Shortly after I turned eighteen in December 1979, I marched myself down to the local firehouse down the street in Havertown, which was my polling place, and registered as a Democrat. In those days, nothing was done online, and it was a solemn moment when I signed the application and became a full member of civic society.
About eleven months later, I cast my first vote. It was for Ronald Reagan.
Party never meant all that much to me.
I remained a Democrat, though, because I assumed my grandparents and parents were also Democrats, and that was part of my DNA and heritage. As it turns out, I was wrong about the heritage and the DNA, since my grandparents and mother were actually registered Republicans for much of their lives. My father, ever the rebel, was an independent.
After 37 years as a Democrat, I registered as a Republican for the presidential primary in 2016, briefly switched back to Democrat for a local race in 2021, and then flipped again to the GOP.
But the point is, it didn’t matter. Party is good for slogans and lawn signs and talking points. It means very little in the grand scheme of things.
READ MORE — Christine Flowers: Subway violence isn’t just a New York problem
At least, that used to be the case when candidates had a common threshold of decency and there was room for a plurality of voices. But in the last quarter century, well after I first dipped my toe into the whirling cesspool of civic life, that has changed along a seismic fault line.
Now, the parties have yielded to their most extreme wings. Voices that were once considered moderate but well within an accepted partisan standard are viewed as fascist by the Left and socialist by the Right.
This brings me to the upcoming mayoral election in Philadelphia. Although I spent most of my life in Delaware and Montgomery counties, I am now a Philadelphia resident. And, until ten days ago, I was a Republican, which made me as welcome in the city as Santa Ana was at the Alamo.
And since my mother did not raise stupid children, and since I am fully aware that a Republican will have absolutely no power in a citywide general election, I have returned to my roots and become a temporary Democrat.
I am not alone in this. Many of the people with whom I’ve spoken — none of whom were willing to go on the record — have done the same thing. We have registered with the majority party for the upcoming primary so we can have a voice in the mayoral, and to a lesser extent, city council races. We understand that some people think this is a form of cheating. Perhaps at some existential level, it could be viewed that way. But we are not characters in a novel written by Albert Camus. We are residents of a city that we love, and that we are desperate to save from the horrors of a progressive — read nihilistic — landslide.
I initially registered as a Democrat so I could vote against Helen Gym, the radical rabble-rouser who never saw a bullhorn she didn’t like. I’ve written about Gym in these pages and elsewhere, I’ve listened to her speak at forums and I’ve even debated with her at a panel sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine.
I’ve also observed her for over a decade and a half as she’s made her name in a city she came to as a fully formed adult with Seattle values and a desire to crush the traditions I have loved since I took my first steps as a toddler in Logan.
But voting against something is not the best way to fight a war, and this is indeed a civic — if not civil — war. You need to be “for” something in order to really make a difference. One candidate I’ve met who is for something positive is Allan Domb.
Allan Domb may not have the firebrand charisma of Gym or the cultlike following she creates among her supporters. He isn’t a woman (which seems to be a major plus in the current urban zeitgeist), and he is also someone who came from somewhere else, even though he’s lived here for almost 50 years.
He’s also a very rich man who built his fortune through hard work, not marrying into it or having a natal trust fund. In that, he reminds me of my father, a scrappy kid from West Philadelphia who grew up in foster homes and ended up being named a legend of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Allan Domb is also someone who understood his limitations when, instead of jumping right into the executive race, he set his sights a bit lower and ran for a seat on city council. After spending several terms learning the political ropes and how to deal with opposing factions, he has become a seasoned politician. And yet, the independent streak that helped him become the “Condo King” of Philadelphia and made him one of the most successful self-made businessmen in the city of Philadelphia makes him an unbeatable choice for mayor.
The parties have yielded to their most extreme wings. Voices that were once considered moderate but well within an accepted partisan standard are viewed as fascist by the Left and socialist by the Right.
I was with Allan Domb on a recent sun-splashed Saturday in Rittenhouse Square. At a tent that his campaign had erected in front of the now-abandoned Barnes & Noble on 18th and Walnut, Domb shook hands, answered questions, and posed for selfies with his beloved rescue pup, eleven-year-old Allie (named after one of his buildings, the Allison). He was all smiles and first names, and it wasn’t a political shtick: he actually knew the people who came up to tell him he had their vote. They were old and young, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, male and female, wearing the LGBT rainbows and sporting Sixers, Eagles and Phillies gear. It was a perfect cross-section of the city, at a very iconic place. And unlike Helen Gym, who almost barks at the crowds, or Rebecca Rhynhart, who has some very good qualities but looks stiff and unseasoned, Allan Domb reminded me of Ed Rendell in the good old days when he was the superstar mayor in Buzz Bissinger’s “Prayer for the City.”
When I asked Domb what he thought the major challenge was for the next mayor, he didn’t hesitate: “Leadership.” Seeing the quizzical look in the eyes of a woman who expected him to say “crime,” he explained that everything that happened in the city trickled up to the mayor, and that the choices the executive made would have a direct impact on the residents in the neighborhoods. That makes a lot of sense, and his website contains a much more detailed explanation of his plans for reform.
Unlike Gym, who has only recently discovered that trashing law enforcement is not a successful campaign strategy, Allan Domb has always viewed his role as being a bridge between competing factions, and a partner in the governing process. He learned what that doesn’t look like as a member of City Council under the current mayor, Jim Kenney. Kenney has one of the most contentious relationships with City Council in recent memory, and one of the least productive.
The one quote that really stuck with me as I chatted with Allan Domb is this: “I’m beholden to no one, but I’d be accountable to everyone. And I can work with anyone. I know the building trades didn’t endorse me, and I’m happy to work with them. I know the teachers didn’t endorse me, I’ll work with them. I’ll work with anyone for our city. I’ve worked with Democrats, Republicans, Working Family Party, it doesn’t really matter.”
Here is a man who didn’t take a salary while on City Council, and contributed tenfold to the community. Before the pandemic, I was slated to visit a Charter School in North Philly that he’s sponsored, Cristo Rey, and he proudly told me that 99 percent of the students there graduate, and of that 99 percent, one hundred percent get into college. Education is one of his greatest passions. He has good will, and he is not an ideologue.
I’m glad I decided to make my voice heard, and switched my registration to Democrat so I might consider candidates like Allan Domb in the upcoming election.
And while my visit to the dark side will be brief, it will be worth it if I can guarantee that the right candidate is in charge of a city we both deeply cherish.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61