REPUBLICAN insurgents have called for an election Wednesday night to select a new Philadelphia party chairman -- whether the old chairman likes it or not.

The vote at St. Michael the Archangel Church, near 4th Street and Fairmount Avenue, comes after years of fighting between the old-guard GOP and a gang of dissidents known as "the loyal opposition" that would like the party to be more competitive.

At issue is whether current Republican City Committee Chairman Vito Canuso holds his position legitimately. The opposition says Canuso doesn't because the state party stopped recognizing his leadership due to what they called "numerous irregularities" in his 2010 re-election.

"It's time to get something done here. There's no chairman," said Matt Wolfe, a ward leader and part of the insurgent group, which now calls itself "the Republican Party of Philadelphia." "It leaves us rudderless."

But Canuso said Wolfe and company have no authority.

"I have never been anything but chairman for the last 15 years," Canuso said. "You're dealing with people who don't do things in a proper and orderly fashion."

Michael Meehan, who oversees the city GOP as general counsel and whose family has ruled the party since the 1930s, did not return a call for comment.

Wednesday night's election could kick off a battle over who has true authority over the local party, which is small in a majority-Democratic town but still has power in some elections and controls some patronage jobs. Wolfe said he expects that the issue ultimately will be resolved by the state GOP or by the courts. But in the meantime, two organizations could be jockeying for position.

Wolfe said the voting would be conducted under city GOP rules. He said 32 ward leaders are authorized to vote at City Committee meetings. To have an official quorum, Wolfe said, he'd need 16 of those ward leaders to attend, which he thought was doable. Rick Hellberg, a committeeman from Roxborough, is the likely choice, according to organizers, although it will be an open vote.

Former Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz said it was hard to predict the outcome, although he said the infighting could strengthen the city's minority party.

"I think the competition in the Republican Party has not been unhealthy," Katz said. n

Contact Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4172, or follow @phillyclout on Twitter. Read her blog "PhillyClout" at