Jordan Harris, a former teacher who most recently ran the city Youth Commission, is a clear front-runner because he has the backing of Johnson and James. Harris also came up in the political camp of State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who is backing his run.
"Having these two folks who have come before and held the seat is definitely a great thing," Harris said Thursday.
James, expected to win the special election, said he decided to drop off the primary ballot so he could spend the rest of Johnson's term serving as a political mentor to Harris.
That was a disappointment to a former office volunteer for James, public high school teacher Timothy Hannah, who lost a bid for the seat in 2010 and a run for the U.S. House in 2000.
"I think it was a very unfair deal," Hannah said of the James endorsement for Harris.
Lawyer Damon Roberts also seeks the seat. Roberts lost a 2007 bid for City Council's Second District and ran again for that seat in 2011 but dropped out before the primary.
In the 169th District in the Northeast, the shadow of legislative reapportionment plays a big role in the Republican primary election. A state plan to redraw the lines of legislative districts moved the seat late last year to York County. But the state Supreme Court rejected that plan, forcing a do-over on the lines.
That placed the 169th in Philadelphia for two more years. A new plan is expected to send the seat to York County in 2014.
The seat opened up when former State Rep. Dennis O'Brien left in January for City Council.
Brian Kralle, a former O'Brien aide, has the Republican Party endorsement over schoolteacher John McCann in the primary.
Kralle, who is also running in the special election to finish out O'Brien's term against Democrat Ed Neilson, hopes a win in that race will give him time to persuade Republicans in Harrisburg to keep the seat in Philadelphia.
Neilson, a former political director of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians and staffer to then-Gov. Ed Rendell, is unopposed in the Democratic primary election for the seat.
State Rep. John Myers is retiring after a 17-year career in the 201st, leaving an open seat being pursued by three. The district includes East Mount Airy, East Germantown, and parts of West Mount Airy, Logan, Belfield, and West Oak Lane.
Stephen Kinsey, Myers' former chief of staff, is looking to help the district "rise out of the ashes." He said he was dedicated to improving the overall quality of life in the area by reducing crime, enhancing education, and creating jobs.
Kinsey's strongest competition comes from Michael Ellis, who ran against Myers in 2010. He believes tourism is the key to improving the 201st and wants to make Germantown a national destination.
Karl Gamble, a barber by trade running in his first election, said he wants to cut the fat from the state budget and provide more community programs for the city's youth and elderly.
Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @ChrisBrennanDN on Twitter.