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Pa. Democratic Party faces civil war for leadership as it meets in Gettysburg this weekend

Claims of self-dealing and counterclaims of Black voters being taken for granted are involved in the fight to lead the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Josh Shapiro (left), Democratic nominee for governor, talks with State Sen. Sharif Street (right) in the hallway at a Get-Out-the-Vote rally in Doylestown in May.
Josh Shapiro (left), Democratic nominee for governor, talks with State Sen. Sharif Street (right) in the hallway at a Get-Out-the-Vote rally in Doylestown in May.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party faces a fractious battle over who will be the next chairperson Saturday — with claims of self-dealing and counterclaims of Black voters being taken for granted — and looming midterm elections for governor and the U.S. Senate on November’s ballot.

Gerald “Jerry” Lawrence, chair of the party’s seven-county Southeast Caucus, is endorsed by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the nominee for governor, along with Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

State Sen. Sharif Street, the party’s vice chair, also wants the top job. He wrote a letter to State Committee members Wednesday, saying “Black and brown people in urban areas feel that the party has taken them for granted” and “rural Democrats feel the party has forgotten about them.”

Street, the son of a former Philadelphia mayor, also took a clear shot at Shapiro, writing “Our party cannot simply be an extension of a statewide candidate’s campaign.”

That’s a return volley for Shapiro’s salvo in a letter to committee members two weeks ago, insisting that an elected official should not also be the new chair. Shapiro also called Lawrence the only candidate “putting our party’s success ahead of self-interest, and putting in the hard work.”

Shapiro’s suggestion that a party chair in elected office might face conflicts of interest clearly pointed to Street’s work with Republican legislators to draw a new congressional map while mulling a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, which rankled some in the party.

“I think the way Sen. Street conducts himself shows how he would lead the party,” Lawrence told Clout Thursday. “The stakes are too high right now to put self-interest above party unity.”

Lawrence, who lives in Delaware County and is the grandson of a former governor, has been circulating a letter of support written last week by Boyle and seven other Democratic members of the U.S. House.

He also issued a letters of support Thursday from Wolf and Casey.

Street, who did not respond to Clout’s hails, is also circulating letters of support.

One came from 25 Black State Committee members, warning about “a sharp decline in Black support for the Democratic Party,” suggesting “Black voters are becoming disillusioned and frustrated by constantly showing up for a party that fails to show up for them.”

The party’s Latino Caucus, including nine State Committee members, wrote about Street helping to “increase Black and brown participation” in elections.

Bob Brady, chair of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, sent a letter signed by 43 State Committee members, calling Street “a unifying force within the party.”

There were also letters from several state senators and Philadelphia City Council members, along with other elected officials, all supporting Street.

Clout hears some people listed in those letters were surprised since they’re supporting Lawrence. One of them is Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who confirmed for Clout that he was mistakenly included in a list of local officials backing Street.

Lawrence has assembled a diverse five-candidate slate of party officers with Shapiro’s endorsement. That includes running State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia for a newly created position, deputy chair for diversity and equity. State Rep. Patty Kim of Harrisburg, who had been on Shapiro’s short list for lieutenant governor candidates, is running for vice chair.

Philly Democrats rule on ward fights

Philly’s Democratic City Committee settled two ward fights Saturday — for now.

The party’s Contest Committee met Saturday for a do-over for last week’s elections for ward leader in the 45th Ward, which covers the city’s river wards, and a challenge to the result in West Philly’s 46th Ward.

Harry Enggasser was ousted as leader in the 45th, with Harrowgate Civic Association president Shannon Farrell taking over. Enggasser adjourned last week’s original ward election after disputes broke out about who was allowed to vote and a woman claiming to be an elected committee person tore up instructions from Brady on who could vote.

Former City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell prevailed in the 46th Ward, with the Contest Committee finding that progressive committee people seeking to oust her never got around to nominating an alternative candidate.

“We presented our case to the Contest Committee and unfortunately it was denied,” Committee person Matt Goldfine told Clout. “While we are disappointed with the outcome, we’re keeping communications open and exploring additional steps to resolve the situation, with a focus on November’s elections.

Clout hears this could go two ways — some sort of peace agreement for the next four years or a legal challenge in court. Brady sounds open to peace but also ready for court.

“They want to go to court? That’s fine,” he said. “One thing I have is plenty of attorneys. We’ve got a lot of people who want to be judges.”


At least 11 lawyers have been referred for disciplinary proceedings due to bad faith and baseless efforts to undermine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

— U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.), during a Select Committee hearing Monday about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

One of those lawyers, Jenna Ellis, worked for former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign and was named this week as senior legal adviser to State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania. The Select Committee has also issued a subpoena to Ellis for documents and testimony.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.