Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The good news and the bad news about ward leaders choosing the nominee in HD 175

When there is an unexpected vacancy due to an elected official’s resignation before the end of her term, political parties choose the replacement candidate if the general election will be held within a short period of time, or if the time frame is longer, political parties choose the nominee for a “special election." The recent resignation of Rep. Michael O’Brien created just such a vacancy.

First the bad news: In HD 175 we just had another undemocratic nominating process with ward leaders making the decision. The good news is that for the first time in my experience there was a serious protest led by newly elected committeepeople and covered by major news outlets. The old guard may have won this won this battle, but change is coming.

In choosing replacement candidates for unanticipated vacancies, the Democratic Party and Republican Party—not the voters—choose the candidate to run under the Democratic Party and the Republican Party banners. If another Democrat or Republican wants to run, that person must run as an Independent or as the nominee of a minority party.

Given Philly’s 7 to 1 Democratic voter registration edge and poor track record in electing independents for local offices, the endorsed Democrat is almost certain to win and has the advantage of running in the next primary as the incumbent Democrat. Over the years, special elections have been the path to electoral office for many Philadelphia politicians, a vehicle for well-connected political insiders, some of whom would not have been elected if not for this inside track.

From a list of winners of Special Elections for State and Congressional seats compiled by Democratic Party activist Joe Driscoll:

1992 2nd Congressional District Lucien Blackwell
1993 200th Legislative District Leanna Washington
1993 2nd Senatorial District William Stinson
1994 198th Legislative District Rosita Youngblood
1995 201st Legislative District John Myers
1996 3rd Senatorial District Shirley Kitchen
1998 1st Congressional District Bob Brady
1999 191st Legislative District Ronald Waters
2005 4th Senatorial District Leanna Washington
2006 174th Legislative District John Sabatina Jr.
2011 185th Legislative District Maria Donatucci
2012 186th Legislative District Harold James
2012 197th Legislative District Gary Williams
2015 170th Legislative District Martina White
2015 5th Senatorial District John Sabatina Jr.

Somewhere back in the mists of time committeepeople had a say in selecting the endorsed candidate. In other words, hundreds of committeepeople rather than a handful of ward leaders chose the nominee. At some point, the joint ward meeting of committeepeople then required by the party rules was no longer held, and the decision was made solely by the ward leaders. However despite this change in practice, until 2014 the party rules still stipulated that committeepeople were to choose the candidate to fill a vacancy.

In 2014 the party rules were revised but the procedures for changing the rules as stipulated by the party bylaws were apparently not followed. According to the party bylaws, all committeepeople should have received a notice advising them of the date when proposed bylaw changes would be discussed and voted on. None of the ward leaders I interviewed for my book Green Shoots of Democracy recall receiving such notices nor recall any such meeting held. They recall no discussion of the rationale for the changes in the rules and no opportunity for ward leaders and committeepersons to raise objections.

Furthermore Jim Saksa reported in Citypaper that although the amended rules were time-stamped March 31, 2014, they weren’t placed on file with the Board of Elections, as required, until Oct. 22, 2014. Instead, they were in City Commissioner Chair Anthony Clark’s office in City Hall. This certainly raises questions. Why would Party Chair Brady revise the rules and then bury them for over half a year in Anthony Clark’s office? Was he concerned that questions would be raised about the failure to follow the proper process for amending the rules?

Since these changes were apparently made without following proper procedures for amending the bylaws, arguably the July 23 meeting at which ward leaders selected the candidate should be invalidated and the pre-2014 rules followed. Is there a basis for a lawsuit here?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I knew this went on but seeing the list of folks who never really had to campaign before becoming an elected official is interesting.