At a January campaign kickoff, a group of Latino Democratic ward leaders enthusiastically endorsed Nelson A. Diaz, seeking to become Philadelphia's first Latino mayor.
On Monday, with 30 days until the May 19 Democratic primary, many of those same individuals recanted and instead endorsed former City Councilman James F. Kenney. One even took to name-calling - "charlatan" and "disgrace" - and said Diaz should pull out of the race.
Diaz says it's all because he refused to support a City Council candidate, Manny Morales, who has faced controversy over racist and antigay remarks that turned up on his Facebook page. Morales is challenging incumbent Maria Quiñones Sánchez, whom the same group of Latino Democrats has battled since she beat their party-backed candidate in 2007.
Latinos United for Political Empowerment (LUPE), a group of officeholders and community and ward leaders, endorsed Kenney on Monday. The group includes State Rep. Angel Cruz and former State Rep. Ralph Acosta. Both called Kenney an ally of the Latino community who worked for immigration issues while on Council.
Diaz said his refusal to run a joint campaign with Morales resulted in the jilting.
"Last week, I was told in no uncertain terms that unless I was willing to fund and participate in a joint campaign with Manny Morales, this group would drop their endorsement of me and endorse a candidate willing to make that deal," the former judge said. "My integrity is the most important asset I have, and so I said no."
Diaz went further Monday, accusing Kenney of making the same deal with ward leaders that Diaz's campaign rejected. E-mails provided to The Inquirer by Diaz's aides appear to show a budget request to the campaign from LUPE staffers for $102,000 to be spent entirely on get-out-the-vote efforts in the Seventh Councilmanic District. That district, including much of eastern North Philadelphia and stretching into the Lower Northeast, is where Morales is challenging Quiñones Sánchez.
"Apparently, Jim Kenney is willing to make that deal. I am profoundly disappointed," Diaz said, "but not surprised."
Kenney's campaign hit back by saying it in no way supported Morales and has not funded his race. "We don't pay for our endorsements," spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said.
Hitt said a LUPE endorsement did not mean a reciprocal pledge to help Morales. She contended that Diaz's camp was "embarrassed" at losing the endorsement and was "making offensive, ridiculous accusations to try to excuse it."
The city Democratic Committee, which includes all 69 ward leaders, had supported Morales but, after the Facebook controversy, backed away from endorsing him.
Ward leaders in the Seventh District still back Morales, and on Monday, Cruz called Diaz's refusal to work with them a slap in the face and called on him to drop out.
"Nelson is a charlatan, he messed up with his campaign and lost the only people who were supporting him," Cruz said. "Now he wants to make himself the victim here."
He said that Diaz had in the past supported candidates the party didn't endorse, but that Cruz "came to support him anyway."
"We could have said no, but we said, this is about being a Latino supporting a Latino," Cruz said. "And here he is telling Manny he should drop out of the race? You know what, Nelson, you're a disgrace in the polls. Why don't you resign?"
Quiñones Sánchez portrayed the spat as a reflection of her efforts to take on the powers that be. "This is what happens when . . . people come in and challenge the status quo," she said. "This is their organized chaos."