LAST WEEK SAW the battle for Northeast Philly's 170th state House District end in a climactic special election with Martina White becoming the first Republican in 25 years to snag one of the city's open state rep seats. But even as the historically anemic city GOP celebrates a rare win, another fight is brewing.
This time it would be for the neighboring 174th House District, which would be vacated if incumbent Rep. John Sabatina Jr. wins Lt. Gov. Mike Stack's old state Senate seat, which is likely.
Sabatina's win would trigger yet another special election, this one around Labor Day weekend. Off-season elections are notorious for low turnout, doubly so when most of the city will likely still be down the Shore.
It's partly that factor that helped an ambitious GOP mobilize and get White to Harrisburg, as many in the majority Democratic 170th simply didn't turn out for the Tuesday election. A little more than 6,000 voters came out, in a district that is home to more than 60,000.
The Republicans would likely seek to repeat that success in the 174th, another district that has more registered Republicans than the citywide average.
Although city GOP exec Joe DeFelice hailed White's recent victory, he said it was too early to be making any serious plans or talking about candidates.
"There's a potential . . . but there's got to be a vacant seat before there's a special election," he said, adding that the GOP still had five days to nominate a challenger to run against Sabatina for the state Senate in November.
But the youthful Democratic U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and his brother, state Rep. Kevin Boyle, may be more enthusiastic. It was reportedly their connections to local labor groups that helped push Republican White to victory after the Boyles' favored nominee for the 170th was nixed by Democratic party chief Bob Brady and more established Democratic ward leaders, including Stack himself.
The Boyles wanted Kevin's former chief of staff, Seth Kaplan, to take over, but Stack insisted on the wife of longtime friend John Del Ricci.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, whose president, John McNesby, was passed over as Stack's replacement in favor of Sabatina, was also said to be involved in boosting turnout as payback for that slight in a part of the city that is home to many police officers.
A source close to the Boyles said that they and the FOP might back another Republican just to deny Sabatina the pleasure of handpicking his successor. Sabatina and his father, a powerful Democratic ward leader, are said to be considering running Sheet Metal Workers union head Gary Masino as a replacement.
The Boyles denied their involvement in White's win, asserting that they were "proud Democrats." However, the younger Boyle took the opportunity to take a shot at the entrenched Democratic ward leaders, accusing Stack and others of incompetence for allowing a Republican victory.
"The old guard of the Democratic Party has shown their effectiveness," said Kevin Boyle, alluding to White's upset victory. "The new generation needs to step up."
Neither Sabatina responded to calls for comment.