Election brings historic change to City Council, area races

Election brings historic change to City Council, area races

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Change was on the ballot in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and women, LGBTQ folks and people of color were the winners as another blue wave swept through the state, displacing Republicans in favor of progressives.

Philadelphia made history Tuesday, electing the first independent member of City Council, Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party, a progressive independent party.

Democrats Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Kathy Richardson and Isaiah Thomas won at-large seats.

Republican incumbent David Oh, who made a series of controversial statements about gender reassignment surgery on Facebook last month, citing an anti-LGBTQ religious group, held onto his seat in a close race against Brooks' WFP running mate Nicolas O'Rourke. O'Rourke received 43,012 votes to Oh's 49,700. Republican Al Taubenberger lost his seat to Brooks but would have beaten O'Rourke with 44,084 votes. Out lesbian candidate Sherrie Cohen, who also ran as an independent, lost her bid for an at-large seat but secured 8,354 votes. Republican candidate and out gay man David Orsino lost to Mark Squilla in City Council's 1st District race. 

The city also elected queer judge attorney Tiffany Palmer to the Court of Common Pleas. Palmer received more votes than any of the other judicial candidates with 205,607. Palmer's law practice Jerner and Palmer, P.C. released a statement announcing Palmer will step down in December and a name change to Jerner Law Group, P.C. The practice said, "While the Jerner & Palmer, P.C. family will miss Attorney Palmer, we are confident that she will prove to be an excellent jurist and bring her experience, integrity and empathy to the bench."

Palmer has been a longtime LGBTQ-rights and family law attorney. She and Benjamin Jerner began Jerner & Palmer, P.C. in 2003, where Palmer has been counsel on many groundbreaking trial and appellate cases.

Palmer was counsel in the Sherri Shepherd surrogacy case (In Re Baby S) in 2015, which held for the first time that surrogacy contracts are legally enforceable in Pennsylvania. In 2018, she argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (C.G. v. J.H.) on issues related to expanding the definition of legal parent to protect the rights of same-sex co-parents.

Dan Anders, an out gay judge up for retention in the Court of Common Pleas, overwhelmingly secured his position for another 10 years. Anders said, "I am gratified for the strong support from across Philadelphia and especially from the LGBTQ community. I look forward to another 10 years of public service."

Mayor Jim Kenney was re-elected in a landslide with 82 percent of the vote. In his acceptance speech Kenney, a longtime LGBTQ ally, reinforced his dedication to fighting the Trump agenda, maintaining Philadelphia as an inclusive city dedicated to its diverse citizenry and protecting immigrants as a sanctuary city.

The City Council shake-up was Philadelphia's most significant election news. In a statement, Brooks, from Nicetown, said voters and the WFP made history. "For the first time in seven decades, Philadelphia said enough is enough. We broke the GOP, we beat the Democratic establishment, and we're bringing real working-class power into City Council."

Brooks said, "They said a black, single mom from North Philly wasn't the right person. But we have proven that this is our movement and our moment. This is just the start. We're bringing our movement to City Hall, and we're not going to stop until we build the city we deserve."

Brooks told PGN in October that her child is gender non-conforming and has inspired her to champion LGBTQ rights. 

In her statement on the election, Gym, who put forward three critical LGBTQ bills in June, congratulated Brooks on her win. She also spoke to the diversification of both Council and citywide offices.

Gym said, "I firmly believe that our City's Democratic Party is stronger when we diversify and strengthen our political systems. I'm proud to have the support of both the Working Families Party (WFP) and the Democratic Party. I hope Philadelphia's Democratic party can now work with WFP to build an agenda that supports Philadelphians from every neighborhood and community."

Gym said the addition of more women citywide was significant, adding that "four years ago, only one female incumbent was in the race for 19 citywide offices" and that Tuesday's election meant "seven women now hold citywide office in Philadelphia."

Outside Philadelphia, Newtown elected its first out gay member of Borough Council since 1684, Robert Szwajkos. He and his running mate Susan Turner join four other Democrats to form the all Blue Wave Council.

Szwajkos has been a longtime counsel for LGBTQ rights organizations and serves on the Human Relations Committee in Newtown. He said he is "an attorney by profession and a community activist by avocation" and said of his approach going forward, "I tell people I don't fight for equality, because we are all already equal. What I do is I fight against intolerance. I'm going to keep doing that."

Szwajkos will serve a four-year term starting January 6, 2020.

Delaware County made history as well as Democrats won every seat on Delaware County Council, marking the first time since the Civil War that Democrats will be in control. Democrats also won a majority of the legislative body in Chester County and Bucks County and captured the Board of Commissioners for the first time since 1983.  


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