Rogue GOP ward leaders pick a leader

Rick Hellberg (Facebook.com)
Rick Hellberg (Facebook.com)
Posted: May 25, 2012

Approximately 20 Republican ward leaders in one of America’s most Democratic cities took the words of Sarah Palin to heart last night.

They went rogue.

A faction of GOP activists who’ve been locked in a long power struggle with the entrenched-for-decades leadership of the Philadelphia Republican Party met at a Northern Liberties church to pick a new chairman.

They unanimously backed Rick Hellberg, 60, a financial consultant who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in 2010 and promised to take on a Democratic machine that has held sway over City Hall for the last 61 years with few serious contests.

“The best thing for any government is to have two viable parties so that one can hold the other’s feet to the fire,” Hellberg told the rump faction of ward leaders who met at St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church.

But whether Hellberg ever assumes working control of the party — which ruled the city in the early 20th century but has fallen on hard times recently — is likely to be the subject of a protracted political and legal fight.

Incumbent chairman Vito Canuso and counsel Michael Meehan, of the family dynasty that has long run the Philadelphia Republican Party, have insisted that Wednesday’s meeting was invalid. In a letter earlier this week, Meehan — grandson of the storied late Philadelphia Sheriff Austin Meehan, the city’s ruling political boss in the 1940s — said that the notification of the meeting was improper and that the ward leaders had no authority to replace Canuso.

But ward leader Matthew Wolfe, an attorney and a leader of the insurgents, said that the group had every legal right to hold the meeting because a state Republican Party committee had declared Canuso’s re-election invalid in 2010. He said that only 38 ward leaders are eligible to vote — many slots are open because of vacancies or challenged selections — and so the 20 who voted unanimously for Hellberg was a quorum.

“It would not surprise me if we ended up in court, and that might not be improper,” Wolfe said Wednesday night.

Beyond the legalities, Hellberg and other ward leaders insisted that a revitalized Philadelphia GOP is needed by voters who are upset with rising property-tax bills and with the way that Democrats have managed the city’s finances.

“I’m not interested in becoming Detroit,” said Kevin Kelly, leader of the 22nd Ward and founder of a Republican insurgent group called the Loyal Opposition. n

Contact Will Bunch at 215-854-2957 or bunchw@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter: @Will_Bunch. Read his blog, Attytood.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|