BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Even King Solomon would have a problem solving this dilemma: how to avoid a civil war in the battle for the 174th Legislative Dist. in the upper reaches of the Northeast.
But a war, though officially undeclared, is what is taking place in early skirmishes already surfacing because two State Representatives were paired off by the last Pennsylvania Supreme Court-approved redistricting map to battle for that seat. Where once the 169th Dist., also in the Northeast, was the domain of State Rep. Ed Neilson, it now has been shuffled off to York County. Neilson now finds himself in the same district held by his fellow Democrat State Rep. John Sabatina, Jr.
How heated that battle will be, if it does take place (and the odds at this writing are it will) was felt by many attendees at a picnic staged annually by the Northeast ward leaders at Burholme Park last Saturday. The picnic has long been noted for its reputation as one where good eats dominate the agenda, with great wine passed around by its founder 56th Ward Leader John Sabatina, Sr.
Feeling the early heat were ward leaders in the district at the picnic: John Sabatina, Sr., Esq., 56th; Pat Parkinson, 57th; State Sen. Mike Stack, 58th; and Shawn Dillon, 66A.
Though the two legislators were once as much in harmony as peanut butter and jelly before the General Assembly revamped the redistricting map, their supporters at the picnic made it obvious they were staking claim to the new 174th.
The picnic is a tradition originated by its main sponsor, John Sabatina, Sr. So naturally he had his son’s reelection lawn signs posted around the picnic pavilion.
Neilson’s supporters were of a like mind. They showed up and hammered into the soil a huge banner heralding Neilson as the next State Representative for the 174th. Prior to that they had posted signs on every utility pole in the vicinity leading up to the picnic site.
That bugged senior Sabatina, who felt the signs were an intrusion on his turf. Making themselves more obvious were Neilson supporters, some identified as “Local 98 guys”, distributing “Vote for Neilson” t-shirts.
Charlie Murphy, a Local 98 staffer, and John Sabatina Sr. got into a heated exchange after Sabatina told him to take down the signs.
Accounts differ on how this spat was resolved. One observer from Neilson’s camp stated their State Rep moved in as a peacemaker, advising Sabatina he had always supported the ward leaders’ annual picnic at Burholme Park and had donated food items in previous years.
Another witness disputed that claim, however, commenting, “The behavior displayed was in very poor taste to say the least. Groups of goons showed up and proceeded to enter our event, circle the pavilion and mingle with the crowd, eating, etc…. while the others made a big production of erecting the Neilson banner and pushing their shirts on everyone (all the while with cell phones out taking photos and being overheard reporting back to what I can assume is ‘command central’, i.e., ‘Yes, the banner is up, people are lining up for our shirts…..’ It was evident to many there that this whole thing was planned in advance.”
Sabatina’s camp also maintained Neilson had never contributed to the picnic in previous years.
What is clear is Neilson’s signage remained up and Neilson tees continued to be passed out.
Congressman Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, hasn’t yet given up on resolving this crisis. But for now, the campaign teams of both legislators are ready for a long ground battle, the kind where there are no rules.
Missing from the picnic was 1st Ward Leader John J. Dougherty, Jr. He considers Neilson “a brother” and will no doubt demonstrate the type of financial commitment to Ed he did in helping “another brother”, 6th Dist. Councilman Bob Henon, to an easy landslide victory over Martin Bednarek in the last councilmanic primary.
The question now becomes, “Can old-fashioned ward politics survive the kind of blitz generated by Johnny Doc?”
Key will be local television advertising over the Comcast network in the Northeast. A Dougherty-backed candidate will afford that. Another will be a mailing blitz of well-presented glossy mailing pieces. A Dougherty-backed candidate will enjoy that as well.
What Sabatina has going for him is a history of years of service delivered by the 56th Ward, which normally brings out most of the vote in that district. The final question is, “Will the voters remember that history?”
(This article was updated Sep. 27, 2013.)
RENDELL STILL LIKED IN PHILLY — BUT IS IT MUTUAL?
First a popular DA, then an even more-popular Mayor and finally as popular as a Governor can be is the history of Ed Rendell. But Ed seems to be forgetting Democrats love primary fights and his announced effort to avoid them as much as possible is doomed to failure. Also efforts to involve him in another mayoral campaign have proven fruitless, since he had more going for him than Mayors Street and Nutter in his first term … money.
Nutter gets a bad rap for doing his best, since when he first came to power, he was saddled with a city in the grips of a reception. Ed knows he won’t have any more money than Nutter to fix another pothole, this time around.
So the major conversation at both the Republican and Democrat State Committee confabs is not about anything of consequence, except the gubernatorial race. Unlike the GOP, who will be rallying around Gov. Tom Corbett, the Dems will revel with a host of candidates.
WE ERRED IN COVERAGE OF CITY COMMISSIONERS
We blew it two weeks in a row with reports covering activities of City Commissioners.
Week two: We misidentified Norys Gonzales as a member of State Rep. J.P. Miranda’s (N. Phila.) staff on Page 25 of last week’s issue. She is the Principal Assistant in office of City Commissioner Stephanie Singer.
Week one: Our Page one photo of Presidential Election Commission hearings erred in mentioning Commissioners Anthony Clark spoke before the Commission. Only Commissioner Stephanie Singer spoke. Schmidt was only other Commissioner in attendance.
