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Speed Dating With Politicians, Philly-Style, as Voters Grill City Candidates at Open Forum

Thirty-five candidates for Philadelphia City Council gathered Monday night to take questions from voters in an open forum. The primary election for local elected offices is May 21.

What to Know

  • More candidates filed to run for Philadelphia municipal office in this year's primary election than in any previous year since 1983.
  • Several candidates have dropped out, but more than 50 people are still slated to be on ballots May 21.
  • All 17 City Council seats are up for election, along with mayor, sheriff and the City Commission.

Edisa Rodriguez engaged Adrian Rivera-Reyes about his background in science, and how he would use his experience to enact "evidence-based policies."

Rodriguez, a Fairmount resident who will be voting in Philadelphia's Democratic primary for local offices next month, wasn't yet sold.

"Evidence-based, ok. So, give me a couple policies of yours," the consultant prodded further.

After spending a few minutes with Rivera-Reyes, a candidate for City Council at-large who identifies as a Democratic socialist and proposes a municipal "Green New Deal," Rodriguez looked at her list. Next, she wanted to talk with another at-large candidate, Justin DiBerardinis.

Soon enough, she tracked him down and talked tax reform. 

So it went for voters and candidates at Philadelphia's largest gathering yet of Council hopefuls running on a packed primary ballot May 21. More people are running for City Council than in any election since 1983.

Thirty-five candidates set up tables to meet voters at the event Monday night at WHYY, the city's public radio station.

While most of the tables were occupied by candidates trying to win elected office for the first time, some incumbents like at-large Councilman Allan Domb and Curtis Jones Jr., who represents Philadelphia's Fourth District, also met voters inside the cramped first floor of the building near Sixth and Race streets.

In all, 54 Democrats and Republicans are slated to be on ballots in the May 21 primary. Ten district seats and seven at-large seats are up for election.

Daniel Orsino, a Republican running for the Council's First District seat in a town where the Grand Old Party is outnumbered more than 7-to-1 by Democrats, smiled widely to each passing voter.

His table was situated in the farthest corner from WHYY's entrance. Still, voters who made the effort to come to Center City for the meet-and-greet showed a willingness to at least tour the entire political carnival.

"Voters quickly forget what party you represent when they hear the progressive platform I'm supporting," said Orsino, a member of the LGBTQ community.

It wasn't just voters that candidates were trying to impress. The Philadelphia Inquirer held 15-minute one-on-one sessions in a nearby conference with each of the hopefuls.

"I'm running to bring accountability to Council," said Ron Adams, a Roxborough resident who works in public health and is challenging Jones in the Fourth District. "I want to talk to the voters. I want to meet them where they are, whether that's online, or social media, or in the community."

Other candidate forums are coming up in the few weeks left before the May 21 primary, which includes most municipal elected offices in Philadelphia: mayor, all 17 Council seats, all three City Commission seats, sheriff, and register of wills.

NBC10 and Telemundo62 are co-hosting the only televised mayoral debate, which will include incumbent Jim Kenney and two challengers, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz. 

It will be broadcast on May 13 at 7 p.m. from the Comcast Technology Center in Center City Philadelphia in front of a live audience of invited guests.

The debate will be broadcast in English on NBC10 and in Spanish on TeleXitos, and livestreamed on all NBC10 and Telemundo62 digital platforms. After the debate has concluded, it will be available to watch on demand on and The Inquirer and AARP Pennsylvania are also co-hosts.

Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the primary. All Philadelphia voters can then vote in the November general election. For more information about your ballot and where you can vote, go to the election watchdog Committee of Seventy's 2019 Voter's Guide.

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