By the time Councilmemeber-elect Kendra Brooks took the stage at Barber’s Hall on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, it was clear that she had won enough votes to secure one of the two minority seats on Philadelphia City Council.
Brooks and her running mate, Nicholas O’Rourke, ran on the Working Families ticket, a political third-party that could not boast the infrastructure of the powerful City Democratic Committee, or even Philadelphia’s moribund GOP. In fact, Brooks’ win meant the ouster of Republican Councilmember Al Taubenberger, who is in his first term.
Brooks earned a wide range of support from members of the Democratic Party, most notably Councilmember Helen Gym and district attorney Larry Krasner, and from presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The endorsements, in addition to prodigious fundraising and a well-organized campaign effort, combined with Brooks’ populist message, created a groundswell of support that helped lead to an upset victory.
Brooks’ key campaign issues also seemed to resonate with voters. In particular, she highlighted themes dealing with poverty, such as affordable housing, school funding, and jobs.
In her victory speech, Brooks said history had been made by electing the first third-party candidate in at least seventy years.
“Enough is enough,” Brooks said. “For the first time in seven decades, we broke the GOP. We beat the Democratic establishment, and we are bringing working class power into city council.”
Brooks decried austerity and school privatization in her victory speech, and said her campaign survived those determined to break the spirit of the city.
“[The] elite wanted to gut the power of working-class neighborhoods,” Brooks said. “Black people who saw their schools close and their homes lost to sheriff’s sale. They said we couldn’t do it, but we did it.”
Telling the crowd that the work of the campaign was not finished, Brooks said winning the council seat was just the first step for the coalition that formed around her candidacy.
“In the poorest biggest city in the country, where Fortune 500 companies and multibillion dollar health care systems, and privatizers, landlords and so-called developers have a stronghold in our politics, we’re facing an uphill battle,” Brooks said.“If we want to win, we’ve got to get ready.”
After her speech, Brooks said she was still in shock at the victory.
“I don’t have any words right now,” Brooks said. “It feels amazing. When the sacrifices you have made and the work you have done for years comes together, and [people] have chosen you, it means a lot.”
Brooks said her first priorities in office were keeping her campaign promises.
“The ten-year tax abatement,” Brooks said. “If it’s not ended, I’m going to continue to push for that. Our schools are in a state of emergency, we need to continue to [create legislation] around schools, and hold true to the platform I ran on.”
Philadelphia City Council is comprised of 17 members, 10 of whom represent districts, and seven who run at-large. Of the seven, two seats are reserved for members of minority parties which, for decades, had been members of the Republican Party. The other minority councilmember will be GOP incumbent David Oh, who will be serving his third term.
Brooks earned 55,599 votes, which led all candidates vying for a minority seat. Oh finished second with 49,700 votes, and Taubenberger and O’Rourke finished third and fourth, respectively, separated by little more than 1000 votes.
All five Democrats vying for at-large seats, incumbents Helen Gym, Allan Domb and Derek Green, and incoming councilmembers Isiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, won on Tuesday with significant margins.
The new council will take office in January of 2020.
Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.
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