High court ruling brings high anxiety to 169th race

Thanks to a tie-break­ing vote by state Su­preme Court Chief Justice and Rhawn­hurst res­id­ent Ron Castille, new bound­ar­ies for state House and Sen­ate dis­tricts are kaput. Denny O’Bri­en’s old House seat likely will stay put, spur­ring a crowded con­test.


The state polit­ic­al world re­mains in chaos fol­low­ing last week’s 4-3 rul­ing by the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court to re­ject the Le­gis­lat­ive Re­ap­por­tion­ment Com­mis­sion’s plan for Sen­ate and House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives dis­tricts.

The ori­gin­al plan passed by a 4-1 vote in Decem­ber. It was sup­por­ted by former Judge Steph­en McEwen, the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate and House lead­ers and the Demo­crat­ic House lead­er. The Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er op­posed the plan.

Sen­ate Demo­crats and oth­ers ap­pealed the plan, which was seen by many Demo­crats as one that would keep the GOP in power for the next dec­ade. Of­fi­cially, the ap­peal claimed that town­ships, bor­oughs and cit­ies were un­fairly split.

Three Re­pub­lic­an Su­preme Court mem­bers voted to up­hold the plan, while the Court’s three Demo­crats voted against it. Chief Justice Ron Castille, a Re­pub­lic­an and former Phil­adelphia dis­trict at­tor­ney, joined the Demo­crats in op­pos­i­tion.

“I think it was really a cour­ageous thing,” said state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.).

Boyle, as chair­man of the House Demo­crat­ic Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, is ec­stat­ic at the rul­ing.

In 2010, Re­pub­lic­ans cap­tured a net of 13 seats to take a 112-91 ad­vant­age. A series of re­cent resig­na­tions gives the GOP a 110-87 edge.

Re­pub­lic­ans won 15 Demo­crat­ic-held seats two years ago, and the plan that was just re­jec­ted strengthened the dis­tricts for those fresh­men.

Now, Demo­crats might get a chance to win back those seats, if this year’s elec­tions are held us­ing the bound­ary lines from 2010. The primary is sched­uled for April 24, and can­did­ates are col­lect­ing nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions.

“This would make our task easi­er,” said Boyle, adding that he ex­pects Demo­crats to tar­get up to 50 Re­pub­lic­an seats. “Many more dis­tricts are com­pet­it­ive.”

Asked why House Minor­ity Lead­er Frank Dermody would sup­port a plan that seem­ingly harmed his party’s chances of re­cap­tur­ing the ma­jor­ity, Boyle reasoned that the plan was bet­ter than a pre­lim­in­ary one.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mike Turzai said he is ready to “im­me­di­ately” work to ad­dress the Su­preme Court’s con­cerns. He said, “It should not be any­one’s goal for this year’s elec­tions to be held in the 2001 lines, which clearly dis­en­fran­chise voters throughout the state and do not pro­por­tion­ately rep­res­ent the pop­u­la­tion shifts.”

Loc­ally, the biggest news is that the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict — va­cated by Re­pub­lic­an Den­nis O’Bri­en when he was sworn in to City Coun­cil on Jan. 2 — might not move to York County, at least for now.

Both parties have agree­ments to move seats to areas that have pop­u­la­tion growth. The GOP chose to move O’Bri­en’s seat to an over­whelm­ingly Re­pub­lic­an area of York County.

Now, there might be primary, spe­cial and gen­er­al elec­tions for the seat in the Far North­east.

Pos­sible Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in­clude teach­er John Mc­Cann; law­yer, former As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney and two-time ju­di­cial can­did­ate Anne Mar­ie Coyle; John Fritz, who is pro-life, fa­vors term lim­its and prom­ises to be a full-time le­gis­lat­or; and Dave Kralle, O’Bri­en’s Coun­cil aide who also worked in his state dis­trict of­fice.

