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The 2023 Philly City Council campaign is already underway

Anna Orso - Philly Inquirer

A former Kenney administration official is the first Democrat to declare a run for an at-large seat. Dozens more could follow.

Philadelphia voters won’t choose their party’s nominees for City Council for another nine months, but campaigning has already begun.

During a picnic with 40 supporters in Germantown on Saturday, Michael R. Galvan, a progressive and a former education official in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, announced a run for one of Council’s at-large seats, becoming the first Democrat to formally declare a run.

In the May primary, Democrats will select five candidates for at-large seats, all but assuring those winners are elected in November, given the city’s strong Democratic leaning.

“I wanted to just make sure that I was able to have a conversation early on about my priorities,” Galvan said. “I see this as an opportunity for me to help raise equity and justice in our system to help secure a better future for our city.”

Galvan, 32, is one of what could be dozens of candidates who launch campaigns for Council ahead of the 2023 primary election, when all 17 seats will be on Philadelphia ballots. The election could lead to significant turnover on Council, as at least four current members are said to be considering runs for mayor, and one at-large member, Allan Domb, already resigned ahead of an expected campaign for the top job.

Of Council’s 17 seats, seven are for at-large members who represent the entire city. Two of those are reserved for members of minority parties.

A candidate declaring a campaign by filing with the city does not necessarily mean they’ll be a contender. Candidates for City Council’s at-large seats must submit nomination petitions with at least 1,000 signatures to make it onto the ballot.

In 2019, Democratic primary voters chose five at-large Council members out of 30 candidates, the largest field in 40 years (but nowhere close to the 1979 election, when more than 100 people ran.) The interest was attributed to a wave of political activism and participation on the left following Donald Trump’s presidential election in 2016.

Of those candidates, three incumbents — Domb, Helen Gym, and Derek Green, now all rumored mayoral contenders — won reelection. Their success demonstrated the powerful advantage of incumbency and name recognition.

The two other seats were filled by the winning challengers: Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Isaiah Thomas.

What’s unclear is how many incumbents will be on the ballot in 2023. The city can hold a

special election to fill seats vacated by members who resign to run for higher office. Council

President Darrell L. Clarke can call for a special election, but he has not said whether he intends to do so for Domb’s vacant seat.

Given that uncertainty, Galvan’s early announcement is even more of a calculation, and deciding when to declare can have a material impact on the success of a campaign. Early entrants have a longer amount of time to introduce themselves to voters and fund-raise, but it’s more difficult to build momentum later.

Launching a run for Council the summer before the primary isn’t unheard of. By late August 2018, three candidates had announced they’d vie for at-large seats. None of them won.

If elected, Galvan, who identifies as queer, would be the first openly LGBTQ person to sit on Philadelphia City Council. (John C. Anderson, who was elected to Council in 1979, was gay but was not public about being LGBTQ.) Five LGBTQ candidates ran for Council in 2019. None were elected.

Galvan — who has worked both in Democratic politics and at nonprofits focused on youth workforce development — said their campaign will center on issues such as housing, economic development, and public safety that are more “broad-based” than their identity.

“But,” Galvan said, “it is about time we have LGBTQ-plus representation on City Council.”

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