Philadelphia will hold its general elections for its City Council on Nov. 5. Over 237,000 votes were cast in the May primary elections, a turnout that surpassed that of the primary elections in both 2017 and 2018 and the general election in 2017.
Of the 17 seats on the City Council, the entire city can vote for seven — the “at-large” seats — which do not represent specific geographic zones but rather the city as a whole. Each party can list up to five at-large candidates on the ballot. This historically has meant that five of these seats are held by Democrats and the other two by Republicans, since Philadelphia is an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
But these seats can be filled by any candidate from any party, which is why alongside two of the incumbent Democrats, The Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board is endorsing two Working Families Party candidates, who are on the verge of unseating the Republican incumbents.
Penn students should vote in this election, regardless of their political beliefs. Political apathy among young people is an ever-present issue. In fact, only 31% of eligible young people voted in the 2018 midterms. At Penn, it's easy to feel insulated from the problems that the rest of the city has to face. But students don't have to see it that way. Penn students should strive to use their voices and their political power to help the city, especially considering many of Penn's actions, historically and currently, are perceived by residents as harmful to the community. By understanding the role that students play as residents, albeit temporary, of Philadelphia, they can help make this city a better place.
Incumbent Democrat Helen Gym, a 1993 College graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street editor, was first elected to City Council in 2016, and since then has pursued a consistent human rights agenda. She has made education a priority, particularly as chair of City Council’s Children and Youth Committee. Gym has contributed to legislation to enact progressive policies that focus on young people as well as working families by improving living wage laws.
As the first Asian American woman to have a seat on City Council and a second-generation immigrant, Gym has pursued a strong agenda of racial justice and immigrant rights. Her constant positive impact as an at-large City Council member has served the city well, which is why Penn students should vote to re-elect her. Her focus on youth issues and Philadelphia students in particular ought to make her a popular candidate among Penn students, particularly those who went to public school before coming to Penn.
Allan Domb, also an incumbent Democrat, was first elected to City Council in 2015. He has successfully used his experience as a businessman, real estate broker, and president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors in order to stimulate business in the city. His actions have contributed to positive job growth and attracted millennials to Philadelphia’s manufacturing and technology industries.
As an at-large Council member, Domb has also been committed to eradicating poverty, particularly through his advocacy for the Earned Income Tax Credit. He is committed to efficient economic growth and equity for Philadelphia’s residents. Students, especially those interested in staying to work in Philadelphia after graduation, should look to him as someone who cares about their ability to find a high-paying job, as well as the well-being and job prospects of the city’s less fortunate residents.
Endorsed by both presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and incumbent Democratic Council member Helen Gym, Brooks has thus far raised $213,000 in campaign funds, unheard of for a candidate outside of the two major parties.
The Working Families Party, of which Brooks is a candidate, is a grassroots movement of working people that prioritizes progressive values. Brooks’ platform, which emphasizes affordable housing and quality education as part of the broader goal of ending inequality and poverty, promises to tackle issues that Brooks considers “deeply personal.” She aims to ensure that the voices of low-income and minority Philadelphians are no longer excluded from the policymaking process.
Brooks, along with her fellow WFP candidate Nicolas O’Rourke, represent a unique opportunity to unseat incumbent Republicans David Oh and Al Taubenberger. The structure of Philadelphia’s City Council at-large districts means that instead of voting straight-ticket for the Democrats, Penn students can prioritize progressive voices and leaders regardless of party affiliation by voting for Kendra Brooks.
Nicolas O’Rourke, also of the WFP, is a strong proponent of social justice. He is a community organizer for POWER, an interfaith organization which seeks to empower Philadelphians and improve quality of life in the city. He's also the pastor of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Oxford Circle. His campaign website states that his focus at POWER has been on dismantling the disastrous effects that police brutality and mass incarceration has wreaked on people of color in Philadelphia.
O’Rourke’s platform is derived from the People’s Platform for a Just Philadelphia, which he and other community activists and organizations created with the goal of creating an affordable, safe, and healthy Philadelphia. His campaign has raised $145,000, surpassing previous records for non-major-party candidates alongside Brooks.
His priorities include affordable housing and increasing funding for Philadelphia schools, both of which should be popular among Penn students who care about Philadelphia students and gentrification. With a detailed plan for long-term solutions to pressing problems, O’Rourke would be an effective City Council member who would strive to meet Philadelphians’ unaddressed needs, including many of the problems that Penn students can witness right here in West Philadelphia.
Philadelphia City Council elections are usually determined by the primaries — Democrats have such a large majority in this city that they will likely win most wards and all five of the at-large districts that they’re allowed to put up candidates for. But Democrats aren’t the only ones fighting for better conditions for Philadelphia students, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, and the many other issues facing the city today. Most Penn students are not often forced to face these issues, but those who are registered to vote here have a responsibility to pick candidates who will fight to bring the whole city what it needs.
Penn students should re-elect the incumbents, Gym and Domb, but should also put the Working Families’ candidates Brooks and O’Rourke into office. Penn should join the rest of the city in ousting the Republicans and elevating two strong, progressive voices. No matter who they support, most of all Penn students who are registered in Philadelphia must do their civic duty to the city that they live, work, and study in, and vote this Nov. 5.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.