396 Challenges Filed Against Nominating Petitions In Philadelphia

The utter mayhem of machine politics in the birthplace of freedom.

You probably thought that there wouldn’t be any major election shenanigans in Philadelphia until 2015, when we’ll be deciding who gets the delightful job of running the city. But no such luck.

May 20th is the date of Pennsylvania’s primary elections, and scores of legal challenges have been filed against nominating petitions for both statewide and local seats.

Jay Paterno’s petition to get on the ballot for Lieutenant Governor is being challenged. And so is Babette Joseph’s petition to run against State Rep. Brian Sims, who unseated her in 2012. Prominent blogger Atrios (aka Duncan Black) charges that he didn’t sign Joseph’s petition, on which his name appears.

And in Philadelphia proper, there have been 396 legal challenges filed against potential candidates for City Committee. Now, if you’re not exactly sure what a Committee Person does in Philadelphia, you’re not alone.

The political watchdog group Committee of Seventy does a good job explaining the role of a Committee Person here. But essentially, a Committee Person elects a neighborhood’s ward leader and is at the front lines of the often-shady get-out-the-vote effort for the party’s candidates.

To qualify for the ballot, a person just needs to get 10 (yes, 10) valid signatures of registered Democrats in their ward. But that appears to be more difficult than it seems.

According to the challenges, the petitions are rife with names and signatures that should be declared invalid, which would, in turn, invalidate the petitioner’s candidacy.

Some of the handwriting is illegible and, therefore, impossible to verify. Some names are not registered at the addresses listed on the petitions. At least one signer is a registered Republican. And there are plenty of allegations of signatures written “in hand of another,” which is a polite way of suggesting a forgery.

“These people don’t believe that anyone is going to look at this stuff,” says controversial South Philadelphia real estate developer Ori Feibush, whose attorneys filed more than 75 of the 396 total challenges. His team’s challenges cover three wards in South Philadelphia.

“This has always been an exclusive club,” says Feibush of the Democratic City Committee. “So we have been providing the basic support to help people who want to run deal with their petitions properly and get on the ballots.”

And once the petition deadline passed last week, Feibush had a dozen people poring over the submitted documents to root out problems.

“We went through thousands of signatures one by one,” he says. “It’s an exhausting, tedious process, and we weren’t nitpicking here, we’re not talking minutiae. There were 18 candidates with a notary stamp but no signature, which is clearly a problem. There were inaccurate signatures. In some cases, I think some of these guys were just sitting at home in their underwear signing these pages.”

Feibush points to the petition for South Philadelphia resident Rhonda Bingham as one of the most problematic. Here is part of Bingham’s petition:

rhonda bingham box

It doesn’t take a handwriting expert to realize that much of the information on the page was filled in by one person. “I didn’t even bother checking the signatures on that one,” notes Feibush. “Because it is so obviously going to get tossed.”

The tossing process begins on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the City Commissioners’ Hearing Room at 520 North Delaware Avenue, 6th floor. It’s open to the public, and it’s going to be a zoo.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

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  • Northeaster

    Oh man, I love OCF sometimes.

    • connied

      when the article says just 10 (Yes, just 10) it implies that the petitioner needs just 10 signature out of thousands. that’s not true. a committee person’s “division” is usally 4 blocks by 4 to 6 blocks, sometimes more or less. it’s not hard to get 10, but it does take effort. usually, if you’re interested in doing that kind of community work, you’re already involved and can just go to 5 or 6 houses to get the 10 signatures you need. it’s not that big a deal.

      • Jake

        And realistically, you need at least 20+, because signatures do get challenged. I think having the small division is actually easier, because it’s going to be people in your ‘hood that you know anyways, as you mentioned. Otherwise, knocking on people’s doors who don’t know you is going to be much more difficult.

        • Northeaster

          Yep, that’s what was recommended to me. Consider, however, the question of party. If you are in the minority, you might only have 10 names that are able to sign.

          • The minority party should probably recognize that the Ward/Division system is bullshit, and find some other way to organize their city committee. In fairness, so should the majority party, but they’re not being quite as actively screwed by retaining the system. (I’m a proud member of Team Liberal Democrat, so this is an admission against interest here.)

            No third party, starting fresh, would voluntarily adopt such a cockamamie system.

          • Northeaster

            It isn’t terrible, each voting precinct has two people responsible for recruitment and voter turnout, and the effort is organized by local neighborhood leaders. It used to be a quite a grassroots system until the GOP collapsed in most of the city.

          • It was probably an excellent system back when organization was done with paper cards and face-to-face contact only. We’ve gotten better than that, but only in Presidential election years, it seems.

          • Northeaster

            Both parties will have permanent campaign systems set up soon.

          • The City Committees are supposed to be permanent campaign systems. I mean, that’s the better explanation than “permanent corruption distribution systems”, right? I was just referring to the separate infrastructure the Obama campaign built up 2.5 times now, and what the Romney campaign was (I presume) trying to match, which was orders of magnitude more effective as a campaign and a lot less effective as bribery.

      • Northeaster

        Usually it is easier if you already know people.

    • Jake

      I ran for committeeperson this year and if someone doesn’t have the time to get the required signatures, they aren’t fit to be a committeeperson. One of the tasks of a committeeperson is to go door to door during the elections to help get out the vote. If you can’t knock on 15-20 doors to get your petition signed, how are you going to knock on 200+ during the election cycle?

      I was in Seattle and NYC for 8 days during the petition process due to work obligations, but I still made time to talk to my neighbors to get 25 signatures. It took maybe 3 hours max on the weekend. I see no excuse for committeepeople to forge signatures because they’re too ‘busy’ or don’t want to ‘disturb’ people that they’re forging signatures for.

      • Northeaster

        I’m not making the case to cheat, just stating the the writer is overstating the ease of getting the signatures. In some of the wards, the ward leaders even circulate the petitions on behalf of the committeepeople who support them.

  • PhillyPhever

    Go Ori!! I’m glad someone is paying attention! As someone who just submitted a petition to run for committee person, I can tell you it’s fairly clear cut and simple. (Especially if you take a few extra minutes and read up on the process you are attempting to become a part of – Thank you Committee of 70 – your materials are very helpful!) I don’t understand why people have to fake it. If you can’t get 10 of your neighbors to write down their name, address, the date, and their signature for you, you have absolutely no business being in this race.

  • Phillygirl

    PhilyPhever are you sure you are not one of the 75 being questioned?

  • Sean

    I can’t hide that I’m an Ori fan at this point

  • The door of City Commissioner Stephanie Singer’s office (Room 132 City Hall, in the SE corner of City Hall near Macy’s) is open 9-5 to anyone who wants to learn more about the democratic process in City Hall. Phone is 215-686-3460. Or check out PATransparency.org for more information.

    • Michael E. Bell

      Thanks for the continued outreach that this office performs.