STATE REP. Tony J. Payton Jr. withdrew from the April 24 Democratic primary Thursday evening, after a two-day Commonwealth Court hearing made clear that he didn't have enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions to stay on the ballot.

Payton submitted 1,854 signatures in his bid for a fourth two-year term representing the 179th District - but a line-by-line examination of those names, with the help of a handwriting analyst, resulted in most being disqualified.

The legal challenge against Payton was filed by Doris Robinson, a Democratic committeewoman in the 23rd Ward.

Payton claimed the challenge was spurred by Robinson's ward leader, former City Councilman Dan Savage, who lost his City Hall post to Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez in 2007 and lost a bid to retake the Council seat from her last year.

Payton called the challenge payback for his refusing to support Savage over Sanchez.

Savage denied that, while calling it a "disgrace" that Payton could not follow the state election code to collect at least 300 valid signatures on his petitions, the number needed to stay on the ballot. Savage said he was supporting James Clay Jr.'s challenge to Payton in the primary.

Clay was a court officer for Common Pleas Judge Donna Woelpper until he declared his candidacy this year.

With no Republican candidate, Clay will win the 179th District seat automatically, unless a third-party candidate emerges in the November general election. The district stretches from Hunting Park east to Frankford and north into lower Northeast Philly.

Payton's term will end with the legislative session in November. He is considering his options.

"I think there's a number of possibilities," he said. "I have until the end of November to sort of figure out what the next steps are."

Payton, 31, who survived ballot challenges in 2006 and 2008, said a variety of problems brought down his petition signatures, including people who were not registered as Democrats, women who used their maiden names and people who didn't fill out the form correctly.

"I went to several churches," Payton said. "It turns out, a lot of people at church aren't registered or are registered Republican or with no affiliation."

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or brennac@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN. Read his/her blog, "PhillyClout" at www.PhillyClout.com.