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Philly Sheriff caves after cease-and-desist letter while Jeff Brown stirs up more union trouble

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal caved this week, retracting a claim that a Democratic primary opponent was paying a candidate for city controller to criticize her office.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal attends the United Democratic Spring Dinner at the Sheet Metal Workers banquet hall Tuesday.
Sheriff Rochelle Bilal attends the United Democratic Spring Dinner at the Sheet Metal Workers banquet hall Tuesday.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

It was a brazen claim offered without evidence. And it wasn’t true.

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal last week accused Michael Untermeyer, one of her Democratic primary opponents, of paying Alexandra Hunt to criticize the Sheriff’s Office.

Hunt, a Democratic candidate for city controller, responded with a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer who said Hunt took no money from Untermeyer and threatened to sue Bilal if she did not retract that claim.

Bilal caved this week, editing the Facebook posts where she made the accusation. In return, Hunt agreed to edit social media posts that suggested Bilal was “pocketing money” from the Sheriff’s Office process of selling seized properties.

Hunt and an attorney for Bilal confirmed the resolution Thursday.

Bilal, on her campaign Facebook page, touted her backtracking as a sign of “accountability.”

Untermeyer this week issued his own cease-and-desist letter to Bilal, threatening to sue her for other claims she made in Facebook posts.

Bilal called Untermeyer, a lawyer and real estate investor who has donated $250,000 to his campaign, a “multi-millionaire self-proclaimed money laundering expert who owns a piece of every major development in Philly.”

She also noted that Untermeyer has run for office before, and her Facebook post included a false claim that he ran for Philadelphia’s school board in 2019.

Philadelphia does not have an elected school board.

Untermeyer’s lawyer wrote to Bilal on Tuesday, calling her claims “inaccurate and defamatory” and demanding they be deleted.

Attorney Lee Herman noted that Untermeyer does have expertise in money laundering — from his time as a prosecutor for the state Attorney General’s Office.

Untermeyer’s campaign was still waiting on a response from Bilal Thursday.

Bilal won office in 2019, running as a reformer. She is now seeking a second term amid controversy for how she runs the Sheriff’s Office.

So what does she have to say about all this?

Clout sent her a text message Tuesday to a cell phone number we’ve previously used to contact her. Clout then noted we got no response when we first wrote about this Tuesday afternoon.

Bilal attended the Democratic City Committee’s spring dinner Tuesday evening, where Clout asked if she had any evidence to support her (now retracted) claim about Untermeyer and Hunt.

“You’re a liar so you can stop talking to me,” Bilal replied, insisting she did not get our text earlier that day.

Clout kept asking for evidence and Bilal kept calling us “a liar” — 11 more times until she walked away.

Clout then called Bilal’s cell phone and heard her recorded voice asking callers to leave a message. So we did, while standing next to Bilal’s communications consultant. We mentioned in our message that the consultant was a witness to our latest attempt to contact Bilal.

A sign of more union trouble for Jeff Brown

It’s tradition: people arriving at Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee spring dinner pass a surfeit of campaign signage on their way into the catering hall run by Local 19 of the Sheet Metal Workers union on Columbus Boulevard.

Lawn signs for Jeff Brown on Tuesday were plucked from the union’s lawn by Local 19 members, a sure signal that the mayoral candidate’s troubles with the Building Trades unions linger on.

Democratic Party chair Bob Brady told Clout that Local 19 president Gary Masino ordered the removal.

“He said, ’You need to have permission to put up signs on my property,’” Brady said of Masino, who did not respond to a request for comment.

During a televised debate last week, Brown knocked the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council for backing Cherelle Parker and claimed he didn’t want that endorsement. The Sheet Metal Workers are part of that council.

Building Trades leader Ryan Boyer insisted Brown did ask for the council’s support and said any union backing Brown should drop him.

Brown spokesperson Kyle Anderson suggested “folks are feeling threatened” by a potential Brown victory.

“They’re trying to silence Jeff because they know he will bring the change we need in Philly,” Anderson said.

Pa. top court candidate ducks election question

Carolyn Carluccio, the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s endorsed candidate for Supreme Court, told the Erie County Republican Party two weeks ago that she wants a chance to rework Act 77, the 2019 law passed with strong GOP support that greatly expanded mail voting.

Carluccio, president judge in Montgomery County’s Common Pleas Court, noted at the beginning and end of her comments that she had to tread carefully but then declared the law “bad for the Commonwealth” and raised the specter of unproven “hanky panky” with mail ballots.

Clout wondered: Does Carluccio think the state’s 2020 and 2022 elections were free and fair? Many in the Republican Party, from former President Donald Trump on down, have embraced election denialism without offering evidence that could convince judges in court.

Carluccio responded with a word-salad statement that didn’t come anywhere close to answering Clout’s question. She offered this instead:

“If even one Pennsylvanian has concerns about our electoral process, we must address them,” she wrote. “Our government cannot simply dismiss the concerns of a large portion of our electorate.”

A CBS News-YouGov Poll released Monday showed that 75% of Republican voters still believe Trump won in 2020. That seems to be the portion of the electorate on Carluccio’s mind.

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