A day that saw spitting rain in Philadelphia and flurries in Harrisburg could not keep voters away from the polls in the 2017 General Election. Turnout was strong for an off-year Election Day that saw a slew of victories for state and local Democrats running in races one year after the election of Republican President Donald Trump.
Democrats were looking to build morale and momentum ahead of a hoped-for wave election in 2018 – and voters delivered in Pennsylvania, as well as in states like New Jersey and Virginia. Here’s a look at some of the top elections across the commonwealth:
- Philadelphia’s District Attorney race took a rare turn in the national spotlight with the election of progressive Democrat Larry Krasner, who replaces convicted DA Seth Williams. Krasner, a former defense attorney, ran on a reform platform that blasted police brutality and racism within the local criminal justice system. He won a contested primary despite bucking some local ward leaders and the police union – albeit with a generous cash infusion from a PAC funded in large part by billionaire George Soros. He trounced Republican former ADA Beth Grossman, despite simmering resentment from some wings of his own party, winning nearly 75 percent of the vote in a race that saw nearly 200,000 voters turn out.
- Former treasurer Rebecca Rhynhart capped off a stunning victory over longtime City Controller Alan Butkovitz in the May primary by sweeping to an expected victory over little-known Republican Mike Tomlinson. Although Butkovitz was an entrenched incumbent, Rhynhart’s strong resume – she previously served as city treasurer and budget director – and support from figures like former Gov. Ed Rendell helped propel her to victory.
- Delaware County Council saw a tremendous upset as Democrats Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek took two out of five seats on County Council for the first time in 40 years, nabbing three row offices from Republicans along the way. Only GOP DA Jack Whelan pulled out a significant victory, nabbing a Court of Common Pleas seat he’d sought despite controversy over his use of office funds on campaign-like signage. Meanwhile, nearby Bucks and Chester counties saw a similar Democratic sweep of their GOP-controlled row offices – in Chesco by an all-female slate.
- Democrats came out strong in a string of judicial races despite anxieties over a Republican advantage on campaign spending – but female judicial candidates in both parties were the real winners. Dems put judges Maria McLaughlin, Carolyn Nichols, Deborah Kunselman on the Superior Court bench. But a fourth candidate, Geoffrey Moulton was edged out by Republicans Mary Murray. Democratic judge Ellen Ceisler split two seats on Commonwealth Court with Republican Christine Fizzano Cannon. Democrats came up short against Republican Justice Sallie Mundy, who staved off Judge Dwayne Woodruff’s bid for a spot on the PA Supreme Court – the party’s biggest loss of the night. All judicial candidates running for retention votes kept their seats.
- Voters approved a complex ballot question that paves the way – possibly – for municipalities to begin abolishing property taxes. But the result is no sure thing for eager property tax abolitionists – Harrisburg will have to pass legislation identifying alternative revenue sources before municipalities can move to exempt owner-occupied homes from property taxes under the constitutional amendment.
- Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was reelected despite a looming federal indictment over a pay-to-play scheme he was allegedly involved in.
- In Harrisburg, incumbent Democratic Mayor Eric Papenfuse was unopposed in his victory.
Around the state were scores of lower-profile victories and losses. Democrats scored victories in mayoral races across the state and made gains in the traditionally Republican suburbs around Lancaster and in parts of the Lehigh Valley. Erie elected a transgender school board member – the first such elected official in state history. York Mayor Kim Bracey was denied a third term by a city council president who lost to her in the May Democratic primary but subsequently triumphed in the General Election by running as a Republican. In Pittsburgh, candidates backed by the city’s nascent Democratic Socialists of America chapter won a county council seat and a district justice spot in the 31st Magisterial District. Another candidate, a Democrat and roofer with little political experience, won a spot on Pittsburgh’s City Council after failing to do so in four previous attempts.