BY TONY WEST/ Midway through the most-intense struggles for control of Democratic wards in recent memory, some skirmishes have been settled while the outlines of the major battles are clearer.
Ward leaderships are chosen by the majority of committee people, who are elected every four years. On May 20, all are running. Up to two committee people are elected in each party for each division.
When three or more persons run in the same division, it is contested. Someone will lose this tiny election. While nothing stops an individual from running for committee person out of sheer civic enthusiasm, wards, where many divisions have contests, usually are seeing organized efforts to change their levers of power.
In some divisions, five persons are vying for two seats on this unpaid grassroots party committee. (In too many others, sadly, no one is running for committeeperson at all.)
The biggest fight (or nest of fights)Â involves three adjacent wards: the 7th, 19th and 43rd, along the 5th Street corridor that is the heart of North Philadelphiaâ€™s Latino community. A team organized by Councilwoman Maria QuiÃ±ones SÃ¡nchez is mounting a comprehensive, top-to-bottom effort to control all General Assembly seats in this area. However,Â the struggles for control ofÂ ward committees are separate affairs. Every four years, Angel Cruz of the 7th Ward and Carlos Matos of the 19th Ward duke it out by invading each other’s territories. In theÂ Ward, 18 out of 25 divisions are seeing competition; in the 19th, 14 out of 19; in the 7th, 14 out of 23.
Emilio Vazquez’sÂ 43rd Ward is in chaos following the downfall of State Rep. J.P. Miranda (D-N. Phila.) after being indicted by District Attorney Seth Williams for illegally hiring his sister. Ten out of its 25 divisions are contested.
North of this fight, an unrelated one is taking place in Feltonvilleâ€™s and Olneyâ€™s 42nd Ward. Incumbent Ward Leader Elaine Tomlin is being challenged by an insider who means business. The 42nd Ward is rich in votes so its leadership is a prize worth holding. Eighteen of 25 divisions are up for grabs.
Also huge in scope is a drive organized by real-estate developer and restaurant owner Ori Feibush in the 30th and 36th Wards of South Philadelphia west of Broad Street, taking in Graduate Hospital, Point Breeze and Grays Ferry. He has helped large numbers of people get on the ballot for committee person here â€“ and is trying to knock 36 people off the ballot.
â€œThere is no â€˜Ori slate,â€™â€ insists Feibush. â€œI donâ€™t care if people are for me or against me. I want to get people energized to take part in local politics.â€ Feibush scored inactive committee people for Philadelphiaâ€™s low voter turnout, which, he argues, translates to lost power for the city in Harrisburg.
â€œIt is reprehensible for people to run for committee in divisions where they do not live, listing vacant house as their address,â€ Feibush stated. â€œIt is inexcusable for people to forge all the signatures on their ballot petitions. What good can they possibly do the Democratic Party in elections?â€
Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Cunningham III dismissed the petition challenges filed by Feibush based on a technicality. Feibush is appealing his decision to Commonwealth Court, a step that will take a couple of weeks to be resolved.
Not all the election fever in the 30th Ward is Feibush-generated. It is said that ward has a homegrown group of good-government types who mounted drives for committee seats on their own.
As a result of this brouhaha, 15 of 17 divisions in the 30th Ward are being contested along with 26 of 41 in the 36th.
East of Broad Street, 12 out of 21 divisions in John Doughertyâ€™s 1st Ward are being contested. There the opposition is led by Karen Brown, a controversial figure in South Philly politics who ran for Mayor as a Republican in 2011. Brownâ€™s own petition for Democratic committeewoman was invalidated, but if enough of her insurgents win she can still contest that ward.
In Germantownâ€™s 12th Ward, Ward Leader John Connelly and State Rep. Rosita Youngblood are at swordâ€™s point. Twelve of its 24 divisions are being contested.
Elsewhere in the city, ward fights have died down. Expect few dramatic changes in most wards, although some political teams may seek to plant a few supporters here and there in new territory, building toward the future.
In the Northeastâ€™s 55th, 56th and 57 Wards, however, a few petition challenges are on their way to Commonwealth Court. Most notable among them are those of 57th Ward Leader Pat Parkinson and his wife Anna, whose petitions for committeepersons in their own 16th Division are being appealed to Commonwealth Court on the grounds two of the 10 signatures they gathered (the minimum required) used initials instead of full names â€“ a no-no.
The dust hasnâ€™t settled yet. As of Apr. 7, said the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Specialist Tim Dowling, 47 petition challenges remained to be heard overall.