Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer, Philadelphia, PA, Temple University Press, 2020
Reviewed by: David Niven, University of Cincinnati
Running without the Democratic Party’s endorsement in a one-party town seems like a fool’s errand. But John Kromer analyzes the primary campaigns of candidates who took down entrenched incumbents and well-funded insiders on the strength of organizing skills, the right message, and the rising tide of the political moment. Kromer imbues these efforts with a certain righteousness, ending his book with comments by former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode proclaiming that the true mission of an officeholder is “to do what only they can do” (294) to help people.
Kromer’s recipe for insurgent success is laid out in profiles of campaigns like that of Rebecca Rhynhart, who ran for Philadelphia City Controller in 2017. Rhynhart, Kromer writes, worked hard, engaged in relentless outreach, picked a good time to run as a clean candidate in a city where several leaders were facing indictment, and took advantage of the fact that she was not hemmed in by establishment policy positions.
While Kromer is on firm ground when he highlights the potential capacity of insurgent candidates to succeed, at times he calls to mind Mark Twain’s line about reports of his death having been exaggerated. Overstating his evidence greatly, Kromer goes so far as to write the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s obituary: “The party is a dinosaur. It used to be powerful, but it is now headed toward extinction” (186).
An academic, practitioner, activist and once a failed insurgent candidate himself, Kromer has lived, taught, worked, and believed in what he preaches. There is hope on these pages, and a call to action. To students laboring under the lament that city politics are irrevocably broken, Kromer has provided an invaluable guide on how the outsider can get inside.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
The reviewer may be reached via e-mail at David.Niven@UC.edu.