2:34 PM / Tuesday March 21, 2023

17 Mar 2023

The can of destiny

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March 17, 2023 Category: Local Posted by:

On Wednesday, candidates participating in the May 16 primary found out where they’d appear on the ballot.

ABOVE PHOTO: Democratic mayoral candidate Derek Green and City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson were among the candidates and surrogates waiting for their chance to pick ballot position numbers out of the Horn and Hardart can on Wednesday. Green drew ballot position #6 among the Democratic mayoral candidates and Gilmore Richardson drew ballot position #25 among the Democratic City Council At-Large candidates.

By Denise Clay-Murray

“If you’re going to room 202, sign the book and just go through the metal detector…”

City Hall security guards ushered candidates, their surrogates and those just wanting to see the Horn and Hardart can that could make or break a politician’s future into the Mayor’s Conversation Room on Wednesday for the annual selection of ballot positions.

One by one, candidates for races including Mayor, City Council, Sheriff, and Register of Wills came to the front of Conversation Hall to pick a wooden ball out of a coffee can so popular that it has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

At one time, Horn and Hardart coffee was a Philadelphia institution sold at the automats that bore the company’s name. In a city that treasures its history like few places do, the Horn and Hardart can is a symbol of stability, Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. said.

“As long as that can is still the same old can,” he said, “We’re following tradition.”

For newcomers like Democratic mayoral candidate Jeff Brown, it was a chance to get an up-close look of something he had only heard about. 

“It’s my first time in front of the Horn and Hardart coffee can,” he said. “I’m marveling at our system of democracy. It’s interesting.”

While all of the candidates were hoping for a good ballot position, many of them said their strategy wouldn’t be determined by a small wooden ball. 

“If you don’t pull a good number, you have to make your number good,” Jones said. “If there’s 30 candidates, and you’re not in the first 10, it matters. After a while, people get tired of going down the list. It also depends on the design of the ballot. If there are columns, and you pick #15, you might be at the top of one of the columns, so it helps you.”

“Whatever number I get, I’ll be able to promote that,” said Ogbonna Paul Hagins, a candidate for Council At-Large. “It’s all about promotion, promotion, promotion.”

Republican Council At-Large candidate Drew Murray was hoping for some divine intervention, “This is my mother’s rosary,” he said. “I’m holding it for number 1.”

After a brief bit of City Commissioner business, Judge James Crumlish commenced with the ballot position lottery by allowing the mayoral candidates to come up and select numbers. Ballot position #1 went to John Wood, a “law and order” candidate that few in the room had heard of. 

Former City Councilmember Marian Tasco served as former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker’s proxy and picked #2 on her behalf. The top five was rounded out by former Judge James DeLeon (#3) former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart (#4) and Delscia Gray (#5).

Former City Councilmember Derek Green was #6, followed by State Rep. Amen Brown (#7), Jeff Brown (#8), former City Councilmember Maria Quinones Sanchez (#9), Warren Bloom (#10) and former City Councilmembers Allan Domb (#11) and Helen Gym (#12). 

Of the Mayoral candidates, only Green, Jeff Brown and Amen Brown, Domb, and Wood came to select their own numbers. The others either sent proxies or had their numbers picked by a civil service employee. 

On the Republican side, former Councilmember David Oh, the lone candidate vying for the nomination drew ballot position #1.

When it came to the City Council At-Large ballot positions, Council incumbents took it on the chin. 

The best ballot position among the incumbents was Councilmember Jimmy Harrity at #18. Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson got position #25 and Councilmember Isaiah Thomas came in last at #29.

Ballot position #1 for the Democratic candidates for Council At-Large went to Derwood Selby, followed by Sherrie Cohen (#2). Hagins got position #12.

On the Republican side for Council At-Large, Murray came in at #3.

While the ballot positions have been picked, petition challenge hearings were held on Friday, so they may change.

The last day to register to vote in the May 16 primary is May 1, and the last day to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot to vote in the primary is May 9. 

This report is part of the Lenfest Foundation’s Every Voice, Every Vote effort to help Philadelphians learn as much as they can about this year’s elections. 

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