NW Philly sends a pair of progressives to the statehouse

by Tom Beck and Carla Robinson
Posted 5/25/22

In Chestnut Hill, political newcomer Tarik Khan defeated Pam DeLissio, and Chris Rabb defeated opponent Isabella Fitzgerald

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NW Philly sends a pair of progressives to the statehouse


A pair of incumbents lost Northwest Philadelphia’s two major statehouse primary elections on Tuesday, scoring two big wins for the city’s progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

In Chestnut Hill, political newcomer Tarik Khan defeated Pam DeLissio, who, thanks to this year’s redistricting, was no longer running in her district stronghold of Lower Merion. The margin was 59.6% to 40.2%, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s unofficial results. 

In the only state representative race in the commonwealth to feature two incumbent Democrats redistricted into the same district, Chris Rabb defeated opponent Isabella Fitzgerald by a 62.8% to 38.2% margin. Both Rabb and Khan were endorsed by Reclaim Philadelphia, a major progressive political action committee in the city that has supported progressive candidates like Elizabeth Fiedler, Nikil Saval, Helen Gym and Larry Krasner. 

Khan will run without a Republican opponent in November, virtually ensuring his seat in the statehouse. Rabb is heavily favored to defeat opponent Kionna West, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary. 

“We have the potential to have a higher proportion of progressive Democrats than ever before,” Rabb said. “We’re also seeing a wave of retirements among moderate and conservative Democrats in Harrisburg, so progressives can indeed begin to grow a stronger influence.”

Rabb, who received more votes than any other candidate running in the state’s 203 House districts, said his victory “was an affirmation that you can run with integrity and rise above dirty politics, and that dirty campaigns actually turn voters off.”

“It backfired on my opponent,” he continued, “and on the pro-Trumpers who invested hundreds of thousands to defeat me.”

Rabb, a former adjunct professor at Temple University's Fox School of Business, said he hopes his margin of victory will signal hope to others who may be thinking about taking on establishment leaders in the city’s Democratic party machine. 

“It proves that you can beat the machine. You can run on the issues and win, and win big,” he said.

Rabb won four of the five wards in the district. Fitzgerald is a ward leader in the 10th, the only ward he lost. Fitzgerald had been endorsed by most of the Northwest’s party establishment, including Congressman Dwight Evans, State Sen. Art Haywood, Councilmembers Cherelle Parker, Cindy Bass, Derek Green and Isaiah Thomas, State Reps. Steve Kinsey and Darisha Miller-Parker, and 61st Ward leader Pete Lyde. Philadelphia Democratic Committee Chair Bob Brady also had endorsed Fitzgerald.

“That sends a clear message that my support is districtwide,” he said “I was utterly blown away, just overjoyed by the level of support I got.”

Khan said he felt “grateful and humbled,” by his win. 

“I've loved this community my entire adult life, and I am incredibly proud to be elected to represent this district,” he told the Local.

His first legislative priorities, he said, will be fixing the state’s “crumbling” schools, tackling the gun violence epidemic, addressing the lack of investment in mental health services and navigating through the next phase of the pandemic. He’ll also be working to try and flip the statehouse.

“As the first South Asian state rep in the 345-year history of the PA legislature, I think I can make inroads with bringing out Asian American Pacific Islander voters, who traditionally have been ignored and lack representation,” he said. “As we saw in the Georgia Senate races, the AAPI community is a potent swing voter constituency.”

He also said he knows that he’ll be navigating a learning curve.

“I plan to have as many conversations with legislators and their staff as possible to learn what to expect and establish those relationships early,” he said.

He’s also excited to serve in the statehouse with Rabb, whom he first worked with to bring out the Democratic vote in the 2016 general election, he said. Since then, the two have collaborated on other advocacy projects, including fighting against Hahnemann's closure and the opening of the Nicetown gas plant.

“Rep. Rabb and I spoke on election day and the day after, and he generously offered some sage advice on Wednesday for preparing for my transition,” Khan said.

Khan’s campaign manager David Rivenbark said that Khan knocked on more than 10,000 doors.

“People told us they’d be voting for Tarik because he knocked on their door,” he said. “We kept hearing that over and over, even on election day.”

Other races

Incumbent Dwight Evans was able to hold off Alexandra Hunt, a former stripper who challenged Evans from the left, in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District by a margin of 75.6% to 20%. Michael Cogbill, nephew of City Councilperson Cindy Bass, finished with 4.5% in the race. Evans will run unopposed in November.

John Fetterman captured the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate by a margin of 58.7% to Conor Lamb’s 26%. Philadelphia’s favorite son Malcolm Kenyatta finished third in the race at 10.8%. Fetterman won every county in the state including Kenyatta’s home turf, where Kenyatta represents parts of North Philadelphia in the statehouse. Fetterman’s general election challenger is still uncertain at the moment, with Mehmet Oz and David McCormick locked in a close race that’s expected to go to a recount. Oz has a slight lead by just over 1,000 votes as of Monday morning. However, Oz won the Philadelphia vote over McCormick handily by a margin of  37.7% to 25%. 

Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for governor, will run against Republican Doug Mastriano in November. Mastriano won the Republican primary handily with 43.9% of the vote in a nine-candidate race.

Austin Davis, who represents the 35th statehouse district just outside of Pittsburgh, defeated Philadelphia statehouse Rep. Brian Sims by a 63% to 25%. Raymond Sosa finished third in the race with 11.9% of the vote.

David Thornburgh, chair of Ballot PA and a senior advisor to the Committee of Seventy, called Tuesday’s election results “a primary for the ages,” in part for the energy Philadelphia’s and the state’s progressive wing has shown.

“The obvious takeaway is that the electoral energy is in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” Thornburgh said. “Conor Lamb’s disappointing showing, and Fetterman’s results - his victory was convincing. Close to 60 percent of the vote tells you something.”

That theme was evident on the local level as well, he said. 

“DeLissio was painted as part of the establishment and Fitzgerald too, given the support she got from Evans,” he said. 

Driving this energy, he said, is a general feeling of disdain for “the swamp” and “establishment elites”.

“Cultural issues get so inflamed,” he said. “They create a divide. If you add onto that, the nastiness generated on social media makes it very hard for people to work quietly to build consensus.”

Republican turnout was also higher than it had been in 20 years, he said. 

“That’s significantly higher than it was four years ago,” he said. “I would attribute it to a crowded field and no small dose of anger and frustration.”