Two At-Large seats, one LGBT candidate

Archbishop Chaput

Spilled blood over the May Democratic primary between LGBT rivals seems to have cast a shadow over this November’s election for LGBT voters, as Sherri Cohen runs as the only OUT LGBT person for City Council after a lengthy legal battle to get on the ballot as an Independent.   

Having an LGBT person on Council has been an issue in our community for years. So where are we now and how did we get here with no representation on Council? Most importantly, does Cohen have a shot at winning in November? Bluntly, we got here by not having a united community standing firmly with one candidate.

The process: In Philadelphia, the overwhelming amount of voters registered are Democrats. If you are one of the five Democrats nominated in the May primary, usually that means you will win in November. But there is this little law that gives two other seats in Council to the minority party candidates who, in the November election, finish sixth and seventh, filling out the seven At-Large seats on Council. Those two seats have always been taken by Republicans. Cohen wishes to upset that tradition by getting more votes as an Independent than any of the Republicans running. In Philadelphia, especially this year, Republicans are not popular, and the public might just pull that Independent ballot, especially if Cohen runs a professional and well-financed campaign. But in Philadelphia politics, there’s always a twist.

Another group not allied with the Democratic or Republican parties, known as Working Families has also seen this opening and have put up a campaign to try for those two minority seats. But neither of their candidates are from the LGBT community. 

Here’s how we got here: To run as an Independent, you must not have filed to run in the May primary, Cohen did, but withdrew. That was the reason she was challenged and eventually won in court. The Republicans brought the lawsuit, but there was also a second person challenging Cohen, another candidate who ran for Council in the May primary, Deja Alvarez, who was the first trans candidate. Alvarez, who many of us strongly supported, was harassed on the campaign trail by Cohen’s campaign manager at the time. And it was ugly. Afterward, her campaign manager promptly resigned and Cohen dropped out of the race. But now she is running as an Independent and wants community support since it is possibly a way to get an LGBT person on Council.

Cohen has been an instrumental part of this community for decades. And the reality is that her plan could work, but that’s not a sure thing. The Republicans will have some form of a working political party in the field; The Working Families group has shown exceptional organizing abilities, and then there is Cohen, now running as the only LGBT person in the race. All of them are vying for two minority seats. 

The question is whether the community embraces her or still has anger at the transphobia of her campaign manager and her slowness in reacting to it.

Alvarez, who was the target of that transphobia and birtherism, has a right to her anger. 

This is something we will have to resolve among ourselves through respectful dialogue. With only four weeks to go before the general election, it brings me to that first question, does Sherri Cohen have a professional and well-financed campaign?