To everything there is a season. And in Philadelphia politics, a ward leader vacancy is the season for shenanigans.
Democratic committee members in Northeast Philly’s Ward 66B received letters last weekend inviting them to a meeting last Sunday to honor Michael “Mac” McAleer Jr., who led the ward for five decades before he died last month.
John Del Ricci, the ward chairman, sent the letters for what appeared to be a memorial service, but quickly shifted to a snap election — with Del Ricci chosen as McAleer’s replacement.
This being Northeast Philadelphia Democratic politics, outrage ensued.
Del Ricci insists he faithfully followed the Democratic Party’s bylaws. His critics say the memorial service was a sham and a set-up. A challenge to the election is expected.
Just 13 elected committee people were present at Sunday’s meeting, according to Del Ricci, who said he appointed five more to seats he considered vacant because people had moved out of the ward or he suspected they didn’t really live in the ward to begin with. The vote was 18-0 in Del Ricci’s favor.
Philadelphia has 66 wards. But three, including the 66th, are so large the Democratic Party splits them in two. Del Ricci’s ward has 20 divisions, which means it can have 40 elected committee members.
Critics complain that the election lacked a quorum of committee members and that he was elected with less than half of the possible votes. Shenanigans are in the eye of the beholder.
Janice Tangradi, a committee member who challenged McAleer when he was reelected as ward leader in 2018, was not at Sunday’s meeting. She had intended to run again.
“I have my notes and recorded everything that went down,” said Del Ricci, who accuses Shawn Dillon, Democratic leader of the other half of the 66th Ward, of stirring trouble about the election. “I followed the rule book. I did my homework.”
Dillon, who backs Tangradi and has been on the opposite side of the Democratic divide from Del Ricci for years, accused him of trying to “deflect” attention from a “fraudulent” election.
“He’s trying to make an issue out of nonsense,” Dillon said. “The issue is: Have the vote the right way.”
Tangradi declined to comment, but Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said she called him to request information on how to challenge the election. He acknowledged the continuing tensions in the ward but said it sounded as if Del Ricci followed the rules.
“He won unanimously,” Brady said. “The other people, they’re complaining, but they didn’t show up.”
Speaking of Democratic ward politics …
State Sen. Larry Farnese tells Clout he is stepping back, but not down, from his duties as Democratic leader of the 8th Ward in Center City as he seeks a fourth term in Harrisburg.
“I wanted a complete separation between the campaign and the ward,” said Farnese, who has ward cochairs Michael Weiss and Elaine Petrossian stepping into more public roles while he stumps for votes.
Weiss is co-owner of Woody’s, the Gayborhood landmark bar. He’s known for something else, too — his 2017 testimony, given under a grant of immunity, in the trial that sent former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to federal prison for five years on corruption charges.
Weiss, who once carried a badge as “special adviser” to the district attorney, testified about spending thousands of dollars to fly Williams and his family to vacations in Key West, San Diego, and Las Vegas while also lending the top prosecutor money and the long-term use of a Jaguar convertible. Some of that happened while Weiss was on federal probation after pleading guilty in a 2010 tax case.
“I don’t believe I bribed anyone,” Weiss testified, while admitting that Williams vouched for him when he had a problem with a liquor license in California and pulled up a confidential police report about a car wreck as a favor.
Weiss did not respond to a request for comment. Farnese, asked if any of that gave him pause about Weiss leading the ward, said, “In terms of day-to-day operation of the ward, I’m still the leader and we have a very democratic process.”
Farnese is being challenged in the April 28 Democratic primary by Nikil Saval, a cofounder of the progressive political group Reclaim Philadelphia. Saval, leader of the 2nd Ward in South Philly, recently resigned from that post because his ward’s bylaws prohibit ward officials from also being candidates for public office.
Opening salvos in Pa. attorney general race
It didn’t take long for the race for attorney general to turn chippy in Pennsylvania. Heather Heidelbaugh, the Republican trial lawyer from Pittsburgh who announced her campaign in November, took aim this week at the incumbent, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat from Montgomery County.
Her tactics were a little unusual — issuing a news release Wednesday in response to Shapiro’s official candidacy announcement, quoting an anonymous “political pundit” to cast him as skipping from one elected post to another. Shapiro, a former state representative and county commissioner, is widely expected to run for governor in 2022.
If that line of attack was predictable, so was Shapiro’s response. A campaign spokesperson retorted: “Heather Heidelbaugh’s made-up attacks are as fake as her newfound love for Donald Trump.”
That’s a reference to Heidelbaugh’s past Twitter criticisms of the president from an account that has now vanished. A campaign spokesperson said she deleted her old Twitter account to focus attention on her new campaign account, which had 15 followers Thursday and had issued two tweets in three months.
Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.