City Councilmember David Oh, backed by the city’s Republican leadership, resigned Monday and launched his mayoral campaign, becoming the first GOP candidate amid a large field of Democrats looking to replace term-limited Mayor Jim Kenney.
In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of nearly 8 to 1, Oh, known in City Hall for his independent streak, is the most serious and accomplished GOP mayoral hopeful in years.
“For the last 24 years, the announcements that I had gone to for our mayor’s candidates were held in a phone booth,” said Vince Fenerty, head of the city’s Republican Party. “That’s how many people would attend. We would get one or two reporters.”
Oh’s announcement came before a packed auditorium at the National Constitution Center, where attendees heard messages of support, particularly from Philadelphia’s immigrant communities.
“No officials ever visited our community before Mr. David Oh,” said Daler Khamidov, of the Forum of Samarkandian Americans. “He’s first. That’s why we love him.”
A Philadelphia native, Oh served in the U.S. military and was elected to Council as an at-large member in 2011.
Several of those who endorsed Oh at his launch event identified themselves as Democrats willing to part with party loyalties to back the former councilmember. But he also has the endorsement of his party and is likely to emerge from May’s primary as the GOP nominee.
“I find most of the problems in our city to be caused by our government,” Oh told the crowd. “There is not a transparency. There is not an accountability because there has not been any competition.”
Fenerty, the former executive of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, admitted he had “a good and a bad relationship” with Oh. The pair clashed over Oh’s failed attempt in Council to audit the PPA.
The GOP leader said Oh assured him that, as mayor, he would appoint as police commissioner someone who had come through the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department. Danielle Outlaw, the current commissioner, was hired from outside the PPD, previously serving as chief in Portland, Oregon.
“David Oh doesn’t just talk about supporting police officers,” said Omari Bervine, president of the local Fraternal Order of Transit Police, which represents SEPTA officers. “He has a proven track record of supporting police.”
On his campaign website, Oh suggests creating a pilot “trash force” to clean up neighborhoods most affected by litter and dumping, and he’s also in favor of reforming the school board so that it is at least partially elected.
One thing Oh won’t do is change class start times to accommodate the Super Bowl, as many Philadelphia area school systems did Monday.
“I’m sorry. I love the Eagles,” Oh, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia, said. “We will never start school late two hours because of an Eagles game.”
Philadelphia’s resign-to-run rule forced Oh to vacate his Council seat, opening up the at-large race, which will coincide with the mayoral election. With Oh’s resignation, Brian O’Neill, whose district includes the Far Northeast, is the only Republican member of Council.
Two of the seven citywide spots are reserved for minority parties. Traditionally, the seats have been held by Republicans; however, in recent years, progressive groups, especially the Working Families Party, have targeted the minority positions. WFP candidate Kendra Brooks and Oh emerged as the top minority party at-large vote-getters in 2019.
In the general election, Oh could face one of his former Council colleagues. He is the sixth to step down to enter the race, following Allan Domb, Derek Green, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Cherelle Parker and Helen Gym.
Other Democrats running include former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, grocer Jeff Brown, state Rep. Amen Brown, pastor Warren Bloom Sr. and former judge James DeLeon.