Dissident Philadelphia GOP members hope to elect new chair

Michael A. Cibik leads Center City ward.
Michael A. Cibik leads Center City ward.
Posted: May 20, 2011

Trying to build on a strong showing in this week's primary, a group of insurgent Republican ward leaders has scheduled a meeting next week to elect a new party chairman. One procedural issue: The old chairman says there's no vacancy.

Next week's meeting - Tuesday evening at Liberties restaurant in Northern Liberties - was called by Michael A. Cibik, a Center City ward leader allied with the GOP dissidents unhappy with the leadership of general counsel Michael Meehan and party chairman Vito Canuso.

Cibik cited a decision in September by the Republican State Committee to void Canuso's election as chairman because of widespread disputes over ward elections that left it unclear which ward leaders were eligible to vote.

But Canuso said Thursday there was no reason to hold a new election because he was still in charge.

"He [Cibik] has no authority to call a meeting, and the state organization has no authority to dispose of the chairman," Canuso said in a brief telephone interview. State party authority over the leadership of local parties is limited to seating delegates at Republican State Committee meetings, Canuso contends.

Meehan, whose family has dominated the city's Republican Party since the 1930s, backed up Canuso with an e-mail message sent Thursday to all ward leaders, telling them there was no vacancy and no meeting next week.

The dispute follows the first contested primary elections in the local Republican Party since 1991, with results that suggest Meehan's grip on the party machinery is weakening.

The party's endorsed mayoral candidate, little-known former schoolteacher Karen Brown, is leading dissident John Featherman by just 53 votes, with absentee ballots still to be counted.

A party effort to dispatch another dissident, Al Schmidt, in his race for city commissioner also fell flat. Schmidt outpolled Marie Delany, one of the GOP's two endorsed candidates, by 1,600 votes and has a strong chance to topple GOP incumbent Joseph J. Duda in November.


Contact staff writer Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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