2 Election Wins Bring Special Sweetness

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Two Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judges had an especially exciting race in the general election this month, for different reasons.

After polls closed on Nov. 2, it appeared Judge Lori Dumas had lost her campaign for a seat on the statewide Commonwealth Court. But mail ballots only started to be counted after the polls closed and they favor Dumas.

COMMON PLEAS Court Judge Lori Dumas, C, was boosted by supporters at a Philadelphia fundraiser. Dumas won a statewide electoral victory, by the skin of her teeth – courtesy of the US mail. Photo by Joe Stivala

She is now ahead by 19,000 over her nearest competitor, Republican Judge Andrew Crompton, a margin unlikely to be reversed, although an automatic recount will take place.

In winning, Dumas helped to maintain a precarious partisan balance on this court – where political allegiance matters because this body hears all appeals that involve government policies or actions as well as labor issues.

Absentee ballots have been especially used by Democrats since Act 77 made them available to all voters without need of a reason in 2020. There were about 90,000 mail ballots in the Nov. 2 election. The majority are democratic votes. Although absentee ballots once trended Republican, many Republican voters now disdain them. COVID-19 has played a positive role in encouraging their use. Her victory is owed to the mail ballot.

Judge Dumas is very religious and sings in church. When she first ran for a city judgeship in 2003, people were deciding whether to endorse her. The ward leader would have her sing to decide – and she sings like a nightingale.

Another candidate, Judge Dan Sulman, had run for election many times before. His problem was not partisan and his November election was never in doubt; Philadelphia is so strongly Democratic that all candidates who win the party’s spring primary sail home in the fall general election.

JUDGE Dan Sulman finally won election to the Common Pleas seat he has often served honorably in – only to lose it when voters missed his name in the bottom of the ballot. This November, backers in his Northeast Philadelphia base finally saw their champion elected to a full 10-year term. Photo by Joe Stivala

Sulman’s hurdle was simply ballot position in the primary. Typically, 30 to 50 candidates run for judge in the Democratic primary – for only 5 to 10 openings. Voters favor candidates toward the top of the list, whose position is determined by a random draw of numbers.

Highly regarded in the city’s legal profession, Sulman has twice been appointed to a judgeship when vacancies opened between elections. But judges so appointed must then run for office like anyone else to hold onto their seat. Twice, Judge Sulman drew high numbers that buried him toward the bottom of the ballot; voters skipped over him then, forcing him to shuck his robes, wait for another appointment and try his luck again.

This year, Sulman won the luck of the draw: a high ballot position and a Democratic nomination in the primary.

Sulman is a Northeast resident. His sister, Janice Sulman, is Democratic 53rd Ward leader and his mother is a committee woman

Dan’s parents got him and his sister through law school and they’re both now lawyers. Dan got his shot in part because his sister’s influence.

But he waited until every vote was counted to declare victory.

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