Progressives Pick Up Big Wins In Primary Races

Duane Townsend

The Atlantic - June 3, 2020

FROM NEW MEXICO to Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., progressive challengers to Democratic incumbents scored a series of victories on Tuesday night, continuing to grind out an insurgency that in just a few years has dramatically reshaped the politics of the Democratic Party. 

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’s surge and then rapid collapse in the Democratic presidential primary, speculation about the demise of the progressive wing of the party, and a dismissal of the entire idea of organizing as a means toward power has been rampant, but leftist candidates at the local level continue to notch the kind of victories that force incumbents to pay attention. 

In Pennsylvania, a progressive force has been coalescing since the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016, with radical activists allying with what’s become known as “the resistance” in a way that has gone smoother than elsewhere in the country. That alliance has meant that many of the same forces have organized both victories at the ballot box and street demonstrations, in both major cities and small towns. 

Organizers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, launched Lancaster Stands Up in the days after Trump’s victory and have gone on to block the privatization of local prison services, elect allies to council and school board seats, win a Democratic congressional nomination and, in recent days, put together the largest street protests in the city’s modern memory. The model has gone statewide, with an umbrella organization, Pennsylvania Stand Up, of nine chapters, including Eerie Stands Up, Lehigh Valley Stands Up, and others. Another of its chapters, Reclaim Philadelphia, is an effort by local activists, with help from the Working Families Party, to take back control of the city from establishment Democrats with ties to real estate developers and major corporate players. 

That effort got a major boost Tuesday night, when insurgent Nikil Saval, a co-founder of Reclaim Philadelphia, knocked off longtime incumbent state Sen. Larry Farnese, who had held the seat since 2008. For the previous 30 years, it had been held by a legendary South Philly politician, Vincent Fumo, who took over the seat when the incumbent went to prison for corruption. Fumo, likewise, left the seat for prison. For the left to claim Fumo’s seat is a major symbolic victory in a closely watched contest. 

Rick Krajewski, another Reclaim organizer running in a competitive West/Southwest Philly House district against a more moderate opponent, has a solid chance of winning. (WFP did not endorse either Krajewski or Saval.) Krajewski won a late endorsement from Sanders, and he told The Intercept on Wednesday he had expected to be trailing slightly among in-person votes, and to make it up with mail-in ballots, as his was the only campaign to organize a robust mail operation. But instead, with 5,500 ballots counted, Krajewski is leading by 4 percentage points among in-person votes, with roughly 7,000 mail-in ballots still to be counted. 

Progressives also rallied around Nydea Graves, who ran for a Coatesville City Council seat and ousted an incumbent in a special election. Coatesville, in Chester County, is roughly the midpoint between Lancaster City and Philadelphia, and Graves is a leader of the local Chester County Stands Up chapter. 

The left is also threatening to expand on gains it made in hotly contested city council races last year. Councilwoman Kendra Brooks won in 2019 with the backing of Reclaim Philadelphia and the Working Families Party, making inroads into the type of working-class, predominantly black neighborhoods where the left has struggled to gain traction in the past — a failure that is used to undercut the left’s claim to legitimately represent a broad, multicultural working-class movement. Brooks’s ally, Pastor Nicolas O’Rourke, lost a city council race the same year but went on to become Pennsylvania organizing director for the WFP. Brooks and O’Rourke teamed up to help 25-year-old Bernard Williams win the nomination for the area’s state House seat. A win would give the insurgent left deeper inroads in the area, solidifying Brooks’s victory; as of Wednesday afternoon, Williams trailed by a single percentage point among in-person votes, but mail-in ballots could push him to the top.

The left also appears to have taken out one-time progressive champion state Sen. Daylin Leach, the subject of a slew of sexual misconduct and harassment allegations. As of Wednesday afternoon, WFP-backed Amanda Cappelletti had a comfortable lead. 

Progressive Jessica Benham is also leading in a state House race against Ed Moeller, a conservative, anti-choice member of the Democratic establishment who had the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police in this Pittsburgh-area contest. 

And Emily Kinkead is leading incumbent state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, brother of the former mayor of Pittsburgh. Kinkead is allied with democratic socialist state Reps. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, who were first elected in 2018, and will grow their power once she arrives in Harrisburg. Innamorato was unopposed in her primary this cycle, while the party establishment came hard for Lee in her race, but she crushed her opponent, leading by more than 50 percentage points, with votes still to be counted. ...
Read full report at The Atlantic

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