IT'S BALLOT-CHALLENGE season in Philadelphia, when spring is in the air and candidates launch quasi-anonymous pre-emptive strikes at each other.

Why take a chance trying to beat your opponent fair and square when one of your cronies can get him or her kicked off the ballot two months before Election Day?

This time-honored political tradition was on display in City Hall yesterday leading up to the 5 p.m. deadline for challenging candidates' nomination petitions, residency or other issues that could render them ineligible to appear on the ballot.

Twelve candidates will face challenges, including mayoral candidate T. Milton Street, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Candidates typically don't challenge their opponents' petitions directly. Rather, they rely on a friendly registered voter - wink, wink, nudge, nudge - and a willing lawyer to file the necessary paperwork.

Tim Dowling, election finance and document specialist at the City Commissioners' Office, is not thrilled with this long-running practice.

"If I was a candidate running for office and I wanted to get someone knocked off the ballot, I'd put my name on it," Dowling opined as the challenges were rolling in yesterday. "But that's just me."

In fact, the only candidate with the cojones to directly challenge an opponent was 3rd District Council candidate Tony Dphax King, who challenged Blackwell's petition, claiming it had several defects including invalid notary stamps.

"I'm a hands-on candidate. I'm not too important to run my own errands or deliver my own papers," King said via Facebook message last night, followed by a thumbs-up and a smiley-face emoji.

Joseph Coccio Jr., secretary-treasurer of Transit Workers Local 234, is challenging Street's candidacy, claiming that he doesn't live in Philadelphia and was not a registered Democrat when he filed to run for mayor last week. Local 234 is backing state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams in the mayor's race.

"This is an individual who is interested in seeing a serious debate between serious candidates," said Coccio's attorney, Kevin Greenberg. "He thinks that debate will be furthered if Milton Street is not in the race."

Last week Street claimed that Williams had submitted at least 6,000 fraudulent signatures and should be kicked off the ballot, yet Street did not file a challenge yesterday.

The other candidates facing petition challenges are: at-large Council candidates Billy Ivery, Lillian Ford and Karen Gordon; 9th District Council candidates S. Archye Leacock and Sabriya Bilal; 8th District Council candidate Greg Paulmier; Larry King, candidate for sheriff; and Dennis Lee, candidate for city commissioner.

On Twitter: @wbender99