'Hollering, screaming' but little change as Phila. Dems pick ward leaders

Posted: June 12, 2014

There had been, in the words of Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady, "a whole lot of hollering and screaming" this year about knocking off some of the city's longtime Democratic ward leaders.

But Monday night, at the quadrennial gatherings to pick the party's 69 ward leaders, only one incumbent was tossed out in a contested race, as U.S. Rep. Brady noted.

That doesn't mean peace reigned. Ward leaders can play pivotal roles on election day, and control of their fiefdoms can spark nasty battles.

Several meetings were marked by chaotic voice votes and debates - in West Philadelphia's 51st Ward, police had to clear a raucous gathering of about 50 people.

"It got so heated," said Gregory R. Benjamin, who challenged 51st Ward leader Vivian T. Miller. "You got all these people cramped up in that building. It's probably 85, 90 degrees."

The only successful challenge was in North Philadelphia, where retired Municipal Judge Jimmie Moore ousted 32d Ward leader Gary Williams. Moore challenged Brady for his seat in Congress in 2012.

Former City Council President Anna C. Verna retained her leadership of Point Breeze's 36th Ward amid seismic changes in the neighborhood. In Germantown's 12th Ward, Greg Paulmier, a four-time Council candidate, won back the seat he lost four years ago.

Paulmier and his backers called for a secret ballot instead of a voice vote, and came prepared with paper and pencils.

"The secret ballot is the foundation of our democracy," he said. "We've suffered from not a lot of unity in the past because of the way we start out."

The rifts seemed deepest in the 51st Ward. Benjamin and his supporters wanted candidates to debate. "[Miller] said: 'No, we don't need a debate. We got the people we want,' " Benjamin said. "There's no way that meeting can be considered a properly conducted meeting."

Miller, the retired clerk of quarter sessions, said Benjamin's supporters were combative and accused her of "rigging" the election.

"I've been a ward leader for 25 years . . . and I've never, ever experienced anything like that," she said. "How can you fix an election like that?"

No punches were thrown and no one was arrested.

"It was just a lot of foul talk," Miller said.


215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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