially declared their intention to run for the mayorship. Meanwhile true bipartisan leadership exists at the state level, Ohio's attorney general does double dipping and more.

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Philadelphia City Hall (Shutterstock)
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Everyone Wants to Be Philadelphia’s Next Mayor: Six City Council members, a state representative, a judge, a city controller, a supermarket magnate, and a reverend: It’s either the entire ruling class of a mid-sized American city or the field of candidates hoping to be Philadelphia’s next mayor.

Nine Democrats have officially declared their intention to run, so far, with the primary election scheduled for May 16. (A Democratic nomination virtually guarantees a general election win in Philadelphia.) It’s the first time in eight years that an incumbent isn’t running and it’s more or less anyone’s game. At this stage in 2015, the eventual winner — Jim Kenney, who is now finishing out his term-limited tenure — hadn’t even entered the race.

It’s a different era. In 2015, Kenney, a long-serving city councilman, was able to win the nomination by assembling a coalition of labor unions, progressive groups and an influential group of Black political leaders in the city’s northwest section. Eight years later — which encompassed an ill-fated 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Donald Trump’s presidency, a crippling pandemic, a mushrooming gun-violence crisis and the election, re-election and impeachment of the city’s progressive district attorney — the path to the nomination is less clear. With no field-clearing, big-name candidate in the race (recent speculations about another run from former Mayor Michael Nutter aside) everyone has a chance, says Larry Ceisler, founder of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, a public relations firm.

Building name recognition, which means raising lots of money, is going to make the biggest difference, Ceisler says. Probable frontrunners include three City Council members who recently resigned to run: Helen Gym, a stalwart progressive with strong support on the left; Allan Domb, a millionaire real estate broker known as the “Condo King”; and Cherelle Parker, a former state representative and council member from Northwest Philly.

Philadelphia had a gun-violence problem before Kenney was elected, but murders have sharply spiked over the last couple of years, as they have in other big cities. All attention in the campaign will come back to public safety, says Mustafa Rashed, a veteran political consultant and lobbyist. There’s a fine line to walk for candidates who want to signal a credible, progressive vision for making the city safer without resorting to ugly dog-whistle messages about putting more Black people in prison, Rashed says. The city’s district attorney, Larry Krasner, has weathered not just impeachment but lots of criticism from people who say his policies let criminals off the hook, even though he handily won re-election in 2021.

In an off-year election amid a trend of decreasing turnout, a candidate could win the race with a relatively small number of supporters. For that reason, Rashed suggests, no one is likely to drop out before the election, and more candidates may get in the race. In such a large field, it could be not much more than a rounding error that separates first place from last. “I think everybody stays in, because why not?” Rashed says. “It’s almost impossible to have a poor showing.”

(Note: My colleague Jared Brey lives in Philadelphia and provided us with this summary of the mayor’s race.)

a rope that changes in gradation from blue to red
(Shutterstock)

True Bipartisan Leadership: Eleven Republicans won election to the Alaska Senate in November, yet there are only three members of the Republican caucus. The other eight did not disappear. Instead, they joined a majority coalition with the chamber’s nine Democrats.

The Alaska House has been ruled by a coalition of independents, Democrats and Republicans for the last several years. The idea of cross-party collaboration has spread not only to Alaska’s other chamber, but across the country. The statehouses of Ohio and Pennsylvania both chose speakers elected on a bipartisan basis.

In Congress, this idea would never fly. That was made abundantly clear last week, when House Republicans staged 15 votes until Kevin McCarthy could win enough support from his party to be elected speaker. The idea of finding someone acceptable to Democrats, although a popular parlor game, was never seriously considered.

At the state level, it’s more common than you might think. Since 1979, there have been 44 instances where the top leadership post in a legislative chamber was decided by a cross-party coalition, according to Matthew Green, a political scientist at Catholic University. That total doesn’t include chambers that were tied, a situation that often forces bipartisanship. “In some states, there’s a culture,” Green says. “In Alaska, it’s either a culture of bipartisanship or some other kind of understanding that it’s okay to do this.”

Ohio and Pennsylvania have also previously picked leaders on a bipartisan basis in the recent past. In 2007, six Pennsylvania Republicans and 99 Democrats picked a Republican speaker who was acceptable to both sides. This time around, Democrats won a slim majority in the Pennsylvania House, but three of their seats were immediately vacant due to a death and members moving to other offices. The two parties were both claiming a majority until Democrat Mark Rozzi won Republican support by saying he would become an Independent. After winning last week, Rozzi said he was only considering a party change, leading one GOP supporter to call for his resignation.

Four years ago, 26 Ohio Democrats joined with as many Republicans to elect Larry Householder as speaker over the candidate preferred by a majority of Ohio House Republicans. That turned out to be an unfortunate choice. Householder, since removed as speaker and expelled from the House, is about to face trial in a massive bribery and racketeering scandal.

In November, Ohio Republicans won the biggest number of seats they’ve held since the state switched to single-member districts in the 1960s. David Merrin won the caucus vote for speaker that month, seemingly assuring his ultimate victory. It turned out he took things too much for granted, failing to reach out to Republicans who didn’t support him or even give an inkling of how committee assignments or leadership spots might go.

Jason Stephens, his main rival, kept working it over the holidays. His voting record is just as conservative as Merrin’s, but Democrats believed he would be more cooperative with them when it comes to matters such as committee ratios and issues such as school vouchers, right-to-work and phasing out personal income taxes. All 32 House Democrats voted for Stephens, along with a third of the GOP caucus. “I think they wanted someone they can work with, and it was as simple as that,” GOP state Rep. Jon Cross told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Picking leaders on a bipartisan basis can lead to more compromise overall, since they will have to appeal to both parties when it comes to setting policy. But it can also create the kind of situations that give compromise a bad name, with no one ending up happy.

Odds and Ends: Matt Bevin, who lost his job as Kentucky governor four years ago, teased reporters about the idea that he might run again, making impromptu remarks in the Capitol rotunda just ahead of the filing deadline last week.

Maybe it’s just as well he isn’t running. Bevin created a scandal as he left office, issuing lots of last-minute pardons under dubious circumstances. Rick Boling, one of two prosecutors facing potential impeachment for their roles in securing pardons from Bevin, announced his resignation on Monday…

The filing deadline also passed last week for an April 4 special election for a Wisconsin Senate seat. If a Republican wins, that will give the party a supermajority, which would be more bad news for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor gets little of what he wants out of the GOP-controlled Legislature. In fact, the state Senate has failed to confirm nearly 180 of his appointees, including five cabinet posts…

Democrats got a bit more breathing room in the Virginia Senate on Tuesday. Aaron Rouse won a Virginia Beach seat previously held by Republican Jen Kiggans, who was elected to Congress in November. The special election win expands the Democratic majority in the chamber to 22-18, a narrow margin the party will have to defend this fall…

In November, Republican Dave Yost won re-election as Ohio’s attorney general. He took a little time off, though, before being sworn in again on Monday. Yost “briefly retired from public service to start drawing a pension,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. The practice of collecting retirement benefits while still working, known as double dipping, is perfectly legal. “He remains committed to public service and his duty as attorney general,” his spokeswoman, Bethany McCorkle, said in a statement.

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Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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