Philadelphia major election procrastinator’s information: A voter cheat sheet for Might 2021

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Thanks to the presidential race, last year’s election saw historic voter turnout in Philadelphia, pandemic notwithstanding. History suggests that’s not the case in “off” years — and primaries often see even lower numbers.

But stakes are high in the upcoming May 18 election, which features races that could have a resounding impact on the city and state criminal justice systems.

At the top of the Democratic ticket is the race for Philly’s next district attorney. Former homicide prosecutor Carlos Vega is challenging incumbent DA Larry Krasner. Because most Philadelphia voters are Democrats, whoever wins this primary is considered likely to win in November.

Also on the ballot are a number of important judicial positions — people whose names you might never have heard but who stand to gain serious power — as well as an uncontested race for city controller. Additionally, voters will weigh in on several statewide questions that affect Pennsylvania’s constitution and laws in impactful ways.

Philly holds “closed” primaries, meaning you can only cast votes for candidates within your party. (Everyone gets to vote on the ballot questions, however, including independents.)

Ready to do your civic duty? Even the savviest voters might feel overwhelmed by the dizzying number of candidates for judge on this year’s list.

Good news: The Billy Penn procrastinator’s guide is here to help. Take a look through this article, then bookmark it for reference as you fill out your mail ballot or head to the polls.

Have any questions about Election Day? Let us know at tips@billypenn.com.

Jump to a section:

Your polling place

Are you registered? You can find your status with the state lookup tool here. Where do you vote? Find that by entering your address here, which will also have info about what ward and division you’re in.

If you go vote in person, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Unless it’s your first time voting at a particular location, you do NOT need to show any identification.

Mail ballots

For the second year in row, you don’t need a reason to vote by mail in Pennsylvania. More than 60,000 ballots have already been sent out to Philadelphia voters.

You can drop off your filled out ballot at 14 secure drop box locations around the city.

Didn’t request your ballot yet? The deadline is May 11. You can fill out the request online, by mail, or in person. Visit City Hall Room 140 to apply, vote and drop off your ballot all in one visit.

Click through for an explanation on each Pa. initiative you’ll see on the ballot.

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The district attorney is the city’s top prosecutor, tasked with investigating and charging thousands of criminal cases every year.

Democrats

Lawrence Krasner (Incumbent)

When he was elected four years ago, Krasner vowed to use the DA’s office to transform the criminal justice system from the inside out. His raft of criminal justice reforms included stopping prosecution for insignificant cases, freeing the wrongfully convicted, ending cash bail imprisonment and prosecuting bad cops.

After his first term, Krasner’s report card shows some wins and some losses. He overturned 19 wrongful convictions, stopped prosecution for simple drug possession, charged over 50 law enforcement officials and never sought the death penalty. But Krasner struggled to fully eliminate cash bail, as he vowed to do, and advocates say he hasn’t done enough to end juvenile incarceration.

The city’s ongoing gun violence surge weighs heavily on Krasner’s re-election bid.

Critics blame him for the shooting spike, and claim he hasn’t stepped up enough for crime victims. An Inquirer report found the conviction rate has fallen under Krasner’s watch, even as gun arrests soar to record heights. Krasner’s left supporters also claim he jettisoned a key part of his reform agenda — fully ending cash bail — which the DA still uses in an attempt to stem the tide of murders.

Fighting for a second term with an emphasis on the reforms that got him elected in 2017, Krasner casts the race as a choice between progress or stepping backward into the era of mass incarceration. Despite some criticisms, he maintains widespread support from progressive groups, labor unions and Democratic leaders.

Three priorities:

  • Further reduce use of cash bail
  • Reduce extreme sentences
  • Seek “public health solutions” to gun violence

Key endorsements:

  • City Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Cherelle Parker, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Isaiah Thomas and Helen Gym
  • Reclaim Philadelphia, 215 People’s Alliance, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and more than a dozen other political organizations
  • AFL-CIO, District Council 33, SEIU and other labor unions

Carlos Vega

An NYC native, Vega joined the DA’s office in the 1980s and worked his way up the ranks. He became the first Latino homicide prosecutor in the state, according to his campaign, and tried hundreds of murder cases over the course of his 35-year career.

He was among the first prosecutors Krasner fired when he took office in 2018, and later sued the DA for age discrimination.

Vega says the DA’s race isn’t about a grudge match.

The 64-year-old prosecutor pitches himself as a “sensible” alternative to Krasner, who will maintain popular criminal justice reforms while reportedly taking a tougher approach to gun crime. On paper, his policy pitches are sometimes indistinct from Krasner’s, and he calls for reducing use of cash bail and holding crooked cops accountable.

