Democrats' decades-long grip of Philadelphia politics

But there's one piece of the city where the party's hold is not so strong: The Northeast

Ever since 1951, when Democrat Joseph Clark Jr. won the mayoral election and ended 80 years of Republican control, the party has had a tight grip on Philadelphia.

The lone exception to the Democratic dominance on City Council is the Northeast. Though the Republican presence has grown thin, it remains strong in parts of the Northeast. A combination of income, race, and local issues has made a district in this section the only one represented by a Republican, Brian O'Neill, although there are two Republican at-large Council members.

It is apparent that there is not one clear reason why the Northeast is dominated by Republicans. Voters consider many factors when standing at the ballot box, and it's more complicated than distinguishing between red or blue.

Joann Beaver, a registered Democrat in the Northeast, said the Northeast may lean toward the right because of income. She said the divide emerged mostly over government involvement, particularly when it comes to income.

"You want to keep your money and you don't want the government to make decisions that are so involved with your income, so you may lean more toward the right," Beaver said.

"But in middle-class neighborhoods, we need the government to help and be more involved, which tends to be a Democratic value, and there's the divide," she said.

Income doesn't explain everything. Chestnut Hill is wealthier than its neighbor, East Mount Airy. The Chestnut Hill Local reported in 2010 that Chestnut Hill fared better than its nearest neighbors in the city during the last 10 years.

The report showed that average household income fell 16 percent in West Mount Airy, from $100,851 to $84,593. East Mount Airy household income dropped 22 percent, from $71,604 to $55,531 and Germantown income fell 17 percent, from $51,061 to $42,450. In Chestnut Hill, the average household income fell 10 percent from $123,204 to $110,391.

Despite its brighter economic outlook, Chestnut Hill remains highly Democratic, close to that of East Mount Airy. It has a smaller majority of Democrats, but the majority still falls between 75 percent and 90 percent, demonstrating that if income makes a difference, it's slight, and other issues take a higher importance.

Race is a consideration as well. Edgar Howard, a Democratic ward leader in Northwest Philadelphia, said that the large population of African Americans is a factor in Philadelphia's Democratic makeup.

African Americans constitute 43 percent of the city's population, tend overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

"If you go back to the civil rights days," Howard said, "the Democrats stood with Martin Luther King Jr., and I think that has a lot to do with Philadelphia's political tendencies."

John O'Connell, the ward leader of Chestnut Hill and part of Mount Airy, said that about 60 years ago, this distinctly Democratic city was heavily Republican.

"People became very suspicious of the Republican Party and its patronage," O'Connell said. "There were many abuses in the system. By the 1960s, there was a revolution in the city in terms in throwing Republicans out of the power and Democrats taking the power."

Looking at the political shift in Philadelphia, it is possible that another shift could one day take place.

"Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a better grasp on the issues," said Howard. "It's who is more willing to address them, and the Democrats are more willing to address those issues."