There was an elephant in Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Colins’ courtroom last Thursday, but Daylin Leach’s campaign manager insists it wasn’t him.
On the surface, the hearing was about the validity of state Rep. Brendan Boyle’s nominating petitions and a Parkwood woman’s bid to have the unopposed incumbent’s name tossed from the primary ballot in the 170th Legislative District. Yet, the woman chose not to attend the hearing while her attorney, Lawrence Otter, used the platform to ask numerous questions about Boyle’s simultaneous campaign for the U.S. House.
Boyle, a Democrat from Somerton, is facing state Sen. Leach, along with Marjorie Margolies and Val Arkoosh, in the primary for Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District. Election Day is Tuesday, May 20.
Considering that Boyle is unopposed in his state House race and that the woman challenging his nominating petitions, Michelle Szydlowski of the 12700 block of Medford Road, has no known history of political activism or advocacy in the area, the Boyle camp feels that ulterior motives were at work in the ballot challenge.
“This lawsuit had no basis in factual law. It was frivolous,” Nick Himebaugh, Boyle’s legislative assistant in the 170th, said after the hearing. “Representative Boyle holds his staff to the highest standards and this is a waste of taxpayer money and time. … It felt like a fishing expedition.”
Colins, a Northeast Philly native who used to call longtime Republican City Committee Chairman William Austin “Billy” Meehan a neighbor, agreed. The judge rejected the complaint.
Otter claimed that 833 of the 1,052 signatures appearing on Boyle’s nominating petitions were invalid because Himebaugh had notarized them. As a member of Boyle’s legislative staff, Himebaugh had a pecuniary interest in the nominating petitions and, therefore, was prevented by state law from notarizing them, Otter argued. Boyle needed at least 300 valid signatures to qualify for the state House ballot.
Boyle’s attorney, Tim Brennan, countered that what Himebaugh did is a long-established and accepted practice with multiple court precedents to support its legality. Himebaugh testified that he did not notarize signatures that he had collected personally and did not collect signatures or notarize petitions while on the clock as a member of Boyle’s legislative staff. He is not on Boyle’s campaign staff and is employed by Pennsylvania’s House Democratic Caucus.
“I find that Mister Himebaugh had no pecuniary interest in this campaign,” Colins said. “The right to run for office and to circulate petitions are two of the most highly regarded Constitutional rights. I think the Democratic Caucus is highly fortunate to have someone with Mister Himebaugh’s credentials and integrity to work for them.”
Boyle’s camp feels it’s more than coincidence that their candidate is also running for Congress. Sources with knowledge of local politics have speculated that were Boyle removed from the 170th ballot, he may be forced into a costly and time-consuming write-in campaign that would divert resources from his congressional effort.
“I believe what was brought to court [on Thursday] had nothing to do with the 170th,” said Adam Erickson, Boyle’s congressional campaign manager. “If it’s a congressional campaign behind this, they should just show up to the forums to campaign as opposed to abusing the courts.”
Aren Platt, Leach’s campaign manager, said he attended the hearing merely to observe. He happens to live near the Center City courtroom.
“Unequivocally, the Leach campaign was not in any way involved in bringing this case,” he said. “The campaign has never met [Szydlowski] and never employed Larry Otter.”
After the hearing, Otter conceded that he had never met Szydlowski, either. The woman was not required by law to attend the hearing. But then, how did she get involved and who hired Otter? The Northeast Times tried to contact Szydlowski at her home and by telephone, but there was no response.
“She’s a concerned citizen,” the Bucks County-based attorney said, adding that he intended to “send my bill out” to a “P.O. Box” in Philadelphia. ••