BRADY VS. RENDELL: Should Ward Leaders Be Weakened?

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ED RENDELL … says ward leaders should not get to pick candidates.

Former District Attorney, Mayor, Governor and head of the Democratic National Party Ed Rendell has come back to his roots as a reformer, claiming the number of this City’s elected leaders who wind up in trouble with the law can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party’s ward leaders and how they nominate them.

He made that charge in an article appearing in our sister publication City & State PA, written by Ryan Briggs.

The article cites Rendell’s concerns over the fact many of the individuals elected by the city Democratic Party organization are finding their way to prison. Briggs’ story mentioned former Congressman Chaka Fattah, the indictment of District Attorney

BOB BRADY … retorted Ed was happy when ward leaders endorsed him.

Seth Williams, former State Rep. Leslie Acosta, several state legislators caught in a sting operation, and several judges from the Traffic Court.

Fearing the loss of public faith and political power has Ed Rendell leading an effort to reform how candidates are chosen by the party. His answer is to dilute the influence of local ward leaders.

“Given what’s happening, we have to take a deep look at what we’re doing,” Rendell said. “We have to get rid of the rule that ward leaders automatically get the party endorsement or that they automatically get to choose who’s running for an open seat.”

Rendell said he and other Democratic leaders were planning to host an intervention with Congressman and party Chair Bob Brady about the state of the local party.

In the article, Rendell is quoted as saying, “Bob Brady has done a terrific job holding together one of the last relevant big-city organizations. But even he’ll tell you we have too much corruption and too many ward leaders on the ballot. After this primary, a lot of us are going to sit down with Bob about where we have to go.”

But the former governor may want to bring some protective gear, because Brady says he’s not in the mood for meddling. The congressman called Rendell a hypocrite. “He liked the power of the ward leaders when they were endorsing him for governor and mayor,” Brady said. “Tell him to get over it.”

Among his reforms, Rendell suggests potential candidates should win party endorsements through a simple vote from committee people – the numerous party footsoldiers underpinning the 66 political wards in Philadelphia – rather than leave the decision to the ward leader alone. He also suggested putting ward leaders back up for re-election every two years, instead of every four years, to help prevent entrenchment – some ward leaders have served for decades.

Rendell said the party should also abstain from doling out endorsements to candidates who have failed to win backing from outside groups – such as judicial candidates who haven’t secured a recommendation from the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Rendell added, “It is incumbent upon the party to open up beyond the traditional ward leader-dominated system,” he said. “I think it would bring a lot of younger people, newer people into the system. Some of those committee people slots are vacant right now.”

The Congressman invited Rendell to remember the past, when he constantly courted and then thanked those same ward leaders for delivering him successfully to his various offices.

Brady said efforts are continually made to insure judicial candidates have received the Philadelphia Bar Association’s recommendations before making them eligible for endorsement consideration by the ward leaders. “Most often we get those endorsements long after we get the official ballots printed,” he insisted.

He also asks where was “Rendell’s crystal ball? His very highly praised Chief of Staff John Estey, to whom he assigned key roles. He’s now a criminal. Also he recommended from his various offices the very people he now scorns.”

Rendell had pointed to the 197th Dist. special election for a state house seat as a prime example. Acosta, who had previously held the seat, was handpicked by ward leaders and then pled guilty to corruption charges. But Acosta still persuaded the same ward leaders to pick her replacement, Freddie Ramírez, a candidate who quickly lost a residency challenge. Eventually, 43rd Ward Leader Emilio Vázquez simply ran as a write-in candidate himself, with no Democrat listed on the ballot.

Alison Perelman, who heads dark-money political action committee Philadelphia 3.0, concurred with Rendell’s charges, endorsing many of Rendell’s suggestions. Her group wants to channel post-Trump voter outrage by encouraging residents to run for committeeperson slots to foster bottom-up change to the party structure.

“I would say that Philly Dems are outraged,” she said. “There’s a sense people are moving away from the party because of these actors. But it seems highly unlikely that in the absence of new actors that folks are going to start acting differently on their own.”

But Brady rejected outside interference over corruption issues, saying the former governor had “skeletons in his closet” and calling Perelman “a rich girl with nothing better to do.” He savaged their notions of “reform” as naïveté.

“Rendell’s allies, such as Allyson Perelman of 3.0 PAC, put up a slate of so-called qualified Democratic candidates for Democratic and Republican offices for City Council at large and lost everyone,” he noted.

“We choose candidates together. My committeepeople would pick the exact same candidate as me,” he said, of devolving control from ward positions. “And there’s not a chance we’ll go back to ward elections every two years. We’d have chaos every two years. I changed that rule myself.”

Of fiascos like the 197th Dist., Brady said there was little the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee could do.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “You have to go by the ward leaders who live there, since they know the district the best. I didn’t know Freddie Ramírez. He seemed like a nice man, but how did I know he didn’t live in the district? I’m not going to go flush the toilet and find out who lives there.”

He was doubtful that internal rule changes would or could accomplish anything.

“The Republicans have the same rules, the Greens have the same rules,” he said. “We all play by the same rules.”

Both Brady and Rendell went out of their way to note that corruption was not, despite all appearances, just a problem in Philadelphia or with Democrats, pointing to convictions of former Republican State House Speaker John Perzel, the resignation of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin and the Bonusgate scandal. Rendell said his administration was largely free of corruption during his term as governor – the later trials of his chief of staff John Estey and State Treasurer Rob McCord notwithstanding.

Brady is disappointed at the drop in voter participation as is Rendell. “Voters are disenchanted and they think they don’t count,” Brady said. “Our turnout is a disgrace, but we do everything we can to get people out. We spend a lot of money. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

The recent presidential election turned that around with over 60% voting. Brady believes that hallmark won’t be reached again, depending upon voter interest. “But you can’t lay a blame for this at the feet of the people entrusted with putting up candidates from which the voters are to choose,” he insisted.

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