POLS ON THE STREET: Doc Shock – Indictments Roil Philadelphia Primary

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The multi-count federal indictments against International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 leader John Dougherty and several key associates will rock the Philadelphia political world for months to come – right in the middle of Philadelphia’s most-important election cycle, the 2019 municipal primary in which the mayor, City commissioners and City Council members will be elected.

Observers will be studying this enormous development – which likely is far from over – for years to come. But foremost on most city pols’ minds right now is what the impact will be on the May 21 primary election.

AN INTIMATE fundraiser was held for Councilwoman Cindy Bass at El Shabazz & Harris LLC. Bass has not formally announced for re-election but observers expect her to run.

At first glance, the impact will be slight. Local 98’s man on City Council, Bobby Henon (6th District), is unlikely to face serious opposition; ironically, his seat may be the safest of all 10 district Council members.

There is talk that Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) may be swept up in the Dougherty investigation. But he has not yet been cited by name in an indictment. Even if he is, it is not clear that any opponent has the resources to mount a credible challenge. Such a move would require a swift coalition of diverse South Philadelphia activists, who are not noted for mounting swift coalitions.

But 2019 is a year of surprises.

City GOP Rocked by Doc Loyalties

HARMONIA CLUB in Bridesburg was bursting at the seams last Friday as hundreds enjoyed State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr.’s legendary Shrimp-A-Palooza. Making the rounds were, L-R, judicial aspirant Theresa Brunson, at-large councilmanic candidate Hena Veit and advisor Dayne Cofer.

It’s important to note that the Dougherty investigation is not partisan. This astute dispenser of political backing is, as every good union leader should be, a backer of pols in both major parties.

AT-LARGE councilmanic candidate Eryn Santamoor received a huge shout-out at her last fundraiser from several well-known pols: L-R, State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, former Mayor Michael Nutter, Santamoor and State Rep. Jared Solomon. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Philadelphia Republicans are reeling internally from Dougherty’s connections to some in their ranks. After Republican City Committee Secretary Jim Pio put out a “sad” response to Dougherty’s indictment, having lost in a state-rep race to a Doc-backed opponent, RCC Chairman Mike Meehan issued a cautious response in which he said, “It is obvious that these investigations predated the election of Mayor Jim Kenney in 2015 must cause chills in the organized-labor community. I say let them have their day in court.”

Philadelphia Republicans need to get along with organized labor. But they also need to get along with upstate Republicans, who largely look down on Philadelphia unions. City Republicans who work with union leaders like IUPAT leader Joe Ashdale, who sits on the Philadelphia Parking Authority Board, are therefore vulnerable when Ashdale’s ties with Dougherty become the subject of investigation. This is a puzzle that currently occupies the city GOP.

RAISE THE WAGE held a rally for a $15/hour minimum wage at the Bridge & Pratt El Terminal. The group is part of the Keystone Research Council and Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center of Marc Stier. Service unions SEIU and UFCW backed the cause with a large attendance. Listeners as Gov. Tom Wolf spoke included, L-R, State Sens. Vincent Hughes; Tim Kearney; and Tina Tartaglione, Labor Committee minority chair; and State Rep. Jason Dawkins. Photo by Ed Harkin

Voting-Machine Bucks Are Not Enough?

“It’s very disappointing.”

So said Philadelphia City Commission Chair Lisa Deeley, critiquing Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal to spend only $15 million on secure voting machines throughout the commonwealth.

Deeley, along with most of her County commissioners across the state, say more like $150 million is needed.

Wolf’s budget proposes trickling down more vote-security funding in future years. But vote-security professionals say we need the whole package before the 2020 election, to defend against foreign hacking.

Three Challengers Duel for One Mayoral Shot

Who’s going to take a shot at Mayor Jim Kenney, now he’s formally announced for re-election?

FORMER ADA Vicki Markovitz announced her bid to run for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas. Joining her was her biggest supporter, husband Larry Dubinski, the president/CEO of the Franklin Institute.

Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz has already announced. Councilman Allan Domb (at Large) spent almost $32,000 to poll a possible race. And State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.), who vied with Kenney for the job four years ago, has not lost interest.

