No clear frontrunner in Philadelphia mayoral race

  • Tuesday's primary election will likely decide the next Philadelphia mayor
  • Nobody has emerged as a clear frontrunner among the Democratic candidates
  • Crime continues to be the top issue voters are worried about
FILE - Traffic moves along the Interstate 76 highway on March 31, 2021, in Philadelphia. The number of people killed on U.S. roadways decreased slightly in 2022, but government officials said the 42,795 people who died is still a national crisis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE – Traffic moves along the Interstate 76 highway on March 31, 2021, in Philadelphia. The number of people killed on U.S. roadways decreased slightly in 2022, but government officials said the 42,795 people who died is still a national crisis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(NewsNation) — The race to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor is a dead heat that will likely be decided by Tuesday’s primary election in one of the nation’s Democratic strongholds.

Five candidates have emerged as serious contenders for the Democratic nomination but local political experts say nobody has pulled away as the clear frontrunner.

“It’s basically a dead heat,” said Bill Rosenberg, a professor of political science at Drexel University.

Some of the deadlock can be attributed to similarities in the candidates’ résumés.

Helen Gym, Alan Domb and Cherelle Parker are all former city council members and Rebecca Rhynart is a former city controller. Jeff Brown, a fourth-generation grocer, has positioned himself as a business-savvy political outsider and is the only major candidate with no previous elected experience.

When it comes to the issues, Rosenberg said nobody has differentiated themselves in a “dramatic way,” adding the race will likely come down to turnout and which candidate can get their voters to the polls.

Crime still a major concern

As in other mayoral races across the country, public safety is front and center.

Last year, 516 people were killed in Philadelphia and an additional 1,788 were wounded by gunfire. Those numbers are slightly down from record highs in 2021 but still up significantly from 2019 when 353 people were killed and 1,162 were wounded by gunfire.

But unlike the recent mayoral race in Chicago — where the top candidates offered very different approaches to public safety — the gap between Philadelphia’s Democratic candidates is less pronounced.

“There’s really no candidate you could point to that says we should not have more police,” said Michael Sances, a political scientist at Temple University. “It’s really just a question of what are the police going to be doing?”

Gym, who was a teacher and community organizer before joining city council, wants to fund mental health first responders so police can focus on solving crimes. She’s emerged as the progressive candidate and has endorsements from national figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Parker, a former state lawmaker, wants to hire 300 more patrol officers to focus on community policing. She’s also emphasized the need for long-term investment in high-crime neighborhoods.

The local police union has endorsed Brown, who has called for 1,500 more officers on the street while also highlighting the importance of addressing root causes like structural poverty.

Most of the candidates have said they would declare a city emergency around crime, though details vary. Rhynart intends to declare a citywide emergency so various departments can better coordinate resources. Domb wants to convene a public safety cabinet that includes local, state and federal agencies.

What the polls say

A nonpartisan poll at the end of April showed a statistical tie between the top five — all within six percentage points of each other — with 20% of voters still undecided.

A separate Emerson College/PHL 17 survey released Friday showed a virtual tie between Gym (20.5%), Parker (18.2%), Rhynhart (17.7%), with Domb and Brown slightly behind.

The poll found Gym leading with young voters under 50, while Parker leads among older voters.

Racial demographics could also play a major role, Rosenberg pointed out. In a city where 60% of Democrats are Black, Parker is the only African-American candidate in the top five and currently leads among Black voters.

Current Mayor Jim Kenney said he voted for Parker but clarified that it was not an endorsement. Kenney was ineligible to run again after serving two terms in office.

If Gym, Parker or Rhynhart win Tuesday, Philadelphia would likely see its first female mayor.

David Oh, a former at-large city council member, is the sole Republican candidate and presumptive GOP nominee. Although, Philadelphia hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1952 when Bernard Samuel was in office.

The two major party candidates will face-off in the general election on November 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Northeast

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