BOB BRADY was angry.

It was Election Day, and the congressman and Democratic boss was sitting in his 34th Ward office, in Overbrook. He just got his hands on a sample ballot being distributed by a ward leader who ignored the party's endorsements and was pushing his own ticket.

"It's a pure money ballot," said Brady, meaning that the ward leader, whom he wouldn't name, took money from candidates who didn't get the party nod but needed help. "It's a disgrace."

With record-low turnouts forecast for yesterday's primary, a few rogue ward leaders could cost the party a few judges. Brady got on the phone and ordered the City Committee troops to "flood" the ward "to send a message."

In the end, the message of Philadelphia's 2013 primary was clear: The machine is alive and well. Judicial candidates endorsed by the party went 3-for-3 in Municipal Court races, 3-for-3 in Traffic Court and at least 4-for-6 in Common Pleas Court. (At press time, two candidates were neck-and-neck for the final spot.)

Only Anne Marie Coyle, a family-law attorney and former prosecutor, defied the party's will. And it was no accident: Coyle, a third-time Common Pleas candidate, had top ballot position in the 22-person race, a huge advantage in low-profile contests in which voters often check the first box.

For advocates of abolishing Pennsylvania's judicial elections and establishing a merit-based system, the primary was case in point.

"Too often it's based on just chance, on money, on luck, on ballot position, and that's just not a way to make crucial decisions like choosing a judge," said Lynn Marks, executive director Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

That could be the reason so many of yesterday's victors have such close ties to Philly's ruling class: Traffic Court nominee Marnie Aument-Loughrey is the daughter of a ward leader; Municipal Court nominee Henry Lewandowski is a lawyer for the politically powerful electricians union, which runs a machine of its own; Traffic Court nominee Donna DeRose is the girlfriend of a ward leader; and Common Pleas nominee Dan McCaffery is the brother of a state Supreme Court justice.

Brady said the party ticket makes sure a diverse slate of candidates gets help.

"When I do a ticket - and I've been doing this for 20-something years - I take into consideration geography, gender, black, white, Hispanic, whatever," he said.

Aument-Loughrey's mother, 33rd Ward Leader Donna Aument, said the party gives preference to candidates who are active in their communities.

"These are the people who help the community," she said at a campaign event Sunday. "We try to make it as diverse as possible."

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

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