By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Months of campaigning by the six Democratic candidates for mayor of Philadelphia have come to an end, and now it is up to the voters.
Today’s primary election has the parties choosing not only nominees for mayor, but for all 17 seats on City Council.
The battle for that all-important Democratic nomination for mayor was actually a relatively short race, given that the apparent frontrunner, Jim Kenney, a former City Councilman, didn’t even enter the race until February. He faces five others on today’s ballot.
State senator Anthony Williams announced he was running for mayor back in November. In between came commitments to run from former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham, former city solicitor Nelson Diaz, former Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver, and former Pennsylvania state senator Milton Street.
The six have since sparred at dozens of candidate forums staged by a wide range of groups throughout the city.
Mayor Nutter did not endorse any of the candidates but gives the overall tenor of the campaigning a thumbs-up.
“Overall, I think it’s been more than civil,” Nutter said recently. “Maybe one or two quote-unquote ‘negative’ ads. But overall, the candidates have been good as candidates. I know there have been a lot of forums, which tend to wear the candidates out, but that gives people more and more opportunities to see them.”
The campaign was highlighted by relatively low spending by the candidates themselves in light of the city’s fundraising restrictions. At the same time, it was marked by exceedingly high spending by independent political committees, which ran ads in support of Williams and Kenney.
Williams’ announcement that, if elected, he would not retain police commissioner Charles Ramsey is also seen as a key moment in the race.
And observers took note as the decision of three leading African-American elected officials — state representative Dwight Evans, City Council president Darrell Clarke, and councilwoman Marian Tasco — to endorse Kenney, who is white.
The past two Democratic primaries for mayor in which there was no incumbent — 1999 and 2007 — saw voter turnout in the area of 30 to 33 percent. Mayor Nutter hopes today’s voting exceeds that.
“I mean, it’s the mayor’s race! It’s the City Council races! It’s very, very important,” the mayor told KYW Newsradio. “It should be exceedingly high. This is an election that a lot of people should pay attention to. They should get out and vote. If you don’t vote, your voice is not heard.”
The Republican primary for mayor features only one candidate: center city businesswoman Melissa Murray Bailey. She will face the Democratic nominee and any third-party or independent candidates in the general election.
But it today’s Democratic primary that is the key, because whoever comes out ahead when the polls close will enjoy Philadelphia’s huge Democratic majority in November. Registered Democrats in Philadelphia outnumber Republicans by nearly eight to one.
The race for mayor is also notable for the number of people who were in but dropped out (Ken Trujillo, Terry Gillen, the Rev. Keith Goodman), as well as those who considered running but opted out (Darrell Clarke, Alan Butkovitz, Jonathan Saidel). Sam Katz mulled an independent run for mayor but announced last week that he will not.
Former city councilman Bill Green has switched his party registration to independent and is considering running for mayor in the November general election. He is expected to announce his plans after the primary.
Meanwhile, voters are also choosing nominees for City Council, including the key races for the five Democratic nominations for City Council “at large.”
Stay tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060, CBS-3, and CBS Philly for results of all the races, beginning after the polls close at 8pm.