Major Philadelphia political events in the last half of the 20th century
- November 1947: Republican Bernard “Barney” Samuel defeats Democrat Richardson Dilworth for mayor. Dilworth focuses on corruption as the major issue of the campaign, using a sound truck to read out the sins of the Samuel administration and carrying a broom. His motto is “Sweep the Rascals Out.”
- 1948: A Special Committee on City Finances, the “Committee of 15,” uncovers almost $40 million in city funds that are unaccounted for. Several major scandals would be exposed in the following months leading to the suicides of four city officials.
- November 1949: Democrats Joseph Clark and Richardson Dilworth win election as city controller and treasurer, respectively. This breaks the decades-old stranglehold on city offices of the Republican Party. Clark and Dilworth lead the reform movement to reshape city government and end corruption.
- May 1951: Voters approve a new Home Rule City Charter by 119,000 votes. This document reorganizes city government and creates a “strong mayor.” It also establishes limit of two successive terms for mayor.
- November 1951: Reform Movement sweeps out Republican Party. Joseph S. Clark elected Mayor. Dilworth elected District Attorney. All Democratic candidates for district councilman and the five Democratic at-large candidates are elected. Clark brings in a number of outsiders and experts to modernize City Hall.
- 1955: Clark declines to run for a second term as mayor, choosing instead to run for United States Senate and winning in 1956. Richardson Dilworth runs for mayor in his place and defeats Thacher Longstreth.
- 1956: Split in the Democratic Party begins to appear between the Reformers and the party machinery, led by new Democratic Party Chairman, Congressman William Green, Jr.
- November 1959: Dilworth wins re-election over perennial Presidential candidate Howard Stassen by 205,000 votes – the largest margin of victory in city history.
- February 1962: Dilworth resigns to run for governor of Pennsylvania. City Council President James H.J. Tate assumes office.
- May 1963: Independent element of the Democratic Party becomes disillusioned with Tate and runs reform movement member Walter M. Phillips against Tate in the primary. Phillips’s defeat marks the beginning of the end of the independent reform movement.
- November 1963: Tate defeats James T. McDermott, a young lawyer who runs on a platform of cleaning up City Hall.
- May 1967: Democratic Party Chairman Francis R. Smith and dozens of ward leaders support reformer Alexander Hemphill in primary against Tate. With labor and city employee support, Tate defeats Hemphill by a 2-1 margin. The reform movement is crushed. Depending on a “law and order” platform to win the general election, Tate appoints Frank Rizzo as Police Commissioner.
- November 1967: Tate defeats District Attorney Arlen Specter by less than 11,000 votes. Election marks a split in the alliance between labor and the liberal movement that had supported Clark and Dilworth.
- 1968-1972: Tate’s second term described as “a continuing succession of scandals and political quarrels.” During this time, the population of Philadelphia becomes increasingly divided along socio-economic and racial lines.
- May 1971: Frank Rizzo defeats Congressman Bill Green and State Representative Hardy Williams in the Democratic mayoral primary. W. Wilson Goode manages Williams’s campaign.
- November 1971: Former Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo elected mayor, defeating City Councilman Thacher Longstreth. Turnout for the election reaches 76.6 percent – the highest total since 1935.
- May 1972: Rizzo tells a TV reporter that he would change the City Charter to eliminate the mayor’s two-term limit.
- May 1975: Democratic Party Chairman Pete Camiel supports Louis G. Hill, stepson of Richardson Dilworth, against Frank Rizzo in the primary. Rizzo agrees to a generous contract with blue-collar city workers’ union and avoids strike. Rizzo defeats Hill 52-43.
- November 1975: Charlie Bowser, a former deputy mayor under Mayor Tate, forms his own political party – The Philadelphia Party – and runs for mayor. In a three-way race, Rizzo receives 57 percent of the vote, defeating Bowser and Republican candidate Tom Foglietta. Bowser outpolls Foglietta by 35,000 votes.
- Spring 1976: Facing a slowing economy and the need to pay for the generous contracts he had negotiated with the city workers’ union, Rizzo submits budget increasing the real estate tax by 29.3 percent. Wage tax increase from 3.3 percent to 4.3 percent. This is the largest tax increase in the city’s history. Efforts to recall Rizzo get underway in earnest.
- May 1976: As recall movement heats up, a Philadelphia Bulletin poll finds that 57 percent of Philadelphians want Rizzo out of office.
- June 1976: With a requirement of 145,000 signatures to put the recall question on the November ballot, the recall movement submits 211,190 signatures on the day of the deadline.
- August 1976: City commissioners vote 2-1 to strike down the recall petition, citing that over 100,000 signatures were invalid. State Supreme Court upholds the their decision.
- September 1978: The Committee to Reform the Charter announces that it would place this question on the November ballot: “The mayor shall be permitted to serve for more than two successive terms.” The Charter Defense Committee forms, uniting several groups – including Rizzo supporters – in opposition to the change.
- November 1978: In an election that had become Rizzo vs. The Home Rule Charter, the Charter wins, 66-44. Rizzo is denied a chance to run for a third successive term.
- May 1979: In a race that features 11 candidates, former Congressman Bill Green 3rd defeats Charlie Bowser in the Democratic primary for Mayor. Green faces Republican candidate David Marston, former U.S. Attorney and Consumer Party candidate, Lucien Blackwell, councilman from West Philadelphia. Both Marston and Green promise to appoint a black managing director if elected.
- November 1979: Green defeats Marston and Blackwell. He appoints W. Wilson Goode as Philadelphia’s first black managing director.
