Philly GOP rethinking endorsement of mayoral candidate over federal disability concerns

Daphne Goggins sits on her front porch in North Philadelphia in a 2017 file photo. She had been campaigning for Republican District Attorney candidate Beth Grossman. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Daphne Goggins sits on her front porch in North Philadelphia in a 2017 file photo. She had been campaigning for Republican District Attorney candidate Beth Grossman. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Updated: Feb. 17, 2019 at 2:50 p.m.

Philadelphia’s Republican Party has decided to reconsider its endorsement of North Philadelphia ward leader Daphne Goggins as its candidate for mayor.

Goggins would be the first African-American woman ever backed by the party, and was endorsed by the party’s ward leaders at a meeting Wednesday night.

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But party chairman Michael Meehan has summoned ward leaders to reconsider the pick at a meeting Monday night, citing questions about the endorsement process and concern that Goggins could be collecting federal disability benefits.

Such benefits, Meehan said in an email to ward leaders, are for someone who is “not be able to perform any job in the national economy. I think the mayor’s job is one in the national economy and is a sticking a point.”

Goggins didn’t immediately return a call for comment. The Inquirer has reported that Goggins said she’s been on disability since 2010 for fibromyalgia and is not employed.

In his email to ward leaders, Meehan also noted that ward leaders voted twice at Wednesday’s meeting not to endorse a candidate for mayor, before backing Goggins on a third tally, and that “some ward leaders have claimed that they were in the men’s room at the time of the mayoral nominations.”

Ruth Birchett, another North Philadelphia Republican ward leader, said she was surprised the selection process wasn’t more thorough.

“There weren’t enough questions asked, and enough background information given,” she said. “It’s an embarrassment for a party that wants to stand and grow.”

Two other candidates sought the party’s nomination, Robert Hunter and South Philadelphia attorney Billy Ciancaglini.

Meehan said in a phone interview the candidates won’t be invited to the ward leaders’ meeting Monday.

“The ward leaders have to figure out what they want to do,” he said, “whether they want to go down the path with Daphne. They have to decide who they want to collect [nominating] signatures for.”

Meehan said many of the ward leaders who voted not to endorse a candidate represent areas with the highest concentrations of Republican voters. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by a margin of nearly seven to one.

Meehan said it could be a challenge gathering enough signatures if ward leaders aren’t comfortable with the choice.

The party must submit notarized petitions with the signatures of 1,000 registered Republicans to get its nominee on the ballot. If the party is unable to get 1000 valid signatures, it could support a write-in candidate in the primary.  That candidate would have to receive at least 1,000 votes to become the party’s nominee.

UPDATE: Goggins pushes back

Goggins’ campaign has issued a statement saying the vote to endorse her was legal, and that any attempt to withdraw the endorsement “invites legal action in the form of an injunction, monetary damages, as well as incidental and consequential damages, not to mention other punitive damages against the Philadelphia Republican Party.”

The statement also said that many Americans with disabilities have served in public office, and that anyone who questions Goggins’ right to seek office “would be in violation of Title 2 of the Americans with Disability Act.”

The statement said Goggins has been a community organizer and activist for over 40 years, “and is physically, emotionally, and mentally capable of handling the duties of Mayor of Philadelphia.”

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