City Hall in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com)
On Tuesday, Philadelphians effectively chose the nine judicial candidates who will be taking seats on the Common Pleas and Municipal Court benches next year.
With 17 percent of Philadelphia’s eligible voters coming out for the primary, turnout was higher than expected for an off-year race, but the results were a mixed bag when it came to the Democratic City Committee’s endorsements, or the Philadelphia Bar Association’s judicial ratings system.
According to the results from the Pennsylvania Department of State, four candidates who were not endorsed by the party made it through the primary, as did three candidates who were rated as “not recommended” by the bar association.
The top vote-earner was interim Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Stella Tsai, who won 7.7 percent of the vote, or nearly 63,000 votes. Close behind her was Vikki Kristiansson, who received 61,534 votes, or 7.58 percent, and coming in third place was interim Judge Lucretia Clemons, who received more than 46,000 votes to earn about 5.7 percent of the vote. Deborah Cianfrani was the fourth highest vote-getter at 5.3 percent, with slightly more than 43,000.
Tsai, Kristiansson and Cianfrani were in the first, second and third spots on the ballot, respectively. Clemons was listed 25th out of 27 candidates.
Tsai, Kristiansson and Clemons were each rated as “recommended” by the bar association, while Cianfrani received a “not recommended” rating. Cianfrani, Tsai and Clemons, however, were each endorsed by the City Committee.
The fifth-place candidate was Zac Shaffer, who earned nearly 39,000 votes, or 4.8 percent. Close behind him was Deborah Canty, who earned 4.74 percent, with about 38,500 votes.
Receiving about 36,100 votes, or 4.45 percent, Shanese Johnson came in sixth, followed by Mark B. Cohen and Vincent Furlong. Cohen won nearly 36,000 votes, or 4.4 percent, and Furlong, who also ran on the Republican ticket and was the only candidate on that ticket, won 4.35 percent of the Democratic votes.
Shaffer, Canty and Furlong were rated as “recommended” by the bar association, while Johnson and Cohen both received “not recommended” ratings. Shaffer and Johnson had both also received the City Committee’s endorsement, while Cohen, Canty and Furlong were each not endorsed by the Democratic City Committee.
Furlong will also appear on the Republican side of the ballot in November, as he was the only judicial candidate to cross-file.
So the November ballot is set to feature nine names for the nine openings on Common Pleas Court.
In the race for two seats on the Municipal Court, Marissa Brumbach earned the most votes. She won 77,085 votes, or 38 percent. Matt Wolf came in second in that race, with nearly 25.5 percent of the vote, or nearly 51,650 votes.
According to state campaign finance records, the candidate winning who spent the most was Shaffer. A 2017 summary report says his campaign spent 169,783 on the race.
However, Cohen may have beaten that expenditure mark.
A spokeswoman for the Department of State said neither Cohen nor his committee filed campaign finance reports in 2017, but, according to Cohen, who spoke with The Legal on Thursday afternoon, he spent about $200,000 on the race. Cohen also said most of that was his own money. He also said he filed campaign reports with the state, however, he said he would not be able to send The Legal copies of his finance reports before the end of the day Thursday.
According to records from the Department of State, Clemons spent $162,920 on the race, Cianfrani spent $144,272 and Tsai spent $101,938. The remaining candidates spent less than $100,000, with Furlong spending nearly $67,000, Kristiansson spending about $56,500, Johnson spending $42,573 and Canty spending nearly $10,500.
The results came as the bar association is taking a new, data-driven approach getting the word out about its ratings.
In an emailed statement, Eric Weitz, chairman of the bar association’s Judicial Commission, noted that this was the first year the bar had volunteers handing out ratings information at polling sites.
“We are digging into the data now, but initial results show that at the sites where we handed out information, the recommended candidates did better than what the overall returns showed,” he said. “We are encouraged by what we are seeing in the data and are already planning for a larger and more effective communications campaign in the future.”
When it came to the Democratic endorsement, this year’s race was also unusual.
In late March, the state Supreme Court trimmed the number of available vacancies on the court from 10 in the Common Pleas race to nine, and from three in the Municipal Court race to two. The decision came down after the City Committee had already endorsed 10 candidates. When the party decided not to reverse any of its endorsement, it was the first time there were more endorsed candidates than seats available. No one filed on the Republican side.
City party chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said overall he was happy with the outcome of the judicial races in Philadelphia, especially given that all of the endorsed candidates running in statewide elections won places for the ticket in November.
He acknowledged, however, that once again ballot position was likely the most decisive factor in the election.
“The four we lost were all high numbers. We didn’t lose anybody on the low numbers,” Brady said, referring to the number on the candidates’ ballot slot. Lower numbers reflect listing higher up on the ballot in voting machines.