A tight race to lead the nation’s sixth-largest city unfolded in Philadelphia on Tuesday as voters navigated a crowded field of Democratic candidates in a contest that focused on how to combat gun violence and quality-of-life issues that make people feel unsafe.
Former City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker and former City Comptroller Rebecca Rhynhart were in a close race when the early votes were counted. The city had just begun counting in-person ballots cast Tuesday, which could affect the results.
The Philadelphia race serves as the latest barometer of how residents in some of the nation’s largest cities hope to emerge from the pandemic, which has raised concerns about crime, poverty and inequality. The results have been sometimes tumultuous in other parts of the country, leading to the defeat of the incumbent Chicago mayor in February and the ouster of San Francisco’s district attorney last year.
Philadelphia voters will choose from front-running candidates including former council members Allan Domb, Helen Gym and Parker; Rhynhart; and political outsider and merchant Jeff Brown. They are vying to replace term-limited Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney.
Only one Republican, former City Councilman David Oh, is running. He and the Democratic candidate will face each other in the Nov. 7 general election. Because Philadelphia is heavily Democratic, whoever wins the primary is likely to become the next mayor.
The candidates have vowed to tackle the city’s violence and crime and address its rampant quality-of-life issues, but how they plan to get there varies. The candidate who is able to muster their base and appeal to the broadest cross-section of voters will ultimately tip the scales in a close contest.
Jamie DeAngelis cast her vote for Helen Gym after taking an online quiz and matching her platform the most. She said it was difficult with so many in the race, and she predicts that whoever takes the helm in the city will face stiff headwinds.
“Especially with the way the Democratic Party is a little bit divided this time, I just think there’s going to be a lot of pushback on who gets voted in,” she said.
James Perelman had narrowed his mayoral candidates to Gym, Parker and Rhynhart, ultimately casting his vote for Rhynhart. He described her as having the plans that best match his concerns, particularly what he sees as a need to address gun violence and improve the city’s public schools. He also believed that her background suited her to handle any financial downturns.
“But it was still difficult,” he said. “I think myself, and I think a lot of Philadelphians want to … maybe it’s time to consider ranked elections or something where we don’t have such a small percentage of the city deciding , who is mayor.”
Voters on Tuesday will also choose seven of more than 30 total Democratic and Republican candidates for City Council seats and three contested district seats.
To the west, voters in Allegheny County, which includes the state’s second-largest city, Pittsburgh, will choose from among six Democratic candidates vying to replace the county’s term-limited top official. The winner will face a lone Republican candidate in the November general election. Unlike in Philadelphia’s mayoral race, the primary winner will not necessarily be the person most likely to occupy the county executive seat.
Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa in Philadelphia contributed to this report.