Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Parking Authority entwined with GOP machine

When Walter F. Vogler Jr., a deputy director at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, sought signatures for his petition to run for the Republican State Committee, he didn't have to look far.

This property at 53d and Market Streets is listed on a ballot petition as the address of Richard L. Nutter, who was in jail at the time he supposedly signed. Also, Edward McPherson (inset) is a GOP City Committee candidate. He says he never agreed to run. (Miriam Hill / Staff)
This property at 53d and Market Streets is listed on a ballot petition as the address of Richard L. Nutter, who was in jail at the time he supposedly signed. Also, Edward McPherson (inset) is a GOP City Committee candidate. He says he never agreed to run. (Miriam Hill / Staff)Read more

When Walter F. Vogler Jr., a deputy director at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, sought signatures for his petition to run for the Republican State Committee, he didn't have to look far.

He signed it himself, and the next 33 people to sign were fellow employees of the PPA.

Of those signers, 21 were also candidates in Tuesday's primary, seeking seats on the Republican City Committee, the lowest-level party offices.

PPA employee Jeanine DiGiannantonio has also been helping out with that election. She notarized a form attesting that Edward McPherson, a candidate for committeeman, had appeared before her to proclaim his candidacy. Trouble is, McPherson says he never stood before DiGiannantonio. The notary conceded she should have kept a record, but did not.

"I don't even use a logbook," DiGiannantonio said, referring to the journal that notaries are required to keep as a check against fraud.

Her work practices aside, these candidacies help show how the Parking Authority, the main Republican patronage stronghold in the city, has become enmeshed in the fight for control of the party in Philadelphia.

The PPA is a redoubt for longtime city party leader Michael Meehan, who has been fighting hard to stave off an attack from Republicans associated with Pennsylvania GOP leader Rob Gleason.

Meehan's foes say he has been an inept leader, satisfied with his patronage hold at the Parking Authority and other lesser fiefdoms, plums he gets in return for not challenging the Democrats.

Meehan counters that the Democrats' 6-1 registration advantage makes Republican organizing in the city a mostly pointless enterprise. He did not return a call seeking comment for this article.

Interviews and an examination of public records show that the Parking Authority is humming away on Meehan's behalf. Its workforce is providing the signatures, notaries, and in some cases even the candidates.

In the race to support hundreds of committee candidates, Meehan's forces have been marred by allegations of fraud. His foes documented multiple examples of forged signatures, including one from a dead woman, during legal challenges by Meehan aimed at keeping his challengers off the ballot. The District Attorney's Office is investigating those allegations.

The committee races are the front lines in Meehan's effort to maintain control. Committee people elect ward leaders, who, in turn, elect the leadership of the Republican City Committee.

This month, The Inquirer reported on committee candidate Joan Chapman, who seemed to be a fictional creation and whose petition was filled with forgeries.

Last week, The Inquirer found more evidence of forged signatures, and some of them, including one from a man in jail, allegedly were collected by Bruce M. Harris, a Meehan ally.

Harris is a vice chairman of the Republican City Committee and a ward leader. He is running for an at-large position on the Republican State Committee.

Harris is important to the Meehan operation on many levels. In a recent article in the Philadelphia Tribune, Harris described himself as "one of Mike's boys," referring to party leader Meehan.

Besides day-to-day party obligations, he helps recruit and guide committee candidates and notarizes candidacy petitions.

Those can be difficult tasks. The Philadelphia GOP says it has a hard time filling seats - two-thirds of the roughly 3,300 positions are vacant.

In many Philadelphia neighborhoods, Republicans are scarce, making it hard to gather even the minimum 10 signatures to get on the ballot.

For example, the Third Division of the 44th Ward in West Philadelphia has only 21 registered Republicans, according to voter records. One of them, James Smith, is seeking election Tuesday as a committeeman.

There is something puzzling about his candidacy petition. One signer, Richard L. Nutter, has been in jail on drug-dealing charges in Philadelphia since August. The form is dated Feb. 19.

