BY TONY WEST/ It will be a hot spring for Philly grass-roots politics. Fifteen of the cityâ€™s 66 Wards are seeing various degrees of challenge inside the Democratic Party. â€œWard fights,â€ theyâ€™re called.
â€œThis is a big year for fights,â€ said Tim Dowling, Philadelphia City Commissionersâ€™ election maven.
â€œFightsâ€ are of different kinds and not all are true warfare. In South Philadelphiaâ€™s 36th Ward and in Southwest Philadelphiaâ€™s 51st Ward, doyennes Anna Verna and Vivian Miller are contemplating retirement. When elders quit, they may encourage potential replacements to show their stuff by recruiting more committee people. If there are competitors, the result is a flurry of petitions â€“ as both those wards are seeing.
Conquest isnâ€™t always the goal of a ward fight. Sometimes a power bloc seeks to grow gently by planting a few seeds in key wards.
Two early measures tip us off to a ward fight. One is more candidates than committeeperson slots; the other is more challenges to petitions. Both numbers are up this year, Dowling reported.
Two committee people, who lead party work in each division, are elected every four years by their immediate neighbors. So the outcomes of these struggles will shape local alliances for some time to come.
Elaine Tomlin in North Philadelphiaâ€™s powerful 42nd Ward is not retiring. However, her slate is facing a strong organized challenge. There is also a stir in the 28th Ward. Ward fights in the largely Latino 7th and 19th Wards have broken out. Northwest Philadelphia is seeing strong activity in the 22nd Ward; there are smaller fights in Germantownâ€™s 12th Ward and East Oak Laneâ€™s 61st Ward.
South Philadelphia is buzzing. One force that is rocking the 36th is rumored to be at work in the 30th as well. East of Broad Street, the influential 1st and 2nd Wards are both at war.
West Philadelphia is quiet, save for a small fight in University Cityâ€™s 27th Ward.
It looks like a concerted power struggle in the middle Northeast, where the 54th, 56th and 64th Wards, clustered around Cottman Avenue, are popping with committeeperson wannabes.
In most parts of town, Republicans are lucky to have a proper ward committee, let alone a ward fight. The internecine struggles of the last four years have died down. But in the Far Northeast, there are extra hands in the air for committee person in the 53rd, 56th, 57th, 65th and 66th Wards.