Philadelphia’s Working Families Party: A tale of two ballot challenges

Two City Council candidates from the Working Families Party will remain on the ballot while the WFP’s city commissioner candidate suspends his campaign

Jarrett Smith & Kendra Brooks

Jarrett Smith & Kendra Brooks Jana Korn; Drew Dennis

This week, a handful of legal battles between majority party candidates and the progressive Working Families Party are among several ballot challenges that could alter November’s City Council and City Commissioner races before votes are even cast. 

Two WFP candidates – both running for at-large City Council seats – will remain on the ballot after petition challenges filed against them were thrown out, while the party’s candidate for City Commissioner will be removed from the ballot after he failed to file a financial disclosure form with the correct office.

A Tale of Two Challenges

On Monday, a bipartisan group of voters filed a legal challenge to remove Jarrett Smith, a Working Families Party candidate running for a non-majority party city commissioner seat, from November’s general election ballot. 

The challenge was filed by voters who expressed concerns with not having GOP representation among the city’s commissioners, who are tasked with administering elections, particularly ahead of what’s expected to be a contentious 2024 election. It claimed that Smith filed a candidate’s statement of financial interests with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission but did not file that document with the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Smith confirmed the error in a statement following his withdrawal, stating that running for office “is difficult by design in Philadelphia.”

“Our mission to achieve equitable ballot access and a properly served electorate in Philadelphia is not over,” Smith said in a statement. 

The city’s Home Rule Charter requires that two of the seven City Council at-large seats and one of the three city commissioner seats go to members not in the majority political party.

Smith’s withdrawal makes it likely Seth Bluestein – incumbent Republican City Commissioner who pledged allegiance with the centrist Forward Party this week – will return to the board. 

But wait, there’s more

In another squabble involving the Working Families Party ticket, voters from the city’s Republican Party filed two legal challenges Tuesday as well. The pair of challenges sought to remove City Councilmember Kendra Brooks and at-large running mate Nicolas O’Rourke, both WFP members, claiming they signed their candidate statements of financial interests electronically before submitting them to the city’s Department of Records last week. Republican voters argued in the challenge that state law requires candidates to fill out the forms with a “wet signature,” meaning one with a pencil or pen. 

Unlike Smith, Brooks and O’Rourke’s candidacies survived a legal challenge, winning in court on Friday. 

“The court has spoken, and voters will now have a clear choice in November between the Working Families Party and the Republicans for minority party council seats,” Brooks and O’Rouke said in a joint statement. “We also want to thank our running mate Jarrett Smith for waging a bold campaign that centered the urgent need for voter outreach and civic engagement in the Office of the City Commission. We were proud to run alongside Jarrett, and we’re eager to work with him to increase voter participation and strengthen our city’s democracy.”