Clout: Can new GOP 5 remake the party?

Vito Canuso, chairman of the city GOP committee, is a target of the state party and local insurgents.
Vito Canuso, chairman of the city GOP committee, is a target of the state party and local insurgents. (WILLIAM F. STEINMETZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: December 23, 2011

COULD A SMALL GROUP of Republicans put an end to the party's civil war in Philadelphia?

Even if that group - the city's five elected Republicans - can't get along with each other? We may soon find out.

David Oh, one of two incoming GOP City Council at-large members, suggests the five GOP elected officials form a selection committee for a new leader of the Republican City Committee.

"It would be a merit-based process," Oh said this week. "It would be open and fair."

That would replace chairman Vito Canuso, who is no longer recognized in that role by the state party and is the object of ire for a group of GOP insurgents seeking to take control locally.

The first reaction from state Rep. John Taylor to the selection committee was: "I don't know if all of those people could sit in the same room." Still, Taylor is willing to try. "I'm certainly willing to do whatever it takes to reduce the infighting," Taylor said. "It's a terrible waste of time."

Tensions abound. For instance: Oh is supporting Councilman Brian O'Neill for another term as Council minority leader.

State Rep. Denny O'Brien, the other incoming Republican at-large member, accuses Oh and O'Neill of making such moves without consulting him.

Still, O'Brien is willing to try.

"I told people I'm going to be active in building the Republican Party and recruiting people who identify with my brand of politics," O'Brien said. "I believe we have a lot of work to do."

Al Schmidt, the new Republican on the City Commission, has agreed to participate but wants the effort to get moving soon since he will step away from political matters once in office.

O'Neill did not respond to several requests for comment.

A handful of people have expressed interest in being the next chairman. They include recent Council at-large candidates Al Taubenberger and Joe McColgan, 6th Council District candidate Sandra Stewart, former congressional candidate Rick Helberg, and former mayoral candidate Karen Brown.

Canuso's term runs until 2014 but he and Michael Meehan, the party's general counsel, are open to discussing a new chairman. The big problem: Finding one candidate to satisfy everyone.

"To say there's no consensus is an understatement," Meehan said. "There's nobody that blows away the field. Everybody has supporters and detractors."

Vote for Judge Who?

The state Supreme Court's decision this week to remove Philadelphia Traffic Court Administrative Judge Michael Sullivan from his post amid an FBI probe has again raised questions about how judges are selected.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a reform-minded group that pushes for merit selection over elections for judges, praised Sullivan's removal, which came after a review suggested that Traffic Court cases are being fixed as political favors.

That review came after the FBI raided Traffic Court offices and Sullivan's home in September.

Sullivan won a second, six-year term in November, two months after the raids, when more than 77 percent of the 95,933 people who voted chose to retain him.

State Chief Justice Ron Castille didn't find that surprising. He said voters statewide tend to know little about the judges they elect in races that are usually controlled by political parties in election years with no big-ticket races on the ballot.

"I don't know how many people who voted for Judge Sullivan knew when they went into that voting booth that the FBI had been into his house and his office," Castille said.

Not so merry lawsuit

A former special assistant to City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell sued the city last week, claiming she lost her job because she is a Jehovah's Witness.

Tyeisha Boulware's federal lawsuit charges that Blackwell fired her because she chose not to vote for religious reasons, could not stay late at work on the day of the 2010 primary election because of a religious commitment, and refused to wear a "Christmas shirt" during Blackwell's annual holiday party for the homeless.

Boulware, who was paid $35,000 per year on Blackwell's staff, is asking for her job back, back-pay and financial damages.

A Jan. 5 letter to Boulware from Blackwell, on file at City Council says: "Thank you for the years of service that you have provided to my office. After months of evaluating my office, I have decided to eliminate your position."

The letter concludes: "I wish you all the best in your future endeavors and thanks again for all your hard work."

Blackwell did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the city said he would not comment on pending litigation.


Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email

brennac@phillynews.com.

Check out the Clout blog at:

www.phillyclout.com and follow on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN.

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