A Philadelphia Democratic ward leader called on city party Chair Bob Brady to resign Thursday due to a “lack of diversity in the party,” the same day Brady was organizing a party meeting to address racial strife in the city.
Brian Eddis, leader of the 63rd Ward in Northeast Philadelphia, cited the local party’s support for Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, who is white, in the June 2 Democratic primary for state auditor general over Nina Ahmad, a woman of color and former Philadelphia deputy mayor. She won the nomination.
Eddis is also an official in Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. That union, led by John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty since 1993, gave Ahmad $50,000 in the closing days of the primary.
His job as a Local 98 business agent had “zero” impact on his decision to send the letter, Eddis said.
Brady and Dougherty have a long and complicated history as players in city politics, often circling each other with suspicion while maintaining a cordial public peace.
Brady, who served 20 years in the U.S. House and has been chair since 1986, called the letter “an absolute joke” in an interview Thursday.
He later convened a meeting of 24 clergy members and former elected officials to discuss racial strife in the city, including protests over the last several weeks over the killing of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. Also on the agenda: White South Philadelphia residents protesting calls to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from a neighborhood park.
“We’re trying to defuse something before it comes close to happening,” Brady said. “It’s a powder-keg out there. It could happen at any protest, any time.”
The meeting at the city Democratic headquarters was often heated and did not produce a consensus, participants said.
Eddis, in his letter, accused Brady of cutting him off during a recent teleconference meeting of ward leaders when the issue of diversity in the party was raised. He wrote that Ahmad, “a woman of color” who was born in Bangladesh, would “further diversify our party.”
“I can only assume your support of a white man from western PA was more of the self-serving, transaction politics in which you seem to specialize,” Eddis wrote.
The letter does not mention that Mayor Jim Kenney also endorsed Lamb. Kenney received strong support from Local 98 in his two campaigns for mayor.
Eddis on Thursday said his call for Brady’s resignation was not “about one endorsement or Mayor Kenney.” In a text message, he said it was “about Brady’s years of failures as the leader of the party” and that “he trades on division and not unity.”
Brady, before the primary, cast the local party’s backing of Lamb as tactical, in preparation for the Nov. 3 general election for president. He said having a Democrat from Western Pennsylvania on the ticket would help drive turnout in that part of the state, since the ballot already includes two Democrats from Montgomery County, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Treasurer Joe Torsella.
Eddis, in his letter, also accused Brady of sowing “division” among ward leaders and decried Brady’s dismissal of an anonymous letter that circulated in Northeast Philadelphia in April about a battle for control of Ward 66B that has prompted a lawsuit.
The letter sender used the home of City Councilman Bobby Henon, leader of the 65th Ward and a Local 98 employee, as a return address. The letter criticized Dougherty and Eddis, among others.
At the meeting on Thursday, State Sen. Sharif Street stood by Brady.
”Bob Brady became entrenched in the Democratic Party because he was the white chairman that was willing to stand with the black guy running for mayor, that matters to me,” said the senator from Philadelphia. Brady backed both W. Wilson Goode Sr., the city’s first black mayor, and Street’s father, John, who was elected mayor in 1999.
The meeting itself, which was closed to the press, sounded heated from the lobby, where yelling could be heard for more than two hours.
The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, walked out shaking his head and said only, “It felt familiar.”
”It was a lot of old-school Philly stuff — folks from North Philly and South Philly expressing themselves in a very candid way,” Street said.
No consensus was reached among attendees, including John Street, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, and black and Latino clergy, and about what should happen with the Columbus statue.
Brady told attendees at the top of the meeting the main goal was to defuse tensions.