“Hey, Denny! Welcome home!” local committeeman Ed Joscelyne shouted during a happy post-election gathering for state Rep. Dennis O’Brien.
That drew a lot of laughs and applause from a crowd of well wishers at the Rosewood Caterers on Frankford Avenue on election night Nov. 8, and a big grin from O’Brien. After more than three decades of representing his Northeast Philly district in Harrisburg, O’Brien (R-169th dist.) finally won’t have to leave the city to go to work.
He’ll be starting a new job as a city councilman at-large in January. He won’t be the only newbie in City Hall; he’ll be joining five other members in a freshman class that will make up more than one-third of City Council.
“I believe this is an opportunity for inclusion and collaboration,” he said, “It’s a historic moment in Philadelphia.”
He sees himself working closely with Democrats Jannie Blackwell (D-3rd dist.) and with Bobby Henon, elected last week to replace Joan Krajewski (D-6th dist.), who is retiring.
O’Brien’s focus will be on tax and education reform, he said last week. He envisions involving the city’s colleges and universities in addressing the school system’s academics, and he wants to work on securing the system’s finances and on making the schools safer.
Just over 198,000 of the city’s registered voters — not quite 20 percent — turned out last week. On election night, O’Brien said he regarded voter turnout as moderate, but it was big for him in the Northeast.
According to the city’s online election results site, the former state House speaker got more than half of his almost 48,000 votes in the Northeast’s 14 wards. His biggest score was in the 66th Ward — his home ward — where he got more than 5,500 votes, a number no other Council candidate topped. Even Mayor Michael Nutter, who was re-elected, was 2,100 votes shy of O’Brien’s count in the 66th.
O’Brien was the top Republican in the race for the seven at-large seats on City Council. The GOP and the Democrats each run five candidates. Democrats, who have a huge majority in voter registration, took the first five slots, leaving two for the Republicans.
The winner of the second and final seat reserved for Republicans was not determined until Tuesday afternoon — a full week after the election — when Al Taubenberger conceded to David Oh.
Fewer than 200 votes had divided Oh and Taubenberger for several days, so absentee and provisional ballots had to be counted before a winner could be declared.
Oh, who got about 42 percent of his support in the Northeast, ended election night ahead of Taubenberger, the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce president and 2007 GOP mayoral candidate.
Had Taubenberger prevailed, he, O’Brien and district Council members Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.) and Henon would have given the 17-member body four Northeast-based representatives.
That bloc is four members larger when members whose districts include Northeast territory are added: Mark Squilla’s 1st district comes into the lower Northeast east of Frankford; Darrell Clarke’s 5th district includes Northwood; Mária Quiñones-Sanchez’s 7th district includes Frankford; and Marion Tasco’s 9th district reaches into Lawndale and Crescentville.
Tasco wants to be Council president. Oh likely will support her; Taubenberger would not have voted for Tasco, who was re-elected with no opposition last week, because she is enrolled in DROP and will collect $478,057 in retirement money in January but remain on the job and continue to collect her full salary.
O’Brien will back Clarke for president. Clarke reportedly has the nine votes necessary to be elected to lead Council.
O’Brien’s move to City Hall comes as the 169th, the state House district O’Brien represented for about 35 years, will soon move out of Philadelphia to York County.
Every 10 years, the legislature redraws boundaries to reflect population shifts. It wasn’t completely surprising that the state’s Republicans, who control the legislature and the governor’s office, decided to wipe out the district of a Republican who served as House speaker for a Democratic majority.
“I’m glad that I have a job,” O’Brien said as he thanked supporters last week. “I promise you I will make you proud as a councilman.” ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org