Philly’s only Republican city commissioner leaving to take over good government group

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt wears a mask while sitting at a table

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the sole Republican on the board that oversees the city’s elections, is soon resigning from his post to take over as head of the good government group Committee of Seventy.

A staffer for the city commissioners confirmed the resignation, as did current Committee of Seventy head David Thornburgh, who announced this summer that he would be stepping back from his role to spend more time advocating for open primaries and redistricting reform.

“I offered my advice and counsel to the search committee, and I think he’s just a perfect choice, just perfect,” Thornburgh said of Schmidt.

Schmidt couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but in a statement released by the Committee of Seventy, he said that the group played a significant role in the success of Philadelphia’s 2020 election, and that he looks forward “to stepping into this new role and building on the organization’s 117-year history of delivering democracy.”

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As the sole, city-charter-mandated minority member of Philadelphia’s board of commissioners, Schmidt had a reputation for careful analysis of relevant election laws, and a commitment to fact-finding.

In 2020, he attracted vitriol from his own party when he defended Philadelphia’s election process against baseless allegations of fraud.

Former President Donald Trump called him a “so-called Republican (RINO)” who was “being used big time by the Fake News Media,” and Schmidt reported that months after the election, he was still receiving death threats against himself and his family.

Thornburgh said he thinks that election proves Schmidt is an ideal candidate for the Committee of Seventy, a nearly 120-year-old organization founded to combat election fraud in Philadelphia, with a long history of intentional nonpartisanship.

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“During the 2020 election, he showed his willingness to speak truth to power to the most powerful person in the country,” Thornburgh said. “I think that also demonstrated that he is a person who is courageous. His willingness to stand up against just relentless opposition and vitriol and the physical threats that he endured really is a testament to his character.”

Schmidt, a Pittsburgh native with a Ph.D. in political history from Brandeis University, moved to Philadelphia in 2005. He ran for city controller four years later and lost, but cemented himself as a staunch good government advocate unafraid of criticizing either political party. In 2011, he won his city commissioner seat, unseating longtime GOP incumbent Joseph Duda.

The board of commissioners staffer said Smith’s replacement will soon be nominated by the mayor and approved by City Council.

Schmidt will officially take over the Committee of Seventy on Jan. 3, 2022.

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