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Did Delco Rep. Greg Vitali pull a bait-and-switch on Democrats? | Clout

After dropping his bid for Congress, State Rep. Greg Vitali jumped back into the race - after it was too late for anyone to challenge his seat in the legislature.

After dropping his bid for Congress, State Rep. Greg Vitali jumped back into the race — after it was too late for another Democrat to challenge his seat in the legislature.
After dropping his bid for Congress, State Rep. Greg Vitali jumped back into the race — after it was too late for another Democrat to challenge his seat in the legislature.Read moreAP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER

On a Monday, Delaware County State Rep. Greg Vitali had a decades-long friend. The next day, their relationship was in tatters.

That's when Vitali's pal figured he'd been double-crossed in a Machiavellian plot. We'll take you through this one slowly.

Back in January, Vitali launched a bid for Congress representing the Philadelphia suburbs. The Democrat said he wouldn't campaign for state representative at the same time.

Three candidates reportedly made plans to run in the Democratic primary for Vitali's soon-to-be vacated state House seat, including his longtime friend, public school teacher Larry Arata. They joined two other Democrats, Jennifer Leith and Larry Holmes, who had been thinking about challenging Vitali from the beginning.

But then Vitali reversed course. In February, he announced that he was dropping his campaign for Congress and running for reelection to the state House instead. All of the Democrats looking to succeed him abandoned their plans to campaign for the solidly liberal 166th District. They wanted to unify as a party, they said, and focus on turning Republican seats blue.

Today, some of them regret that decision. That's because on March 6 — the deadline for candidates to file paperwork to challenge Vitali in the state legislature — Vitali leaped back into the race for Congress, in Pennsylvania's new Fifth District. Contrary to what he'd originally said, he's now running for the state House, too.

Arata, who worked for Vitali's first state campaign in 1992, said the move is going to ruin Vitali's reputation "as a straight-talking, different kind of politician with integrity." It also pits the two former friends against each other: After Vitali deserted his campaign for the U.S. House, Arata announced a run for the Fifth Congressional District.

Leith, a nonprofit executive, said Vitali's last-minute switch "is Exhibit A of what causes people to get frustrated and say, 'Forget it, I'm not going to be part of the political system.'"

Holmes, a Haverford Township commissioner, said he feels "outmaneuvered."

Vitali said it was never his intention to run for both seats: "I simply changed my mind."

Vitali said he has proof of that: He booked plane tickets to Florida on March 6, which he shared with Clout. But in the wee hours of the morning before his trip, he said, he had a realization: "I can't get on that flight, because if I get on that flight, my hope of becoming a U.S. congressman is gone." Instead, he stayed home to prepare his petition for candidacy.

Vitali said he is running for Congress because it needs a pro-environment voice: "My entire life has been about environmental protection," he said. "With Donald Trump in office and all the things he's done to degrade the environment … there needs to be people in Washington who will prioritize the environment."

As for his ex-friend, Vitali said, "I understand why Larry is upset. I'd be upset, too." But he said it's Arata, not him, who is scheming: "This is a strategic political maneuver on his part. He's trying to knock me out of the race."

Montco Democrats snub Joe Hoeffel

It's hard to find anyone who's been around Montgomery County politics longer than Joe Hoeffel.

A former three-term congressman, he's also served stints in the state House and on the county board of commissioners.

This past weekend, Hoeffel announced he wants back in the game. The Democrat is running for the new Fourth Congressional District seat. Political insiders speculated that he would easily become a leading candidate.

But if Hoeffel is betting that voters will embrace a familiar name, party officials sent another message Tuesday when the Montgomery County Democratic Committee gathered to endorse a candidate in the four-person primary. In brief: He was torched.

Out of more than 400 votes cast on the first ballot, Hoeffel won less than 3 percent, three sources told Clout. State Reps. Madeleine Dean and Mary Jo Daley were the top vote-getters, splitting about 74 percent; Shira Goodman, former executive director of the gun-control group CeaseFire PA, took home the rest of the vote.

(Neither Dean nor Daley reached the 60 percent threshold on the second ballot needed to win the county party's endorsement in the May 15 primary.)

So why did so many Montco Democrats spurn their former congressman? Do party leaders think it's time for a woman? Or that Hoeffel is too old-school, as they argued in 2010?

Hoeffel said committee members had simply pledged to support other candidates by the time he jumped into the race: "They stayed with their commitment, which they should."

Hoeffel said he decided to run after commissioning a poll this month showing he leads the Democratic field with 25 percent of the vote. Dean had 17 percent, followed by Daley and Goodman in the single digits. A plurality of 44 percent was undecided, according to a memo on the poll of 429 likely voters prepared by research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Hoeffel declined to share the full poll, but said "at least older voters" recognize his name and "understand the value of experience."

Nina Ahmad: Mike Stack is lying to voters about living at mom’s house

An unusual question has moved to the forefront of Pennsylvania's race for lieutenant governor: Does incumbent Mike Stack live with his ma?

In official paperwork he filed to get on the ballot, the Democrat listed his mom's longtime home in Northeast Philly as his primary residence. But that's not true, according to one of the candidates trying to unseat Stack.

Democrat Nina Ahmad, a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia, funded a legal challenge this week to remove Stack from the ballot. The suit, which notes that Stack sold his house in Northeast Philly and stays in the Harrisburg-area lieutenant governor's mansion, claims that he falsified his candidate affidavit.

"Mike Stack has charged the commonwealth thousands of dollars for hotel rooms during his stays in Philadelphia despite, according to his own nominating petitions, living with his wife at his mother's house," Ahmad said.

Marty Marks, a spokesman for Stack, took a similar shot: "This is a nuisance challenge. It won't go anywhere. It's an example of how Ahmad will use taxpayer dollars in wasteful ways for her own gain."

Marks said state law allows government workers to maintain a legal residence in the city "from which they came and intend to return." There's no doubt Stack hails from Philadelphia, at least: He is a member of one of the city's political dynasties, and represented Northeast Philly in the state Senate for 14 years.

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this column.