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City Council Members at hearing.
City Council Members at hearing.

Philadelphia’s High Stakes Musical Chairs

How raising money may be most members of City Council's part-time job.

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Do the best fundraisers have a better chance of winning seats in City Council? Possibly. A report from City & State reports that the amount of fundraising that occurred last year may be an indication that the answer is, “Yes.”

Raising almost $2 million combined, the city’s most proficient fundraisers may have the closest thing to guaranteed reelection.

And the race to the bottom line has those who stand out. In fact, two council members, Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson raised over one-third of all money by the 17 members of Council. Henon’s top position continued with council member Mark Squilla taking credit for 40 percent of all the money spent by municipal legislators in 2016.

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Cherelle Parker couldn’t keep up with the match and were some of the worst fundraisers on Council, amassing roughly $46,000 apiece, despite being seen as top candidates for the mayor’s race in 2023.

But in both respects, Bobby Henon is the top contender. And with one third of the funds coming from groups connected to John Dougherty, many credit Henon’s association with the city’s electricians union was the reason he was able to lead the race, having close to $366,000 towards his 2019 campaign.

But the biggest fundraiser is also the biggest spender with  $76,000 spent on actual fundraising events such as fundraising parties complete with catering costs and more.

“Henon also spread cash around his district, dropping tens of thousands on neighborhood summer camps, playgrounds, rec centers and scholarship programs,” wrote City & State.

Also, tapped to possibly run for mayor in 2023, Henon’s knack for fundraising has been previously noted throughout the campaigns.

And like Henon’s connection with electrician unions, other council members are looking for union support as it may be the easiest way to secure campaign funds.

For example, union groups also spent big on Johnson, representing the 2nd District across town in South Philadelphia, supplying him over $57,000. But, throwing a wrench in the trend,  received even more - $68,300 – in large donations from for-profit and affordable-housing developers.

Clearly there is a science to the fundraising that some have still yet to master and the reason why many are turning to campaign managers and seeking additional assistance for their elections.

“If you have enough money in the bank, that scares people off from challenging you, whereas if they see you don’t have money, they might not be afraid,” Councilman Squilla said to City & State. “I wish that we had some type of state or government funding for campaigns. It would make it a whole lot easier.”

 
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