Politics & Policy

What’s Philly’s Republican Leadership Thinking?

Philadelphia politics has long been known to be a breeding ground for corruption and shady doings. The typical response from Republicans (themselves an endangered species, and basically absent from any level of government) is, “That’s what you get when you have one party control for a half century.”

But now it looks like the rot has spread.

Michael Meehan, man behind the Philadelphia Republican establishment, seems to be trying to kick out ward leaders — many of them black — from participation in the party:

Ernest Pridgen is a 53-year-old Brewerytown resident, a one-time bartender and forklift operator who gets around his neighborhood by bicycle. In the past year, he’s taken some unusual steps – changing his political registration to Republican and becoming a GOP committeeman in North Philadelphia.

Republicans are an endangered species in Pridgen’s 32nd Ward, outnumbered 17-to-1 by Democrats. Only two people, Pridgen and Robert Lawrence, were interested enough to run for committeeman in the May 18 primary, even after a recruiting effort by Republican State Committee.

Nobody from the city Republican organization called to congratulate the party’s new, unpaid field workers, or provide any information about electing a ward leader. Pridgen and Lawrence met at a local community center and agreed that Pridgen would be the ward leader.

Two nights later, Pridgen got a ride to the United Republican Club in Kensington, where newly elected ward leaders were gathering to choose party leaders citywide.

The party chairman, Vito Canuso Jr., asked Pridgen to leave. “[He] said they didn’t have me on record as leader of the ward,” Pridgen said. “Then they said I was disturbing the meeting. . . . I was so upset I just walked out of the building.”

Pridgen is among five or six Republicans elected by their ward organizations to become ward leaders, but the party’s Philadelphia leadership has delayed or denied them their seats. Their common link: An alliance with a mostly younger group of party dissidents critical of the party leadership of Canuso and general counsel Michael P. Meehan.

The rejected ward leaders include Kevin J. Kelly, founder of an independent Republican organization called The Loyal Opposition and one of Meehan’s most outspoken critics. At two meetings, GOP committeemen in Mount Airy’s 22nd Ward elected Kelly as their ward leader, even though he lives in Northern Liberties. City Committee threw out both votes.

The article continues, and it’s well worth reading, as it delves deeper into the scandal of forged signatures and Philadelphia politics at its worst.

As a so-called “battleground state” (despite not having chosen a Republican president since 1988), Pennsylvania’s future as a decidedly red or blue state will likely depend in large part on the viability of the Republican opposition in Philadelphia to, at the least, make its races competitive again.

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