Philadelphia elections aren’t as sleazy as some think. Dead people don’t vote in large numbers. Election judges don’t steal votes by the fistful, and New Black Panthers don’t visit terror upon our citizens.
But in a municipal election where patronage employment is at stake there will be hijinks, mostly involving phony sample ballots, anonymous fliers and electioneering in polling places.
What’s particularly interesting about this Philadelphia election day is that the competitive and closely-watched races involve Republicans.
In Northeast Philly, Brian O’Neill, the city’s lone Republican representing a district in City Council has a determined opponent in former city employee and union official Bill Rubin.
The O’Neill campaign has filed a complaint with the city ethics board charging that a union committee is bending the campaign finance laws to help Rubin.
O’Neill had already complained about a pro-Rubin mailer from AFSCME PEOPLE, a Washington-based committee of the public employee union Rubin was a member and local leader of. That mailer had the wrong times for voting in the city and lacked the required statement of sponsorship.
Now O’Neill’s campaign says the same committee is violating the city’s campaign finance rules, by making excessive donations to Rubin’s campaign, routing some of the money through a local AFSCME political committee.
They have a moral point, if not a legal one. The idea behind campaign finance limits is to prevent a single party from owning too much of the process. So there’s a limit of $10,600 on contributions to a candidate by a political committee.
According information from O’Neill’s campaign and not disputed by Rubin’s, the AFSCME Washington PAC made the maximum contribution to Rubin’s campaign, and also dumped a bunch of money into the local AFSCME committee, which also contributed the max.
This would violate campaign finance rules recently adopted to prevent political committees from routing contributions through another committee to avoid limits.
But those rules didn’t go into effect until August, so the AFSCME stuff seems legal.
Rubin’s campaign manager Dave Mellet says it’s traditional for the national AFSCME committee to support the local PAC, so this isn’t the evasion of limits that O’Neill’s camp thinks it is.
When you combine the contributions with the fact that the Washington AFSCME committee paid for a mailing for Rubin (the one that got the polling hours wrong), you have a case that Rubin is getting more help from the union than campaign finance rules envisioned.
Another race to watch today is the contest for city commissioner, where self-styled Democratic reform candidate Stephanie Singer will cruise to victory along with her running mate, the more traditional ward leader Anthony Clark. Singer ousted Marge Tartaglione in the spring primary.
The big question is which Republican will join Singer and Clark on the three-member commission, because that will determine whether the board that runs city election will take a truly new direction or not.
Insurgent Republican Al Schmidt is running on a Singer-style reform platform (both have promised to step down from their ward leader posts if elected), while the longtime Republican incumbent, Joe Duda is a traditional organization pol who says the office has been running just fine.
The Schmidt-Duda contest will be fiercely-contested, and it will be interesting to see if Democratic ward leaders try to help Duda in some way to keep the uppity Singer/Schmidt team in their place.
And finally, we have the five-way Republican race for what will certainly be only two GOP City Council-at-large posts. Attorney David Oh has run twice before and built up a following among progressive Democrats (yeah, I know he’s a Republican). He raised enough money and campaigned hard enough to finish first in the GOP primary.
But now he’s been attacked in a radio ads and mailings by a political committee associated with electricians’ union chief John Dougherty. The second mailing actually has a photo of Oh dummied up to look like a police mug shot.
Oh’s returns will among the most-watched in town this evening.
I’ll keep you abreast of developments as I get them.