A potentially crowded field. But if all three challengers stay in, it is too crowded for any of them to win. They need to pool their resources behind one candidate if they hope to unseat an incumbent with some PR problems but still massive support.

Time for all three possibles to sit down in a quiet room and candidly assess which of them has the best shot; then to coalesce behind one. Otherwise, the mayoral race will be a futile display of time and money.

Meet Other City Commission Hopefuls

Another foray into the thicket of Philadelphia’s 2019 election cycle. Like last week’s column, the focus will also be on candidates running for what is, based on anecdotal evidence, easily the most-misunderstood elected office in the city: City Commissioner.

IN THE at-large councilmanic fray again with gusto, Sherrie Cohen kicked off her candidacy at Win Win Café on Spring Garden Street with a host of enthusiasts. Photo by Wendell Douglas

As the Office of the City Commissioners’ website explains, “The Philadelphia City Commissioners are a three-member bipartisan board of elected officials in charge of elections and voter registration for the City of Philadelphia. Each Commissioner is elected to serve a four-year term that coincides with the municipal-election cycle for mayor and City Council.”

CITY COMMISSIONER candidate Marwan Kreidie, C, speaks to Michael Tucker, R, about voting issues affecting Philadelphia at the 61st Ward fundraiser at Relish.

The seeds for Marwan Kreidie’s campaign were planted way back in 2013. That was the year that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision overturned decades’ worth of enfranchisement protections by gutting the Voting Rights Act. But Kreidie had been warily watching encroachment on voting rights here in Pennsylvania two years earlier.

“The first thing Gov. Tom Corbett did” upon taking office in 2011 “was to work on a Voter ID bill,” he recalled. “I’ve done work in the Middle East with new voters so eager to vote, I go back home, and there’s voter suppression. We always talk about the South” when it comes to attempts to disenfranchise citizens, he added, “but we have one of the most restrictive systems in the country” in Pennsylvania.

LONGTIME voting-rights activist Omar Sabir launched his bid to become Philadelphia City Commissioner before a crowd in West Philadelphia. Joining in to support Sabir, L, were City Council at-large candidate Habeebah Ali, judicial candidate Greg Weyer and Ward Leader Ron Waters,

To effect change as a commissioner, Kreidie would take a two-track approach. First, he would work to increase registration and turnout in the city. Then, he would use a proven track record for engagement and increased clout from the voter surge to press state legislators to enact legislation to make voting easier.

This is Kreidie’s first attempt at public office, but he is far from a political neophyte. He was a delegate candidate for both Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton, and has worked in the transition teams for Gov. Wolf, and Philadelphia Mayors Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney. An expert in civil-service reform, he served as chairman of the State Civil Service Commission.

“Let’s do same-day registration, let’s do vote by mail, let’s do open primaries. California sends you something before every election with your polling places and what’s on the ballot,” he said.

Omar Sabir

If you spent any time glancing at billboards around the city during last year’s midterm election, you know Omar Sabir’s face and his push to get out the vote in the city. His nonprofit organization, Vote Philly Vote, took out space on eight billboards in Philadelphia exhorting citizens to exercise their constitutional right to enfranchisement. Between that and the group’s radio spots – both of which Sabir planned to target the key 18-to-35 demographic – roughly 600,000 Philadelphians got the message to go to the polls. “Participation doubled in that age group” compared to the 2014 midterm, Sabir said, crediting the push as just one factor driving the historic turnout among younger voters.

STATE SEN. Sharif Street was hosted a reception outside his North Philadelphia district at Galdo’s in South Philadelphia. Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady, C, rallied the group for this shot. Photo by Wendell Douglas

For Sabir, six years spent on the staff of state Sen. Vincent Hughes helped crystallize and further his drive to run for commissioner. With a front-row seat to how things worked in the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where Hughes has long served as its Democratic Chairman, Sabir learned the simple math. “Voter apathy affects us getting resources,” he explained. Without turnout numbers befitting the city’s enormous rolls, there is less reason for Harrisburg to pay attention.

To make legislators pay attention, Sabir would enact a multipronged effort to drive voter participation. “I want to make the office more accessible, transparent, modernized,” he said. To do so, he plans on applying the lessons he has learned during a varied career that has seen him begin as a driver for then-State Rep. Louise Bishop rise to become a Traffic Court judge, a Hughes staffer and a committee person in the 34th Ward who helped raise voter turnout there from 25% in 2014 to 60% in 2018.

