Tartaglione overcomes efforts of Local 98

A big win: Tina Tartagli­one claimed 51 per­cent of the vote in the Demo­crat­ic primary for her Pennsylvania Sen­ate seat. WIL­LI­AM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

Danny Sav­age and To­mas Sanc­hez wer­en’t the only chal­lenges con­front­ing Tina Tartagli­one in last week’s Demo­crat­ic primary for her Pennsylvania Sen­ate seat. Tartagli­one’s obstacles also in­cluded her le­gendary polit­ic­al fam­ily’s past as well as a grow­ing force con­sidered by many as the city’s polit­ic­al fu­ture.

In Sav­age, lead­er of the 23rd Ward in the Lower North­east, Tartagli­one faced the chosen can­did­ate of John J. Dougherty’s ubi­quit­ous In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tric­al Work­ers Loc­al 98 and all the fin­an­cial and lo­gist­ic­al might that comes with that en­dorse­ment.

Za­ck Stal­berg, pres­id­ent of the non­par­tis­an, not-for-profit elec­tion watch­dog group Com­mit­tee of Sev­enty, was re­cently quoted by KYW ra­dio re­fer­ring to Loc­al 98 as “the most power­ful in­sti­tu­tion in Phil­adelphia, and pos­sibly the state.” In­deed, Loc­al 98-backed can­did­ates claimed nom­in­a­tions for a U.S. House seat with Brendan Boyle and a state House seat with Mike Driscoll, in ad­di­tion to win­ning a spe­cial elec­tion for a va­cant City Coun­cil at-large seat with Ed Neilson, al­though the uni­on’s gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz came up short on Elec­tion Day.

While Loc­al 98’s sup­port helped Boyle over­come former con­gress­wo­man and Clin­ton in-law Mar­jor­ie Mar­gol­ies in the race for Schwartz’s long­time U.S. House seat, a uni­on-backed blitz of dir­ect mail­ings and broad­cast me­dia ads couldn’t take down the five-term in­cum­bent state sen­at­or, who garnered her own bloc of or­gan­ized labor sup­port, in­clud­ing team­sters, car­penters, sprink­ler fit­ters and the United Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers Loc­al 1776. 

Tartagli­one re­mains a dues-pay­ing Loc­al 1776 mem­ber des­pite be­ing con­fined to a wheel­chair as a res­ult of a 2003 boat­ing ac­ci­dent. On elec­tion night, she reveled in stav­ing off the Loc­al 98 on­slaught em­phat­ic­ally, with 51 per­cent of the vote. Sav­age took 29 per­cent and Sanc­hez 20 per­cent.

“I can­not ex­press how grate­ful I am to labor. They stood up to John Dougherty, and we won. We won!” Tartagli­one told the North­east Times while flanked by moth­er Marge Tartagli­one and Loc­al 1776 Pres­id­ent Wendell W. Young IV. “We drew a line in the sand.”

Tartagli­one will be the heavy fa­vor­ite over Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee John J. Jen­kins III in Novem­ber due to her party’s enorm­ous re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in the dis­trict.

Sanc­hez’s can­did­acy figured to present its own set of chal­lenges for Tartagli­one, who has rep­res­en­ted the 2nd dis­trict since 1995. Fol­low­ing the latest Sen­ate re-map­ping, the di­verse dis­trict stretches as far as Bustleton and Holmes­burg in­to the North­east, while span­ning south in­to Kens­ing­ton and Fairhill, with their large Latino pop­u­la­tions.

The Phil­adelphia In­quirer en­dorsed Sanc­hez, who is the hus­band of City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez. He headed a slate of can­did­ates that in­cluded three of the coun­cil­wo­man’s staff mem­bers who were vy­ing for state House seats. They had hoped for strength in num­bers, but only Jason Dawkins emerged vic­tori­ous with an 89-vote win over fresh­man in­cum­bent James W. Clay in the 179th dis­trict. About 4,300 votes were cast in the dis­trict.

As for Tartagli­one’s race, Sav­age al­ways figured to be her top chal­lenger, largely be­cause of her fam­ily’s re­cent his­tory with Loc­al 98 and Dougherty. In 2011, the uni­on backed Bobby Hen­on for City Coun­cil’s 6th dis­trict seat to re­place the re­tir­ing Joan Kra­jew­ski. Marge Tartagli­one, chair­wo­man of the city com­mis­sion­ers at the time, went against the elec­tri­cians and sup­por­ted Marty Bed­narek. Hen­on won.

