For years, State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown held on to her House seat despite corruption allegations. Now that she has finally resigned, city Democrats are facing another migraine.
They can’t seem to put up a durable candidate to replace her.
For the second time in a week, the party’s choice has had to bow out amid questions about whether that individual actually lives in the district.
Darryl Thomas, a barbershop owner selected Jan. 19 to be the party’s nominee, withdrew from the race Saturday after a Clout column on Friday in the Inquirer and Daily News noted he had been registered to vote for more than a decade in both Pennsylvania and Delaware. Records from those states suggest he voted in both during the 2010 general election, something Thomas denied.
Now, the party is hoping its third try will get the job done. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who serves as supervisor of the Victim Services unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, is expected to be selected as a replacement by the Democratic leaders of the seven wards included in the district. They are set to meet Sunday afternoon to vote.
Johnson-Harrell was cautious Saturday about what comes next.
“We’re just going to see what happens at the meeting,” she said. “If I am offered the nomination I will accept it.”
State Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia, who serves as vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said he helped steer the candidate-replacement process, in consultation with Gov. Tom Wolf.
“He certainly made clear we have an interest in having the highest-quality representation for every legislative seat,” Street said of the governor.
Ben Waxman, a spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said Saturday that Johnson-Harrell had resigned her post Friday.
Thomas, who ran unsuccessfully for the 190th District in the 2016 Democratic primary election, as did Johnson-Harrell, announced his decision to withdraw from the special election in an early-morning Facebook post, complaining that “vicious and false allegations against me in a recent news article have made it clear that my continuing to run would only distract from the issues I care about and the help that West Philadelphia so desperately needs.”
Thomas, who is registered to vote in Philadelphia from a two-story Powelton rowhouse, sold that property nearly four years ago to a woman described by his campaign as his girlfriend. He is also listed on the deed to a property in Bear, Del., which he said is his mother’s home. Delaware records show him registered to vote at that address from 2001 to 2017
Tuesday is the state deadline for candidates to withdraw from the special-election ballot and be replaced.
Thomas is the second would-be special-election candidate who ran into trouble for questions about residency. Sonte Reavis, an attorney and onetime staffer for former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, was initially seen as the front-runner for the party’s nomination.
A Clout column published the day before the Jan. 19 selection meeting noted that Water Revenue Bureau bills for the two-story rowhouse Reavis listed as his address in the district showed zero water usage for two years. Reavis then pulled out of the running.
The 190th District seat is vacant because Brown resigned in December about two months after being convicted on bribery charges in October in a trial delayed by four years of legal skirmishing. The winner of the special election will be sworn in to complete her two-year term, which pays $88,610 per year.
Any Democratic candidate is heavily favored to win the seat, since 87 percent of the district’s registered voters belong to that party.
Two Democrats who failed to win the party’s nomination on Jan. 19, Amen Brown and Pastor Pam Williams, collected enough signatures on nomination petitions to be listed as independents on the ballot. The Republican nominee is Michael Harvey, a local party committeeman.