RUNNING for judge in Philadelphia is a messy business. Some might call it corrupt. Or backward. We prefer asinine.
First, you hope to God for a high ballot spot. Then, you need to pump a bunch of cash into the city's Democratic machine and grease the palms of rogue ward leaders.
William Ciancaglini, 44, a South Philly defense lawyer running for Common Pleas judge, has had enough. He ain't paying.
Sure, he has crappy ballot position and practically no money. But he also has a fantastic YouTube campaign video, set to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'. "
"I watch a lot of pro wrestling, and their videos aren't nearly as good as my commercial," Ciancaglini told us.
The two-minute ad was produced by journalist and sometime guerrilla political consultant Kenneth Lipp, who Ciancaglini tracked down through marijuana activist and onetime City Council candidate Nikki Allen Poe. Naturally.
"Paying for friends or for votes is less than Philadelphia deserves, and that's a judge who owes no favors," Ciancaglini says in the commercial, which you can watch at BillyCforJudge.com.
Let's get this out of the way right here: Yes, Ciancaglini is related to longtime mobster John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini. They're first cousins, but haven't kept in touch. Nonetheless, Clout has decided that this judicial candidate shall heretofore be referred to as William "Billy Chang" Ciancaglini.
Ciancaglini, a self-effacing "talking machine" from 12th and Bigler, worked his way through La Salle University as a craps dealer at two casinos, graduated from Temple Law in 2003 and runs his own legal practice, which happens to be located inside the Broad Street offices of mob attorney Joseph Santaguida.
"Me and Joe, we're thick as thieves," he said.
Ciancaglini decided to run for judge after seeing judges throw the book at nonviolent defendants who didn't deserve lengthy prison terms, then go easy on dangerous criminals who wreaked havoc after getting a slap on the wrist. He wants to bring some street smarts to the bench.
"I'm here in the trenches and I know what happens. I can tell good people from bad people from experience, not just by looking at their bank accounts, like some people do," Ciancaglini said.
Ciancaglini has been campaigning hard leading up to the May 19 Democratic primary. He's met good candidates who probably won't get elected and some shoddy lawyers who will be wearing black robes next year. That's just how the system works in Philly. He says he wouldn't buy a judgeship even if he could.
"I got news for you: If I won the lottery for $250,000 today, I'd probably pay off my house and student loans before trying to buy an election," he said. "If I had millions, I'd probably be retired. One way or the other, I'm not paying them."
Ciancaglini has an uphill battle. But who knows? Maybe his campaign will catch fire. Maybe the video will go viral. Don't stop believing, Billy Chang.
Common Pleas Judge Vincent Melchiorre really, really wants you to know that he lives in Philadelphia.
It's in the first line of his campaign website's bio, and he repeats the claim on another page on that site outlining his accomplishments in Shotokan karate.
Maybe we should be referring to him by his proper title, "San Dah Master Instructor Melchiorre."
Melchiorre's residency is an important detail because his job depends on him living in Pennsylvania. He was appointed judge last year and is running for a full term next month. But there's one potential snag: Some people think the black-belt-cum-judge lives in Voorhees, N.J. And there seems to be a bit of corroborating evidence to support the claim.
Like the fact that Master Instructor Melchiorre and his wife owned a house on Downing Lane in Voorhees. And that in 2008 he opened a Shotokan karate school - Dragon's Den Martial Arts - in Voorhees. And that his kids graduated from Catholic schools across the bridge, including one in Voorhees. And some of their Facebook profiles that state that they're from Voorhees. And the numerous articles covering Melchiorre's kids' athletic accomplishments - two compete in college swimming programs - that say they're from Voorhees.
Then, when you call the land line associated with the Melchiorres' house in Voorhees, a voice on the answering machine, presumably his wife, says, "Hello, you've reached the Melchiorres."
The Master Instructor told us yesterday that he "was vetted by the governor's office" and that he's "never been a Jersey resident." Which is interesting because his name is on the 2012 deed for the Voorhees home.
He said he and his wife are separated (he wouldn't say since when) and that he bought her the house because she's a stay-at-home mom (to three college-age children, apparently). Which is very generous of him, if we do say so.
And the Jersey dojo?
"That was something to help a friend of mine get promoted to his master's rank, and he lives in Jersey," Master Instructor Melchiorre said.
Hey, Clout understands. A sensei's gotta do what a sensei's gotta do.
- Staff writer William Bender and The Next Mayor's Ryan Briggs
contributed to this report.