LGBTQ candidates fare well in municipal election, despite some losses

Chesley Lightsey (Photo via Facebook)

In an historic primary election for Philly’s LGBTQ+ community, two LGBTQ community members, Rue Landau and Chesley Lightsey, won their primary elections to secure spots in the general election. Landau secured one of the top five spots in the City Council At-Large race, which positions her to become the first openly LGBTQ member of Council after November’s general election. Lightsey was among the top ten of candidates running for Court of Common Pleas and will also likely win election in November.

Landau has a background in civil rights law, and formerly served as executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and Fair Housing Commission. 

Two other out Democratic members of the LGBTQ+ community ran for At-Large City Council seats but did not win their races: Sherrie Cohen and Amanda McIllmurray.

“I am especially excited to congratulate Rue Landau for breaking through the lavender ceiling and becoming our City’s first openly LGBTQ candidate to win the Democratic primary for City Council in Philadelphia history,” Cohen said. “I know she will be an outstanding representative for our community on Council. It’s very important for our City Council to reflect the demographics of the city. Even though we have had wonderful allies, historically and through today, there’s nothing like somebody from your own community who will prioritize the needs of your own community.” 

Lightsey earned a spot on November’s Court of Common Pleas ballot, having picked up 6.47% of the vote in the crowded field. Another out candidate for Court of Common Pleas, Wade Albert, was not among the top 10 winners as of press time. 

“I feel relieved, proud and grateful,” Lightsey said. “I had so much support, advice and folks who were in my corner from the beginning.”

During her campaign, Lightsey racked up support from Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, the Democratic City Committee, the Philadelphia Bar Association, and multiple unions. “I feel like everything came together in the best possible way,” she added. 

Stephen Kulp, immediate past Chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association, said Lightsey “is a remarkable attorney whose passion for justice and dedication to fairness have always impressed me. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Chesley for many years, witnessing firsthand her commitment to the legal profession and the Philadelphia community. Chesley’s passion for justice and fairness led her to dedicate her legal career to serving the people of Philadelphia.”

Lightsey’s judicial values stem from her experience working as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office, where she worked in the homicide unit prosecuting cases with child victims, child witnesses and domestic violence cases that culminated in homicide. She also resentenced minors convicted of murder who later had opportunities to go on parole. As such, Lightsey will be a judge who cares about victims and who values convicted defendants’ ability to grow over time, she said in a previous interview. 

Lightsey also congratulated Landau on her victory in City Council. “I think it’s such a great moment for our community that [Rue] ran such an open and honest campaign and was so very successful,” Lightsey said. “It’s good for the whole city to have Rue on City Council.” 

Albert said that despite not coming in the top ten, he remains thankful for those who backed him during the campaign.

“I think we ran a strong campaign and had a lot of support across the City of Philadelphia,” Albert said. “Unfortunately, we did not pull it out this time. I wanted to thank everyone; Mark Segal was a big supporter and I had a lot of support in the LGBTQ community, and I appreciate everything that they did to help me.”

Kevin Levy, Chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association, said “Wade’s commitment to public service became evident during this campaign. And in his role as an attorney, he exemplified the meaning of pro bono service, earning the Pro Bono Publico Award from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in recognition of his extraordinary efforts supporting low-income Philadelphians apply for expungements for historic criminal convictions.”

Cohen, a tenants rights lawyer and LGBTQ activist, has run for Philadelphia City Council At-Large four times since 2011. In her 2011 run, she came in sixth place with 9% of the vote. Despite falling short of the votes needed to win in 2023, Cohen plans to keep doing community work and “doing what we can to advance the cause of human rights for our community and for everyone in our city,” she said.  

Amanda McIllmurray also ran a strong campaign for City Council as a progressive candidate, a campaign that  “hasn’t left anybody behind, that has tried to intentionally create space for people who have been left behind,” she said. “Even the fact that I was able to run a citywide race — progressives broadly wouldn’t have been able to do this a few years ago.”

Like Cohen, McIllmurray plans to keep doing the work, which includes implementing a plan to fight for good jobs, safe schools, stable housing and community safety for the people of Philadelphia. She also hopes to see the new crop of City Council members focus on building bridges across generations of LGBTQ Philadelphians. 

“I really want to see more enforcement and to build more community power, and explicitly queer community power,” McIllmurray said. 

This article is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.