PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A little more than two weeks out from the Democratic primary that will determine Philadelphia’s next mayor, a nonprofit poll released Friday showed no clear frontrunner among the top five contenders.
“The results of this poll showed that 20% of voters are still undecided. And of those who actually did pick a candidate, we have a dead heat between the top four candidates,” summarized Lauren Cristella, interim president and chief operating officer of Committee of Seventy, which put out the first public, independent poll of the race.
No woman has ever served as mayor of the city that proudly touts its slogan of brotherly love, but the Committee of Seventy numbers showed three female candidates at the front of the pack. Former Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart is leading with 18%, followed closely by former City Council members Cherelle Parker (17%), Helen Gym (15%) and Allan Domb (14%).
“As the former president of the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia, I am very excited by the strength of the fields in general,” Cristella said in a phone interview. "And that three women are vying to be the 100th mayor of Philadelphia is very exciting.”
While the initial numbers ostensibly favor Rhynhart, the nonprofit leader emphasized that they still reflect a toss-up among the top four.
“They are all tightly within four points and the credibility interval is 3.8%,” Cristella explained, using a statistical term that can be thought of similarly to a margin of error. “So it really is anybody's game.”
ShopRite proprietor Jeff Brown trailed slightly behind the top four, garnering 11%. The three remaining candidates included in the poll, State Representative Amen Brown, pastor Warren Bloom Sr., and retired municipal court judge James DeLeon trailed behind — all garnering 2% or less support.
The High Stakes of Low Turnout
As Temple University associate professor of political science Michael Sances explained, the May 16 primary will likely decide who will act as Philadelphia's 100th mayor.
“In a city with so few Republicans, it’s the primary that’s really going to decide who the next mayor is going to be,” said Sances in a phone interview.
Registered Philadelphia Democrats outnumber the city's Republicans 7 to 1, making it all but certain whoever wins the primary will win the general election in November against the uncontested Republican mayoral candidate, former City Council member David Oh.
That means the winner of the primary election will likely be the official tasked with leading the charge against major issues plaguing Philadelphia like poverty, opioid addiction, gun violence, aging infrastructure and education inequality.
Despite the stakes, turnout for the city of 1.6 million is likely to be low. Only 27% of voters turned out in 2015 for the last mayoral primary that elected now-outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney. If just a quarter of Philadelphia’s 775,000 registered Democrats show up for the 2023 primary, and election numbers echo poll results, the winner could be determined by as few as 2,000 votes.
“Primary elections at all levels tend to be unpredictable,” Sances noted. “There's lots of candidates involved and a small number of votes. You can receive well below majority and still win.”
As Kenney has neared the end of his two-term limit, Sances points out that outgoing mayor has received a good deal of criticism, and that residents are hungry to reimagine what Philadelphia could be with different leadership.
“This is really a chance to set the agenda for the next four to eight years for the city,” Sances said, pointing to citizens concerns about public safety, trash pickups and education.
“If you have five or six Democrats, how you how do you distinguish between them and find the one that's closest to you on policy positions? That's a pretty hard thing to do,” he says. “Even if you go to the candidates websites and read the information.”