GOP group a loyal pain for Philly's old guard

Posted: May 14, 2011

Kevin Kelly knows it sounds a little funny: A group that met at the United Republican Club in Kensington three years ago started a civil war in the party.

The Loyal Opposition, as the group called itself, was tired of GOP politics that allowed the Democrats to run Philadelphia in exchange for a slice of the patronage.

Kelly, a founding member of what's become a growing effort, said the group tried to work from within the party, but was rebuffed by GOP chairman Vito Canuso and general counsel Michael Meehan.

And now they are planning a political coup.

Kelly said his group is building a political organization that he hopes the Pennsylvania Republican Party will recognize as the official Republican Party in Philadelphia, supplanting the existing GOP power structure, which has been dominated by the Meehan family since the 1930s.

The state party in February revoked Canuso's title as chairman after Loyal Opposition members complained about how he was re-elected to that post in 2010. A state party investigation found "numerous irregularities" in that election. The state party won't recognize him now as chairman, but takes no action to stop him from acting in that role.

Kelly said the state party and Gov. Corbett will back a new party structure in Philadelphia.

"Guys like Corbett are willing to jump but only when they know there is something to grab onto," Kelly said. "At the end of the day, we're going to have a structure in Philadelphia that can run elections, raise money and turn out the vote."

Canuso dismisses the group as "disgruntled" party members and says he remains open to ideas about how to improve the party.

"Unfortunately, we've had criticism continually," Canuso said. "I've been around. This is my 16th year. When you don't win, criticism comes hard and fast."

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