Ayers' daughter is latest to join Council at-large field

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Jenné Ayers, 26, became the latest - and youngest - candidate for City Council At-Large, when she announced her plans to run Tuesday. (Photo from jenneayers.com)

The daughter of Philadelphia's former fire commissioner is the latest - and youngest - candidate in next year's already crowded at-large race for City Council.

Jenné Ayers, who turned 26 Tuesday, announced her bid in front of the Free Library's main library on Logan Square beside her father, Lloyd, who retired in June after nearly 10 years as commissioner and 40 as a firefighter.

Jenné Ayers, a graduate of Masterman High School and Harvard University who is completing her law degree at Yale University, said she wanted to bring "a breath of fresh air" to Council.

If elected, she would become one of the youngest Council members in history.

"I am not running just to represent young people. I am running for City Council at large to represent all of Philadelphia," she said at a news conference. "Let's make sure our city government is transparent, responsive, and puts the people first."

She won't finish law school until weeks after the May 19 Democratic primary, but she said she would commute to Connecticut once or twice a week for her few remaining credits, leaving plenty of time to campaign from her home in Roxborough.

Ayers said she is in compliance with the City Charter, since Roxborough is her permanent residence.

Hers is the newest name on a long list of declared at-large candidates that is still expected to grow. It includes former City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr.; George Matysik, director of government affairs and public policy at the Philabundance regional food bank; and Isaiah Thomas, who ran at large in 2011. Thomas is associate dean of students at Sankofa Freedom Academy, a K-12 charter school.

Also running is Sherrie Cohen, a lawyer with the Tenant Union Representative Network and daughter of the late Councilman David Cohen. In 2011, Sherrie Cohen came within 2,000 votes of unseating Councilman James Kenney for an at-large seat.

Paul Steinke, general manager of Reading Terminal Market, is quitting that job to run for Council. His formal announcement is scheduled for Jan. 13.

The candidates each hope to unseat one of five Democratic at-large incumbents: Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr., William Greenlee, Kenney, and Ed Neilson.

The charter allots two at-large seats to the minority party. On the Republican side, GOP ward leaders James Williams, head track coach at Cheyney University, and Matthew Wolfe, a lawyer and former deputy state attorney general, are vying for the seats of incumbents David Oh and Dennis O'Brien. Wolfe ran unsuccessfully in the spring special election to fill Bill Green's seat.

Candidates run citywide for the seven at-large seats on the 17-member Council. Larry Ceisler, a longtime political consultant, said much depends on ballot positions, which are randomly assigned in the spring.

"By the end of this, there could be somewhere between 17 and 25 candidates, but a lot of people put their names out there and get their petitions and see what kind of [ballot] position they get," Ceisler said of the at-large races. "If a person grabs one of the first five positions, they become formidable."

He said the tone of the mayor's race might matter - if it's highly critical of the status quo, that could affect how voters view Council incumbents.

"I think incumbency isn't necessarily going to be an advantage in 2015," Ceisler said. "I think people want a City Council that's going to work with the mayor. No one expects them to work for the mayor, but I think there is a real dissatisfaction with how government's running."

The deadline for candidates to file nominating petitions is March 10.


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