Who’s Behind Phone Survey Critical of Seth Williams?

A recent telephone poll is focusing on the District Attorney and a former challenger, Michael Untermeyer.

The other day I answered a phone call and found myself taking a 15-minute survey about District Attorney Seth Williams and a former and possible future challenger, Michael Untermeyer.

I was trying not to provide strong opinions (which as a reporter I of course don’t have to begin with), but I wanted to hear the questions, so I used the words “uncertain” and “somewhat” a lot. It was a pretty eye-opening survey, even as someone who’s followed the recent news about Williams fairly closely. 

Williams accepted but failed to report free vacations that he valued at $1,000 apiece but that may have been worth a lot more, the pollster told me. He also failed to report $45,000 worth of free home repair. “Incredibly,” she said, he didn’t fire three former state prosecutors who’d sent or received pornographic emails on government accounts, emails revealed by former Attorney General Kathleen Kane. He used campaign funds for a gym membership, and he’s under investigation by the FBI. The pollster wanted to know: How compelling would I find this information in the context of a political campaign?

Her questions about Untermeyer were less sensational. He’s switched parties a couple times — is that bad? What would I think if he led the charge to increase penalties on crimes involving handguns? Stuff like that.

Of course, that may have been the point. It felt sort of like a push poll intended to turn respondents off to Williams. I haven’t been able to find out who paid for the poll, but Mustafa Rashed, a PR consultant who’s working with Williams, said the D.A.’s campaign hasn’t put out any polls yet.

Untermeyer didn’t respond to several calls or messages. But a few weeks ago, someone updated the profile picture on the Michael Untermeyer for Philadelphia District Attorney Facebook page, which had been dormant since 2009, when Untermeyer last ran for D.A. as a Republican.

A recent (unscientific) PoliticsPA reader poll found that 71 percent of readers disapproved of Williams’s job performance. A separate poll question asked readers who they thought would be the likely Democratic nominee for D.A. in next year’s election. Williams came in third behind former managing director Rich Negrin and U.S. Attorney Joe Khan. Untermeyer, a lawyer and developer who was raised in New York City, came in near the bottom, with just 2 percent of readers believing he could get the Democratic nomination.

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