Pundits and politicos trumpet this year's presidential election as a historic departure. The candidates' personalities and lack of civility, and the electorate's hyperpartisanship, are unique in more than two centuries of American democracy - or so the fashionable headlines run.

For some historical perspective to douse this vanity of the present, consider the 1935 mayoral race in Philadelphia, one of the seminal moments in the city's transition from Republican to Democratic control.

In 1935, Philadelphia was - and had been for more than half a century - a bastion of the Grand Old Party.

Greased by graft and propelled by patronage, the party's machine in Philadelphia and in Harrisburg had operated with near impunity since the end of the Civil War. The election of a Democrat to Philadelphia's mayoralty in the early 20th century seemed as unlikely as a GOP victory would be in the early 21st.

Put another way, elephants far outnumbered donkeys in the city's political zoo.

The problems of one-party control, however, had long been evident: Corruption and rent-seeking ran rampant. With the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president, and unemployment in the city stuck in the double digits, Philadelphia Democrats spotted an opening.

They put up Jack Kelly - the Olympic sculler and construction tycoon - against Republican S. Davis Wilson, a Boston-born businessman described at the time as a "stranger who came into our city to disrupt the Republican Party."

Wilson's political rise was due primarily to his willingness to say just about anything. His controversial statements, personal attacks, and other ribaldry appeared frequently in the Inquirer, the city's then-Republican mouthpiece.

While members of the GOP establishment had mixed feelings about Wilson's competence and motives, they consigned themselves to support any "candidate that can beat Jack Kelly in November."

Wilson's involvement in a Vermont gunfight that left a man dead did not discourage his core clique of police officers, firefighters, and other city employees. His response to questions about the violent altercation was simply: "Was the man who shot John Dillinger a killer?"

"The mass of voters are for me and will elect me," Wilson bellowed during an interview, "and you are going to take it and like it." (In today-speak: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.")

The Democrat-supporting Philadelphia Record pilloried the GOP rapscallion and his Inquirer backers, with the newspaper's political cartoonists proving that the pen is as mighty as a super PAC.

Wilson responded with attacks on Kelly's Catholicism, his support for the New Deal, and his friendships with many of the city's Jewish businessmen.

"Tact was never one of Wilson's strong points," observed historian John Rossi. "Perhaps his abrasiveness contributed to his popularity."

Whereas 2016's acrimonious election is forecast to drive down voter turnout, the Kelly-Wilson race resulted in one of the largest in Philadelphia history: Nearly 90 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Kelly received a larger share of the vote than any other modern Democrat in the city. Wilson, however, clinched the victory with a plurality of 45,000 votes.

It would not be until the 1951 mayoral election that Democrats finally broke the city's GOP machine, only to replace it with one of their own design.

"Kelly . . . lacked the demagogic qualities that Wilson so richly possessed," Rossi said. "If nothing else the election demonstrated that two colorful characters could excite the electorate, even if the campaign centered less on issues than on personalities."