Bass narrowly defeats Anderson-Oberman, wins 8th district Democratic primary

by Tom Beck
Posted 5/22/23

Bass won the race despite being beaten overwhelmingly in Chestnut Hill’s 9th ward, which had the highest turnout in the city.

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Bass narrowly defeats Anderson-Oberman, wins 8th district Democratic primary


Three-term incumbent Cindy Bass has narrowly defeated challenger Seth Anderson-Oberman in the Democratic primary for the 8th District in Philadelphia City Council, nearly guaranteeing that she’ll retain her seat and win a fourth term in November’s general election. The race was called by the Associated Press Monday morning after nearly a week of the vote count being within two percentage points. The tally currently stands at 50.8% to 49.2%.

Bass could not immediately be reached for comment. According to her campaign spokesperson Terressa Thompson, Bass is traveling outside the country as of Friday. Thompson would not disclose the councilmember’s location.

Anderson-Oberman conceded Monday afternoon and thanked his voters, volunteers and endorsing organizations for all their support. He also congratulated Bass.

 “Although we came up just short, the issues raised by our campaign and supporters remain of urgent importance and require immediate action,” he said in a statement. “It took everything the other side could throw at us for them to squeak out a win last Tuesday.”

The race was the closest of the three competitive district council races. In the 7th District, incumbent Quetcy Lozada beat challenger Andres Celin 59.6% to 40.4%. In the 9th District, incumbent Anthony Phillips defeated challenger Yvette Young 63.2% to 26.6%. 

Bass won the race despite being beaten overwhelmingly in Chestnut Hill’s 9th Ward, which had the highest turnout in the city, by a 72% to 28% margin. She also lost Mt. Airy’s 22nd Ward, which had the second-highest turnout in the city by a 56% to 44% margin. Germantown’s 59th Ward also swung Anderson-Oberman’s way by a 51% to 48% margin. Bass won the other six wards in the district, including Nicetown-Tioga’s 11th and 13th Wards, North Philadelphia’s 17th Ward and Lower Germantown/Penn-Knox’s 12th Ward. 

The race’s close result surprised many Northwest political insiders.

“It’s monumental that a challenger who didn’t start off with any name recognition and didn’t run before is this close,” said David Thornburgh, chair of Open Primaries PA, senior advisor to the Committee of Seventy and a Chestnut Hill resident.

When she formally announced her re-election campaign in February, Bass highlighted the many problems in the city she still wanted to tackle. “I’m not satisfied,” was the most common refrain of the night. With it, she rattled off a laundry list of things she still hopes to change as a sitting member of City Council. The homicide rate, a lack of Black and Brown developers in the city and her feeling that many of the city’s departments – specifically the Streets Department and the Department of Licenses and Inspections – don’t have enough resources to serve Philadelphians. 

“These are our sons, our children, our nephews,” she said, referring to those affected by violence in the city. “We have to protect them. We have to talk about what you do when the shooter lives with you.”

As for development, she said, it is just “a chosen few” who get to develop property in the 8th District – and not enough of them come from minority communities.

“You can't say that Black votes matter but practice that Black development doesn't matter,” she said. “I'm going to keep fighting.”

The subject of Black-owned development arose in discussions surrounding the Germantown YWCA controversy, in which Bass’ hand-picked developer, KBK Enterprises, failed to make progress on redeveloping the site for six years. At that point in late 2021, Germantown residents had lobbied the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), which had assigned KBK to the property at Bass’ behest, to take the development company off the project. 

But Bass fought with the PRA and her own constituents to keep KBK, which is Black-owned, on the project despite public outcry. To this day, the building remains vacant with no signs of progress, and the community’s frustration with its district councilmember’s support of KBK would go on to fuel the campaign of Anderson-Oberman.

Anderson-Oberman, a political newcomer who has never been elected to office, formerly worked as a union organizer for Service Employees International Union. He campaigned on a platform that prioritized housing as a human right and working-class values. Unlike Bass, he supported rent control and refused to take financial contributions from “big developers.”

“We're going up against incredibly powerful and wealthy interests who have a real stake in the kinds of development that threaten the future of our communities,” Anderson-Oberman said at his campaign launch.

The Germantown resident was initially thrust into the limelight by State Rep. Chris Rabb, who announced his endorsement for him in December in an email to supporters, even before Anderson-Oberman’s candidacy was made official. Anderson-Oberman previously worked on Rabb’s campaigns. 

In his concession statement, Anderson-Oberman said he intends to build upon the connections he made on the campaign trail to “deepen our movement going forward.”

 “They are scared of what we're building because they know when we organize together, we have the power to transform this city,” Anderson-Oberman said, referencing the financial contributions Bass got from big developers as well as the ads backed by Republican megadonor Jeffrey Yass.

“They are scared of what we're building because they know when we organize together, we have the power to transform this city,” Anderson-Oberman said. “They want to keep us divided by race and economic status. Their power depends upon it.”

Chestnut Hill’s 9th Ward led the city in turnout last week with 51% of registered voters heading to the polls. Mt. Airy’s 22nd Ward was right on its heels in second place with a 47% turnout. The top five were rounded out by Fairmount’s 15th Ward (44%), Cedarbrook’s 50th Ward (43%) and Center City’s 2nd Ward (41%).