Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Why it matters that the Delco Dems aren't endorsing anyone in Pa.'s Fifth Congressional District

Could the failure of Delaware County Democrats to unite and endorse a single candidate in the Fifth District U.S. House primary help Philadelphian Rich Lazer?

David Landau, leader of Delaware County’s Democratic Party, said he is disappointed that the committee isn’t endorsing anyone in Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional District race.
David Landau, leader of Delaware County’s Democratic Party, said he is disappointed that the committee isn’t endorsing anyone in Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional District race.Read morePHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID LANDAU

David Landau isn't sugarcoating what happened Sunday night.

The leader of the Delaware County Democrats said he is disappointed that his party didn't summon enough votes to endorse a candidate in Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District race.

While he called it "incredibly exciting" that two progressive women received the most support, he said, "It's our job to nominate the strongest person" to run against the Republican nominee in the fall.

"I wish we could have reached an endorsement. You don't want the nomination to be determined by ballot position."

There may be another reason he is unhappy: He wants a Delaware County resident to win the election, and the absence of a party endorsement could make that less likely, say some political observers.

More than 500 Democratic committee people gathered Sunday night at Upper Darby High School to weigh in on the 14 Democrats who were running in the May 15 primary. After four rounds of voting over several hours, no clear victor emerged.

In the final round, Ballard Spahr attorney Mary Gay Scanlon received 218 votes and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Lunkenheimer captured 155. That was not enough to get the party's stamp of approval, however: Candidates need 55 percent to win the endorsement.

After enduring a congressional map for years that fragmented Delaware County's base, many Democrats were thrilled when the state Supreme Court imposed new boundaries in February — and thought it could help put one of their own in Congress. Almost 80 percent of Pennsylvania's new Fifth District is based in Delaware County, with the rest split between Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

But the goal of placing a Delco Dem in the district has been complicated by a handful of Philly residents' campaigning for the seat, including Richard Lazer, a former aide to Mayor Kenney with close ties to the city's politically powerful building trades.

Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based political consultant, said the nonendorsement is good news for Lazer.

"The path to victory for Rich is aided by it being an open primary, because there's not one candidate that the Delaware County Democrats are coalescing around," he said. "It makes it more challenging to say that this has to be a Delaware County seat if Delaware County couldn't reach an agreement on who it had to be."

Landau rejected that argument, pointing out that about "75 percent of voters" in the final round supported either Scanlon or Lunkenheimer, both county residents.

Lazer, meanwhile, did not obtain enough support at Sunday's endorsement meeting to make it past the first round of voting. The Lazer campaign declined to comment.

Other candidates' fans disagreed that Lazer would solely benefit from the party's nonendorsement.

"Democrats — Delco, Philly, Montco Democrats — have 36 more days to coalesce behind a leader and behind the right candidate, and to pick the right person, whoever it is," said Larry Holmes, a Haverford Township commissioner supporting South Philly bioengineer Molly Sheehan.

There was at least one clear winner this weekend: the Democrats who didn't want the party to endorse anyone.

"I'm quite happy," said teacher Larry Arata, another Democrat campaigning for the seat. He argued that "people are tired of back-room deals" and "special-interest endorsements."

The herd of Democrats in the Fifth District thinned somewhat in the wake of Sunday's meeting: Shelly Chauncey, a former CIA officer, announced that she was dropping out of the race "in the interest of party unity." She is backing Lunkenheimer.

George Badey, a lawyer, also filed a petition in court to end his candidacy. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.