ShopRite supermarket owner Jeff Brown is weighing a run for mayor in 2023.
Sources say Brown has reached out to various community leaders and at least one union to gauge interest in his possible candidacy to succeed Mayor Jim Kenney, whose cannot run for a third term.
“Folks that I know that are close to him have shared with me that he is [weighing a run for mayor] and why he’s doing it,” Mustafa Rashed, CEO of Bellevue Strategies and a Democratic strategist, said on Monday.
“You’d have to take it seriously,” Rashed said.
Brown, president and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, said in a released statement that he is concerned about the direction the city is heading, ticking off issues that included the "demise of small businesses" and the rise in gun violence, food insecurity and unemployment. He said his customers and employees have urged him to run for mayor.
"The election is a long way off," Brown said, "and I'm planning to listen carefully to many Philadelphians' thoughts and concerns before I decide how I can best help my fellow citizens do better!"
Brown may lack political experience but could be a formidable candidate in what’s shaping up to be a crowded Democratic primary in two years, said an African-American government relations expert who has heard about Brown's interest.
No candidate has officially entered the 2023 mayoral race, but several potential candidates — including Council members Cherelle Parker, Cindy Bass, Helen Gym, María Quiñones-Sánchez and Allan Domb along with City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart — have been said to be eyeing a run.
According to the city charter, elected officials must resign their posts when running for another office.
With several ShopRite stores in Philadelphia and other supermarkets outside the city, Brown has name recognition and deep pockets to bankroll a potential campaign. The physical stores could prove to be valuable infrastructure where he could connect with voters daily.
Brown has arguably garnered support and good will in the Black community. He has placed his supermarkets in food deserts, employs a workforce that is significantly made up of African Americans, and actively hires formerly incarcerated individuals. Brown also quickly reopened his supermarkets in communities after some were looted during the civil unrest over police brutality last year.
“Jeff Brown has a ‘Black card,’” said the African-American government relations expert, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
“It’s because of his wanting to go to areas that were underserved, put up a good store, a good product and stay in spite of the numerous looting his stores have incurred. … And he hires Black people with criminal records. He has authenticity.”
Brown also could cash in on his longtime opposition to the city’s sweetened beverage tax.
If Brown ran on ending Kenney’s soda tax, he could seek support from the beverage industry, which spent millions of dollars in a failed effort against Kenney’s soda tax five years ago, and anti-soda tax unions, like the Teamsters, the government relations source said.
But Rashed was skeptical Brown would seek to run on repealing the soda tax, considering it pays for popular social programs — pre-kindergarten, Community Schools, and the rehabilitation of parks and other community spaces.
“Over time, the soda tax will have been proven to fund good, quality programs, sustaining jobs for folks in the childcare industry, and jobs for the building trades,” Rasheed said. “And taking that away would be bad for the city.”