Pos­sible Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates are Ed Neilson, who handles gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for a Cen­ter City law firm and is a former of­fi­cial in Gov. Ed Rendell’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and with the In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tric­al Work­ers Loc­al 98; and Shawn Dillon, a long­time em­ploy­ee of the state aud­it­or gen­er­al’s of­fice and Demo­crat­ic lead­er of Ward 66-A.

“It’s one we should win,” Boyle said of the 169th.

Still, there are all kinds of pos­sib­il­it­ies for that seat, in­clud­ing one scen­ario where the win­ner would have to move to York County.

“I’d be very sur­prised if the per­son wound up serving a full term,” Boyle said.

Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) saw his dis­trict strengthened for a Re­pub­lic­an un­der the plan that was re­jec­ted. He could face a tough race un­der the ex­ist­ing lines, es­pe­cially in a pres­id­en­tial year.

One pos­sible can­did­ate is Wil­li­am Dun­bar, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fat­tah and state Rep. Tony Payton.

“It cer­tainly should be a com­pet­it­ive seat,” Boyle said.

In re­lated news, Numa St. Louis, a 61st Ward com­mit­tee­man, will chal­lenge state Rep. Mark Co­hen (D-202nd dist.) in the primary.


Joe Rooney, a Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate in the 13th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, sug­ges­ted that Demo­crat­ic Rep. Allyson Schwartz “staged” the entry of an Oc­cupy Phil­adelphia mem­ber in­to the Demo­crat­ic primary to make her ap­pear more mod­er­ate.

Nath­an Klein­man plans to chal­lenge Schwartz in the primary.

Rooney, a Delta Air Lines pi­lot and a re­tired Mar­ine of­ficer, dis­missed the Oc­cupy move­ment as one that “has demon­strated time and again it has no un­der­stand­ing of either the causes of our eco­nom­ic prob­lems or the real prob­lems people in this dis­trict are ex­per­i­en­cing.”

The Re­pub­lic­an said Schwartz has one of the most lib­er­al vot­ing re­cords in Con­gress. He faul­ted her for sup­posedly be­ing be­hind a 2010 chal­lenge to the nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions of GOP can­did­ates Dee Ad­cock, Josh Quinter and Bri­an Haught­on. The chal­lenge was even­tu­ally dropped.

The Schwartz cam­paign had no com­ment.

Rooney will be a guest on Mar­vin Bar­rish’s polit­ic­al ra­dio show on Sunday, March 4, from noon to 1 p.m. The show can be heard on WN­JC (1360 AM).


Dan Mc­Caf­fery, of East Tor­res­dale, last week dropped out of the Demo­crat­ic primary for state at­tor­ney gen­er­al.

The an­nounce­ment leaves former con­gress­man Patrick Murphy and former Lack­awanna County As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kath­leen Kane in the Demo­crat­ic con­test. The Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate will be Cum­ber­land County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Dav­id Freed.

Last month, Mc­Caf­fery hos­ted a cam­paign rally at City Hall, where he was en­dorsed by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz, City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on and state Reps. John Sabat­ina Jr. and Kev­in Boyle.

At the time, the former Phil­adelphia as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney said he ex­pec­ted to raise up to $2 mil­lion to com­pete with his two well-fun­ded primary op­pon­ents.

However, in an­noun­cing his with­draw­al, he cited the dif­fi­cult task of rais­ing money.

“I reached the in­es­cap­able con­clu­sion that the cur­rent con­fig­ur­a­tion of this race and the eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances of the time make it ex­traordin­ar­ily dif­fi­cult, if not im­possible, to con­tin­ue to mount a vi­able cam­paign,” he said.

May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter had not made an en­dorse­ment be­fore Mc­Caf­fery with­drew, but he soon lined up be­hind Murphy, who ex­pects to be­ne­fit now that he’s the only res­id­ent of South­east­ern Pennsylvania in the primary race.

Also last week, Murphy was the guest speak­er at NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica’s din­ner cel­eb­rat­ing the 39th an­niversary of the United States Su­preme Court’s Roe vs. Wade de­cision leg­al­iz­ing abor­tion. The din­ner took place in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. ••


You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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