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Dozens of Philly candidates face legal battles ahead of May primary

Many candidacies are on the chopping block ahead of the May 16 primary, facing a flurry of challenges that allege shoddy paperwork, bogus voter signatures, and other campaign-wrecking claims.

Surrogates file voter signatures for their candidates at the Board of Elections at City Hall last week, at the end of Petition Day, when all Philadelphia candidates must submit their signatures to get on the May 16 primary ballot.
Surrogates file voter signatures for their candidates at the Board of Elections at City Hall last week, at the end of Petition Day, when all Philadelphia candidates must submit their signatures to get on the May 16 primary ballot.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

It’s easier to run for public office in Philadelphia if you can knock off the competition.

With that in mind, dozens of candidates running for city office in the May 16 primary will now have to fend off legal challenges to keep their spots on the ballot — while hoping their political opponents get the boot.

Tuesday marked the deadline for legal challenges against candidates’ nomination petitions, statements of financial interests, and candidate affidavits.

More than 90 candidates filed nomination petitions in Philadelphia last week to run for mayor, City Council, and row offices like sheriff and register of wills. An additional 28 people filed petitions in Harrisburg to become candidates for judge on the city’s Court of Common Pleas or Municipal Court — or both.

Many of those candidacies are on the chopping block, facing a flurry of challenges that allege shoddy paperwork, bogus voter signatures, and other campaign-wrecking claims. Candidates now have to decide whether to fight in court or bail from the ballot.

Challenges are filed by voters, who are often aligned with rival campaigns. Only one mayoral candidate is facing a challenge, but 11 of the 29 Democratic candidates for City Council at-large now must defend their campaigns in court, along with 17 of the 26 candidates for Council’s 10 district seats.

Here are the highlights from the legal filings:

Amen Brown faces a familiar allegation

Attorney Kevin Greenberg filed a challenge against State Rep. Amen Brown, a West Philadelphia Democrat running for mayor, claiming he fell well short of the necessary minimum 1,000 signatures from qualified primary voters.

“He just doesn’t have enough,” Greenberg said. “His petitions are riddled with fraud and errors.”

Greenberg also said Brown made mistakes in his statement of financial interests, a problem he also faced when running for reelection to the state House last year. He survived that challenge, but not before a judge accused him of “an ignorance and shocking lack of care of the law.”

Brown, while filing his paperwork at City Hall last week, said that 2022 challenge was “a lesson learned.”

All of Darrell Clarke’s potential successors face challenges

All seven Democrats running in City Council’s 5th District — Curtis Wilkerson, Isa Martin, Jeffery Young Jr., Jon Hankins, Patrick Griffin, Jose “JP” Miranda, and Aissia Richardson — are facing challenges.

That North Philadelphia district drew a rush of candidates because Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who has held that seat since 2000, announced in late February that he would not seek another term.

Greenberg, who filed challenges against all the 5th District candidates except Richardson, said the short window after Clarke’s announcement for candidates to collect signatures required to get on the ballot appeared to cause deficiencies.

Among the challenges is one claiming Miranda, a former state representative, pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor in a 2015 corruption case, making him ineligible to hold public office, according to the state constitution.

The district slugfests continue ...

Challenges also rained down against candidates in competitive Council races in the 3rd and 7th Districts.

Jabari Jones, a Democrat and community business advocate, is facing objections to about half of the signatures he filed in his bid against incumbent Councilmember Jamie Gauthier in West Philadelphia’s 3rd District. Jones only filed about 940 signatures, meaning a few hundred troubled autographs could doom his campaign.

Jones declined to comment Monday, but he did post an ominous tweet: “It’s unfortunate when good things have to come to an end.”

But Gauthier will face her own legal challenge filed Tuesday by Jones, with the help of a Republican attorney and ward leader, alleging that Gauthier failed to disclose a source of income on her statement of financial interest.

Both Democrats running in the city’s predominantly Latino 7th District, which spans Kensington and the Lower Northeast, will contend with legal knocks. Four supporters of social worker Andrés Celin challenged more than three-quarters of the 3,300 signatures filed by Councilmember Quetcy Lozada. Celin also faces an objection to his candidacy.

Elsewhere, Darrel Smith Jr., a Democrat running against Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. in the 4th District, and Janay Hawthorne, a Democrat running against Councilmember Anthony Phillips in the 9th District, are facing challenges.

On Hawthorne, lawyer Charles Gibbs, who filed the challenge, said: “There are a number of [petition] circulators who appear to have filled out fields that should have been filled out by the voters.”

Aaron Scott Humphrey and Boogie Rose, two Democrats seeking to run against Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson in the 2nd District, also picked up challenges Tuesday.

A Dem-GOP tangle in the Northeast

Attorney Vito Canuso Jr., a former chairman of Philadelphia’s Republican City Committee, filed a challenge against Gary Masino, business manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 and a Democrat challenging four-decade Republican Councilmember Brian O’Neill in Northeast Philadelphia’s 10th District.

Canuso said Masino held until December an appointed position from Bucks County on the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, which would have required him to be a resident of Bucks County. Candidates for City Council must reside in Philadelphia for one year before seeking office.

Masino’s lawyer, Adam Bonin, said the Democrat has lived in Northeast Philadelphia for years and resigned from the authority last year when it was noted that he did not live in Bucks County.

Register of Wills and Sheriff

Elizabeth Lowe, one of four Democrats challenging Register of Wills Tracey Gordon’s bid for a second term, was challenged on a technical issue about her name. Lowe circulated petitions in the name “Elizabeth Hall Lowe” but is registered to vote as “Elizabeth Shalom Lowe.”

Lowe, who handles compliance issues at the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, did not respond to a request for comment.

Craig Smith, another Democrat running for register of wills, was challenged by the same voters as Lowe. Candidates for citywide office need signatures from at least 1,000 qualified primary voters. The challenge alleges that there were problems with 1,300 of Smith’s 2,041 signatures, leaving him short of 1,000.

Jacque Whaumbush, one of three Democrats running in the primary against Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, was also challenged, with an allegation that he did not submit a notarized candidate affidavit.

Judicial races

Philadelphia has 10 open seats on the Court of Common Pleas and two for Municipal Court, with 28 Democratic candidates, including six who filed for both courts.

Challenges were filed Tuesday against Aaron Bell and Caroline Turner for Common Pleas, against Rania Major for Municipal Court, and against Qawi Abdul-Rahman and Joseph Green for both courts.