175th District Ward Leaders Trying to Pull a Shady Switcheroo After Mike O'Brien Withdraws From Ballot

(Left to right: Rep. Steve McCarter, Mary Isaacson, Rep. Mike O'Brien | Image: Philly Public Record)

Despite Democratic Party primary voters' clear preference for change in the 2018 ward elections this May, Party insiders are trying to sneak through a mid-summer State Rep switcheroo in the 175th District while everybody is down the shore and not paying attention.

On Wednesday, Mike O'Brien, the long-time Democratic Representative of the 175th District, announced he would withdraw from the general election ballot due to health reasons, just two months after winning the May 15th primary. 

The 175th District is just to the north of the 184th District, which upstart progressive candidate Elizabeth Fiedler won, and contains neighborhoods like Queen Village, Old City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and Port Richmond. It's tailor-made for the kind of candidate profile that racked up big wins in the committee person races in those neighborhoods this May.

O'Brien had been rumored to be eyeing retirement for a while now, and it was no secret that his preference is for his Chief of Staff, Mary Isaacson, to become his successor to the seat. 

The big question was always whether O'Brien would try help Isaacson win the seat in an open and reputable way—announcing his retirement in the late fall or early winter of last year, and then campaigning for her in an open primary field—or in a sneaky and disreputable way—by resigning in the middle of the campaign or after he was sworn in, and having party insiders coronate his long-time staffer.

We now know he went with the sneaky option. 

In the same City & State story announcing that O'Brien had filed his withdrawal paperwork, we also hear from the ward leaders in wards covering the 175th that the fix is already in for replacing him—5th Ward leader Mike Boyle intends to call a vote on Isaacson at a ward leader meeting this coming Monday at noon, just 5 days from now. 

State party rules specify that a new nominee must be chosen within 30 days, so there is simply no reason to rush a vote on a new nominee just a few days after O'Brien's withdrawal other than to deny other potentially interested candidates time to get organized and seek the appointment.

It's old-school machine politics at its worst, and just two months after voters in these wards elected dozens of new committee people, many of whom ran on open ward principles, and institutionalizing committee person voting for endorsements in exactly this type of situation. The ward leaders trying to rush this appointment to a vote are denying 175th District voters a fair and open process.

Here's what the rules say: 

The State Executive Committee is technically the ultimate decision maker to replace a nominee, though in practice they always defer to the local party, and Democratic City Committee rules leave the decision up to the wards overlapping the district in question. They just need to select a new nominee within 30 days. State Party rules also require the vacancy to be filled within 30 days for the nominee to appear on the general election ballot.

So the wards have until 30 days from now to choose the replacement nominee in the 175th District, and then have the State Executive Committee vote to ratify that choice. 

That 30-day window provides plenty of time to have an open call for nominations, which gives any interested parties a few weeks to get organized and make their pitch to the joint meeting of the Ward Executive Committees (read: all the committee people in the 175th). Maybe the nomination will turn out the way the ward leaders want, or maybe it won't.

But the bottom line is that there should be more than 5 (!!) days for people in the 175th district to make their pitch to the people making this decision, which should be the elected committee people. 

If you live in the 175th District and want to see an open and democratic process for choosing the replacement Democratic nominee, call or email your ward leader and demand they push Monday's meeting back by at least two weeks. Find your ward on the map and then use the contact info below:

Ward 2: Nikil Saval - (215)-644-8712, [email protected]
Ward 5: Michael Boyle: (215) 735-1397, [email protected]
Ward 18: Theresa Alicea: 267-239-0137, [email protected]
Ward 25: Tommy Johnson: 215-423-9027
Ward 31: Peg Rzepski: 215-426-4616, [email protected]

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