Petition challenge filed in Philadelphia’s Eighth District City Council race

In a new development in the Eighth City Council District race, Independent candidate Brian Rudnick, is trying to block a late-arriving rival Independent candidate, Jim Foster, from appearing on the November ballot.

And this has the two candidates and their camps tossing hurling terms such as ‘threats” and “liar” back and forth.

Rudnick, a Green Party member, has challenged Foster’s nominating petitions claiming nearly a third of the signatures Foster turned in on Monday are invalid.

This past Monday, Aug 5. was the deadline for minor-party candidates to turn in nominating petitions to earn a spot on the November ballot.

Democrats and Republicans went through this process in the spring.

Both candidates, Rudnick and Foster, want to appear on the ballot with Cindy Bass, who secured her right to be on the November ballot by easily winning the Democratic primary last May.

Incumbent City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller is not seeking re-election. Her last day in office will be January 2012.

Basis for the challenge

Foster, publisher of the Germantown Chronicle and Northwest Independent weekly newspapers, turned in 875 signatures on   41 pages. A nominating petition needs 750 valid signatures. The Philadelphia Board of Elections has strict requirements on who can sign a petition. In this case all of the names must be registered voters within the Eighth District. In addition, the person who is collecting the signatures must reside in the voting district.

Rudnick claims that: many of the people listed don’t live in the Eighth District; the signature collector didn’t properly fill out the documents, and that Foster didn’t collect personally signatures that he claimed he did.

Rudnick told NewsWorks that he just doesn’t think that Foster could have physically collected so many signatures in so little time. “If we are to believe Jim Foster, he single handily collected some five-hundred signatures…I as someone who did physically collect several hundred signatures and I am pretty physically fit, have my doubts that Jim Foster who is a little older and a little wider than I am – physically collected the signatures.”

In response, Foster says he has his doubts about whether Rudnick actually collected the hundreds of signatures he claims. “Remember he only gathered his in a few more days than I did… So I have serious doubts about the practices that Mr. Rudnick went through,” said Foster.

On the question of whether Foster had enough stamina to collect hundreds of signatures: “If gathering signatures under his (Rudnick’s) own capabilities is the only thing he has to represent his accomplishments, I’ll match that against all of the accomplishments I have been recognized for, Foster said.

“I maybe a little older and I may be a little wider but I think I’m a whole lot wiser than Mr. Rudnick, Foster said.

NewsWorks asked Rudnick to explain the obvious gap: If Jim Foster didn’t collect them then who did?

“Probably from collectors who are not registered voters in this district,” Rudnick answered.

On this point, Foster says he’s saving his defense argument for the hearing. “We’re not in a courtroom yet. I’ll prepare an appropriate defense,” Foster added.

Foster says he’s at a loss to understand Rudnick’s motivations. “I don’t know why Brian Rudnick wouldn’t see that (my candidacy) as something that would help rather than hurt him,” he said.

Foster: I was ‘threatened’

Foster did tell NewsWorks he received a ‘threatening’ message through a surrogate who told him that someone wanted him out of the race.

On Tuesday, Foster says he was contacted by Peter Wirs who relayed a message from the Larry Otter, who is both an attorney for Wirs and Brian Rudnick on various issues. In Foster’s words the message was, “If you want to have anything left of your reputation, you will go down to the city commission and pull your ballots. … If you don’t you will be prosecuted for election fraud.”

Wirs told NewsWorks that he did relay a message from Otter to Foster, but Foster’s characterization of it was off-the-mark. “It was not a threatening message, it was an out-of-court settlement offer,” Wirs said.

Larry Otter said Foster totally misconstrued the message: “A courtesy call was made to him because I found numerous difficulties with his petitions that will be personally embarrassing to him. In no shape or form was a threat made to him. We just let him know that he has problems with his petitions,”

Otter says no threat was made. “It’s a fabrication of his mind and to be quite blunt he’s a liar.”

Foster is not happy about the petition challenge. “I’m not going to take it lying down. I’m gonna hit back against it,” Foster said.

As of this afternoon, Foster said he had not received an official letter notifying him of the petition challenge.

Petition hearing

The next step is for the a Court of Common Pleas judge to hold a hearing and begin scrutinizing Foster’s nominating petitions. A date for the hearing has not been set.

Monday is the last day that a third party candidate’s petitions can be challenged.

Why they are running

Jim Foster

Foster says he decided at the last minute to jump into the Eighth District race because he says Cindy Bass doesn’t appear involved in the community since winning the May Primary. “Cindy Bass has gone completely dark,” he said.

The East Mt. Airy resident, who lives near Bass, says the Democratic nominee has been unresponsive to community requests: “Everyone was hoping for a different kind of Council person… She’s setting a tone that’s almost the same as the past, or worst,” Foster said.

Bass has made some appearances since winning the Democratic Primary. One was when she addressed the East Mt. Airy Neighbors (EMAN) annual meeting on June 27 telling the members she would work hard to represent them, “I intend to strengthen EMAN and get you the resources you need,” she said. Bass is a past-president of EMAN.

Foster has been involved at the community level as well. He cited his involvement with the re-opening of the former YMCA in Germantown: “We got the Germantown Y brought back from the dead, which nobody said it could be. Now that wasn’t wholly my doing but I was chair of the board that brought it back,” he said.

Brian Rudnick

Rudnick says he’s running because he believes voters in the Eighth District voters – an area that includes Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown – should have a choice on Nov. 8. Rudnick is critical of Bass for allowing Steven Vaughn to be associated with her campaign. Vaughn is an ex-con, imprisoned for governmental corruption. While serving as chief of staff in Miller’s office, Vaughn was part of a large-scale tax fraud scheme that netted him and his associates a $60,000-plus payout from the city’s Law Department.

Bass has said that finding ways to help ex-felons re-enter the community as productive citizens is a big issue in the district

Rudnick says he agrees that there should be programs for ex-felons, but adds, “I don’t think she will be competent or effective if she believes that means that a program for ex-offenders includes having someone guilty of municipal corruption volunteering in a councilmanic or campaign office.”

Rudnick, who ran in 2007 as the Green Party nominee, did not get the official backing of the local Green Party this year. “They were reluctant and rightly so to endorse a write-in candidacy,” he said.

Now that he has filed nominating petitions to be on the ballot Rudnick says he has asked the local Green Party to endorse his campaign.

Patrick Cobbs contributed reporting to this article.

Revised 8/6/11 11:45 p.m. to correctly state the number of petition pages turned in and to reflect that Foster did not specifically know who wanted him out of the race. We regret the errors.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.