Mean­while, Loc­al 98 en­dorsed an­oth­er ward lead­er, Stephanie Sing­er, over Marge in her own primary. Sing­er won, bring­ing to an end Tartagli­one’s 36-year run in the com­mis­sion­ers’ of­fice.

This year, Loc­al 98 backed Sav­age, who served 13 months in City Coun­cil in late 2006 and 2007 after win­ning a spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Rick Mari­ano, who had been con­victed of fraud. Sav­age lost his 7th dis­trict seat to Quinones-Sanc­hez in the 2007 primary.

While the elec­tri­cians spent at least $100,000 this year on cable tele­vi­sion ads for Sav­age, ac­cord­ing to The Pub­lic Re­cord, the chal­lenger’s pre­ferred meth­od seemed to be the mail­boxes of 2nd dis­trict voters. The cam­paign sent out more than a dozen unique post­cards, many of which claimed that Tartagli­one skipped “more than 1,100 votes” in the Sen­ate and that she “doesn’t show up for work.”

Fur­ther, Sav­age ri­diculed the in­cum­bent for spon­sor­ing bills to cre­ate “Mas­sage Ther­apy Aware­ness Week” and “Mush­room Month,” while ac­cus­ing the sen­at­or, her moth­er, her sis­ter Ren­ee and her broth­er-in-law Car­los Ma­tos of “ab­us­ing our tax dol­lars for too long,” cit­ing a series of con­tro­ver­sies in­volving the fam­ily. Ren­ee Tartagli­one formerly worked un­der Marge in the com­mis­sion­ers’ of­fice, while Ma­tos is Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 19th Ward des­pite be­ing a con­victed felon.

“When they bring my moth­er in, it’s per­son­al,” Tina Tartagli­one said, “be­cause my fam­ily had noth­ing to do with me be­ing a sen­at­or.”

Tartagli­one said she still con­siders her first cam­paign in 1994 as her toughest. That Novem­ber, she un­seated Re­pub­lic­an Bruce Marks, who had claimed the seat sev­en months earli­er fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful leg­al chal­lenge over Demo­crat Wil­li­am Stin­son. Stin­son ini­tially had been de­clared the vic­tor over Marks in a 1993 spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Fran­cis Lynch, who had died in of­fice, but the court found the Stin­son cam­paign guilty of elec­tion fraud and re­versed the out­come.

Yet, this year’s cam­paign had some pretty strange dy­nam­ics, too.

“This elec­tion, I was get­ting hit from both ends. In the [1994] elec­tion, it was just the two of us go­ing head-to-head,” Tartagli­one said. “And I tried to stay pos­it­ive. I was the only one who had a re­cord to stand on, so I really wasn’t run­ning. I was do­ing my job, like I do every day.”

At least 16 pro-Tartagli­one mail­ings were sent out by her own cam­paign, the Demo­crat­ic State Com­mit­tee, the “Em­power­PAC” polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee and the Pennsylvania State Troop­ers As­so­ci­ation. Many ac­cused Sav­age of “ly­ing” and “mis­lead­ing voters” about Tartagli­one’s re­cord while la­beling him as “in­sult­ing,” “rot­ten” and “not fit to serve.” Oth­er mail­ings touted the in­cum­bent’s sup­port for rais­ing the min­im­um wage and more edu­ca­tion fund­ing, while por­tray­ing her as a fight­er who over­came her in­jur­ies to re­main in­volved in the Sen­ate.

One vari­able that Tartagli­one’s camp didn’t plan may also have be­ne­fit­ted her. About a week be­fore the elec­tion, four uni­ons in­clud­ing elec­tri­cians re­turned to their jobs at the Pennsylvania Con­ven­tion Cen­ter after agree­ing to new work rules. Mean­while, team­sters and car­penters were locked out after they re­portedly failed to agree to the new rules be­fore a dead­line set by the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. That set up a May 5 scen­ario in which dozens of uni­on work­ers pick­eted the cen­ter, while oth­ers re­por­ted for work. Phil­adelphia po­lice were de­ployed to mon­it­or the scene, which did not turn vi­ol­ent ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports.

The team­sters and car­penters “were already there” be­hind Tartagli­one in the elec­tion, the sen­at­or said be­fore adding, “There was a little bit more mo­tiv­a­tion from some groups.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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