When Jim Foster showed up with his 125-page petition to run for Congress against Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), state elections officials rejected his signatures on the ground that another member of his party already had a candidate.
Since Foster doesn't belong to a party, he was flabbergasted. He was filing as an "independent."
"I am the antithesis of a party," said the 69-year-old Germantown newspaper editor. "I am an independent political person, and I want to run that way.
A Commonwealth Court hearing is scheduled for Thursday on Foster's request to have his name put on the ballot. He also is asking the court to throw out the petitions of Philadelphian Robert J. Ogborn, who filed as an "Independent" candidate last Tuesday, the day before Foster.
"I was set up," Foster said.
Foster said he suspected that Democratic Party officials and the Fattah campaign were behind a scheme to keep him off the ballot.
"The Fattah machine does not want anyone with my background and perspective on the ballot," he said.
Until recently, Ogborn acknowledged, he was a registered Democrat, but he said he knew nothing of Foster's candidacy and had no idea he had bumped him off the ballot.
"I had no idea he was running," said a spokesperson for Fattah, who won the 2010 election with 89.3 percent of the vote. "I wish him all the best."
At issue is the use of independent. Foster said he had no affiliation - political or otherwise - with Ogborn, 63, of Roxborough. Foster said he filed as an independent - with an emphatically lowercase i.
Excluding Foster from the ballot was nothing personal, said Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman. "We're just following the law," he said.
The state prohibits nominees of the same party or parties with similar-sounding names to appear on general-election ballots, lest voters become confused.
He added that if Foster had chosen to run under a different party name - say, Foster for Congress - his petitions would have been accepted. Foster said no one ever told him that.
Foster said he had been in touch with the election bureau last Tuesday morning and suggested he could deliver the petitions, which contained about 4,000 signatures, that afternoon. A clerk, however, told him to wait until the next morning, according to Foster.
When he arrived and handed his petitions across the counter, the clerk told him, " 'You're too late,' " Foster said, because Ogborn already had filed.
Asked why he decided to run, Ogborn said, "I just got tired of the polarization and the gridlock."
He added that he has personal experience with the nation's jobs crisis: He is unemployed.
Ogborn said he began gathering signatures two months ago and collected 2,000 signatures in "parking lots" and "on the street. It was a formidable endeavor."
Foster alleged in a separate Commonwealth Court filing on Monday that Ogborn's petitions contained fewer valid signatures than the 1,715 required.
It was not known when Commonwealth Court might rule on Foster's motions.