BY JOE SHAHEELI
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams may have reminded voters in the Pennsylvania’s 197th House Dist. his office’s Election Fraud Task Force would be another agency checking out problems during Tuesday’s special elections. What made his unit so effective was the fact the Task Force’s hotline was staffed by Spanish-speaking detectives, as were especially assigned assistant district attorneys. They were kept busy.
And so was he, as election day unfolded, for reasons unrelated to the election.
We wish him well during this ordeal, especially as he discovers, as have other politicos before him, his many friends will have suddenly been reduced to a few.
To his credit, he knew a bit in advance he was to be indicted, but did his job this special-election day. He had warned, “Every election, no matter how small or large, citywide or just one district, is important. The Election Fraud Task Force will be ready on Tuesday. If you see voter fraud or a crime being committed, you should immediately call the Election Fraud Task Force so we can help ensure fairness at the polls.”
The 197th voters for the most part have Spanish as their home language, with English coming in second.
Despite the fact voters found only one name on the ballot when they closed the curtain, write-in stamps or paste-ons were literally in many of their hands and they had just received instructions on how to use them. Of course, this led to a lot of contention. But that was to be expected.
Williams’ task force, created in 2014, was kept busy responding to the usual allegations of illegal voting, candidate write-in issues, refusal of election boards to recognize poll-watcher certificates, intimidation and illegal electioneering.
In the meantime, on Special Election day in the 197th, Cheri Honkala had an army of paid workers outside every polling place, all wearing black t-shirts with white lettering. She out-postered everyone in the district. She raised and spent over $90,000 in this campaign.
Republican Lucinda Little won the machine vote for the 197th Dist. in that race. But it is obvious her 198 votes paled in comparison to the 2,483 write in votes generated by Cheri Honkala, Emilio Vázquez and several others who indicated they would launch write-in candidacies.
Though the official count of the write-ins begins on Friday, we believe, from what we have seen that day, we are correct when we made our prediction last week Vázquez will be the winner and will have topped that count decisively. The Democratic ward leaders in the district proved their worth as did their committee people. They knew their voters; their voters knew and listened to them.
So our loyal readers need not wait until tomorrow to know the result. If it isn’t Vázquez, I’ll have to jump out the window of our offices, and that is an 11-story fall.
It’s doubtful there will be challenges, since Philadelphia Republican Party Chairman Joe DeFelice’s charges of cases of voter fraud during election day don’t make enough of a difference, considering Little’s low vote total. He did thank his organization, saying, “We knew we faced an uphill battle, having only 5% of the district registered Republican, but we came to fight and forced the Dems to run a real race and spend money and resources in seat that they should not have had to spend a dime to defend. I am proud of Lucinda Little and all those that helped in the campaign.
“Some other positives that came out of this race,” DeFelice added. “We identified new committee people, made some new alliances, received the endorsement of the Firefighters and even the Inquirer.”
DA Democratic candidate Joe Khan knows former Managing Dir. Rich Negrín needs to be his target since Negrín drew number one in the balloting draw while Khan pulled second.
So he quickly issued the following statement in response to reporting in the Philadelphia Inquirer about mismanagement of the Mayor’s Fund while Negrín was managing director and served on the fund’s board:
“Rich Negrín needs to explain what he knew about the fleecing of tax dollars and mismanagement of the Mayor’s Fund while he served on its board, and why he didn’t take stronger action to address the clearly improper actions of the former city representative whom Negrín was responsible for overseeing. ‘No comment’ is not an acceptable answer for a candidate seeking to be the city’s top law-enforcement official. As a former federal prosecutor who has taken on major city corruption cases, this raises questions for me about how seriously Negrín will be in fighting corruption when he apparently turned a blind eye in the last administration.”
Almost every other Democratic DA candidate made similar comments, and all, all pointed.
Negrín, in the meantime, has picked up the coveted endorsement of this city’s Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police. In January, prior to incumbent DA Seth Williams’ announcement that he would not seek re-election, FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby purchased a billboard that read: “Help Wanted, New Philadelphia District Attorney.”
“With Rich Negrín, the search is over,” McNesby said last week.
Kicking back was another Democratic contender, Larry Krasner, who drew the fifth ballot position in the field of seven. He said, “The FOP endorsed Donald Trump, so of course they endorsed Rich Negrín. As they say on Sesame Street, two of these things belong together.” Krasner, a civil-rights attorney, touts himself as the most-progressive DA candidate among the seven contenders.
“Anyone running for district attorney who fails to grasp that the job requires bringing people together to work collaboratively to solve longstanding challenges simply is not qualified for the job,” Negrín wrote in an email. “We can’t build a safer, stronger city without the input of community leaders and law enforcement. Rich gets that, and that’s why there was such a diverse group of law-enforcement groups supporting him today.”
Negrín has also received nods from Philadelphia’s Guardian Civic League, which represents the city’s African American police officers, as well as the Spanish American Law Enforcement Association, an advocacy group for Latino officers.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents 14,000 active and retired law-enforcement officials, has been notoriously resistant to certain police-reform proposals, including President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force and former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s attempts at greater transparency in officer-involved shootings.
Expected to stay in the race for Democratic DA are Michael Untermeyer, a former city and state prosecutor, who drew third; former First Deputy District Attorney Tariq El-Shabazz; Krasner; and former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, who was first out in declaring her candidacy. She has a huge following.
Those who want to get a first-hand, close-up look at the candidates are invited to attend a scheduled two-hour debate tonight, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee Street. Expected are all seven of the announced Democratic candidates as well as the Republican candidate Beth Grossman.
Pennsylvania GOP leadership is united behind its slate of statewide judicial candidates. So declare Chairman Val DiGiorgio, PAGOP Vice Chair Bernie Comfort, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Jake Corman, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and Majority Leader Dave Reed.
Their 2017 Republican-endorsed judicial candidates are: for Supreme Court, Justice Sallie Mundy (Tioga County); for Superior Court, Judge Emil Giordano (Northampton County), Judge Wade Kagarise (Blair County), Judge Paula Patrick (Philadelphia County) and District Attorney Craig Stedman (Lancaster County); and for Commonwealth Court, Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon (Delaware County) and Paul Lalley (Allegheny County).
An unendorsed Republican, Mary Murray of Allegheny County, is also on the ballot for Superior Court.
Judge Ellen Ceisler added Dauphin County to her growing list of county committee endorsements in her campaign for a seat on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
“I am grateful to Chairwoman Rogette Harris and the entire Democratic Committee in Dauphin for their strong vote of confidence in our campaign” said Judge Ceisler.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is responsible for handling all appeals from county and state governmental agencies. In 2007, Judge Ceisler was elected to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia.
The General Assembly had $18 million more at the beginning of this fiscal year than at the beginning of the prior fiscal year, an audit of the legislature revealed. Wonder if they would donate some of their petty cash to our School District?