The GOP’s No-Show Election

City Republicans are whiffing on a golden opportunity to attack the Democratic machine.

Philadelphia City Hall | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia City Hall | Photo by Jeff Fusco

When the Philadelphia City Paper revealed last year that Democratic elections chief Anthony Clark hadn’t bothered to vote in the last three years, the Republican Party pounced on the story.

“This is appalling, yet expected from the Democrats that run this city,” said Joe DeFelice, executive director of the Philly’s GOP, in a scathing press release. “They care so little about democracy that the main guy in charge of voting doesn’t even vote himself.”

DeFelice called on Clark to not seek reelection as City Commissioner in 2015. Clark, of course, ignored that plea. And now, a year later, the GOP isn’t running anyone against him in the general election. Meanwhile, more bad press about Clark has piled up. The Philadelphia Daily News reported this year that he barely shows up for work and failed to vote in yet another election.

This would seem to be a perfect opportunity for the GOP to remind voters that it can offer an alternative to the not-always-appealing candidates served up by the powerful Democratic machine. So why isn’t it running a candidate to unseat Clark?

Before we try to answer that question, it’s important to note that a Republican is running for one of the three City Commissioner seats in November; incumbent Al Schmidt is seeking reelection. But he isn’t really running against Clark, since Schmidt is virtually guaranteed to win because one Commissioner seat is reserved for a member of a”non-majority” party. The GOP could have run another candidate in addition to Schmidt, and given him or her the mission of targeting Clark. But it didn’t (and now it’s too late to run anything other than a write-in campaign).

DeFelice defended the city’s GOP, saying the new iteration of the party — which was molded from a years-long battle waged by insurgents who believed the old guard didn’t actually care about winning elections — is focused on fielding candidates who are, well, actually viable.

“We weren’t running a warm body just to have another name on the ballot,” he said. “That doesn’t advance our cause at all.”

There are some signs the city’s GOP is starting to promote more credible candidates.

For the first time in 25 years, a Republican in Philadelphia won an open seat in the General Assembly. And Republican mayoral candidate Melissa Murray Bailey may have been a Democrat earlier this year, but, hey, she’s inarguably better than Karen Brown, who was the GOP’s nominee four years ago. And of course there’s Schmidt himself, who in a single term of service has emerged as one of the more respected and capable public officials in City Hall.

Republican Ella Butcher did file nominating petitions to run for City Commissioner in this year’s primary election, but she later dropped out. DeFelice said Butcher “didn’t ask for our endorsement.”

DeFelice added, “Al Schmidt is a career auditor. He’s professional, and he put forth a good, young, reform-minded face of the Republican Party. Any other candidate that at least floated their name didn’t come close to the standards of Al Schmidt.”

Carla Moss, a chief deputy commissioner in the City Commissioners’ office, told us Clark was on vacation and unavailable to comment for this story (of course). Clark’s office did, however, send us this gem in lieu of a statement.

It would no doubt be a difficult to convince a serious Republican candidate to run for City Commissioner this year. At best, such a candidate might take out Schmidt, who is one of the GOP’s rising political stars. More likely, a second GOP candidate would simply be trounced, done in by the one-two punch of Schmidt’s incumbency and the Democrats’ monstrous voter-registration edge over Republicans.

But Republican mayoral nominee Bailey faces loooong odds, and she’s running anyway. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, because running for mayor offers other benefits besides, you know, actually winning. Murray Bailey, for instance, can raise her profile in TV debates and at campaign events in a way that is just not possible for candidates running for City Commissioner. But then again, the 2013 election for City Controller was about as low-radar as they get, and the fresh-faced, qualified Republican candidate Terry Tracy ran anyway. He’s now on the ballot for City Council At-Large, and he has a decent shot.

Speaking of which, seven Republicans ran for at-large seats in the primary election, though only five could advance to the general election and only two of those are actually expected to win. Couldn’t one of the Council hopefuls have mounted a fight against AWOL Commissioner Clark instead?

As it stands, the Republican Party is missing out on an opportunity to challenge an incumbent who’s come to represent everything that’s wrong with the city’s Democratic machine.