Republican rumble in Philly: Schmidt prevails, Council race in overtime

    A wave of reform – or at least change – will sweep through the board that runs elections in Philadelphia.

    The New Guard in both the Democratic and Republican parties have prevailed, and the three-member City Commission will be dominated by candidates who say they want to bring a new era of transparency to an office historically run by traditional organization pols.

    Last night insurgent Republican Al Schmidt from East Falls handily unseated veteran GOP incumbent Joe Duda. Schmidt will join Democrat Stephanie Singer, who ousted longtime Commission chair Marge Tartaglione in the spring primary.

    “We’re focused on transparency, accountability and integrity,” Schmidt told me last night. That was after he confessed, “I spent the whole day preparing concession remarks.”

    Singer and Schmidt are ward leaders, and both have promised to quit those posts if elected.

    Meanwhile the battle over one of two vacant Republican City Council-at-large seats ended in a dead heat, with the outcome to be decided when votes are officially counted in the coming days.

    David Oh, an attorney who’s run against the party organization in the past held a razor-thin lead over Al Taubenberger, the party’s mayoral candidate four years ago. With 96 percent of the vote counted last night, Oh held a 140-vote lead, 37,986 to 37,846. Overtime in this one will begin with bringing in the straggler machine returns, then counting absentee ballots (Oh lost narrowly on absentees four years ago).

    This race was interesting because Oh was subjected to a blitz of harshly negative radio ads and mailings in the closing days of the race from a political committee long associated with the electricians’ union chief John Dougherty.

    It’s unusual to see attacks in a Council-at-large race, because it rarely benefits any one candidate to go negative in a multi-candidate field.

    But in this case, a non-candidate committee called Philadelphia Phuture fired away at Oh without worrying about any backlash against another candidate.

    Dougherty never responded to my queries about the cost or motives for his assault on Oh. You can read more about it and see the mailings and radio ads here.

    And, as expected State Rep. Dennis O’Brien won the other Republican Council-at-large seat.

    Finally, Northeast Philadelphia Republican Brian O’ Neill has an easy time defending his City Council seat from Democratic challenger Bill Rubin.

    Rubin waged an energetic and well-funded campaign, attacking O’Neill in a cable TV ad. But with virtually all of the unofficial returns in last night, O’Neill led Rubin 59 to 41 percent.

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

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal