CITY COUNCIL President Darrell Clarke announced yesterday that there will be a special election to fill the at-large Council seat vacated by Bill Green, who moved on to chair the School Reform Commission last month.
It will be held May 20, the day of the primary election.
"This will be a one-step election. Whoever wins on that day will be the councilperson upon certificate of the election results," Clarke said. The Council president was careful to open the referendum to all interested parties - Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
"The fact that there are almost two years left on [Green's] unexpired term, I thought that it would be prudent to go ahead and call the special to allow that particular seat to be filled. I wanted to make sure this is a fair and balanced approach," Clarke said.
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city Democratic Party chairman, has been trying to work out a deal for the special-election nomination to settle what could turn into a nasty battle over a state House seat in Northeast Philly.
That deal would have the Democratic ward leaders select state Rep. Ed Neilson, who is now in the second year of his first term in the 169th District.
The 169th was moved to York County in a state redistricting plan in 2012, leaving Neilson in the new district of state Rep. John Sabatina Jr. Sabatina, the son of a longtime Northeast ward leader, is now seeking his fifth term. Neilson, who worked for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was allowed to finish his term in Philadelphia.
Matt Wolfe, a West Philly Republican ward leader, is seeking his party's nomination for the special election.
Brady said several people have expressed interest in being the Democratic Party pick for the special election to fill the vacant at-large seat, but Neilson is the likely selection.
"He certainly has the support of a lot of the ward leaders, especially in that district, where he's fighting with Sabatina," Brady said. "I'm always for trying to keep peace. The ward leaders don't want to see that fight up there."
Neilson's former boss, electricians union chief John Dougherty, said, "His skill sets would make him a great addition to City Council."
Given the interest, Brady said the ward leaders will vote soon on the subject, although they have until April 8 to make a decision.
"I don't want it to fester," Brady said. "This has gone on long enough."
Asked if it was fair that the Democratic ward leaders' choice would likely win the seat, Clarke said it was simply a reality of the city's tenor.
"When you have a city where the registration is 4-1 Democrat vs. Republican . . . it's traditionally more than likely that the Democratic nominee will be the favorite," he said. "But I think that everybody should be given an opportunity to participate in the special election."
Independent candidates can contact the Board of Elections to obtain the necessary paperwork to file before the April 8 deadline. At least 1,785 signatures are required for an independent candidate to be eligible.
The Pennsylvania Election Code requires a writ be issued 60 days before the special election, so Clarke chose March 24 for the issuance. All registered Philadelphia voters can cast a ballot.