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Democratic ward leaders pick State Rep. O’Brien’s chief of staff to succeed him

Some 175th District committee people said they feel they were shut out of the selection of State Rep. O'Brien's replacement.

Rep. Michael O'Brien (left) with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., (center) and Frank Iannuzzi at Famous 4th Street Deli on Election Day last November. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Rep. Michael O'Brien (left) with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., (center) and Frank Iannuzzi at Famous 4th Street Deli on Election Day last November. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff PhotographerRead moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Despite pushback from Democratic committee people, Mary Isaacson, the chief of staff to Democratic State Rep. Michael O'Brien, on Monday was chosen to replace him on the November ballot, after he reportedly quit the 175th District race last week.

Four of the district's five Democratic ward leaders — Michael Boyle, the Fifth Ward leader who had nominated Isaacson; Theresa Alicea, 18th Ward; Peg Rzepski, 31st; and Thomas Johnson, 25th — voted for Isaacson, said Second Ward Leader Nikil Saval.

O'Brien filed paperwork to have his name withdrawn from the ballot Wednesday, citing health issues, according to City and State Pa., and several of the district's Democratic committee people criticized the swiftness of the process.

They urged the ward leaders to postpone the meeting a week and allow more candidates to be considered, said Jon Geeting, committee person in the 18th Ward, and Neil Makhija, a Fifth Ward committee person.

Isaacson told "Philly Clout" last week that the meeting was set for Monday because ward leaders have only three weeks to select a new candidate, give the name to the city's Democratic Party, and then seek approval from the state's party and submit the name to the Department of State.

Isaacson said Monday that the ward leaders followed the Democratic City Committee rules for selecting a successor. "I'm not a ward leader," she said. "I didn't have a say."

Saval said he and Alicea voted in favor of postponing the meeting, adding that he "objected to the process on all grounds" because it was "unaccountable" and "unclear."

Rumors of an Isaacson-O'Brien deal had circulated since the May primary election and resurfaced last week.

Boyle, O'Brien, Alicea, and Johnson could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Rzepski said Monday that the leaders followed proper procedure and that she knows she made the right decision by voting for Isaacson. "I think she's qualified. She knows her way around upstate," she said.

Geeting, who attended Monday's meeting, said committee people "were shut out of the process." Makhija, who also attended the meeting, said the process should have been open to the district and has implications for the city and state Democratic Parties.

"It is imperative for the Democratic Party to be proactive and inclusive to engage the community… if we ever want to get back to a majority in the Statehouse or set the direction of the country," Makhija said.

Isaacson said that she is excited to start the campaign. She said she is passionate about redistricting, campaign-finance reform, and education funding.