CITY COMMISSIONERS OFFER ELECTION GUIDE
Yesterday, Commissioner Singer introduced a handbook prepared by the City Commissioners to assist voters in answering questions they may have about the Nov. 5 general election, debuting it at a “Safeguarding the Vote” event at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. It is a 2013 Citizen’s Handbook with information on Public Officials and Voter Registration for Philadelphia County. It is a useful resource for anyone engaged in civic or political activities, as well as individuals conducting research.
CONTROLLER HOPEFUL SAYS SCHOOLS NEED AUDITOR
Terry Tracy, Republican candidate for Philadelphia City Controller, believes he can be more accountable as the “School Auditor” of Philadelphia, a title bestowed by the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to the City Controller. Problem is not even incumbent Alan Butkovitz can stem the red ink flowing from the city budget when PICA, the state-controlled watchdog created to ensure sound fiscal policy in city budgets, refused to heed Butkovitz’s urging the administration go back to the drawing board for a more-correct five-year budget plan.
WILL HANGER’S WEED SUPPORT GET HIM VOTES?
Since announcing his campaign for Governor, former DEP Secretary John Hanger is drawing larger crowds as more college students are learning of his intention to decriminalize marijuana. Though some of those crowds keep him pumped up, his pro-public-education proposals will get him more votes. He needs to be reminded who’s going to remind potheads it is time to vote when election day rolls around.
According to Hanger, “The public schools in Pennsylvania are under relentless attack.” The reason, Hanger explained, is because of severe funding cuts and the failure of many charter schools, which Hanger said are paid for by local taxpayers and “getting money whether or not they succeed.”
Cyber charter schools, according to Hanger, have an even worse record than regular charter schools. Hanger said that Pennsylvania has 16 cyber charter schools, which all have terrible reading and math scores, yet they keep getting taxpayer money.
He still insists his marijuana reform plan is based on moral convictions.
“It is cruel, even barbaric, to deny a sick patient medicine of any sort, including cannabis, when they need it,” Hanger said. “It will only change if I’m elected. It is one of the things I will do immediately.”
Hanger said he would also decriminalize marijuana, saying that “the criminalization of marijuana is a disaster” because “it is destroying lives, costing taxpayers huge amounts of money, and doing no good in return for the damage it causes.”
Also in the Democratic primary for governor are Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who is boasting Gov. Tom Corbett considers her his top threat; Treasurer Rob McCord; former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty; former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf; Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski; Harrisburg-area minister Max Myers; Lebanon Co. Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz; and former Auditor General Jack Wagner.
Rick Santorum announced he “absolutely” plans to campaign for Corbett in 2014. He made it obvious at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Mo. last weekend. “Tom’s been a strong Governor. The state of Pennsylvania’s actually doing very well under his leadership,” he opined. “We haven’t seen any tax increases since he’s been there. You’ve seen economic growth better than the national average. You’ve seen unemployment rates lower than the national average. He’s been very, very effective in controlling spending and fostering economic growth.”
At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Rick Santorum finished second to Mitt Romney. He drew support from social conservatives, who questioned Romney’s commitment to Republican values. A Corbett win would put him squarely back into the race for the Republican nomination for President.
MARGOLIES DROPS BIG NAMES IN HER 16TH DIST. RACE
The Marjorie Margolies 2014 campaign released a list of Members and former Members of Congress cosponsoring her second major D.C. fundraiser. It contains big Democratic names. She can only hope that turnout will bring her enough dollars to swamp the local television channels.
SIMS GOES WITH CORRIGAN FOR HIS 2014 CAMPAIGN
State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) is revving up his re-election campaign. He’s announced Joe Corrigan will be executive director of his campaign committee, Sims4PA PAC.
“I am very pleased to have Joe on my team,” said Sims. “He brings a wealth of political, fundraising, and communications experience in Philadelphia and in surrounding counties, as well as the dedication, tenacity, and vigor I need to run a strong campaign to continue to represent the 182nd Dist. and to support progressive issues and candidates across the Commonwealth.”
Corrigan most recently served as director of communications to 8th Dist. Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
FERLO’S GAS MORATORIUM COULD BOOST CORBETT
Legislators will soon be considering a bill that would place an “open-ended” ban on natural-gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The bill, introduced by State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) doesn’t place a time limit on the moratorium.
Adding to the belief voting Democrat will cripple that industry is gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz’s her proposal to increase taxation on shale drilling. Dem State Committee is reported seeking a fracking ban as well.
Joining the Democratic effort to curtail fossil fuels is Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is absent from a list of a dozen state Attorney Generals filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency because of a new set of rules it is imposing on the coal industry.
But guess what? It could sweep all those thousands benefiting from natural-gas drilling, those still in the coal mining business in this commonwealth, over to Corbett without reservation and with big donations. It could be a rerun of how the photo voter-ID legislation backfired on the Republicans prior to the presidential campaign by bringing out the big-city vote.
Democrats don’t have much to lose in the Northeastern “dry gas” play. This rural region has few voters and most of them vote Republican anyway. But the Southwestern “wet gas” play of Washington and Fayette Cos. was once a bedrock of Democratic electioneering. Monongahela Valley Dems are conservative, though – and they like their coal jobs as well as their gas royalties.
If, however, the current natural-gas glut continues into election year, gas-patch voters, seeing jobs and royalties dwindle, may turn resentful of the gas industry and its champion Corbett. At this hour, that seems like a shaky bet to base a gubernatorial campaign on.