As some races seem over already, others are up for grabs

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From right: State Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue; state Superior Court Judge David Wecht, Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto; state Superior Court Judge Judith Olson; Adams County Judge Michael George; Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty; and state Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey participate in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court debate Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg.

A look at Tuesday's general election ballot makes clear that the most competitive races are at the top and near the bottom.

Mid-ballot sits the race for mayor of Philadelphia, the first time that post has been open since Mayor Nutter's first win in 2007.

But a lot of the suspense in the mayor's race evaporated after the May primary, when Democrat Jim Kenney, a 23-year veteran of City Council, easily bested five rivals by stringing together support from various wings of his party, including issues-oriented progressives, building trades unions, and African American power brokers.

Republican nominee Melissa Murray Bailey, a political novice and executive for an international business employment consulting firm, moved to Philadelphia three years ago and became a Republican in January.

She and three other mayoral candidates, independents Jim Foster and Boris Kindij and Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party, face long odds.

Kenney enjoys vastly superior campaign financing in a city where 78 percent of the voters are registered Democrats. Republicans make up 11 percent. Independents and smaller-party voters account for the remaining 11 percent.

Randall Miller, a history professor at St. Joseph's University who studies local politics, questions how robust Tuesday's voter turnout will be, especially if the race for mayor is perceived as a "foregone conclusion" in the city.

Just 27 percent of registered Democrats voted in the primary - which featured a series of candidate debates and forums and a spread of more than $11 million worth of campaign commercials paid for by so-called independent expenditure groups unaffiliated with the campaigns.

Those groups supported Kenney and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, who finished a distant second in the Democratic primary.

Powerful judgeships

At the top of the ballot, voters statewide will fill three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It's the most vacancies there since colonial days, and political control of the powerful court, where the GOP has had a majority for 16 years, is up for grabs.

Two of the seven candidates hail from Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas - Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty, the younger brother of John Dougherty, leader of the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Judge Paul Panepinto, who has made three runs for appellate courts as a Republican and is now running as an independent.

Tuesday's race has set new fund-raising records for state Supreme Court races. It, too, has drawn millions in spending on ads by so-called independent groups.

"Even though there's been a lot of advertising and a lot of buzz about this, it's never clear how many people are paying attention," Miller said. "This is the most important race because it will have the most impact on the people across Pennsylvania, including people in Philadelphia."

Voters will also select judges for Superior, Commonwealth, Common Pleas, and Municipal Courts.

Council-at-large fight

Near the bottom of the Philadelphia ballot, nine candidates are seeking the two City Council at-large seats set aside by law for members of a minority political party.

Those seats are typically won by Republicans.

GOP incumbents Dennis O'Brien and David Oh are each seeking a second term. Neither is beloved by the city's Republican Party, though, which chose to endorse no one in the primary for those seats.

O'Brien and Oh are facing spirited challenges from fellow Republicans Terry Tracey, Dan Tinney, and Al Taubenberger.

Miller calls the at-large race for the two minority seats the "bona fide" local election on this ballot.

He notes that the Republican challengers have built up name recognition.

Taubenberger was the GOP nominee for mayor in 2007 and narrowly missed winning an at-large Council seat in 2011.

Tracey was the GOP nominee for city controller in 2013. And Tinney has built a bipartisan base with strong union support.

Also competing for the seats are the Green Party's Kristin Combs, the Socialist Workers Party's John Staggs, and independents Andrew Stober and Sheila Armstrong.

Stober, who previously worked as chief of staff in Mayor Nutter's transportation office, has drawn attention for the gambit of an independent grabbing a seat usually taken by a Republican.

"He's even more attractive because of all the internal problems with the Republican Party," Miller said of Stober. "You could have a real split vote in a low-turnout election, which I would argue will have a real impact on Oh and O'Brien."

Other Council races

Philadelphia's City Council has seven at-large seats and 10 district seats that geographically divide the city. Voters can select five at-large candidates and one candidate for the district where they live.

Council is almost sure to see new faces when its members are sworn into office Jan. 4.

That's thanks to various departures: incumbent at-large Democrats W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Ed Neilson lost in the primary; Kenney quit to run for mayor.

Attorney Derek Green, a former Council staffer, education activist Helen Gym, and real estate broker Allan Domb won in May and are heavily favored Tuesday.

Eight of the 10 district Council members - nine Democrats and one Republican - are unopposed.

In Northwest Philadelphia, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, a Democrat, is challenged by Michael Galganski of the Free Dominion Party.

In the Ninth District, also in Northwest Philadelphia, State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker, a Democrat, is running to succeed her political mentor, Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who is retiring.

Parker faces Republican Kevin Strickland and independent Bobbie T. Curry.

The row offices

Democrat Ron Donatucci, the city's register of wills, is seeking a 10th four-year term Tuesday. He is challenged by Republican Ross Feinberg.

Democrat Jewell Williams, a former state representative who was elected as the city's sheriff in 2011, is seeking a second term. He faces Republican Christopher Sawyer.

The candidates for the three-member board of city commissioners, which oversees elections, are running unopposed.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan


Vote on Tuesday

Polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Need help finding your polling place? Report a problem at the polls?

Philadelphia: 215-686-1590.

Committee of Seventy 1-855-738-3689.

District Attorney's Office, 215-686-9641, 9643, 9644, or 9884.

Bucks County:

215-348-6154; elections@co.bucks.pa.us

Delaware County:

610-891-4673 (891-4659 for voter registration problems).

Montgomery County: 610-278-3275.

Chester County: 610-344-6410.