Controller, judgeships up for grabs in Phila.

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz and his wife, Theresa, arrive at their polling place inside the St. Thomas Indian Orthodox school on Unruh Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.
Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz and his wife, Theresa, arrive at their polling place inside the St. Thomas Indian Orthodox school on Unruh Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 22, 2013

It may come as a surprise to many Pennsylvania voters, but Tuesday is primary election day, with balloting to choose party candidates for judgeships and a variety of local offices throughout the state's 67 counties.

In Philadelphia, the marquee race is a three-way contest for city controller between incumbent Alan Butkovitz, who has held the post as the city's financial watchdog the last eight years, and challengers Brett Mandel and Mark Zecca.

The city's voters will also be nominating candidates for six vacant judgeships on Common Pleas Court, three on Municipal Court, and three more on Traffic Court, where a ticket-fixing scandal has spurred legislative efforts to abolish the court before any more judges can be seated.

In the suburbs, almost all of the incumbent county officers are unopposed for ballot spots in November. The exceptions are in Bucks County, where Sheriff Edward "Duke" Donnelly, a Republican, is opposed by Tom Lingenfelter, and Republican Prothonotary Pat Bachtle faces lawyer Michelle Christian.

The only statewide race is between two Democrats vying for the party's nomination to Superior Court. Joseph C. Waters Jr., a Municipal Court judge in Philadelphia, is competing against Jack McVay Jr., a judge in Allegheny County Court.

Testy exchanges between the candidates and a flurry of final-week mailings have fanned some interest in the controller's race, but television advertising has been minimal, and voter turnout is expected to be light throughout the region.

"If we get to 10 percent we're lucky," predicted Gregory Irving, the top civil service administrator in the Philadelphia City Commissioners' Office, which runs city elections.

Conventional wisdom is that low turnouts in Philadelphia give an edge to candidates with Democratic Party endorsements, particularly in judicial races where none of the candidates is well-known.

There are 23 Democratic candidates for the six open spots on Common Pleas Court. The Democratic City Committee's six endorsements include two who were rated "not recommended" by the Philadelphia Bar Association - Dawn M. Tancredi and Leon A. King II, the former city prison commissioner.

Among 10 Democratic candidates for three judgeships on Municipal Court, the Democratic Party's endorsements included one - Henry Lewandowski, an attorney for the electricians union - who was rated "not recommended" by the bar.

The Traffic Court candidates who win Democratic nominations may never get a chance to don robes. The state Senate has passed a bill to abolish the court, and the measure is expected to pass the House next month.

Philadelphia's voter turnout in the presidential election in November was around 60 percent. In the corresponding primary in May 2009, when Democratic voters had a strong five-way contest for the district attorney nomination, the turnout was 13 percent.

Carol Jenkins, the Democratic leader of University City's 27th Ward, said she had been working to fill all of the spots on the ward's election boards - five positions in each of the ward's 23 divisions.

"Now I'm worried there may be more people sitting on election boards than there will be voters," especially in the divisions with heavy numbers of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University students, now mostly gone for the summer, Jenkins said.

She said she had had one telling call from an election-board member saying she would be unable to work Tuesday. "She forgot there was an election going on and hadn't arranged for a babysitter," Jenkins said.

Even voter ID - the issue that generated most of the election-related controversy in Pennsylvania last year - is off the table for Tuesday's election.

Voting-rights groups are still challenging the Pennsylvania law, requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID card to get access to voting machines, but the Commonwealth Court hearings have been put off until summer, and both sides agreed to continue a stay delaying its implementation.

Voters appearing at a polling place for the first time will be required to show a photo ID, as they have in the past.


Primary Election

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

To report problems:

Philadelphia 215-686-3462 or phillyelection.com.

Bucks 215-348-6154 or buckscounty.org.

Chester 610-344-6410 or chesco.org.

Delaware 610-891-4673 or co.delaware.pa.us/depts/election.html.

Montgomery 610-278-3275 or montcopa.org.


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

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