In addition to increasing the office’s presence in traditional media like billboards and radio, Sabir wants to reach out via social media and grassroots avenues like barbershops and local businesses.

With Greenlee out, Two at-Large Openings

Following in his colleague Blondell Reynolds Brown wake, City Councilman Bill Greenlee (at Large), age, has announced he will not run the gauntlet of another citywide election.

Greenlee, first elected in 2006, was a protégé of legendary liberal Councilman David Cohen. He has followed that political arc all his life. He is now of retirement age.

BEHIND THE BAR at Tellups Tavern in Olney, long operated by the family of judicial hopeful Carmella Jacquinto, 3rd from L, some of her regular fans gathered for a campaign party. They were joined by Democratic City Committee Bob Brady. Photo by Wendell Douglas

“Greenlee has been a reliable progressive voice in Council,” commented Council President Darrell Clarke. “He shepherded paid sick leave through a gauntlet of opposition, sponsored anti-wage theft legislation, and supported the soda tax. But running at large, incumbency is less of an advantage, especially this year, when the Democratic primary ballot is expected to be crowded.”

With Reynolds Brown’s bow-out, now two guaranteed wins open up for City Council at-Large challengers. Expect this news to wet their whistles.

Now, Who’s in for at-Large Seats?

On the Republican side, West Philadelphia’s 27th Ward Leader Matt Wolfe is all in.

Wolfe announced his strong support of the U.S. Attorney’s civil lawsuit to stop Safehouse and others from setting up “safe” injection sites in Philadelphia. “This activity is clearly illegal under federal law. It is very troubling that City Hall has, yet again, decided to ignore the law to further its own political agenda,” Wolfe stated.

HARMONIA CLUB in Bridesburg was bursting at the seams last Friday as hundreds enjoyed State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr.’s legendary Shrimp-A-Palooza. Making the rounds were, L-R, judicial aspirant Theresa Brunson, at-large councilmanic candidate Hena Veit and advisor Dayne Cofer.

“If City Hall permits the opening safe injection sites, Philadelphia would be the only place in the United States that allows such a program. Just like the soda tax, City Hall wants to be ‘first’ to enact extreme progressive policies, no matter how destructive they may be. Even California’s governor vetoed a bill a few months ago permitting safe injection sites in his state because of the harm they will undoubtedly cause.”

“The opiate crisis is one of the biggest issues facing our city, and should I be elected, I will take every step to fight this epidemic here in Philly,” said Wolfe. “Safe injection sites are simply not the answer. I also have great sympathy for those who don’t want these facilities in their neighborhoods.”

On the Democratic side, Justin DiBerardinis has gotten a boost of endorsements.

“Justin will work to bring equity and opportunity to every neighborhood in this city,” said State Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Kensington).

“I know Justin DiBerardinis through his work leading Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-W. Phila.), whose Southwest and West Philadelphia district includes Bartram’s Garden. “I’ve seen his commitment to empowering community leaders and building an inclusive vision for our city parks.”

State Rep. Jordan Harris (D-S. Phila.), whose district borders Bartram’s Garden, said, “Justin DiBerardinis is a proven leader who understands that we need large coalitions and real unity to overcome the big challenges our city faces.”

Former Gov. Ed Rendell praised DiBerardinis’ enthusiasm, energy and vision.
DiBerardinis reported nearly $145,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2018, leading the field among Democratic challengers and third overall.

Moore in the 10th

Judy Moore, wife of Philadelphia Police Office Wes Moore, mother of three, business leader and lifelong community member of Northeast Philadelphia, has declared her candidacy for City Council in the 10th Councilmanic District. Surrounded by over 100 supporters and community members, at her neighborhood Chickie’s & Pete’s, Moore pledged to focus on the improvement and efficiency of School District funding, government accountability, law-enforcement support and the opioid crisis.

“As a lifelong resident of the Northeast, I know firsthand that my neighbors deserve more accountability from our governmental officials,” said Moore.


In the Feb. 7 “Pols on the Street,” we wrote that Kahlil Williams moved back to Philadelphia in 2017. He did so in 2016.

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