What Happened on Tuesday?

The 2023 May Primary Election came and went with little of the suspense promised by the months of jockeying by the candidates. The mayoral race (and perhaps others) were not expected to be known on Tuesday night. Still, as the evening went on, it became clear that Cherelle Parker was building a significant lead over her opponents, and rather than having to wait days for the results, Parker had the race won before midnight.

Much had been made about how the race developed the way it did and how frontrunners like Helen Gym and Rebecca Rhynhart were unable to find a path to victory despite polls showing them in the lead at various times during the campaign. Hall Monitor will only add the following short paragraphs to the voluminous opinions found elsewhere (and everywhere…).

Rebecca Rhynhart and Helen Gym appeared to be competing for a particular portion of the progressive vote. With Rhynhart earning 55,806 votes and Gym 53,644, it’s not difficult to imagine one of these candidates topping Parker’s 79,290 votes if the other had not been in the race. If either Rhynhart of Gym had picked up half of the other’s vote, there could be a different Democratic nominee.

Allan Domb ran a steady, self-funded race. He didn’t pick up any of the endorsements conventional wisdom suggests you need to win a mayoral primary, but he never seemed to hurt himself, either. However, without the built-in infrastructure and support ward and labor endorsements can provide, Domb had to build a campaign operation from scratch, which is an extremely difficult task under the best of circumstances.

Jeff Brown started strong, surprising some observers with the endorsements and goodwill he earned early in the race. But three major issues complicated and ultimately caused his campaign to sputter at the finish. First, he gained too much momentum too early. Campaigns are about timing as much as anything else, and Brown peaked too early, making him a target for his competition. Secondly, the ethics investigation into his campaign’s cooperation with a SuperPAC seemed to become what people began associating with him. Thirdly, Brown could not get out of his own way. A steady stream of gaffes soured public opinion of his candidacy and gave his opponents ample ammunition with which to dispatch him.

Ultimately, Parker ran her race the way she wanted by focusing on crime and other quality-of-life issues while letting her opponents fight amongst themselves. While this was no easy win, Parker’s message and tenacity propelled her through a crowded and challenging field to a historic victory.

The City Council races were also a drier affair than anticipated. At-large, the three incumbents (Isaiah Thomas, Katharine Gilmore Richardson, and Jim Harrity) all won reelection despite each having a poor ballot position, including Thomas pulling the last spot on the at-large ballot. However, party backing and the inertia of incumbency ruled the day.

For the two vacant seats, insurgent challenger Rue Landau, who had earned the backing of almost everyone, easily captured the fourth spot. Rounding out the Democratic field is Nina Ahmad, a past candidate for other offices who finally was able to cross the finish line. While the Democratic City Committee did not endorse Ahmad, she was “recommended” along with Eryn Santamoor and Erika Almiron.

Seven of the ten district council members ran unopposed, but incumbents did face challengers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth districts.

Quetsy Lozada and Anthony Phillips, of the seventh and ninth districts, respectively, easily overcame opponents. However, the eight-district race came down to the wire, with Cindy Bass barely beating her opponent, Seth Anderson-Oberman, by just over 400 votes of over 26,000 cast. The race was expected to be tight for Bass, with the result unknown until late Thursday.

The other big shake-up on Election Day was the ouster of incumbent Register of Wills Tracey Gordon. Challenger John Sabatini, the candidate endorsed by the Democratic City Committee, managed to defeat Gordon by 3500 votes. Incumbent Sheriff Rochelle Bilal managed to fend off a challenge from Michael Untermeyer, and endorsed candidate Christy Brady won the Democratic nomination for Controller over to challengers.

The 2023 Primary was a fascinating look at urban politics against the backdrop of serious systemic issues facing the city. The next mayor and council will have numerous challenges waiting for them when they take office next January.

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