March 7 was the last date to file to run for mayor in the 2023 race and the final “Petition Day,” when all candidates had to get their nominating petitions to the City Commissioners’ office with the required number of signatures by 5 p.m.
As of March 8, 13 candidates, 12 of whom are Democrats, are running to succeed term-limited Mayor Jim Kenney. As required by the City Charter, several of the candidates have resigned from their city elected offices to run for the open seat: six former council members — Democrats Allan Domb, Derek S. Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle L. Parker and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, and Republican David Oh — and former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.
The remaining candidates include Democrats Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, Warren Bloom, James M. DeLeon, Delscia Gray and John Wood.
With such a large field, is there a frontrunner in the race with the primary only two months away?
Philadelphians have been seeing numerous TV ads from two candidates — and two candidates only — for months: real estate mogul Allan Domb, whose properties are worth about $400 million, and Shop Rite supermarket chain owner Jeff Brown, whose 11 stores are worth about $100 million. Both have been airing a spate of different ads since late last year. Domb, known as the “condo king,” lent his campaign $5 million at the end of 2022. This gives him almost unlimited spending through the primary.
Brown is running a classic “pick up the damn trash” and “do something about crime” quality-of-life campaign that harkens back to John Street’s campaigns for mayor. (Street promised to get abandoned cars off the streets — and did.) Domb is, inexplicably, running against Mayor Jim Kenney with a couple ads featuring the Mayor’s unfortunate comments about how he looked forward to not being mayor following a July 4 melee that had people fleeing gunshots at the concert on the Parkway.
Both Brown and Domb have been careful to make their ads racially diverse, and Domb, a self-made millionaire, also has an ad with children and their aspirations. One of Brown’s early ads included a clip for former First Lady Michelle Obama praising him. There was outcry that the ad was misleading as the clip was from 2009 and showed an obviously younger Mrs. Obama. Brown took the ad down, but it left a memorable image.
What concerns candidates who are not Brown and Domb is the impression these ads give that no one else is running for mayor. Self-funded millionaires can continue to run as many ads as they want and as often. But some Democrats say these ad campaigns are reminiscent of the 2014 governor’s race where millionaire businessman Tom Wolf got an early lead in the race by flooding the airwaves with ads long before any other candidate could afford to.
In a field as crowded as the mayor’s race and with half the candidates hailing from City Council, what’s to distinguish these candidates if none of them has ad campaigns to challenge Brown and Domb? Isn’t it expecting a lot of voters to seek out the platforms of all 12 Democratic and one Republican candidates?
When Kenny won in 2015, it was because he coalesced voters from the progressive and LGBTQ communities as well as the storied Northwest Coalition of Black leadership in Mount Airy, Germantown and North Philly. In the current race, Gym is well-known as the most progressive candidate in the race as she was in City Council. Parker has been supported by the Northwest Coalition for years.
But it’s also a political period where Philadelphians are looking to break from establishment politics. Rhynhart has distinguished herself by taking on waste in city government — including the Police Department. Both she and Brown benefit from the outsider status that many voters, particularly those frustrated with Kenney’s second term and the uptick in gun violence, may be seeking.
The closest data available on how the race is progressing comes from a poll Brown’s campaign did and from emails sent March 7 from Helen Gym and Rebecca Rhynhart.
In Brown’s polling last week, the top three contenders were Brown at 22%, Gym at 16% and Domb at 9%. No one else registered above 5 %. But both Gym and Rhynhart declared themselves leaders of the Democratic pack on Petition Day.
Gym declared her volunteers had gathered 6,000 signatures while Rhynhart declared her people had secured more than 9,600. Only 1,000 were required. No other candidates announced their totals, but both women’s receipts matter in this wide a field.
Parker has announced she received the backing of a coalition of building trade unions and SEIU, while Rhynhart has the endorsement of former Mayor John Street. Brown has also garnered endorsements among labor, notably AFSCME District Council 33, the city’s largest municipal union. Gym has support from hotel and food-service workers who make up the union Unite Here Philly.
Campaign finance reports on February 1 showed Gym had raised the most from donors — just under $1 million. Rhynhart raised $826,900. Brown raised $846,700 and added $500,000 of his own money. In addition to his own $5 million, Domb raised more than $700,000 in contributions. The American Federation of Teachers’ donated more than $112,000 over the course of the year to Gym, a former teacher.
On March 9, Cherelle Parker ran her first television ad during the local 6:00 p.m. evening news on 6ABC. The spot begins with Parker, out in front of new rowhome housing defining herself: “Teacher, mother, running for mayor.” Over a brief video clip of a Black man carving a turkey, Parker says, “Food stamps helped put food on the table, education put opportunity in my life….When Philly schools were about to close, I worked with Democrats AND Republicans to keep them open.” Parker then says, “When others were afraid to call for more police, I put out a plan to hire 300 more officers to walk our streets.” She ends saying, “I’m running to end this sense of lawlessness and bring order back to our city.”
Running on the law and order ticket, just like Brown and Domb.
What does it all mean for Philadelphians? A wealth of candidates concerned for the city, nearly all of whom have strong stances on LGBTQ issues as well as crime and gun violence. But with only a few voices on the airwaves right now, candidates will have to work to be heard.
For more on the race for mayor, visit https://epgn.com/tag/mayor-2023/.
This article has been updated to include a summary of Cherelle Parker’s television ad.