Citing multiple irregularities in this week's election of party leaders, a couple of dissident Philadelphia Republicans want the Republican State Committee to void Vito Canuso's re-election as city GOP chairman.
Kevin J. Kelly, a newly elected State Committee member and outspoken critic of the local Republican organization, and his attorney, Matthew Wolfe, the Republican leader of University City's 27th Ward, filed a formal petition yesterday contending that Canuso violated state election laws and the party's own bylaws when ward leaders convened Wednesday night to elect a citywide leadership slate.
If all the legal issues had been properly handled, the petition contended, most of the ward leaders in Canuso's camp would have been disqualified and the chairman's election would have swung to Al Schmidt, a leader of the local insurgents battling the party's leadership.
A spokesman for the state Republican Party said the state chairman, Rob Gleason, would likely appoint a committee to explore the situation and recommend further action. Then Gleason - himself a major critic of Philadelphia's Republican organization - will decide what to do, spokesman Michael Barley said.
Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, Canuso defended his handling of the issues cited by Kelly and Wolfe and dismissed their 168-page petition as "a waste of a lot of paper."
"They've been finding ways of wasting a lot of people's time," Canuso said.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties elected new committee people in the May 18 primary, choosing up to two in each of the city's 1,684 voting divisions. The committee people are regarded as foot soldiers, involved in manning the polls on Election Day, distributing sample ballots and helping voters get to the polls.
With support and money from Gleason's state organization, Schmidt led a local effort to recruit hundreds of new committeemen for vacant Republican spots, many of them in minority neighborhoods where the party has been inactive.
Some of the recruits got the 10 Republican signatures necessary to get onto the primary-election ballot, but others just ran write-in campaigns on Election Day.
While state law says write-in candidates need only a simple plurality of votes cast for any office, the Republican City Committee adopted bylaws in early March to require write-in candidates to get at least 10 votes to become a committee member.
That move put a cloud over more than 100 elected committee people who were supposed to meet last Monday to elect ward leaders throughout the city. The problem was compounded when some wards failed to schedule meetings to elect new leadership, or failed to notify all elected committee people of where the meetings would be held.
On Wednesday, all the newly elected ward leaders were invited to the United Republican Club in Kensington to elect citywide leaders.
By the party's official count, 44 ward leaders supported Canuso for party chairman and only 12 supported Schmidt.
But Kelly and Wolfe contested the participation of 24 ward leaders elected at meetings from which some elected committee people had been excluded, they said. Another individual was allowed to vote as leader of the 19th Ward, even though the ward had not elected a single committeeman, according to their petition.
Canuso rejected the contests without a hearing, allowing all 25 of the ward leaders to vote. He said yesterday that Kelly and Wolfe did not have standing to question what happened outside their individual wards.
Nine Schmidt supporters who showed up at the Wednesday- night meeting representing additional wards were not allowed to vote because of alleged flaws in their ward elections, Kelly and Wolfe said in their petition.