Duda and Schmidt battle for third commissioner slot

The three-mem­ber city elec­tions com­mis­sion­ers’ pan­el will have at least one new face be­cause nine-term in­cum­bent Demo­crat­ic chair­wo­man Marge Tartagli­one was de­feated in the primary.

In­cum­bent Re­pub­lic­an Joe Duda hopes there is no more turnover after Tues­day’s elec­tion, while GOP chal­lenger Al Schmidt be­lieves a second new mem­ber would make the com­mis­sion more ef­fect­ive.

Tartagli­one was toppled for sev­er­al reas­ons.

Many voters were turned off be­cause she was in­volved in the De­ferred Re­tire­ment Op­tion Plan (DROP).

A bunch of ward lead­ers who had sup­por­ted her in the past aban­doned her be­cause of her back­ing of Marty Bed­narek over Bobby Hen­on for City Coun­cil. Oth­ers were angry at state Sen. Tina Tartagli­one for her votes in Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate lead­er­ship elec­tions and took it out on her moth­er.

Also, there was a well-fun­ded chal­lenger in Stephanie Sing­er.

Sing­er and low-key in­cum­bent An­thony Clark were the win­ners in the Demo­crat­ic primary and will al­most cer­tainly be elec­ted be­cause of their party’s huge voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age.

Duda and Schmidt are bat­tling for the fi­nal spot. While Duda edged Schmidt in the primary, most polit­ic­al ob­serv­ers ex­pect Schmidt to oust the in­cum­bent be­cause of his ad­vant­age in fund-rais­ing and well-or­gan­ized cam­paign strategy.

Schmidt, who has a cam­paign of­fice on Ry­an Av­en­ue in May­fair, is a former seni­or ana­lyst with the U.S. Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice and was the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate for city con­trol­ler in 2009. Today, he is the GOP lead­er of the 38th Ward in East Falls and is con­sidered the un­of­fi­cial lead­er of a group op­posed to long­time party bosses Vito Canuso and Mike Mee­han.

The year 2011 is a so-called “off-year elec­tion,” but Schmidt said it is an im­port­ant one.

If elec­ted, Schmidt would resign as ward lead­er.

“That’s a ter­rible con­flict,” he said of hold­ing both posts.

Schmidt has been en­dorsed by a wide range of people and or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing former Demo­crat­ic Gov. Ed Rendell, Re­pub­lic­an U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, The Phil­adelphia In­quirer, In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22, Iron Work­ers Loc­al Uni­on 401 and the Pente­cost­al Clergy PAC.

“They all have an in­terest in fair elec­tions in Phil­adelphia,” he said.

As a com­mis­sion­er, Schmidt would re­fuse a city-owned car and gas­ol­ine.

“Their job in­volves driv­ing from home to the of­fice and back home again,” he said.

The chal­lenger would take a 10-per­cent pay cut from an an­nu­al salary of about $120,000. In years when he is run­ning for re-elec­tion, he would take a 25-per­cent pay cut, since com­mis­sion­ers are not per­mit­ted to per­form all their du­ties when their names are on the bal­lot.

In of­fice, he would put all elec­tion forms on­line, in­clud­ing nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions, voter re­gis­tra­tion forms and polling place loc­a­tions.

“It’s an is­sue of lead­er­ship of the of­fice,” he said.

Schmidt would make pub­lic all of the of­fice’s ex­penses. He ex­plained that elec­tions in Phil­adelphia cost more than oth­er big cit­ies and are, on av­er­age, twice as costly as oth­er counties in the state. He doesn’t have an an­swer why.

“The city com­mis­sion­ers’ of­fice is not par­tic­u­larly open about its spend­ing,” he said.

At a for­um on Sat­urday in North­ern Liber­ties, Schmidt de­scribed the of­fice as autonom­ous and an­onym­ous. He said com­mis­sion­ers do not jus­ti­fy their spend­ing in front of City Coun­cil.

“Make sure they’re there and ask those ques­tions,” he im­plored Coun­cil can­did­ates who were in at­tend­ance.

Duda, a Park­wood res­id­ent for more than 40 years and long­time city GOP loy­al­ist, was elec­ted in 1995. He re­placed John Kane, who had been elec­ted in 1975, the same year as his fel­low Ox­ford Circle res­id­ent, Tartagli­one.

In this elec­tion, he has been en­dorsed by Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5.

Not­ing that Clark is com­plet­ing his first term and Sing­er and Schmidt are new­comers, Duda ar­gues that Phil­adelphi­ans need some sta­bil­ity in the of­fice.

“I’m the most ex­per­i­enced,” he said. “I know what we’re do­ing. You need ex­per­i­enced people to guide you, re­gard­less of party.”

The in­cum­bent, who is Re­pub­lic­an lead­er of the 66th Ward, has cam­paigned at for­ums, but said he’s skipped ones where he ex­pects Schmidt sup­port­ers to dom­in­ate the con­ver­sa­tion.

“Wherever it’s le­git and I’m not go­ing to get beat up [verbally], I’m glad to go,” he said.

As part of his job, Duda helps make sure roughly 3,500 vot­ing ma­chines get to 1,687 di­vi­sions across the city for the primary and gen­er­al elec­tions. The com­mis­sion­ers are work­ing with the U.S. De­part­ment of Justice to add ramps to more loc­a­tions to make them han­di­capped-ac­cess­ible.

Duda cred­ited the com­mis­sion­ers with se­lect­ing a com­pany called Da­na­h­er Corp. to re­place the old mech­an­ic­al-lever vot­ing ma­chines with touch-screen elec­tron­ic ma­chines.

“The ma­chines, when I got in, were from 1937. Elec­tions of­fi­cials would tally res­ults by hand after thir­teen, four­teen hours,” he said. “We picked out new ones that had the best guar­an­tees and war­ranties and had the least ex­pens­ive price. The cart­ridges have a pa­per trail and can be read in one-and-a-half seconds.”

The com­mis­sion­ers, ac­cord­ing to Duda, did an ex­cel­lent job in 2008, when 300,000 new voter ap­plic­a­tions forms ar­rived in the of­fice.

As a way of help­ing the city’s fin­ances, the com­mis­sion­er has not taken a raise this year. He has also ruled out en­rolling in the con­tro­ver­sial DROP.

“I’m not tak­ing DROP,” he said.

If re-elec­ted, he hopes the new-look City Coun­cil will provide the com­mis­sion­ers with more money in their budget for, among oth­er things, in­creased pay for poll work­ers. They gen­er­ally get paid $95 for work­ing 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“That’s not even min­im­um wage,” he said.

Duda, like Schmidt, de­clined to re­veal wheth­er he would vote for Clark or Sing­er for chair­per­son. The in­cum­bent wouldn’t dis­cuss cam­paign strategy.

“Do the Eagles tell you what their game plan is when the game is on?” he asked. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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