There were few surprises on Tuesday, April 24 as voters chose their party’s candidates for the November election. Typically, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, local Democratic primary winners typically go on to win office in November.
Though the primary included a number of high offices, ranging from president and U.S. senator to state representative and attorney general, the vast majority of registered voters stayed home.
Turnout was recorded at 17.3 percent — almost exactly where it was in last spring’s primary.
“People weren’t too much concerned about the races going on,” said political consultant Maurice Floyd, noting that the national seats got all the attention, but with Rick Santorum’s withdrawal, the contest took on less urgency. “It just didn’t measure up in terms of generating a turnout.”
In low turnout elections, the support of a core bloc of dedicated voters is what delivers.
“The winners organized and they had a solid base going for them,” said Floyd.
As an example, he pointed to a much watched race – the 197th District – where J.P. Miranda won over Jewel Williams, the daughter of Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Miranda won 40 percent of the vote with 2,977 votes. That compared to 38 percent for Jewel, which translated to 2,519 votes.
“The ward leaders and the street organizers, they were able to outmaneuver and out-organize her,” he said.
Jewel’s campaign in the North Philadelphia district raised eyebrows because she seemed to rely largely on possible voter confusion between her and her father, who held the seat until January when he resigned to assume the post of sheriff. Jewel campaigned little. Her campaign office was reportedly empty most days.
Miranda had a history of political involvement. He worked for Council President Darrell Clarke and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen. In addition, in 2004 he worked for the John Kerry campaign. He also worked with the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter as it worked to help federal officials with the U.S. Census.
“I’m ecstatic,” Miranda said Wednesday. “North Philadelphia united against a lot of disgraceful acts by my opposition. People were very disgusted with some of things they were seeing.”
Miranda will now run against Steve Crum, the Republican, in the Nov. 6 election. Miranda is confident he’ll win.
“I’ve stayed on the pulse of the community,” he said, noting that his real focus will be on getting out the vote in November for himself, and for President Barack Obama.
In addition to choosing in the primary, voters in the 197th District had to select someone to serve for the remainder of Jewell’s term and decided on Gary Williams over former state senator and perennial candidate for mayor T. Milton Street.
From a party stand-point, perhaps the biggest was an upset was in race for state House in the 182nd Legislative District, which covers much of Center City. State Rep. Babette Josephs, who has held the seat since 1985 lost to newcomer Brian Sims, who will be the first openly gay member of the general assembly.
The vote was close, with Sims netting about 52 percent of the ballots to Josephs’ 48 percent.
Josephs was co-vice president of the city’s delegation in Harrisburg. She faced frequent challenges in recent years but managed to hang onto her seat.
That changed Tuesday evening.
According to preliminary results, Sims won with 3,661 votes. Josephs had 3,428.
“We set out from the very beginning to run the largest, cleanest, most involved campaign that we could,” Sims said in published reports. “We reached out to all four corners of this district for volunteers, for support, for help, and we were blessed to get it.”
Barring a write-in challenge from a Republican, which is extremely unlikely, Sims should take the seat in the fall.
That too was largely due to the loyalty of a bloc, Floyd said, noting that gay voters flocked to Sims rather than Josephs.
“They were the group that would normally put her over the top,” he said. “But, they basically went with the gay candidate.”
Another widely watched race was the 186th District, which was wide open, with three contenders seeking to fill the seat vacated by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Former Youth Commission won in a landslide victory – the widest margin seen in the city – with 76 percent of the district’s voters behind him.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” Harris said early Wednesday morning. “We put in a lot of hard work to get our message out to the community. The community has spoken loud and clear on the direction they want to go in. I’m just humbled and honored my community has that faith in me.”
With no Republican in the 186th race, Harris should sail through on Nov. 6.
Like Miranda, he said he plans on making sure voters hit the polls in November pushing the button for himself and for Obama.
Attorney Damon K. Roberts came in second with roughly 20 percent of the vote. He sought the seat before, and lost to Johnson. A third candidate, community activist Timothy Hannah came in third with about 5 percent of the vote.
Roberts’ biggest surprise of the evening was not his loss, but an incident that happened at around 10 p.m. at his Dickinson and South Broad streets headquarters. Roberts was forced to call police after he tried to pay staffers with checks rather than cash. When he ran out of checks, the crowd got ugly, and a melee started, forcing him to call police for his own protection.
He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A police spokesperson said police arrived for a disturbance at 9:57 and remained on the scene until about 11 p.m. Poll volunteers were apparently promised $100 each, which Roberts was paying with the checks.
Voters in the 186th also participated in special election, choosing someone to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term. They chose former state Rep. Harold James, who will return temporarily to his statehouse seat.
In most other races across the city, incumbents prevailed – including a contested three-person race in the Northwest section of the city where state Rep. Rosita Youngblood held on against Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley.
“People always underestimate Rosita,” Floyd said. “With her, there is not a lot of fanfare but she serves that district in a way that she’s entrenched.”
Youngblood got 47 percent of the vote compared to Presley’s 28 percent and Boyd’s 24 percent.
“Every time she’s run, she’s had a challenger or more - but ultimately she had been blessed again and again and again to come back and represent the people of the district,” said campaign spokeswoman Thera Martin-Milling.
In West Philadelphia, in a race that drew a lot of media attention and large political donations, challenger Fatimah Muhammad was still unable to beat incumbent Jim Roebuck.
“It didn’t matter,” Floyd said. “Roebuck has a solid core of supporters, and that’s what puts him over the top.”
Election results remain unofficial until the Pennsylvania State Department verifies them.