Munipocalypse 2013: A Mostly Good Night for Progressives

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Yesterday’s municipal elections were a pretty good night for progressives on the whole, but before we get to the good stuff, let’s rip off the band-aid and get the bad news out of the way first.

The Bad

In an extremely embarrassing upset, Bangor Mayor John Brown beat Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan 52-48 in the race for Northampton County Executive. Brown got 18,277 votes to Callahan’s 16,808.

Callahan barely even beat Brown in the City of Bethlehem where he’s been Mayor for 8 years. For some context, Mayor-elect Bob Donchez and Willie Reynolds received a combined 3800 votes in the Bethlehem Mayoral primary this spring. In the general election, Callahan got a total of 2693 votes in Bethlehem compared to 2205 for Brown.

The lack of competitive races to drive turnout in Bethlehem and Easton definitely hurt Callahan, but this is inexcusable. And it’s basically all his campaign manager Eric Nagy’s fault as I’ll explain in a follow-up post on this race.

Delaware County and Northampton County both saw Republican sweeps of County-level races, which is just incredibly disappointing given that these are both areas Democrats were expected to build on recent gains.

Statewide, Republican Vic Stabile won the Superior Court race over Democrat Jack McVay by 3 points, 51.5 – 48.5, proving that statewide elections (or really any elections) should never be held in low-turnout odd years.

Also disappointing to me: the (predictable) reelection of Brady machine favorite Alan Butkovitz as Controller in Philadelphia, which advances a Mayoral campaign I’m going to hate. Get ready for lots of empty pandering on education and absolutely no investigations of the Sheriff’s office’s broken tax sales or city contracting.

That’s about it for the races I was following. There were thousands of local races yesterday though, so let us know in the comments if there’s something you think was consequential in your area and I’ll be happy to promote it.

The Good

Bill Peduto! This win makes me happier than even the Bill DeBlasio win in NYC because the Peduto team proved a Democratic monopoly on city politics does not automatically doom a city to the type of corrupt, depressing garbage we observe in Philadelphia. Peduto got very lucky with Luke Ravenstahl’s unexpected implosion, but once a political vacuum appeared, his team seized the opportunity to piece together a whole new electoral coalition that turned out to be powerful enough to supplant the machine. It’s proof you can broaden the city interest group coalition beyond just AFSCME + building trades if you want, and open up political space for more inventive policy ideas. Peduto ally Deb Gross won in District 7, young progressive Natalia Rudiak easily held her seat, and former Peduto chief of staff Dan Gilman won his former boss’s old seat. That’s a narrow progressive governing majority on City Council for the Peduto coalition.

In Lehigh County, moderate Republican-turned-Democrat Tom Muller was able to beat professional Tea Party clown Scott Ott, 51-49. Remember that time acting Executive Matt Croslis crossed party lines to endorse Ott over Muller? So will all Lehigh Valley Democrats forever. Mike Schlossberg staffer Geoff Brace picked up a seat on the Lehigh Commission, and I have to imagine young progressive Wes Barrett’s very narrow loss to incumbent tea person Michael Schware by 114 votes will go to recount. That leaves Republicans with a 7-2 majority on the Commission, enough to override Muller’s vetos. But with only 4 (and possibly just 3) tea people, policy outcomes are probably going to be pretty mild for the time being.

Bethlehem City Council now features a progressive governing majority, in contrast to the old more conservative Council. Last session, Eric Evans, David DiGiacinto, Jean Belinski, and Bob Donchez were a (not so coordinated) conservative bloc, but now Belinski is retired, DiGiacinto is Controller, and Bob Donchez is Mayor. Council is a lot more progressive in this round, with Karen Dolan, Willie Reynolds, and now Bryan Callahan and young progressive newcomer Adam Waldron picking up the open seats. These four will be able to pick a 5th progressive member to fill Bob Donchez’s old seat, for a 7-2 progressive governing majority. I’m guessing they make Willie Reynolds the Council President.

And in Carlisle, let’s have a shout-out for our boy Jake Sternberger who helped elect Tim Scott the Mayor. This was Jake’s first race as campaign manager, and by all accounts he did an incredible job. Tim will be the first Democratic Mayor of Carlisle in 28 years, and the first African American Mayor to be elected in the borough. Jake’s other candidate Sean Schultz won his seat on Borough Council, while Nathan Harig fell slightly short. Two outta three ain’t bad.

On the statewide front, I don’t follow judicial elections as much as I should, but the retention win for Supreme Court justice Ron Castille (moderate Republican) is being regarded by people I trust as a win for Democrats, since a vote not to retain would have given Tom Corbett the power to appoint a nuttier Republican.

All in all, mostly good news for the Blue Team! Now let’s get to work on getting our turnout operation humming for 2014.

This entry was posted in Munipocalypse 2013.

4 Responses to Munipocalypse 2013: A Mostly Good Night for Progressives

  1. mike pollice says:

    Bill Peduto will be a great Mayor of Pittsburgh. The last 7 years have hurt the city. Mayor Bill has new fresh ideas and I know that business will not go on as usual.

  2. Tim says:

    The only unfortunate thing about the Peduto win is that many of his supporters are like Mr. Pollice here. They believe that Ravenstahl was the worst mayor in the world and only people on Peduto’s team can accomplish things. I am a proud Pittsburgh resident that supported Ravenstahl and I have seen lots of good things over the last 7 years. I also voted for Peduto and believe that both Ravenstahl and Peduto will be good mayors.

    I just hope that the new coalition in Pittsburgh doesn’t get drunk with power and try to take out those that they deem to be political enemies in Democratic Primary Elections. I will really be disappointed if Peduto lines up to try and take out Democratic legislators and waste Democratic raised money to get rid of legislators that vote 99% of the time the way Peduto and his team would want them too.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Why wouldn’t they try to replace Democrats who don’t share their vision for politics through primary elections?

      • Tim says:

        The real test is if they go after Democrats that vote that do share their vision for policy just because of old Democratic factions within the city.

        You really think they should go after Democratic legislators that are voting the way we need them to in Harrisburg? We should go after people because they didn’t support the new administration in the last Primary or even stayed out of it? That reeks of the old time political machine that Peduto has railed against for years.