Presidential elections always bring out the vote. You may have seen the legions of civically-proud South Philadelphians yesterday wearing their “I Voted Today” stickers (or “He Votado Hoy”) or noticed the myriad polling places buzzing with campaign supporters and emblazoned with candidate posters. But this election feels uniquely special – two outsider presidential candidates are skewering party politics and, sadly in some cases, overshadowing significant local races that many voters neglect to consider before stepping into their booth and pushing that “Vote” button.
“Unfortunately, not enough people make the connection of that directness,” successful candidate for 2nd District representative in Congress, State Rep. Dwight Evans, told SPR. “You’re not going to see the President of the United States walking around at Broad and Christian [streets] – your congressperson will. They will see me first.”
Evans unseated the local veteran and federally-indicted Chaka Fattah, who was seeking his 12th term despite a trial set to begin in May, and Fattah conceded to Evans around 10 p.m. Tuesday. The 2nd District is characterized primarily by West and North Philly, Lower Merion and Center City but dips down into South Philly, too. At press, Evans collected almost 44 percent of the vote to Fattah’s 37 percent (69,723 votes to 58,965 Democratic votes, respectively).
“You make your case and it’s up to the voters,” he said before Tuesday, adding that his sister lives in South Philly and teaches at Philadelphia Community College, where he attended, as well. “I know the importance of what South Philly means to the 2nd Congressional district.”
Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor and scholar at Temple University and Queen Village resident on the 800 block of South Fourth Street, was greatly interested to see how the PA Senate races would unfold.
“Certainly in Pennsylvania, the senate race on the Democratic side is pretty interesting. The difference between [Joe] Sestak and [Katie] McGinty, in a lot of ways, mirrors the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders,” Arceneaux said, pointing out that McGinty has been a party politician and calling Sestak a “little more of a maverick.”
McGinty won Philadelphia’s votes, accruing more than 43 percent of the vote (122,537) over Sestak, who netted a little under 27 percent (76,014). The wild card contender and Bernie Sanders disciple, Braddock, PA mayor John Fetterman, didn’t fare very well, collecting just under 52,000 votes. McGinty is a former chief of staff for Gov. Tom Wolf, advised Al Gore and Bill Clinton on environmental issues, and was an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 2014.
Arceneaux also commented on the fact that Fattah, despite imminent federal trial, still earned a lot of support and endorsements, such as from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Local 4.
“These are allegations at the moment – what if he emerges from this indictment fine and doesn’t get charged or convicted?” he asked. “If the Teachers Union thinks there’s a good chance that he’ll come through unscathed, they don’t want to get on his bad side.”
Committee of Seventy CEO David Thornburgh, the leader of the watchdog group that monitors polling in the city of Philadelphia, emphasized the importance of paying attention to local elections, too.
“The air wars of the Presidential campaign just kind of drown out the other races. What your state representative or state senator does for you – you’re talking about schools and taxes and the park up the street,” he said. “That’s not something Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump can do for you.”
The actual elephant in the room is that Philadelphia is a wildly democratic city and the republican party often feels left out of the conversation altogether. South Philly GOP ward leader Terry Dintino, who says the 26th Ward (defined essentially as west of Broad Street and south of West Passyunk Avenue) is “one of the top five GOP wards in the city.” She was manning polls at Guerin Rec Center, 2201 S. 16th St., Tuesday and isn’t necessarily sold on Donald Trump despite his sweeping all five primary states this week.
“The Republicans down here are loyal, and we have a big base of basically conservative blue-collar workers,” Dintino explained last week. “We have a religious community with our Catholic churches who are pro-life, and the Republican party really accommodates those people. The Republicans are greatly interested in keeping our Senator, Pat Toomey.”
Toomey ran unopposed this week and will face McGinty in November, a much-anticipated race for U.S. Senate.
On the city tickets, Dintino is right: “It’s very hard for the city to get candidates to run as Republicans. The presidential election is really our only fight.” With almost 98 percent of precincts reporting, Trump won Philadelphia with more than 57 percent (25,182) of the vote, Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed second with 21 percent (9,319), and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in third with 18 percent (8,004).
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton earned over 62 percent of Philadelphians’ vote (213,287) to Sanders’ 37 percent (125,979).
Dintino admits that this presidential primary has been a wild ride for her party.
“This is a very unusual Republican presidential primary for us – we don’t have a candidate to push and we decided, as a ward, to let the people speak,” she said, having met Kasich earlier that day at the Penrose Diner, 2016 Penrose Ave. “He was very personable, a very nice man.”
The GOP leader, who, with her husband Jim, has been rallying South Philly Republicans for nearly 30 years, reports that “we have had 400 changeovers in the 26th ward from Democrat to Republican.” With Trump’s speech at his Trump Tower on Tuesday night, where he called himself the “presumptive nominee,” Philadelphia GOP voters may not have a better choice in November.
“My hope is that if Donald Trump gets the nod and gets it in Pennsylvania, that he will be smart enough to surround himself with those who can guide him into the right way of doing things,” Dintino said.
But Dintino is keenly aware of the power of local organizing, too.
“I get sewers cleaned, I get people social security help, I get potholes fixed, I get people placards for their cars if they’re handicapped – that’s what we’re about, helping the community, that’s our 26th ward motto,” she said.
Furthermore, Committee of Seventy’s Thornburgh made a powerful point.
“If you don’t vote, then you don’t have the ability to complain. If you care about the quality of the schools your kids go to or the condition of the park down the street or why does SEPTA have such delays because their equipment’s out of date,” he argued, “those are all decisions that the people you’ll vote for will make.”
Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.
Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert
Bernie Sanders supporters took a tough blow Tuesday after Hillary Clinton’s performance in the PA primary, and Mummer headquarters housed voting booths.
Photos by Bill Chenevert
GOP South Philly friends gathered at and staffed the voting booths at Guerin Rec Center Tuesday, including Terry Dintino.