- 1980: In order to balance the budget and restore the city’s credit rating, Green lays off 1200 city workers including 700 police officers.
- November 1982: Mayor Green announces that he will not seek re-election. Candidates for the Democratic nomination begin lining up. City Controller Thomas “Tommy” Leonard and Managing Director W. Wilson Goode emerge as contenders.
- December 1983: After weighing the option as running as a Republican, Frank Rizzo announces his intention to run for the Democratic nomination. Tommy Leonard drops out with the intention of running as an independent in the general election.
- May 1983: Goode defeats Rizzo in the Democratic mayoral primary election. Voter turnout reaches 70 percent – highest in modern times for a primary election.
- November 1983: W. Wilson Goode defeats stockbroker Republican John J. Egan, Jr. to become Philadelphia’s first black mayor.
- May 13, 1985: Generally regarded as the darkest day in Philadelphia history, Philadelphia police use an incendiary device during a confrontation with the back-to-nature group, MOVE. The resulting fire kills 11 people including 5 children, destroys 61 homes and casts public doubt on Goode’s ability to lead.
- November 1985: Attorney and Vietnam War veteran Ron Castille defeats Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Judge Robert W. Williams Jr. in the election for District Attorney. Castille is the first Republican to win a citywide election since Arlen Specter in 1969.
- December 1986: Frank Rizzo switches his voter registration to Republican.
- January 1987: Ed Rendell declares his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for mayor. John Egan Jr. enters the race on the Republican side.
- February 1987: Republican City Committee endorses Frank Rizzo for the party’s primary.
- May 1987: Goode defeats Rendell 57 percent to 43 percent in the Democratic primary. In the Republican primary, Rizzo defeats Egan 58 percent to 42 percent. Rizzo becomes the first person in Philadelphia history to win the mayoral nomination of both major parties. The stage is set for the general election in November.
- Summer 1987: A poll by Hickman-Maslin Research of Washington finds that 69 percent of the city’s voters believe that Philadelphia is on the “wrong track.”
- November 1987: Goode defeats Rizzo 51.3 percent to 48.6 percent.
- November 1989: Republican District Attorney Ron Castille wins reelection over Democratic candidate Walter M. Phillips, Jr. Phillips, who had been a special prosecutor investigating the Rizzo administration in the 1970’s, is the son a Dilworth-Clark ally from the reform movement. This is only the third time in 20 years that a white Republican outpolls a white Democrat in a citywide election.
- Summer – Fall 1990: Sam Katz, businessman and Democrat-turned-Republican, decides to run for Republican nomination for mayor. On the Democratic side, former District Attorney Ed Rendell, attorney Peter Hearn, Councilman Lucien Blackwell, Councilman George Burrell and Managing Director James S. White begin campaigning.
- January 1991: Rizzo announces that he will seek the Republican nomination for mayor.
- February 1991: District Attorney Castille, supported by GOP boss Billy Meehan, announces his candidacy for mayor.
- May 1991: Rizzo scores an improbable victory by defeating Castille by 1,429 votes for the Republican mayoral nomination. Katz finishes third. With the black vote split between Burrell and Blackwell, Rendell wins the Democratic nomination.
- July 16, 1991: Frank Rizzo dies of a massive heart attack.
- November 1991: In an election characterized by its very low turnout, Rendell defeats Joseph M. Egan, Jr. – Rizzo’s replacement on the Republican ticket.
- January 1992: Shortly after taking office, Rendell is faced with a cumulative budget deficit of $1.25 billion over 5 years and an immediate deficit of $230 million. The city’s credit rating is at junk bond status.
- 1992: Rendell eliminates the $230 million dollar budget deficit with a major reorganization of city government, including cutting over 1500 city jobs, contracting several city services to private companies and freezing wage increases for city workers.
- May 1995: Both Rendell and the Republican candidate, former State Senator M. Joseph Rocks, run unopposed in their respective primaries.
- November 1995: Rendell, despite opposition from the municipal unions, wins reelection in a landslide defeating Rocks by over 170,000 votes – capturing 80 percent of the vote.
- May 1999: City Council President John Street emerges from among six candidates as the Democratic nominee for mayor. Street defeats Rizzo protege Marty Weinberg, former public housing director John White, Jr., City Councilwoman Happy Fernandez, State Representative Dwight Evans and protest candidate Queena R. Bass. Sam Katz wins the Republican nomination without opposition.
- November 1999: Street defeats Katz and Constitutional Party candidate John McDermott. Street’s 9400-vote margin of victory is the smallest in almost 90 years.
- May 2003: Both Street and Katz win their respective primaries without opposition, setting up a November rematch of the 1999 election.
- October 7, 2003: A sweep of the mayor’s office reveals a listening device planted by the FBI as part of an ongoing investigation of municipal corruption.
- November 2003: The much-anticipated rematch between Street and Katz turns into a 17-point blow out as Street outpolls Katz by 78,000 votes.
- June 2004: City Treasurer Corey Kemp and Street fundraiser Ron White are among 12 people indicted on charges of fraud and extortion as a result of the federal investigation into municipal corruption. Mayor Street is not charged.
- May 2005: Kemp and two bank executives are convicted of participating in a corruption conspiracy and later sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- November 2005: Philadelphia voters overwhelmingly approve a ballot question to amend the Home Rule Charter and allow City Council to pass laws regulating the awarding of city contracts. This “ethics” ballot question passes with 86.6 percent support.
AS COLLECTED BY WHYY ON THENEXTMAYOR.COM, EDITED AND EXPANDED BY CHRISTOPHER WINK
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