Special elections come and go. But the mess in West Philly’s 190th State House District endures.
Clout readers probably recall that the previous occupant of that seat, Vanessa Lowery Brown, resigned in December after being convicted on bribery charges. The Democratic City Committee then ran into a series of problems in January, prompted by this column’s reporting, while seeking a replacement candidate.
Now we hear investigators are showing checks from Johnson-Harrell’s campaign, written to ward leaders for election day get-out-the-vote efforts, and asking how they were cashed. They’re also asking about one of her campaign consultants, Tracy Hardy.
Johnson-Harrell, who worked for District Attorney Larry Krasner before the election, declined to comment and referred questions to her attorney, who also declined.
Hardy was once an aide to former Mayor John Street and until last year was chief of staff to Street’s son, State Sen. Sharif Street, who is vice chairman of the state Democratic Party and helped Johnson-Harrell secure the party’s nod in January.
He has done consulting work this year for Mayor Jim Kenney’s campaign, along with candidates for City Council, City Commissioner, and Court of Common Pleas.
Hardy referred us to his attorney, Michael Schwartz, who said he had spoken with the AG’s Office. “I have been assured that Tracy Hardy is not a subject or target of any investigation,” Schwartz said.
Pete Wilson, who leads the 6th Ward, said the agents last week showed him a campaign check made out to his ward and asked if the signature used to cash it was his. It wasn’t.
“Somebody signed my signature,” Wilson said. “I know it wasn’t my signature.”
Bernadette Wyche, leader of the 24th Ward, said she didn’t have much information.
“They’re not giving us any details at this time,” she said. “I can’t say anything.”
Other ward leaders in the district did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.
More than $85,000 was dumped into Johnson-Harrell’s six-week campaign, in a district where 87% of registered voters are Democrats. Her victory — with 66.5% of the vote — was assured as soon as the city committee nominated her.
Still, Johnson-Harrell lent her campaign $15,000. Building trades unions gave her thousands more, the largest chunk — $10,000 — from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear Sherrie Cohen’s appeal of court rulings that booted her from the Nov. 5 ballot for City Council at-large.
Cohen and the people challenging her candidacy have until Monday to argue on paper whether her withdrawal from the Democratic primary election allows her to run as an independent in the general election.
A Common Pleas Court judge ruled last month that Cohen was disqualified by her primary filings. The state Commonwealth Court upheld that ruling three weeks ago.
The city’s Board of Elections is getting nervous. It asked the high court Monday to rule by next Friday, the deadline to lock in the ballot coding for the city’s new electronic voting machines.
At issue is an Election Code clause that says an independent candidate in the general election can’t have filed nomination petitions to qualify for the primary, as Cohen did. But a decision in a 2005 Commonwealth Court case says those petitions are nullified if voluntarily withdrawn.
Cohen dropped out of the primary in mid-April, after the deadline for voluntary withdrawals, so she had to seek a court order to be removed from that ballot. Her primary bid imploded after her campaign manager heckled Deja Lynn Alvarez, the first transgender woman to run for Council, during a trans-pride flag-raising event at City Hall.
Alvarez is one of the people challenging Cohen’s candidacy in court.
“No president should ever mention a political opponent, nor should a president ever try to persuade or bully a foreign leader, not just to investigate his political opponent, but to allow his personal lawyer to be given access and to be part of the action the president wanted the Ukrainian president to take. That is totally objectionable. A personal lawyer has no business in a phone call like that. Their name should not be mentioned. There should be no reference at all to a personal lawyer when you’re talking about the national security interests of the United States of America.”