The political fight for control of Philadelphia's Republican Party almost came to blows Wednesday night after a raucous meeting of party leaders kept longtime GOP chief Michael Meehan in charge.
But 14 ward leaders who showed up at the United Republican Club in Kensington were either not admitted to the meeting or not allowed to vote for leadership of the Republican City Committee, according to Al Schmidt.
Schmidt, who has been battling Meehan for control of the city party, vowed legal action against GOP leaders if the disenfranchised ward leaders were not allowed to vote.
"All we want is an active party, not an exclusive club," Schmidt said. "It's all about representation and representation being denied."
When the voting finally took place, Schmidt got 12 votes to be chairman but lost to Vito Canuso, who received 42. There are 68 ward leaders.
The Republican City Committee is the local arm of the GOP.
While Canuso is chairman, Meehan is the widely acknowledged head of the party. Meehan had little to say as the meeting ended late Wednesday. He did say that ward leaders who were not allowed to vote were denied for legitimate reasons. As he spoke, Lamott Ebron, a 24-year-old Nicetown resident who helped expose possible fraud within the party, asked Meehan why he had not been allowed to vote as leader of the 13th Ward.
"Because we had two people claiming to be leaders in the 13th Ward," Meehan replied. Ebron had an affidavit with signatures of the committee people who elected him and said the explanation made no sense to him. Ebron had been asked to leave the meeting.
"When they got to the 13th Ward, they said that ward was not being represented," Ebron said.
Kevin Kelly, a Meehan foe who also was not allowed into the meeting, said he was disturbed that Ebron and several other African Americans were asked to leave.
"It takes courage to stand up as a Republican in North Philadelphia," Kelly said, "and then they turn around and say, 'Sorry, African Americans aren't welcome in this party.' "
Several other African American ward leaders were admitted to the meeting, however, and allowed to vote, but they would not comment. About 30 people gathered outside the club chanted "Democracy now! Democracy now!" to protest the party's decision to deny the vote to some ward leaders.
Peter Wirs, one of the first people who said he was a ward leader but was not allowed to vote, left the Republican Club shouting, "This is the end of democracy in Philadelphia!"
After the meeting, Joe Defelice, who works for state Republicans trying to oust Meehan, got into a heated argument with ward leader David Carl. It wasn't clear what they were arguing about, but Defelice began swearing at Carl, and people in the crowd held both men back.
In March, Meehan was forced to withdraw court challenges attempting to kick about 35 of his foes off the ballot, after evidence surfaced of fraudulent challengers' signatures, including one from a dead woman.