Council President Darrell Clarke in January 2020 Credit: Jared Piper / Philadelphia City Council Flickr

Update, Sept. 9: Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke today announced that a special election will be held on Nov. 8 for the District 7 and District 9 council seats.

The councilmembers chosen in this special election will fill the rest of the term for resigned councilmembers Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Cherelle Parker.

Clarke did not call for a special election to fill the two at-large vacancies on council, left by Derek Green and Allan Domb.

The city charter does not preclude him from calling for a special election for those positions, or any other vacancies that arise, for a later time, such as May 2023 when Philadelphia has a primary election.

In Friday’s announcement, Clarke made clear that the existing staff in both district offices will continue providing constituent services until the special election is completed.

Original story below:

Facing a legislative body that’s four members short, the clock is ticking for Council President Darrell Clarke. If he wants to replace any of the empty seats this fall — and word is he may want to fill at least two — he needs to call a special election soon.

The window for calling a special election that coincides with the upcoming general election opens 60 days before Election Day (that’ll be Sept. 9) and closes 30 days before, on Oct. 9.

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The four recently resigned councilmembers are all planning or considering a run for mayor. They are District 7’s Maria Quiñones Sánchez, District 9’s Cherelle Parker, and two who held at-large seats: Derek Green and Allan Domb.

The district vacancies are the highest priority to fill, observers told Thetelegraphfield. Without members in those seats, residents there don’t have direct representation on the city’s lawmaking body. Waiting for the 2023 election to fill them would mean going over a year with that lack.

District 7 covers parts of North and Northeast Philadelphia, including Kensington, Franklinville, Juniata and Frankford. It’s the city’s only majority-Hispanic district. District 9, in Northwest Philly, includes East Oak Lane, Fern Rock, Lawndale and Oxford Circle.

The two districts have over 315k residents. If Parker and Quiñones Sánchez aren’t replaced quickly, nearly 1 in 5 city residents would be without direct Council representation.

It’s possible Clarke could call for a special election to fill just the district seats, but not the at-large positions. It’s also possible he will look to fill all four. Clarke’s spokesman, Joe Grace, declined to comment on the issue.

The Philadelphia City Commissioners, the bipartisan board in charge of elections, would prefer Clarke make the call as early as possible, sources said, because they need time to prepare ballots for absentee and mail-in voters.

Spokesperson Nick Custodio said the commissioners are referring all questions about potential special elections to Clarke’s office.

Who picks the replacement?

If Clarke calls for a special election on Nov. 8, the next step is in the hands of the city’s political parties.

Democratic and Republican ward leaders in District 7 and District 9 would be tasked with selecting a candidate to go on the special election ballot for their respective districts. Under the city charter, there is no primary election after a Council member resigns.

For the at-large seats, if a special election is called, the citywide party organizations would have to agree on candidates across 66 wards.

Democratic City Committee Chair Bob Brady told Thetelegraphfield on Wednesday that the ward leaders are ready to put forth candidates if and when Clarke calls a special election — for any of the vacancies. “We will be prepared for sure. We’ve done this before many times,” Brady said.

Republican City Committee chair Vince Fenerty said his party also plans to find viable candidates for any special election called. “There will be no free passes,” he said.

In District 7, people of interest for the seat if a special election is called include Quetcy Lozada, the former chief of staff to Quiñones Sánchez, and Pa. Rep. Angel Cruz, who in 2019 got party backing to challenge Quiñones Sánchez in the Democratic primary, and lost. Neither potential replacements could be immediately reached for comment.

Several names are being bandied about as replacements for Parker in the 9th District, but so far none appear to firmly top the list.

The most recent special election for a Philadelphia City Council seat was less than a year ago. Councilmember Mike Driscoll was elected to represent District 6 after Bobby Henon resigned following federal corruption charges. Ward leaders selected him in February, and he appeared on the ballot in May unopposed.

In any case, all 17 Council seats are up for election next year. If a special election is held and a new councilmember selected for any of the vacant spots, they would have to run again next year for the opportunity to keep that position.