It looks like U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, got his mojo back.
After poor showings by the party-backed candidates in the 2005 and 2007 judicial elections, the committee's picks have now dominated in consecutive elections.
Nine of the committee's 12 judicial selections for Common Pleas Court, Municipal Court and Traffic Court were poised to be nominated Tuesday night.
Seven of the party's endorsed candidates for 10 Common Pleas Court openings were running in the top 10. The judges serve 10-year terms with a $164,602 salary.
Party-backed candidate Christine Solomon had a large lead over 11 other candidates for one seat on Traffic Court, whose judges serve six-year terms and earn a $86,496 salary.
In the nine-way Municipal Court race, endorsed candidate Marvin Williams was ahead. Municipal Court judges serve six-year terms and are paid $160,793.
"We try to make the endorsement mean something," Brady said. "But you have some operatives out there that grab the unendorsed candidates for a ton of money. Judicial races always happen that way."
In 2005, four of eight endorsed candidates were elected to Common Pleas and Municipal Court. In 2007, only one of four endorsed candidates won. But in 2009, the party favorites took eight of 11 openings.
Renegade ward leaders can undermine Brady by accepting money from unendorsed judicial candidates to print their names on sample ballots, instead of falling in line with the committee's choices.
Ask endorsed Common Pleas candidate Carolyn Nichols, the former head of the Minority Business Enterprise Council. Democrats in some wards were distributing sample ballots without her name on them Tuesday.
"They weren't carrying the official ballots," said Nichols, who was positioned to be nominated by a slim margin Tuesday night. "Some wards had all-white ballots, no people of color. It's unbelievable."
The process is messy and expensive in Philadelphia. Candidates must cough up large sums of money to the Democratic City Committee and/or ward leaders to break through crowded fields of virtually unknown candidates.
And ballot position, which can make or break a judicial campaign, is decided by a bingo ball in a Horn & Hardart coffee can. The first five candidates on the ballot were nominated Tuesday; no one in the bottom third of the ballot was.
"Some of it is like a roulette wheel," said Shira Goodman, deputy director of the nonpartisan Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.