Smith, 76, said Harris had collected the signatures for him.

"Don't ask me no more questions," Smith said. "I don't like what you're doing. Go talk to my representative." Asked if that was Harris, Smith said: "Yes."

Two other people whose names appear on Smith's petition, Vincent King and Glenn Cuff, said they hadn't signed it.

"I can't believe this," King said upon seeing his name.

But Troy Barley said he had signed Smith's petition.

Harris, who notarized the petition, mostly refused to answer questions during a brief interview at his home.

As a notary, he is required to show his log to anyone who asks. He did not respond to a request from The Inquirer to look at the log.

He did say Smith "isn't telling the truth," but declined to respond to questions in any detail.

"It's none of The Inquirer's business," he said.

Suspect petitions

There is something odd about another petition in the 44th Ward, for a committee candidate named Rodney Johnson. All the signatures on the Johnson petition were also on Smith's.

A man who answered the door at the address given as Johnson's said Johnson did not live there, and Johnson could not be found.

Harris also notarized forms for a pair of candidates in the 13th Ward in North Philadelphia. His notary stamp is on a petition for Sharif Blue, a hospital worker, and one for Jeffrey Jones, a Parking Authority officer and ward leader.

Their petitions have five of the same names, but some of those five people most likely did not sign.

Emma Owens' name appears on both petitions, but her sister, Roxanne Carson, said Owens had told her she did not sign. Carson said Owens, her housemate, was sick and did not want to talk.

Deana Hill, whose name appears on both petitions, does not live at the listed Rowan Street address, according to Jean DeLillo, who does.

Jones and Blue did not return calls seeking comment.

Notaries are required to verify only the identity of the candidate, not the signatures on the petitions.

Candidate Harris

Harris doesn't work for the Parking Authority, but in early March, Vogler gathered dozens of signatures from PPA employees for Harris' candidacy for the Republican State Committee.

The Inquirer could not determine where the PPA signatures had been gathered. Vogler did not return a call seeking comment.

Most of those employees also signed petitions for three other state committee candidates.

Of those candidates, one is a PPA consultant and another is a PPA worker.

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president of the Committee of Seventy election watchdog group, said Parking Authority employees may sign such petitions but not while on the job.

Even if PPA workers sign outside the workplace, their signatures pose a worry, Kaplan said.

"One of our concerns is how much pressure are employees going to feel when asked to sign a petition," she said.

Marty O'Rourke, a spokesman for the PPA, said Kaplan's concerns were misplaced.

He said it was perfectly legal for authority workers to sign candidacy petitions. Moreover, he said, it appeared that only a small number of the PPA's workforce of more than 1,000 had signed.

Al Schmidt, a former Republican candidate for city controller and a leader in the anti-Meehan effort, said he found it troubling, but hardly surprising, that the PPA appeared to be a tool for Meehan.

"I'm not shocked to find gambling in the casino," Schmidt said Friday. "The PPA is long overdue for an audit."

He called the repeated problems in the documents of Meehan allies "pathetic and desperate."

"Apparently, these guys would stop at nothing to prevent us from building the party," said Schmidt, who is running for city and state committee positions.

McPherson's surprise

As for Edward McPherson, he remains a study in confusion.

He insists that he never appeared before a notary to vouch for his candidacy to become a Republican committeeman. In fact, he said he had never agreed to run for the office.

McPherson, a laborer, did say he had agreed to collect signatures for a committee candidate. He said he could not remember the name, but recalled that he had agreed to canvass for signatures at the behest of Ron Wooden, a Republican ward leader and Parking Authority employee.

McPherson said he hoped helping Wooden might win him a city job.

When a reporter showed him the ballot bearing his name as a candidate for the Republican City Committee in the 11th Division of the 11th Ward in North Philadelphia, McPherson appeared stunned.

"I don't know why my name would be on there," he said, "because I don't know anything about it."