Can David Oh Still Win a Philadelphia City Council Seat?

Despite controversy over his military service, the Republican is still in the running

A little more than four years ago, when the city’s weak-kneed Republican machine was still thought to be firmly in the grip of Michael Meehan, a GOP City Council candidate named David Oh entered the stage and started doing things that were, for a Republican council candidate in this city, very, very strange. For one, he had ideas. Actual policy proposals. By the dozen, in fact. What’s more, they were novel and interesting ones. He went out there and endorsed the creation of an arts and entertainment district where clubs and bars could stay open 24 hours a day. Philadelphia’s future, he said, was as an international hub. He was out there proposing special free-trade zones, for crissakes.

Given the GOP’s pathetic tradition in Philadelphia, Oh’s 2007 candidacy was a revelation. Here was a guy from the Republican party who might actually be a contributor on council. And he almost won, despite the party’s opposition to his candidacy. Oh lost to incumbent GOP Councilman (and overall waste of space) Jack Kelly by 122 votes.

Fast forward to 2011. Meehan’s control of the GOP is being hotly contested by a band of Republican malcontents, and Oh—who almost showed Meehan up in 2007—is in the catbird seat. Oh cruised through the May primary, winning more votes than any other GOP council candidate. He seemed set to become the first Asian to serve on City Council.

But then things got messy. In August, Chris Brennan reported in the Daily News that Oh—who during his council campaigns had called himself a Green Beret—had never actually completed the required training and been formally accepted into the special forces. Had Oh ‘fessed up then to embellishing his record, the problem would have likely gone away. After all, he had trained with a special forces unit, so perhaps it could be forgiven as an exaggeration.

But Oh panicked. He demanded an apology from the DN. Then, as the tight-knit special forces community caught wind of the story and began to pick him apart, Oh published full page advertisements in the Inquirer and Daily News issuing his regrets for “any confusion or misimpression” his Green Beret claims created. Since then, though, Oh is back to saying that he never misled people about his record, and that the whole mess amounts to confusion over military terminology. I think it’s simpler than that: If the guys who are real-life, no-doubt-about-it special forces soldiers think that Oh is fluffing up his resume, well, that’s good enough for me.

Privately, Oh’s supporters acknowledge that he’s handled the entire affair badly. But they also feel he’s been unfairly singled out for scrutiny. (Brennan has also reported on Oh’s arrest in the 1990s for firing a gun into the air to scare off a group of people he thought were criminals near his home.) Maybe so. But those are the breaks in politics. A reporter gets a tip, and if it pans out, and the candidate fails to handle it well (like Oh) the story builds and builds.

The remarkable thing is, Oh still stands at excellent shot at winning a seat on Council despite all of this. He has strong support from the city’s Asian community, the reformist wing of the GOP, and is likely to get a pretty decent chunk of Democratic votes as well. As a candidate, Oh brings a lot to the table, and if he wins he may well become an excellent councilman. If he loses, which is also a real possibility now, he only has himself to blame.

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  • Earl J

    As a Democrat I still voted for him twice before. Not this time. Your right on about how he handled this even after months now. It makes you wonder how he would handle a lot bigger issue. Win or lose, he will always be known in Philadelphia as the guy who lied about his service to our country.

    • Jack F.

      I realize this story was written over a week ago, but I feel it is my duty as a citizen to provide facts and accuracy that are lacking and thus create erroneous and misleading and even damaging perceptions.

      This irrespnsible piece is merely regurgitating what to any intelligle observer was a weak smaear campaign by a single reporter. And as sad as it is that others have followed this lead, it is part of why Philadelpia is mired in corruption and stagnation.

      Instead of providing much needed education and insight, articles such as this provide “gossip” about something as serious as the future of the citizens of Philadelphia.

      Here are some facts that are lacking:

      1. The issuance of the green beret since its inception in the world war II years has changed – none of the papers pointed this out. Over 20 years ago, the entire Special Forces Unit was issued a green beret and the distinction was between those in the unit that were “tabbed” and untabbed”. In 1992, the designation changed, and ONLY those in the unit who were “Q Course qualified” were issued the green beret. The term “green beret” is a nickname, not an award. special forces are designated by MOS 18A, which is what David was awarded by the way. The really sad part is, whe the writers should be doing, I had to do for myself and come up with the REAL story, but alas, this is the state of Philadelphia.

      2. With the above established, David Oh then goes on to get endorsements from Tom Ridge, decorated Viet Nam Veteran, the United Veteran’s Council of Philadelphia which overssees 22 congressionally charted veteran’s organizations in the city, and is made an honorary member of the Philadelphia Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Society. But all of this would escape you if you read the “gossip” that gets published by the irresponsible writers in philly. Instead of digging for truth, they regurgitate lies.

      3. If I am accused of a crime and the charges are dropped, why am I being portrayed as guilty or a convicted criminal? (perhaps there is a pattern emerging when the story could have been written that David was accused, but the charges were dropped. But the story gets quotes from detractors and rather than present the facts, paints a perception like David actually was convicted of something.)

      Of course, perhaps the boring facts won’t sell papers or get eyeballs for web sites … and therein lies the human motivation – financial success for me over what’s good for the 1.5 million in the city.

      Tragic as it is, it goes on, but, at least now you are more aware of the truth in this particular story. And on November 8, you will do not what the financially motivared writers are pushing you to do, but what your better judgement does.

  • John Featherman

    I strongly support DAVID OH. Oh has shown amazing temperament and restraint despite some dirty tricks used against him by those opposed to his candidacy. Oh will win the City Council race, and he will be a champion in city government. Oh is the only candidate with a plan to create a 24/7 entertainment zone. He has plans to turn Philadelphia into a world class city by dredging the Delaware to make Philadelphia a port destination. His ideas will create jobs, which in turn will help many of those living at or below the poverty line. Oh has a commitment to making safer streets, better schools, and job opportunities for all. On November 8th, please join me — John Featherman — and proudly cast your vote for David Oh and ONLY David Oh.

    • Phillyboy

      Oh, tell me you’re kidding.

  • Joe E.

    It seems that much of the reporting on this is one-sided. From what I read, Mr. Oh enlisted an was pursuing special forces qualification. He was not selected to move forward. Perhaps some may see his handling of the issue not as polished as a seasoned politician (say, fast eddie) would have dealt with it. But isn’t that what makes Mr. Oh good for our City? No one is perfect. I took a look at his endorsements from folks who know him. Seems he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Look at the other choices. If Mr. Oh is not elected, we shouldn’t complain about the state of Philadelphia.

  • Phildude

    Good point Joe. I’ll think about it. Who started the story for the newspaper anyway?

  • Ann S.

    I am an independent voter. I encourage all to look past the media tilt and review each candidate. So far, I am going with Oh and McColgan.

  • Tommy C

    David is a good, honest man. Sure, he may be guilty of not being a good PR guy, but, is that what we judge candidates on these days? Look at the other candidates and tell me who has a better record serving his country, state and city. No one comes close. The reason this BS is being brought up is precisely the reason we need to elect him to council. The powers that be in Philadelphia know if Oh wins, they have a free agent on their hands that they can’t control. And therein lies the reason for the attacks.