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Voters in Philadelphia head to the polls to cast ballots in the mayoral primaries

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Today, voters in Philadelphia will head to the polls to choose a Democratic nominee who will likely be the next mayor of one of the poorest big cities in the U.S.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. And many are watching the mayoral race in the largest city in this swing state for hints as to what appeals to voters as the 2024 presidential election approaches. Independent polling shows four candidates have a real chance at getting the Democratic nomination for mayor. And three of them are women.

MARTÍNEZ: Tom MacDonald of member station WHYY has been covering politics in the city for decades. Tom, this is just the race for the Democratic nomination. So why is it being seen as pretty much deciding the election for mayor?

TOM MACDONALD, BYLINE: Because the city of Philadelphia is a Democratic stronghold, with voter registration at 7 to 1, so this really isn't much of a primary. The winner is expected to become the next mayor of Philadelphia. We haven't had a Republican as a mayor since 1952. The final independent poll last weekend put four candidates within striking distance of a win. And three of the four are women - that would be a first for the city - including two former members of Philadelphia City Council, a former council member who has an estimated $400 million personal fortune. And the fourth is a former city comptroller who is the elected fiscal watchdog of the city.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Tell us about the candidates in this race.

MACDONALD: Helen Gym is a former teacher who became an activist and then a city council member. She's been called the frontrunner by many and has support from both national and local progressives. AOC and Bernie Sanders headlined a rally on Sunday for her, which her campaign estimated about 35,000 potential voters came out for. She also has the support of both the local and national teachers' union, which will supply people to bring out the vote. Cherelle Parker is trailing Gym, but only by a few percentage points. She's going with traditional party support, along with a campaign organization that she's been part of for decades through state and local office wins.

Then there's Rebecca Rhynhart, the former city comptroller. She left a career on Wall Street to join city government. She's pitching as someone who can get things done and has the support of three former mayors. And Allan Domb is in the group. He's part of the statistical tie for the lead. He spent more than $8 million on his campaign out of his own pocket. So there's no doubt he'll spend even more today to bring out the people to knock on the doors and to help people who need a ride to go to the polling places. Now, whoever wins this election will have an influence in the race for the presidency, helping the city's margin of victory for a Democrat in this swing state, where every vote counts, as it did in the last election. The eyes of the country were on Philadelphia for several days as the final votes were tallied.

MARTÍNEZ: What are the main issues in this race?

MACDONALD: As you mentioned at the top, Philadelphia is one of the poorest big cities in the country. And crime and drugs are the big issues. Some neighborhoods have deteriorated so badly, the candidates have taken aim at the outgoing mayor, Jim Kenney, saying he's just not doing his job to fix the city's ills, something he refutes. One area of note is a drug-infested intersection known as K&A - or Kensington and Allegheny. It's been the symbol of the fight against drugs and the city's failing war on drugs. And all the candidates have said they'll clean it up in one way or another.

But the big problem is how to fix the problems the city has. And the candidates all have different ideas on how they would deal with the city's issues. The city is also having problems hiring police officers after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Democratic majority cities across the country were focused on efforts to defund the police. And Philadelphia was sort of one of them. They're about 1,000 officers down and can't keep up with attrition in the city, and is about 800 correction officers down, which resulted in the first escape in decades after guards found two men, including one of four murders.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Tom MacDonald of member station WHYY. Appreciate you speaking with us.

MACDONALD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom MacDonald