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.