POLS ON THE STREET: Independents Will Test Strength in Council Races

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SHERRIE COHEN sparked nervousness in the Philadelphia political establishment by declaring her candidacy for City Council at large as an independent. She partied here with supporters at a fundraiser at Stir Lounge in Rittenhouse Square.

This is the week that independent and third-party candidates for municipal office will find out if they will actually be allowed to run in the November general election. It looks like many of them will.

By no later than tomorrow, all challenges to petitions filed by 10 councilmanic hopefuls will have been settled. As a rule, most challenges succeed. Under the gun is one at-large candidate, Sherrie Cohen, who missed the mark in the May Democratic primary. Her petitions have been challenged by Republican City Committee as well as BY Democratic Ward Leader Lou Agre.

Clearly Cohen is viewed as the biggest at-large threat to the two-party system. The daughter of legendary progressive Councilman David Cohen, she has run for this office twice before and is well known, particularly in the LGBTQ community. The Republicans gave her a backhanded endorsement in seeking to knock her off the ballot.

ENJOYING the summer afternoon at Sid Booker’s legendary summer pool party were, L-R, L_R, Councilmembers Derek Green and Cherelle Parker, an unidentified celebrant, host Booker, Judge Jimmy DeLeon and Debbie Scott Smith. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Undeterred, Cohen was forging ahead as we went to press, planning an ambitious fundraiser at Stir Lounge.

Even if Cohen is booted off the ballot, six other independents appear not to have been challenged: Kendra Brooks, Steve Cherniavsky, Joe Cox, Clarc King, Nicolas O’Rourke and Maj Toure. Some are running as pure independents; some have conjured up a one-man party name; while Brooks and O’Rourke are running with the aid of the Working Families Party, a young progressive lobbying group that actually pre-existed them.

While in general in the United States, independent voters tend to be moderates, in Philadelphia they, like the rest of the city, lean leftward. This opens a door for them: Are there now more progressive independents than Republicans in town? If so, they could snatch a seat now held by Republican Councilmembers at Large Al Taubenberger or David Oh.

STATE SEN. Sharif Street hosted a well-attended shore get-together for his supporters in Atlantic City. Photo by Wendell Douglas

But progressive independents face obstacles. They would have to persuade their natural constituencies to ignore the Democratic line ballot & either cut some Democrats or bullet-vote just for them.

They are also weakened by individualistic, fissile political habits. Disinclined to fall in behind a leader, they are apt to wind up splitting their own base rather than amassing a third force in city politics. But we’ll see.

In addition, the “independent voter” differs from the party-registered voter in significant ways. They tend to be less attuned politically; to the extent that they do pay attention to politics, they are apt to pay more attention to national than to local political contests; in municipal races, they may be curious about a mayoral race but have little interest in a councilmanic race (if, indeed, they have ever thought about what City Council does that affects their lives).

FORMER Gov. Tom Ridge came to the Union League to urge support for Councilman David Oh in his fall re-election bid.

Meanwhile, registered Republicans will turn out in their usual numbers and will push back against the Democratic majority on general principals. They have their own internal squabbles about which of their own to push to the fore but they will not defect to any independent.

So parties matter greatly in councilmanic contests and the partyless tend to be the powerless.

Meanwhile, in the 4th Councilmanic District, incumbent Curtis Jones, Jr. is taking no chances with two independent challengers, Karla Cruel and Matt Baltsar. He challenged both their petitions, knocking off Baltsar while Cruel survived.

Greg Paulmier may get a chance to advance in the 8th District, where he has long been active and has at times held the position of ward leader.

New Gun Measures – Is Pa. Ready Now?

It’s a truism that when the General Assembly in Harrisburg is controlled by Republicans, Philadelphia gets nothing it wants from the Commonwealth unless it can work with Republicans.

Philadelphia wants more gun control, make no mistake. Its problems with gun violence are not the sort that command the attention of national news shows, alas – but they matter intimately to hundreds of thousands of city-dwellers. But it has long been frustrated in efforts to govern this problem itself by State legislators beholden to the National Rifle Association, which doesn’t want rural lawmakers to let their urban colleagues deal with the unique problems of their districts.

STATE SEN. Lisa Baker heads the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee.

At the national level, as we noted last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) may be cracking the GOP united front on opposing gun legislation. Perhaps State Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) is serious about doing so at the State level.

Baker has represented the 20th District since 2007. She prides herself on pragmatic problem-solving. She has just advanced to the chair of the Judiciary Committee, a plum assignment that grants her every power to look into gun laws if she darn well pleases. And immediately after last week’s spate of gun massacres in other states, she stated her committee “will be holding a series of public hearings intended as a prelude to action.

“Advocates and opponents will have the chance to make their respective cases in full spotlight and answer the hard questions about their positions,” Baker said in her statement.

Fighting words to the gun lobby. Gun Owners of America reacted fiercely, charging that Baker “voted to pass a gun-seizure bill in the last legislative session. HB 2060 (now law) requires you to forfeit your 2nd Amendment rights within 24 hours of the issuance of a ‘star chamber’ secret protective order against you. Clearly, Sen. Baker cannot be trusted!”

PHILADELPHIA citizens and leaders, all sporting Bermuda shorts, flocked to the Summer Soirée honoring 1st District City Councilman Mark Squilla, C, in N. Wildwood. Seen are, L-R, John Stevenson, strategic consultant; Steve Lauer, constituent consultant; Joe Trullo; Bill Heeney, GOP candidate for Council at large; Squilla; Hon. Joe Rullo; Joe Trullo; Luigi Borda; and Rick Centron. Photo by Joe Stivala

The gun lobby will hammer her for allowing these hearings. But Baker knew this and she promised them anyway. A crack in the wall?

Baker is not up for re-election until 2022, so she has breathing room. And as she won her 2018 election with 82% of the vote, she may not be so afraid of a future NRA opponent as others in her caucus.

In a recent Franklin & Marshall poll, 64% of Pennsylvanians want more gun restrictions.

If Philadelphia Democrats want practical results on gun control, they should send their A Team to talk to Sen. Baker.

Pa. Superior Court Races Are 2019’s Biggest Prize

A powerful body little known to the public is at stake in Pennsylvania’s November election.

The Superior Court, one of two appellate bodies in the Commonwealth’s judicial system, consists of 15 judges. It has two openings which are up for election. Currently the political balance in this body is 8 Republicans, 6 Democrats and 1 vacancy.

STATE SEN. Christine Tartaglione hung out with her constituents at Fairhill Square Park for a community picnic. She met with, L-R, Mari Torrales, Kailina Nieves, Rosa Rivera, Tartaglione and Cynthia Rivera. Photo by Wendell Douglas

If both Democratic candidates – Philadelphia Judge Dan McCaffery and Pittsburgh Steelworkers’ Union lawyer Amanda Green-Hawkins – win their races, Superior Court will flip to the Dems. That will give Democrats two of the Keystone State’s higher courts as the Supreme Court is already solidly Democratic. The third, Commonwealth Court, will remain in Republican hands.

Superior Court handles most criminal and civil appeals pertaining to individuals. Commonwealth Court decides matters of government institutional action.

In the Year of the Woman, Republicans are throwing two women at this office, Christylee Peck and Megan McCarthy King.

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