Democrat Stephanie Singer toppled party stalwart and ward leader Marge Tartaglione last year with a promise to bring professionalism and proficiency to the City Commissioners' Office and the Board of Elections it supervises.
So what was Singer doing sending out a "Vote for Obama" blast e-mail from her campaign account?
Singer said Thursday she felt so strongly about the forthcoming election that she wanted to share her opinion.
Legally, nothing prevents her from doing that. There is no conflict, she said, because elections in Philadelphia have bipartisan oversight. At polling places, Republicans and Democrats are present to watch what happens, and the City Commissioners' Office itself has representatives of both parties.
"I care deeply about this country," she said. "I really thought about this a lot. I'm not out stumping for Obama on a regular basis, which any other official at my level might be doing. It's a balance that must be struck in this office because on the one hand, the job is to oversee free and fair elections, and on the other hand, it is political office, and I have gone very light on partisan activity."
But her decision was hard to understand for those who saw in Singer an opportunity to transcend the old-style Democratic machine politics practiced unapologetically by Tartaglione, the longtime commissioners' chairwoman.
"It seems inappropriate for the person who runs elections in Philadelphia to have such a partisan message so close to the election," said Zack Stalberg, who runs the election watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
When Singer took office in January, she stepped down from her job as ward leader to reduce her role in politics, as did her Republican counterpart in the Commissioners' Office, Al Schmidt. Anthony Clark, the other Democratic commissioner, continues to work as a ward leader.
In her e-mail, which went to about 2,000 recipients, Singer delivered a highly personal explanation of why she fears a Mitt Romney presidency.
"As a woman, and as a Jew, I am horrified at the prospect of Republican control of government," she wrote.
"If you are glad to see me doing the work I am doing, please consider this: it would have been much harder to dedicate myself to work through my entire adult life to date if I had to either prepare for the prospect of unplanned motherhood or forego that natural, healthy source of joy and comfort, sex," she began. "Republican policies would keep women down by denying them affordable, safe birth control. This is bad for America."
She went on to say that her Jewish faith emphasized the "obligation to repair the world around us."
In contrast, she said, "Republicans deny responsibility - they like to use the phrase 'personal responsibility,' which means, 'if a person fails it is that person's fault.' Republicans excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on individuals."
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