Council race, ballot questions at issue

The two candidates vying for Bill Green's vacated seat on City Council are Democratic state Rep. Ed Neilson (left) and GOP long-shot Matthew Wolfe, who might get some votes just for his last name.
The two candidates vying for Bill Green's vacated seat on City Council are Democratic state Rep. Ed Neilson (left) and GOP long-shot Matthew Wolfe, who might get some votes just for his last name.
Posted: May 20, 2014

RACES FOR state and federal offices may be the most high-profile items on tomorrow's ballot, but Philadelphia voters also will decide important questions about local government.

They'll choose a new City Council member to fill the vacancy created when Bill Green IV left to chair the School Reform Commission. And they'll decide whether to accept three proposed amendments to the city's Home Rule Charter.

Green, who was appointed to the SRC by Gov. Corbett, left in the middle of his term, and Council President Darrell Clarke decided to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.

In Philadelphia, ward leaders - not voters - select their parties' nominees for special elections. With a 6-to-1 voting-registration advantage, the Democratic Party's candidate is all but assured victory in the election that follows.

That lucky guy is state Rep. Ed Neilson, of the Northeast. The party elders reportedly selected Neilson to avoid a potentially nasty primary fight between him and state Rep. John Sabatina Jr. after the two were thrown into the same seat through redistricting.

Neilson is a former political director for the influential International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.

The Republican ward leaders nominated lawyer Matthew Wolfe, of West Philadelphia.

Wolfe, who is now in private practice, is a former deputy attorney general and served in the administration of former Gov. Tom Ridge.

There's a chance that Wolfe's longshot candidacy could be buoyed by voter confusion with Tom Wolf, the front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

If he loses, Wolfe is expected to run for Council in the regular 2015 election, in which he would vie for one of two at-large seats reserved for minority-party candidates.

Also on tomorrow's ballot are three proposed amendments to the city Home Rule Charter that could have a big impact on city government.

The first question asks voters whether subcontracted workers on city projects should fall under the city's minimum-wage rules, which require workers to be paid $10.88 per hour.

Previously, the rules applied only to companies doing business with the city directly, not the subcontractors hired by those companies.

Mayor Nutter recently signed an executive order that extended the wage rules to subcontractors and raised the minimum wage.

But Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who has championed the cause, is urging voters to pass the charter change anyway to make the policy permanent. (Executive orders can be overturned by future mayors.)

The second question asks voters whether they should change the city's "resign-to-run" rule to give more freedom to local officials seeking other offices.

Currently, all city officeholders must resign if they want to run for new positions. If the change goes through, they can serve out their terms while campaigning.

Councilman David Oh, who is pushing for the change, says it would increase Philadelphia's power in Harrisburg, where he believes Philly's interests are often ignored, by encouraging the city's top-tier politicians to consider state office.

Voters defeated a broader version of the same question in 2007, the only time Philadelphians have shot down a proposed charter change.

The last ballot question asks voters whether City Council should have greater oversight with contracts the city signs to provide legal representation to indigent people.

Right now, only contracts that last longer than one year require Council approval. The change, proposed by Councilman Denny O'Brien, would require approval for all contracts for indigent counsel.

Pennsylvania House, Senate races

It's been a bad year for Philadelphia's representatives in Harrisburg.

State Sen. LeAnna Washington has been charged with using taxpayer resources for political purposes. State Rep. J.P. Miranda has been indicted for an alleged ghost-employee scheme that allowed his sister to work for his district office, in violation of nepotism rules. And four other state representatives - Louise Bishop, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Ron Waters - allegedly accepted cash or gifts from a lobbyist who was secretly collecting evidence for the state Attorney General's office.

Those four have not been charged. Their cases came to light after an Inquirer report revealed that Attorney General Kathleen Kane had shut down the investigation when she came into office.

Those cases - plus several less-incendiary developments in local politics - have made this an unusually eventful election cycle for the city's delegation in Harrisburg.

Democratic state Sen. Tina Tartaglione, the daughter of legendary former City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione, is facing spirited primary challenges for her Kensington-based district from 23rd Ward Leader Danny Savage and Tomas Sanchez.

Savage held a City Council seat from 2006 to 2008 before losing to current Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, the wife of Tomas Sanchez.

Tomas Sanchez is one of five candidates being backed on tomorrow's ballot by his wife, who has been working to build her own political organization, primarily for Latino candidates, outside the Democratic Party. The others are:

* Quetcy Lozada, who is running against state Rep. Angel Cruz in eastern Juniata Park;

* Jared Solomon, against state Rep. Mark Cohen in Olney and Oak Lane;

* Jason Dawkins, against state Rep. James Clay in Frankford and Hunting Park;

* Danilo Burgos against Miranda, the indicted representative in North Philadelphia;

* State Sen. Pam DeLissio, who is being challenged by Dave Henderson, is on the ballot after surviving an embarrassing challenge of her eligibility to represent her Roxborough seat. State law requires representatives to live in their districts, and DeLissio had listed a Harrisburg address as her primary residence in tax and driver's-license forms. But a judge recently ruled that she was a Philadelphia resident and could run again.

Washington, who was charged earlier this year by Kane for using the resources of her state office to organize a political fundraiser, is being challenged tomorrow for her North Philadelphia and Montgomery County seat by Brian Gralnick and Art Haywood.

The winner will likely face Republican Robin Gilchrist in November.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

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