There is less than a month until the Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia, and the last men and women (yes, they do identify as such) standing of any importance are these five:
- Allan Domb, real estate magnate and former city councilman
- Helen Gym, education activist and former city councilwoman
- Rebecca Rhynhart , former city comptroller
- Cherelle Parker, former city councilwoman
- Jeff Brown, grocery store entrepreneur
Each of them have their fan bases, and some have a more diverse and heterodox appeal than others. But only one will win, in a slightly less crowded field than before. While I am not a political genius along the lines of a David Axelrod or a Kellyanne Conway, I have some ideas. You can take them for what they are worth.
Domb has the support of the business establishment in Philadelphia. He has a track record of success in the field of real estate, which gives him a great deal of cred with larger donors, movers and shakers in the higher echelons of power. If any Democrat could be considered a favorite of the burghers of the Republican establishment that normally sups at the Union League, he is it.
But the thing that distinguishes Domb from, say, a Thatcher Longstreth-style patrician with moneyed roots, is that he earned everything he’s achieved. He didn’t come from a privileged background, and worked his way up to a position of affluence, and authority. He reminds me very much of my father and those like him, who straddled both worlds comfortably. The other thing about Domb is that he is clearly a social moderate, and while he did hang out with the drag queens for a brief moment when that became a de rigeur bow to the virtue signalers, he’s a centrist. Most successful businessmen are.
Then we have Jeff Brown, who is superficially like Domb but who is really more of a populist figure. The fact that the two businessmen share a prospective voter base can be seen in the fact that they are aiming at each other in their campaign ads, realizing that they are competing for votes from kindred spirits. Like Domb, Brown has been extremely successful in building an empire, but unlike Domb he doesn’t come off as someone who hangs out with the uber-affluent, uber-powerful movers and shakers like the heads of Comcast and Independence Blue Cross. Brown is more low key, blue collar, much more Lee Iacocca than Donald Trump.
He was long a favorite of the more conservative block of African American voters, and might still be, but recent ethics investigations have hung an albatross around his neck at the worst possible time. Still, he’s got one virtue that his competitors don’t: he is not now, and never was, a politician. In Philadelphia, that’s a good thing.
Rebecca Rhynhart isn’t a politician, either, although she’s worked with them as City Controller. Rhynhart is extremely smart, competent, a policy wonk like Domb but has the added benefit for many of the more liberal Democrats of being a woman, and a social progressive. When Rebecca posts about the “rights of drag queens,” you understand that she really believes what she’s talking about. When Domb or Brown do it, and to a lesser extent Parker, you can almost see that little bulge in their face where the tongue hits the cheek. They would never admit it, but they are clearly not foot soldiers in the battle for pronoun justice. And that’s what distinguishes Rhynhart from both Brown and Domb, and at the other extreme, her closest rival Helen Gym.
As a policy expert, the former City Controller can go toe to toe with Domb, and as someone who understands the importance of numbers and budgets, she has that in common with Brown. But she also has the “progressive” cred, which makes her a candidate with crossover appeal. Of the pack, she is the one who could do the most damage to her competitors.
Cherelle Parker has started to peak at the best time — the converse of what is happening to Jeff Brown. She made a very strong showing at some recent mayoral debates, and she was unapologetic in her opposition of Safe Injection Sites, which has endeared her to many people who would never even consider voting for a Democrat but who are repelled by the thought that these glorified, supervised shooting galleries would be erected in residential neighborhoods. She benefits from the fact that former city councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez recently dropped out of the race, because they have the same appeal: female, ethnic, long terms on city council, deep roots in the city, an understanding of how to work the system, and tough as nails. Many of the people who would have voted for Quiñones-Sánchez will likely find Parker a satisfactory substitute.
And finally, there is Helen Gym. The interesting thing about Helen is that there is no middle ground, no “maybe,” no “I might pull the lever for her and I might not.” You either love the woman, or despise her.
My recent writings and social media commentaries leave no secret as to how I feel about her: The woman and her platform are toxic, and she will cause a great deal of damage if elected to the executive office. And yet, as much as I have a problem with her, that is how much she is adored to the point of veneration by her followers.
Helen has a habit of touting her accomplishments as if she alone were responsible for them, when she did everything in concert with her colleagues on council. In fact, for someone who has been on city council as long as she has been, her record is relatively thin. And yet, she has created a persona of being an uber-progressive defender of the dispossessed, a champion of schools and students, and someone who defends the rights of immigrants.
I will tell you that as an immigration attorney, Helen reminds me more of the activists who come out to parades and rallies with their bullhorns than of a person who has actually sat down at the table to craft policies to help immigrants and the communities in which they live. And she is also the one candidate who has shown absolute disdain for those who don’t share her world view. She pushed for the removal of the Rizzo statue, was instrumental in trying to remove the Columbus statue, and has shown a great deal of disrespect to the Italian American community to which I belong. But that will not be a problem with her base, that sees things in that black-or-white, friend-or-enemy way.
Helen might eke out a win if the other candidates divide the vote against her, a very large and vocal demographic from my own observation. But it remains to be seen if finger pointing at white privilege and pandering to the fringes of this city will put her over the top.
That’s my view of the race. Give me an hour, and it might change. Predicting Philadelphia races is like trying to pin Jello to a wall. You can try, but you’ll just end up with a sticky mess on your hands.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61
2 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: The five candidates who can still win Philly’s mayor’s race”
I am not as sanguine as Christine. I think that the centrists who still vote in Philadelphia will be divided up among Domb, Brown and Rhynhart. If either Domb or Brown were not in the race I believe that Rhynhart would be leading the pack. As it stands, with those three staying in, I think that Gym will take the plurality of the vote. If there was a runoff between the top two vote getters it would be a different story. As it is, Gym can win the primary and then the election. Her and Krasner will make a good team. Remember Philly, elections have consequences.
Christine Flowers calling someone else “toxic” is rich. Personally, I would like Jeff Brown to win. However, if Helen Gym wins at least I’ll get to enjoy Christine’s meltdowns, tears, rage, disturbing TikTok video rants, etc.