The city's Republican organization re-elected most of its current leadership last night, but with levels of controversy and opposition not seen over the last 50 years.

About a dozen of the Republican ward leaders elected Monday night were barred from attending the reorganization meeting at the United Republican Club in Kensington, or were kicked out of the meeting after it began, with no substantive explanations.

Meanwhile, about 30 protesters stood outside in the rain, many of them holding signs that attacked the current party hierarchy, led by general counsel Michael P. Meehan.

Toward the end of a 90- minute meeting, party chairman Vito Canuso was re-elected by a 44-12 vote over Al Schmidt, the leader of a dissident faction critical of Meehan and backed by the state Republican organization.

Schmidt and other allies recruited hundreds of new Republican committeemen for last month's primary election, many of them in areas of North and West Philadelphia where the GOP presence has been declining for decades.

Many of the new recruits were elected as ward leaders Monday night, but the results were rejected by the party leadership, for reasons left unclear.

Schmidt said the vote for party chairman would have been much closer, about 42 to 28, if all the elected ward leaders had been permitted to vote.

"I don't know the last time we've seen anything like this in Philadelphia," Schmidt said. "I don't know the last time we had a vote for chairman that was anything but unanimous. . . . Obviously, we didn't have the numbers we needed to elect me chairman, but this is all about the process, about giving this party a shot in the arm and getting it off its ass."

Meehan, a lawyer whose family has dominated the city Republican organization for the last 75 years, gave the vote count to reporters but declined comment as he ducked into a white SUV and drove away.

The only change in the slate of citywide GOP leadership was the dumping of the party's assistant secretary, Matthew Wolfe, a University City ward leader who has been openly critical of Meehan's leadership and recent changes in party bylaws, to reduce the clout of party insurgents.

Wolfe was replaced by the 45th ward leader from Bridesburg, Kevin Pasquay.

The newly elected ward leaders blocked from participating in last night's meeting were all allied with Schmidt's organizing efforts.

They included Kevin Kelly, founder of a group known as The Loyal Opposition that wants the party to field stronger candidates and assert itself more forcefully on local issues.

"They don't want to grow the party, they want to keep the party small so they can control it," Kelly said.


This story erred in describing a minor change in the party leadership. Kevin Pasquay has replaced Matthew Wolfe as the party's assistant secretary.