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Voters in 197th District special election go with write-in candidates

Democrat Emilio Vazquez was a write-in candidate in a special election to fill a vacant state House of Representatives seat.
Democrat Emilio Vazquez was a write-in candidate in a special election to fill a vacant state House of Representatives seat.Read more

Voting in a special election to fill a vacant state House of Representatives seat ended Tuesday night with no clear winner: The only candidate on the ballot tallied less than 8 percent of the votes, with the rest going to write-in candidates.

With all precincts counted in North Philadelphia's largely Democratic 197th District, Republican Lucinda Little had 198 votes, the rest — 2,483 — going to a number of write-in candidates, including Democrat Emilio Vazquez and the Green Party's Cheri Honkala.

Deputy City Commissioner Tim Dowling said a winner won't be declared until at least Friday.

"The official count begins on Friday at 9 a.m.," Dowling said. "We will reread all the cartridges to get the machine count for the candidate that was on the ballot. … We will proceed to go through all the write-in tapes and do a count of the write-ins for each division that were cast for the different individuals. Everything starts at 9 a.m. on Friday."

In a telephone interview late Tuesday night, Honkala said she liked her chances.

"I think I did fantastic," Honkala said. "Every polling booth that I went out to we had the biggest team and everyone worked really hard and did amazing stuff.

"We are collecting our own tally and poll workers are reporting on their experience. We will be having a press conference at 4 p.m. [Wednesday] over our concerns with corruption in the 197th race."

Vazquez also liked his chances.

"They are still counting. … My boxes from the 43rd ward are on the way to the Commissioner's Office," Vazquez said.

"I am really happy," Vazquez said. "The 197th is 85 percent Democratic, 5 percent Republican, and 10 independent. The people spoke today that they want to keep it Democratic."

Little could not be reached for comment. Her campaign manager, Ivan Soltero, said, "Obviously, the results were not what we wanted, but we did surpass the total registration of Republicans in the district, which is about 5 percent."

"The fact that this race got this much attention and the people living there got this much attention is a victory for us," Soltero said.

The special election drew outsized attention, considering that the result will have little impact on the balance of power in the state House, where Republicans hold a commanding majority with 121 members in the 203-seat chamber.

Part of that was driven by the tattered reputations of the last two Democrats to hold the seat.

Former State Rep. Leslie Acosta dragged her feet on resigning after pleading guilty to a federal embezzlement charge, and was easily reelected in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

She finally stepped down on Jan. 3, the first day of the new legislative session, when her colleagues were prepared to vote to eject her from the House. That allowed House Speaker Mike Turzai to call the special election.

Acosta had defeated in the 2014 Democratic primary election one-term State Rep. Jose "J.P." Miranda, who at the time was awaiting charges for conflict of interest. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to a felony.

Despite Acosta's legal woes, she successfully helped to lobby the Democratic ward leaders in the district to select Frederick Ramirez, president of Pan American Mental Health Clinics, as their candidate.

That proved fateful for the party, after a state Commonwealth Court judge ruled that Ramirez does not live in the district and removed him from the ballot. The same judge then ruled that the Democrats had waited too long to select a replacement candidate, Vazquez, the leader of 43rd Ward now on leave from his job with the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Honkala was kept off the ballot because she filed her nomination paperwork one day late.

Honkala, who was the Green Party vice presidential candidate in 2012, managed to raise more than $90,000 in small-dollar donations from around the country, in part due to her national standing from five years ago.

Little, a clinical research director for a firm that links doctors and pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials, is a former Democrat who said she and her husband, Jeffrey Little, left that party due to the history of corruption in the area.