A local lawyer accused Philadelphia city commissioners Wednesday of taking sides in the continuing feud over leadership of the city's Republican Party.
Matthew Wolfe, a ward leader who is part of a group trying to end Michael Meehan's control of the Republican City Committee, called a recent commissioners' decision over notifying election winners "a flagrant violation of the election law."
He and others who attended Wednesday's meeting of the bipartisan commissioners said they thought the decision could make it easier for fraud to occur.
This aspect of the ongoing controversy started three weeks ago when the commissioners, who oversee city elections, decided to let the Republican City Committee notify winners of party elections.
Previously, the commissioners notified winners. They changed their policy because the GOP City Committee recently changed its bylaws so that write-in candidates needed 10 votes instead of one to win election.
City Committee Chairman Vito Canuso said the change put write-in candidates for committee jobs on a level playing field with other candidates, who must collect 10 signatures to get on the ballot.
The commissioners, led by Marge Tartaglione, will still count the votes and send a list of winners to the GOP City Committee. The list will be available to both sides in the GOP feud so that they can try to make sure winners are notified.
But the commissioners said they agreed to let the Republican City Committee notify winners to avoid confusion over who met the 10-vote requirement.
Commissioners officials said they were worried that if they notified winners, people with fewer than 10 votes might show up for the June 7 meeting to elect ward leaders and not be admitted by the Republican City Committee.
"Party rules are separate and apart from the election code," Deputy City Commissioner Fred Voigt said.
Marge Tartaglione, a Democratic ward leader, said the commissioners would have made the same decision if the Democrats had been involved.
"Their bylaws have nothing to do with our office," Tartaglione said. "The bylaws of any party could be changed."
That argument didn't fly with Wolfe and Al Schmidt, who has been leading the effort to unseat Canuso and Meehan, widely recognized as leader of the Republican City Committee.
Wolfe said the law requires Commissioners to certify and notify winners, and he said he might file suit if they don't. Schmidt said he had "absolutely no confidence that the City Committee will notify every elected committee person."
Canuso said the opposition simply wants "to keep hollering fire in the movie theater."
Committee people vote for ward leaders, who in turn vote for the leadership of the GOP City Committee, which oversees party operations in the city.
In March, Wolfe found evidence of fraud in the elections for Republican committee people, including a challenge to a candidate that was signed by a dead woman. Meehan was forced to withdraw that challenge and others.
Schmidt and other state Republicans have been working to oust Meehan, claiming he is more interested in hanging on to the party's patronage jobs than in challenging Democrats. Meehan has said it is too difficult to make headway in Philadelphia, where Democrats have a 6-1 lead among voters.