But the two candidates hold notably different views on some policies. Vega, who often sought the death penalty as a homicide prosecutor, would seek it in extreme cases as DA.

Vega has drawn heat for trying to distance himself from his attempt to keep exoneree Anthony Wright in prison and his continued support from a pro-police PAC that blamed George Floyd for his own death.

His most notable supporter is the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which has been pushing Republican police officers to switch registrations to vote against Krasner in the Democratic primary.

Three priorities:

  • Enforce existing gun laws
  • Refocus DAO on crime victims
  • Establish early intervention programs to break “school-to-prison” pipeline

Key endorsements:

  • Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5
  • More than 150 former prosecutors who co-signed a letter against Krasner
  • More than a dozen labor unions contributed to his campaign, but not all formally endorsed

Republican

Charles Peruto

Peruto is a longtime criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia. He is running unopposed in Republican primary, and has indicated that he would drop out of the race if Vega defeats Krasner.

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The city controller is an elected position tasked with overseeing the city’s operations and auditing them when they seem fishy. This official is elected to a 4-year term, and is not subject to term limits.

Rebecca Rhynhart (Democrat, unopposed)

The first woman ever elected City Controller, Rhynhart has acted as the city’s financial watchdog since 2018. She’s running unopposed for her second term.

She made a name for herself in her first term by launching major investigations into the city’s spending and operations — including its sexual misconduct policies, the handling of racial justice protests in June and the controversial procurement of new voting systems.

Rhynhart and Mayor Jim Kenney have locked horns since her early days in office, when she discovered that $33 million had mysteriously gone missing. She’s rumored to be considering a bid for mayor in 2023.

Before she was elected city controller, Rhynhart served as the city’s budget director.

Three priorities

  1. Ensuring the city spends its money efficiently
  2. Eliminating fraud from city government
  3. Working toward social justice and racial equity


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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state’s highest legal branch, has a Democratic majority and only needs to fill one seat.

Democrat (vote for one)

Maria McLaughlin

McLaughlin began her legal career as a Superior Court judicial clerk before spending two decades in the District Attorney’s Office as an assistant and then chief of the child support enforcement unit. She was elected Superior Court judge in 2017 and is currently serving a 10-year term.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Republican (vote for one)

Paula Patrick

Before being elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 2003 where she’s been ever since, Patrick ran a private practice where she litigated in areas including worker’s comp, criminal law and personal injury. She ran for Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2011 and 2017 but was defeated both times.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Kevin Brobson

The only Republican Supreme Court candidate endorsed by the state GOP, Lycoming County native Brobson was a state trooper before entering into commercial litigation private practice. He joined the Commonwealth Court in 2010 and was elected president judge last December.

Highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Patricia A. McCullough

McCullough worked in private practice and led the Catholic Charities Diocese of Pittsburgh before being elected to the Commonwealth Court in 2009, the same year her husband, who is currently in prison, was charged with defrauding an elderly woman to fund McCullough’s political campaigns.

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The Superior Court hears appeals in criminal and civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas, and some cases involving children and families. The 15 judges are chosen in statewide elections, and serve 10-year terms. Vote for one.

Jill Beck (Democrat)

Beck clerked on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court for 10 years under the Honorable Christine Donohue. For the last two years she’s worked as a civil litigator at the law firm Blank Rome. Here are her endorsements.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Timika Lane (Democrat)

West Philly native Lane has been on the Court of Common Pleas since 2013, assigned to the Major Trials program in the Criminal Division. Before that she worked at the Defender Association of Philadelphia Major Trials and for Philly state. Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. Her endorsements are listed here.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Bryan Neft (Democrat)

Neft is a member at the Western Pa. corporate law firm Spilman Thomas & Battle, where he says he gained expertise in healthcare, toxic torts and false claim litigation.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Megan Sullivan (Republican)

Sullivan has been a prosecutor based out of West Chester for 12 years now. She used to work for the Chester County DA’s office before becoming a deputy attorney general in the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, where she prosecuted cases of insurance fraud.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

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The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania is one of the state’s two appellate courts.

Democrat (vote for two)

David Lee Spurgeon

Spurgeon has been a judge in Pittsburgh since 2016, assigned to the family division in Allegheny County.

Highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Lori A Dumas

Dumas might be a more familiar name to Philadelphia voters. She’s sat on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2003, most of her tenure working in the Philadelphia Family Court.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Sierra Street

Another Philadelphia local, Street has been on the bench of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2013. She’s assigned to the civil trial division, handling statutory appeals involving government entities.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Amanda Green Hawkins

Green Hawkins is a labor lawyer for United Steelworkers and a former county councilwoman in Pittsburgh. She ran unsuccessfully for the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2019.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Republican (vote for two)

Drew Crompton

Crompton is already on the Commonwealth Court after being confirmed by the state Senate to fill a vacancy in 2020 along party lines. He used to work as chief of staff to Pa. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and as general counsel to the Senate Majority Caucus.

Recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association

Stacy Marie Wallace

Wallace runs her own practice, doing consulting work with other attorneys. She’s the general counsel for CJ Wallace Engineering, LLC and also the president of the McKean County Bar Association.

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This is Philly’s general trial court. The judges have original jurisdiction over most civil cases.

Democrat (vote for eight)

Caroline Turner

As a lawyer, Turner focuses on issues like medical malpractice and nursing home negligence. Her priorities as judge would be using restorative justice practices and ending cash bail. Peep her endorsements here.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Terri Booker

Booker ran for judge before in 2017, but didn’t make the cut. An attorney, she’s now prioritizing diverting people with mental illnesses to treatment instead of prison, and teaching children about the legal system. No endorsements listed on her website.

Wendi Barish

Barish is currently working as senior deputy general counsel at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Her endorsements are listed here.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Craig Levin

A trial lawyer and senior partner at a private Center City law firm, Levin has been an attorney for 33 years. Here are his endorsements.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Cateria R McCabe

McCabe is already a judge in the Juvenile Branch of Family Court. Her endorsements are on her website.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Nick Kamau

The Wynnefield resident is a trial lawyer and partner at Legis Group LLC, as well as chair of the legal ministry at Mother Bethel AME Church. Kamau says he wants to hold law enforcement accountable and keep non-violent offenders out of jail using diversion programs. Endorsements here.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Daniel R Sulman

Sulman is already a Court of Common Pleas judge, having served on and off in the family division since 2016. His big priorities are protecting reproductive rights and domestic violence survivors. Here are the endorsements.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Patrick J Moran

Moran is a candidate with a nearly nonexistent internet presence. Seems he defended a bar once in a slip and fall suit. Not to be confused with the baseball player who died in 1924.

Maurice Houston

Germantown resident Houston is a solo practitioner in estate planning, entity formation and land use development. His biggest priority is reforming the juvenile justice system. No endorsements listed on Houston’s website.

Betsy Wahl

Wahl is a nearly 20-year hearing officer in juvenile court, determining placements and outcomes for a ton of Philly youth. Her endorsements? Right here.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Michele Hangley

Right now, Hangley is working on commercial and legal malpractice cases. These are her endorsements.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Rick Cataldi

Cataldi is working in personal injury litigation for Philly firm Zarwin Baum. Not much other info posted by Cataldi online.

John R Padova

Padova already has the job — having been appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by Governor Wolf two years ago. His endorsements are listed on his website.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Chris Hall

An attorney at a Center City firm, Hall focuses on areas ranging from health care to financial services, energy and government contracts. Here are Hall’s endorsements.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Mark J Moore

Moore was appointed Common Pleas judge in 2020 by Gov. Wolf to fill a vacancy. He used to work for Allstate, where he defended policyholders in civil lawsuits. His endorsements are listed here.

Highly recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Tamika Washington

Washington is the owner of a practice, and works in employment discrimination, real estate, business and trust and estate law. There are no endorsements shown on her website.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

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This is a trial court divided into three divisions: criminal, civil and traffic. The 27 judges hear trials for some misdemeanors, summary offenses and felonies.

Democrat (vote for three)

Michael C Lambert

Lambert is a lawyer specializing in personal injury, family and criminal litigation. Here are his endorsements.

Barbara Thomson

Thomson is a Chestnut Hill attorney/consultant. She often focuses on public transportation, and has worked on arbitrations for SEPTA. No endorsements found on her website.

George Twardy

Twardy is currently a Family Court judge. Before that, he owned his own practice where he worked on workman’s comp, criminal defense and personal injury cases. Even though he’s running as a Democrat, Twardy used to be a Republican. In fact, he was the head of the Haverford GOP — where he orchestrated land sale deals for political gain and was asked to resign.

Here are Twardy’s endorsements, which include the city’s Democratic party.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

Greg Yorgey-Girdy

If elected, Yorgey-Girdy says he’d be the first openly gay man to serve as Municipal Court judge. Currently working at a Wilmington law firm. His endorsements are listed here.

Recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association

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This year, you’ll be asked to elect a Judge of Election” as well as a Majority and Minority Inspector who will serve as the administrative election officials in your local voting precinct.

The city is divided into 1,703 division and precincts, and the candidates that appear on your ballot will vary accordingly.

Who are they? By law, they have to reside in your division, so they’re likely your neighbors. There may be more than one running, but you’re on your own to make the choice. Remember: they are paid a stipend, but Election Day workers put in long days twice a year to make sure your local polling place runs smoothly.
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