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May 20, 2015

Five takeaways from Tuesday's primary

Kenney won big, city council had a shakeup and less than a third of eligible voters showed up

A lot happened in yesterday's election. The Democrats selected their nominee for mayor in resounding fashion. And bucking tradition, a few incumbents were shaken loose from City Council.

And the city now has a resolution to the intense, allegation-fueled race for the District 7 Democratic City Council seat, which concluded with new accusations of voter fraud by both sides.

Here are five takeaways from yesterday's results.

1 - Kenney won and won big

It wasn’t close. Against five Democratic opponents, Kenney won more than half of all votes cast. Despite early moments in the race where second place finisher Anthony Williams looked strong, Kenney beat Williams by almost 30 percent.

His victory was fueled by a number of factors. He racked up endorsements from unions and won over the support of influential African Americans including City Council President Darrell Clarke. His endorsement and others helped upset the so-called “racial math” where voters tend to vote along racial lines. In addition, many thought that Williams flopped when he commented at a debate that he would replace Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Now, Kenney will coast to victory in November over his Republican opponent, right? After all, in the city’s modern history, Democrats always beat Republicans.

But a new challenger might be exploring a run. Bill Green, the former head of the School Reform Commissioner, in interviews to reporters Tuesday, hinted that he might try to play spoiler.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, when Green was asked what Kenney might face once in office as mayor he said, “The concept [of writing] about what the Democratic nominee might face is getting a little ahead of itself.”

Green was kicked out as head of the SRC by Governor Tom Wolf who explained his decision by saying, "our children are being put at a disadvantage as a result of misguided cuts and poor decisions," according to The

The idea that he might run is now out there, even if he hasn’t committed to anything yet. 

2 - At-large City Council shakeup

Historically, candidates elected to City Council aren’t easily removed. Their name recognition alone allows them to win repeatedly and challengers have commonly had a hard time unseating those entrenched in office.

Not this year.

The highly contested Democratic at-large field will see three new faces on the general election ballot. The five Democratic nominees are expected to gain seats in November. Two incumbents were kicked out - the third seat used to be Kenney’s, but he had to resign in order to run for mayor.

Incumbents Wilson Goode Jr., son of former Mayor Wilson Goode, and Ed Neilson are out. The three new candidates include Derek Green, who was the former special council for Councilwoman Marian Tasco. He won the most votes of any candidate in the race. Also winning a spot on the general election ballot was Allan Domb, who is in real estate and injected some of his own money into his campaign, and Helen Gym, who had an established name and ran on a platform of enhancing the city’s public education system.

3 - Bitter fight keeps incumbent in place

The race for the Democratic city council nomination in District 7 turned on its head earlier this year when the incumbent, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, posted a group of Facebook messages allegedly written by her opponent on a site called Who is Manny Morales?

Quinones-Sanchez posted a series of screenshots of language she said was “anti-gay,” “anti-black” and “anti-woman” that were allegedly found on Morales's Facebook page. Morales denied they were his. Some of the posts included language showing Morales complaining about the lack of coverage when white people were killed by police and comparing black people with animals.

Incumbent Quinones-Sanchez, who was not endorsed by her party, won 54 percent to 46.

Election day proved to be controversial as well with both sides accusing the other of voter fraud, "We have proof that it's actually her intimidating voters and they're walking inside the polling places with T-shirts reading 're-elect Maria Quinones,'" Morales spokesman Jose Giral told Newsworks. "We've forwarded our evidence to the district attorney's office."

4 - Education, education, education

Helen Gym, a vocal public education proponent, squeaked past a few of her rivals to gain a nomination for a spot on city council. She beat her nearest competitor, Isaiah Thomas,  who came in sixth by about 1,100.

Along with Gym’s nomination, Philadelphia voters also voted against the state-run School Reform Commission in a non-binding ballot question. That question asked, “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to abolish the School Reform Commission and return local control of Philadelphia’s schools?”

About 75 percent of voters said they wanted the SRC abolished. But the SRC can only be abolished with a sign-off from the Secretary of Education and a majority vote by its members, according to the Committee of Seventy.

So despite the vote, it is unclear if it will result in any action.

5 - And if you took part in this election, you were part of a minority

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, about 243,000 voters cast a ballot for mayor. That means that 26.2 percent of voters who were registered with either party turned out for the election, according to registration data from November of 2014.

The turnout was much stronger on the Democratic side - much of that may be explained by the fact that they had a contested mayoral primary and the Republicans did not.

On Tuesday about 230,000 Democrats turned out to vote, which is about 28.5 percent of the party's registered voters.

That is a smaller turnout than in 2007, the last time there was a no incumbent running for the Democratic mayoral nomination. When Mayor Michael Nutter first won, 39 percent of voters turned out. 

This cycle was better than four years ago, however. In 2011, just 21 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls.

Still, poll numbers indicate that Philadelphia has problems with engagement and is far from having half of its registered voters take part in the primary.