Al Schmidt, the lone Republican on Philadelphia’s election board and one who staunchly defended the integrity of the 2020 presidential vote, will resign in January to take over as the next president and CEO of the good-government watchdog group the Committee of Seventy.
Schmidt, singled out by former President Donald Trump for attacks, said Tuesday that he decided to not seek a fourth four-year term after winning reelection in 2019. Trump’s attacks, and the threats from his followers, did not drive the decision, he said.
Trump went after Schmidt anew on Tuesday after The Inquirer reported on Schmidt’s new job. In an email, Trump referred to Schmidt as a “RINO,” an insult that means Republican in Name Only, and said his departure from the election post was “great news.” Trump, who often issues several emails a day pushing false claims about the 2020 election, called Schmidt “a disaster on the massive election fraud and irregularities which took place in Philadelphia, one of the most corrupt election places in the United States.”
Part of Schmidt’s new job: combating lies about the election.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity, especially because it will allow me to continue to fight against the election disinformation and misinformation that is threatening our democracy,” Schmidt, 50, said in an interview Tuesday before Trump assailed him.
Michael Stiles, a former U.S. attorney who chairs Seventy’s board of directors, called Schmidt “a perfect fit” for the nonpartisan nonprofit.
“He’s faced a very challenging year. He stood up to it,” Stiles said. “I didn’t get any sense that he was leaving out of any desperation or being driven out.”
Stiles said Schmidt has plenty of work ahead of him.
“We’ve got elections coming up for senator and governor in Pennsylvania,” Stiles said. “We’ve got the continuing issue of the efficacy of mail ballots. We’ve got that presidential election of 2024 and all that holds.”
One of the three seats on the board is reserved for a member who is not part of the majority political party in Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-1.
Schmidt said he expects to resign on Jan. 2 and spoke Monday to Mayor Jim Kenney about his potential replacement. He declined to detail that conversation. Kenney will need to nominate someone to complete Schmidt’s term, with approval in a vote by City Council.
Schmidt faced repeated personal attacks from Trump and other election deniers after Trump lost Pennsylvania. Republican officials in the city and state did little to come to his defense.
After the 2020 election, Trump tweeted that Schmidt “is being used big time by the Fake News Media to explain how honest things were with respect to the Election in Philadelphia. He refuses to look at the mountain of corruption & dishonesty.” That came shortly after Schmidt discussed the election results on CNN. Trump’s Twitter account was permanently suspended in January.
Still, Schmidt said in January that his decision not to seek reelection had nothing to do with Trump, suggesting that to permit Trump to drive his actions would “be like capitulating to the psychological terrorists.”
Lisa Deeley, chair of the City Commissioners, on Tuesday called Schmidt the “only person who is qualified” to take over at Seventy.
Schmidt testified in an October hearing for the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Rules and Administration about threats made against the lives of his three small children after the 2020 election. He said threats to elections officials in the state died down for a time but restarted when Republicans in charge of the General Assembly in Harrisburg started pushing for “a bogus audit” of the presidential election.
Schmidt on Tuesday said elections in Philadelphia “have become so much more secure and so much more transparent” while he was a city commissioner, with implementation of new voting machines that use paper ballots voters can see and improved local audit processes.
“All that is taking place in the headwind of terrific efforts to mislead voters and make them distrust the electoral process,” Schmidt said.
The Committee of Seventy announced in July that David Thornburgh, who has served as president and CEO since 2014, would step down in January to serve as a senior adviser to the group on the issues of redrawing legislative district lines and the push for Pennsylvania primaries to be open to voters who are not members of the Republican or Democratic Parties.
Schmidt made $136,000 a year as a city commissioner. His salary at the Committee of 70 wasn’t immediately clear.
Thornburgh called Schmidt “just a superb choice” for the job and praised his knowledge of elections.
“He’s clearly shown a willingness to speak truth to power in the 2020 election, speaking truth to the most powerful person in the country,” said Thornburgh, noting that Schmidt had previously worked as senior analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “That’s important work, the kind of close-order analysis of what does and doesn’t work. That will come in handy with the kind of work Seventy does.”
Seventy was founded in 1904, in a meeting of some of the city’s most prominent residents, to fight corruption in Philadelphia and to push for civic reforms. The group’s name is drawn from the Bible’s Book of Exodus, in which Moses appoints 70 elders to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.
Schmidt said the group is responsible for his political career. A Pittsburgh native, Schmidt moved to Philadelphia in 2005 and participated in a Seventy seminar about how to run for committee posts in the city’s ward structure. He quit his GAO job, won a seat as a committee member, became a ward leader, and ran unsuccessfully for city controller in 2009 before winning his current seat.
“It’s amazing to me how things have come full circle,” Schmidt said. “I’m only commissioner because of that. They deserve the credit or the blame at the end of the day.”