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Petitions are in, and indicted Councilman Bobby Henon won’t have a Democratic challenger

Petition day results in the largest Democratic primary field for at-large Council seats since 1983.

City Councilman Mark Squilla (left) checks in with Board of Elections administrator Joe Lynch on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, as the deadline looms for candidates to file petitions to get on the May 21 primary ballot.
City Councilman Mark Squilla (left) checks in with Board of Elections administrator Joe Lynch on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, as the deadline looms for candidates to file petitions to get on the May 21 primary ballot.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon has serious problems, but a Democratic primary challenger is not one of them.

Henon, who was indicted Jan. 30 along with six other leaders of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is the only Democrat running unopposed for a district Council seat in the May 21 primary.

Only in Philadelphia.

Henon, who has vigorously defended himself against federal charges of conspiracy, bribery, and fraud, has said since the indictment that he would seek a third term.

Deborah Young and Patty-Pat Kozlowski had said they would run against Henon in the Democratic primary but failed to deliver the 750 signatures required to run by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. Pete Smith, former head of the Tacony Civic Association, filed papers to run as a Republican against Henon.

Eight of the 10 district incumbents — all Democrats — will face challengers. Councilman Brian O’Neill, a Republican seeking an 11th term in the 10th District, has no primary opposition, but two Democrats filed to run against him.

“It’s good for democracy,” Mark Squilla, who represents Philadelphia’s 1st District, said as he dropped off his petitions Tuesday outside the Board of Elections at City Hall.

Mayor’s race heats up, already

Mayor Jim Kenney officially has two primary challengers — former City Controller Alan Butkovitz and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams. The three wasted no time squabbling on petition day.

Kenney, through a campaign spokesperson, denounced Butkovitz and Williams as “corporate shills for the multibillion-dollar beverage industry” because they oppose the biggest achievement of his first term, a soda tax that pays for pre-K and other city programs.

A Williams campaign spokesperson returned fire, saying Kenney made “nasty, misleading statements” and noted the mayor won his first term with support from Local 98, raising the indictments as a political issue.

Butkovitz hit Kenney as “bragging about his accomplishments” while showing a “blind spot about serious problems plaguing this city.” He also poked fun at the mayor for a viral video of him dancing online, claiming, “I’m a better dancer than he is.”

Billy Ciancaglini, defense attorney and former Democrat, was the lone Republican to file for mayor. The GOP-endorsed candidate, Daphne Goggins, dropped out Monday.

At-large slate stacking up

Mike Stack III, the former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor who lost a bid for reelection last year, filed to run in the crowded race for Council at-large.

Stack, a former state senator who lives in the Northeast, will be one of 34 Democrats vying for the job. That’s down from close to 60 who initially said they would run. Still, it’s the largest slate since 1983, when 57 Democrats ran. But it’s not the largest on record — 101 Democrats were on the ballot for Council at-large in 1979.

Included in that tally are the three Democratic at-large incumbents. Republicans will have up to seven candidates on the ballot for Council at-large, including the two incumbents.

Most credit the high number of candidates to the two at-large seats without an incumbent defending the seat this year and increased interest in running for political office from Congress to the local level.

Traffic Court watch

With petitions filed, challengers will have until 5 p.m. next Tuesday to file suit seeking to knock candidates off the ballot for bad paperwork. The first legal challenge was filed 42 minutes after former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary filed petitions for an at-large seat.

Attorney Kevin Greenberg challenged Singletary’s candidate affidavit, which affirms that he is eligible to hold office. The Pennsylvania Constitution bars felons from holding public office. Singletary, who served 20 months in federal prison for lying to federal investigators in a corruption probe, said his felony conviction does not bar him from holding a city office.

Two other former Traffic Court judges, Thomasine Tynes and Mike Lowry, generated petitions for Council but did not file Tuesday.

Sheriff’s Office

Three Democrats filed to challenge Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams, who is seeking a third term while being dogged by sexual harassment allegations. Williams held a low-key campaign kickoff last week but has avoided the media. No Republican filed to run.

The city’s Law Department last month agreed to pay $127,500 to a former Sheriff’s Office employee who had sued, claiming sexual harassment by Williams caused emotional damage that prompted her to quit her job. Williams, through a lawyer, said at the time that he had been “prepared to fight this more aggressively.”

Another employee’s sexual harassment suit against Williams is still pending. The Democratic caucus in the Pennsylvania House in 2011 settled a sexual harassment suit for $30,000 against Williams, who represented the 197th District in North Philadelphia before becoming sheriff.

City commissioners

There was also a rush of candidates seeking a soon-to-be vacant seat on the Board of City Commissioners, the three-member body that oversees elections in Philadelphia. Democrat Lisa Deeley and Republican Al Schmidt are the incumbents. Twelve other Democrats filed to run for commissioner.

Commissioner Anthony Clark, a Democrat, is not seeking a fourth term. Clark has long faced criticism for a certain lack of attendance at his City Hall office and for not voting in elections.