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GOP insurgents step up, but party civil war rages on

THE REPUBLICAN revolution took a few steps closer to reality in Philadelphia Tuesday.

THE REPUBLICAN revolution took a few steps closer to reality in Philadelphia Tuesday.

With 96 percent of the vote counted late Wednesday morning, the GOP primary election for mayor was a virtual tie between party insurgent John Featherman and Karen Brown, a Democrat recruited as a candidate by the Republican City Committee leaders.

Featherman was really running against the moribund party's long-time leadership. So, anything close is a victory for him and his allies in the Loyal Opposition, a group seeking to seize control of the party from the Meehan family, which has held the reins since the 1930s.

Whoever wins that race is still certain to fall in the Nov. 8 general election to Democratic Mayor Nutter.

Al Schmidt, a former Pennsylvania Republican Party official active in the effort to take control of and revitalize the local party, secured a spot Tuesday on the general election ballot for Philadelphia City Commission. That pits Schmidt in November against incumbent Commissioner Joe Duda, a Republican who has held that seat since 1995.

And David Oh, a Republican popular with the state party but only grudgingly accepted by the local GOP leadership, collected the most votes in the race for five City Council at-large nominations.

State Rep. Denny O'Brien, a former speaker of the state House and Michael Untermeyer, a former candidate for District Attorney, finished second and fifth, despite not having the local GOP endorsement.

The top five candidates in the nine-man field advance to the general election, where two at-large seats are set aside for the top vote getters who are not members of the majority political party.

State and local party officials Tuesday spoke of wanting to work together. But the civil war in the local party is likely to rage on.

City GOP chairman Vito Canuso said he wants all party members to be part of the Republican City Committee.

But he said it right after complaining about "how idiotic" the Loyal Opposition can be after Featherman tried to have Canuso's sample ballot banned by a judge in election court.

"I'm not fighting with anyone," Canuso said. "I don't have to be chairman. I just happened to be elected chairman."

Canuso was stripped of that title by the state party, which found "numerous irregularities" in that election. The state party has no power to prevent him from acting as chairman, despite that ruling.

Canuso said that the party civil war would end if Rob Gleason, the state party chairman, dropped his support for the insurgents.

"When Mr. Gleason stops sending all the money down here, then these guys will stop doing this," Canuso said.

Gleason Tuesday said that he is "open to work with everybody" and that he just wants a stronger party in the city. He said that the local leadership has resisted that.

"It's very frustrating to me," Gleason said. "It's a tough thing. But I'm determined. I'm not going to give up any time soon."