Running for public office can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Try campaigning during a pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat seeking a second term in her Montgomery County congressional district, put a new twist on an old favorite by hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party Tuesday on the teleconferencing website Zoom.

The faces of two dozen supporters popped up in little boxes on computer screens, taking turns telling Dean the “most random things” they did or bought to deal with the coronavirus crisis. There were jokes, Irish music, and toasts as the participants also shared serious concerns.

One man spoke of an elderly mother panicking in another state. A single mother talked about her young son in quarantine because of a potential exposure. A retired physician complained about difficulty in getting tested for the virus while feeling ill.

“This is such a serious time,” Dean said. “But it is also an important reminder of how connected we are. And so, lucky us that we live at least in this time, that we could connect.”

At this time in a normal election cycle, volunteers and paid field workers for candidates and political groups would be knocking on doors, pushing candidates and causes ahead of the April 28 primary.

But in this season of social distancing, those visits are being replaced by phone banks, letters, and postcards, along with paid literature.

One Dean supporter working the phones said she and her activist colleagues have to weigh the importance of elections against contacting people in a high-stress time. Another, who spent time urging people to vote in Tuesday’s special election for a state House seat in Bucks County, described feeling conflicted about telling people to go to polling places.

Dean’s freshman colleagues, Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County and Chrissy Houlahan of Chester County, hosted telephone town hall meetings this week to discuss the crisis.

Candidates have suspended in-person campaigning. Advocacy groups like NextGen PA, which urges young voters to participate, have shifted to texting, online petition efforts, and letter-writing campaigns. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, a political powerhouse, has changed its annual constitutional convention in early April into a virtual event.

First-time candidates like Rick Krajewski and Andre Del Valle, seeking state House seats in Philadelphia, have shifted campaign resources to help people get information about the virus, how to get tested, and how to secure food and other resources while avoiding contact with others.

In a time of crisis, the conventional wisdom in politics can turn topsy-turvy.

One school of thought suggests that incumbents benefit, with established campaign infrastructure, name recognition, and voter bases. But increased voter turnout in election after election since 2016 suggests a cohort of younger, tech-savvy voters who might be looking for fresh ideas and new approaches.

Time will tell, after the April 28 primary — if it doesn’t get postponed.

Former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell exits the Stout Center for Criminal Justice after pleading guilty to stealing from her nonprofit in January.
Heather Khalifa / File Photograph
Former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell exits the Stout Center for Criminal Justice after pleading guilty to stealing from her nonprofit in January.

‘Movita’ canceled for now. But the show must go on.

Clout told you last month the good news/bad news scenario for former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell — that her life story would be performed as a play but that she would still be behind bars when the show hit the stage.

That drama now has a bad news/good news twist.

The play, scheduled for two performances last Friday at the Rotunda, a theater space in West Philadelphia, was canceled at the last minute due to the coronavirus. But producer Brian King says the show must go on, eventually. And if the delays run into May, Johnson-Harrell might be out of the Riverside Correctional Facility in time to see it.

“We were all heartbroken,” King said. “We don’t even know the makeup date because we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

Johnson-Harrell on Feb. 6 started serving at least three months of a 1½-to-23-month sentence after pleading guilty last month to theft, tampering with public records, and perjury. She had been charged with stealing more than $500,000 from a nonprofit she started.

The disgraced Democrat, who represented West Philly’s 190th District for less than a year, met with the cast before turning herself in and urged friends on Facebook to purchase tickets, which sold for $20.

King said he sold 144 tickets out of 200 available — 100 per performance — and the website he used for sales will offer refunds. Or buyers can use them when the new premiere date is set.

John Del Ricci (right), the new Democratic leader of Ward 66B in Northeast Philadelphia, with his wife, former state representative candidate Sarah Del Ricci (center) and Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady.
Courtesy of John Del Ricci
John Del Ricci (right), the new Democratic leader of Ward 66B in Northeast Philadelphia, with his wife, former state representative candidate Sarah Del Ricci (center) and Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady.

A memorial service-turned-ward election-turned-lawsuit

Another Philadelphia Democratic drama is also on hold since, due to the coronavirus, Common Pleas Court has closed up shop.

Janice Tangradi, a Democratic committee member in Northeast Philly’s Ward 66B, has sued to overturn a snap election held Jan. 12 at a memorial service to honor Michael “Mac” McAleer Jr., who led the ward for five decades before he died in December.

John Del Ricci, the acting ward leader, who called the memorial service and was elected there, insists he did everything by Democratic City Committee rules. The party’s Contest Committee upheld Del Ricci’s election in a Feb. 4 hearing.

Tangradi is now asking a judge to nullify what her suit calls a “sham and illegal election” and order a new one. She accuses Del Ricci of not notifying all committee members about the memorial, appointing people on the spot to vote for him, and violating other party rules.