POLS ON THE STREET: Philly Sheds Light on Voting by Aliens

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CITY Commissioner Al Schmidt

BY JOE SHAHEELI
City Commissioner Al Schmidt has made a prominent contribution to a hotly debated national controversy over how many aliens vote in U.S. elections.

A study conducted by Schmidt’s office found 220 non-citizens “who were registered to vote in Philadelphia at some point between 2006 and 2017,” reported City Commission’s lone Republican member. Of them, 90 “voted in at least one election.”

Schmidt further identified the cause of most of these improper votes – 168 of them – as “motor voter” registrations initiated by PennDOT when legal aliens applied for a driver’s license.

“I expect that, after conducting a statewide cross-check, a far greater number of voter-registration and voting irregularities of this nature will be identified,” Schmidt concluded. As Philadelphia has one-eighth of the state’s population, one may predict around 1,600 improperly registered aliens in Pennsylvania.

Schmidt was careful to distinguish between registration irregularities and voter fraud. There is no evidence that anyone either in PennDOT or among the legal-alien community was organizing a plot. Voter registration is a human activity, subject to human error. Aliens who are told by officials they may register to vote are likely to take the officials’ word for it, Schmidt pointed out.

Schmidt found the Philadelphia irregularities peaked in 2008. We are not, then, seeing an uptick in this problem here.

SCULPTOR Branly Cadet posed at the unveiling of his monument to civil-rights hero Octavius Catto at City Hall Tuesday, flanked byre-enactors Cpl. Robert Houston and Greg Harris. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Once registered, Philadelphia aliens are about as likely to vote as citizens – not too likely, that is. Their turnout rate was just 41%.

Party registrations by aliens don’t show a pattern either. Their distribution as Democrats, Republicans, independents and others roughly matches that of the city as a whole.

Regardless, Schmidt called for the Pennsylvania Department of State to undertake a thorough examination of this problem. He said he was “very encouraged by the response he has received to date” by that agency.

“The current voter-registration process at PennDOT is both harmful to election integrity and to members of the immigrant community seeking citizenship,” Schmidt affirmed.

Butko vs. Kenney: Grudge or Gameplan?

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has ramped up his attacks on the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia by asking Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro “to take all appropriate actions” to investigate the $12-million City-run nonprofit.

This follows a campaign of several months in which Butkovitz complained that $800,000 of Mayor’s Fund expenditures could not be properly documented.

“The unsupported transactions and the obstinate behavior by the Mayor’s Fund to provide essential records have raised several red flags and warrant the review of the State Attorney General,” Butkovitz stated.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokespersons have consistently denied any wrongdoing or impropriety in the Mayor’s Fund. Many of the items challenged by the controller date back to Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, with whom Butkovitz also sparred.

This is, indeed, the job of the controller. Like the district attorney, the controller is never elected in the same year as the mayor or city council members. This ensures that they never run on the same ticket with other public officials whom they may be charged to investigate.

COUNCILWOMAN Blondell Reynolds Brown, C, rallied with a coalition of Pennsylvania environmental activists outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s Philadelphia office to urge President Donald Trump to preserve clean-water standards. She was joined by representatives from PennEnvironment, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Appalachian Mountain Club, PennFuture, Clean Water Action, the National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition for the Delaware River Basin. Reynolds Brown chairs City Council’s Environment Committee. Photo by Leona Dixon

But Butkovitz will not hold this post for long. He was beaten by Rebecca Rhynhart in last spring’s Democratic primary, so he has only three months left to pursue this cause officially.

That raises the question of Butkovitz’s plans for 2018. He shows no inclination to disappear from public life. On another major political hot potato, the Sweetened Drinks Tax, he has staked out a strong position attacking its revenue shortcomings and its impact on city businesses. This has already made him the most-prominent foe of the incumbent mayor in public life.

When Butkovitz returns to private life in January 2018, he will have a year the scope out a possible primary challenge in 2019. Alternatively, he could spy an opening in a state office (he once served in the House of Representatives) and launch a campaign in the spring primary.

Casey up, Trump down in Latest F&M Poll

The latest Franklin & Marshall Poll brings good news for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). His approval rating reached a new high of 45%, with 17% strongly favorable and 28% somewhat favorable. Voters also said that Casey was doing an “excellent” or “good” job, to the tune of 37%, compared to 42% saying he is doing a “fair” or “poor” job.

Not stellar numbers, to be sure. But at least voters know who Casey is. The F&M poll found his most-famous potential opponent, Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) is little known to 68% of the state’s voters.

Barletta is a prominent advocate for President Donald Trump since early in the latter’s campaign. For better or for worse, he will be seen as a stand-in for Trump in 2018. And although Trump carried Pennsylvania in 2016, the F&M poll found his support dipping as of Sept. 18. Of Keystone State voters, 53% said Trump is doing a “poor” job, while only 29% said he is doing an “excellent” or “good” job.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s approval rating chugs along at 36% favorable. The good news for the incumbent: His “strongly favorable” rating jumped from 12% to 16%. The bad news: His “strongly unfavorable” rating soared from 19% to 36%. That may become a tool for his Republican adversaries next year, provided the electorate should find out who they are.

MORE THAN 250 people danced to Frank Sinatra tunes, played by the Philly POPS 65-piece orchestra at the Sept. 14 Philly POPS Ball, honoring outgoing board chairman Sal DeBunda. Mayor Jim Kenney spoke and praised Frank Giordano, DeBunda and the orchestra for their contribution to hundreds of schoolchildren in Philadelphia, enhancing music education for 2,000 kids each year. L:-R, Tony Ricci, CEO of Parx Casino; Bob Green, chairman of the Parx board; Kenney; Sal DeBunda, outgoing chairman of the Philly POPS board; and Marc Oppenheimer, chief marketing officer of Parx. Parx Casino is the sponsor of the POPS 39th-anniversary season. Photo by Bonnie Squires

Woodruff Takes a Ride on Presidential Tweets

It’s rare for a statewide judicial candidate to be able to take a free ride on nightly-news sensations. But Pittsburgh Judge Dwayne Woodruff, who is running on the Democratic ticket for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, happens also to be a former Pittsburgh Steeler.

As President Trump floods Twitter with posts condemning National Football League players who kneel in protest during the national anthem – stirring entire teams to respond by kneeling or locking arms in solidarity – Judge Woodruff speaks with unusual authority on this subject.

And speak he did. “This past Friday, the leader of our country made disparaging comments, which only serve to push our country to become more divided and ultimately penalizes our 1st Amendment rights under the Constitution,” Woodruff said in a statement.

Woodruff, an African American, said the NFL players were acting in the tradition of the struggle for civil rights.

“The history of our country records the courageous efforts by people we now consider heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks; they endeavored against great opposition, to gain/preserve rights and freedom for current and future generations. We must continue to be a country united in justice and equality for all,” Woodruff said.

Last weekend, the Steelers remained in the locker room during the national anthem.

Teachers Union Endorses a Green

Jules Mermelstein, a Green Party candidate for Superior Court, was endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association in his run.

“I am honored and humbled that PSEA, an organization of people serving the public through the education and health fields, has chosen to endorse me as their first third party candidate for a statewide race. As someone dedicated to public service, this endorsement means a great deal to me,” Mermelstein said.

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