Philadelphia City Commissioner Anthony Clark, who rarely speaks at the election board’s meetings, went public a few months ago with his opposition to the new voting machines selected by his two fellow commissioners.

Now he believes one of them is retaliating.

For the first time, Clark said, his office is encountering resistance as it tries to hire its portion of temporary election workers per standard procedure. Instead, his forms are being returned, and Clark said he was told that the office of Lisa Deeley, the chair of the commissioners, had ordered the human resources office to not hire them.

“This didn’t happen until after we started voting for these machines and stuff. That’s when this stuff starts happening. I don’t know — I just can’t see no other way,” adding that in his opinion, Deeley’s alleged actions “may be retribution for the way that I voted.” (Clark, who has a public reputation for not showing up to work, technically did not vote when the machines were selected.)

Nick Custodio, deputy commissioner under Deeley, said in a statement that “to date, Commissioner Clark has not been denied anything.” The extra scrutiny is unrelated to the voting machines, he said, and comes instead because Clark’s office has a track record of hiring unfit workers.

“This is not related to the voting system in any way,” he said. “Rather, it has to do with making sure we have properly qualified individuals to perform and fulfill necessary preparations for the elections.”

Custodio added that one of Clark’s temp hires began work last week.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, longtime head of the Philadelphia Democratic Party and a Deeley ally, said she called him Wednesday and discussed Clark’s contention.

“From what I understand, and I talked to [Deeley], that is not true,” he said Thursday. “They are not blocking his temporary positions.”

Brady, citing Clark’s well-documented failures to show up for work, called him “a disgrace.”

How temp hires normally work — and what’s happening now

The city commissioners — the three elected officials who run Philadelphia’s elections — hire temporary workers each election to help with low-level administrative work such as alphabetizing forms. The number of these three-month jobs varies, but generally each commissioner fills about one-third of them.

Clark’s deputy commissioner, Michael Quintero Moore, submitted “Intent to Hire” forms this month for three temporary workers, but all were returned with notes to talk to Custodio about the hires.

The “Intent to Hire” forms submitted by Clark’s office were returned with a note to see Custodio, deputy commissioner under Deeley.
Alejandro Alvarez
The “Intent to Hire” forms submitted by Clark’s office were returned with a note to see Custodio, deputy commissioner under Deeley.

When Moore emailed the HR department, a staffer responded: “We were instructed to inform Commissioner Deeley’s office when we received an intent to hire a temporary employee from Commissioner Clark’s office.”

Why Clark believes it’s retaliation

Deeley and Commissioner Al Schmidt voted in February to select new touchscreen voting machines that critics say are bulky, expensive, insecure, and more error prone than hand-marked paper ballots. Clark said nothing.

Then, in April, Clark made a surprise announcement after City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart called again for the selection process to be restarted: He agreed with her.

Clark stresses that the perceived retaliation is coming only from the office of Deeley, not Schmidt, the lone Republican on the board.

Deeley’s office is not interfering with Schmidt’s hires, Clark said, another reason he believes he is being targeted. Schmidt’s office confirmed Thursday that it brought in four people for the fall election with no problem.

What Deeley’s office says

In a statement, Custodio said: “To date, Commissioner Clark has not been denied anything, all he was asked to do was talk to me about his suggested hires. However, he or his staff have yet to speak to me, which is not surprising because Commissioner Clark doesn’t come to work.”

He said “attempts have been made to rein in Commissioner Clark’s hiring of temporary staff since late 2018” because about half of Clark’s hires for the midterm election did not finish their 89-day contracts.

“His office was informed” of the scrutiny, Custodio said. “I do not know if his staff told him because he is rarely there.”

Custodio did not make Deeley available for comment. Brady said that Deeley told him that the problem is that people are saying they are hired by Clark, but Clark is then unreachable by phone and does not properly help them through the hiring process.

“A guy like him gives us a real bad name,” Brady said. “Elected officials, we really do work.”

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.