David vs. Goliath in South Philly

John Dougherty and Karen Brown, in a photo from a Brown campaign web site in 2011.

They say truth is stranger than fiction.

Well, in what can only be described as a bizarre development – even for Philadelphia politics – former 2011 Philly GOP mayoral nominee Karen Brown is now a former Republican, as well.

But wait.

The real news gets better. Much better.

Brown, 52, whom the Philadelphia County Board of Elections confirms changed her registration to Democrat on Feb. 19, is actively campaigning to become the leader of the Democratic 1st Ward in South Philadelphia. Brown says she has a slate of supporters who are running for committeeperson in order to support her in the upcoming ward election.

Just one minor problem.

The ward already has a leader.

His name?

John Dougherty.


Yes, that’s John J. Dougherty, as in the business manager for IBEW Local Union 98.

I had to ask Brown what inspired her to run against one of the most powerful leaders in Philadelphia.

“All I want is fair government, where everyone has a voice and everyone's voice matters,” she told me. (Full disclosure: I ran against Karen Brown for the Republican nomination for mayor in 2011.)

Brown, who appeared quite energetic and passionate when I met her in front of her home in South Philly yesterday, shared a mailing with me put out by New Generation 1 PAC – a PAC whose treasurer is listed as Michelle Lauren Rumbaugh, but which has no direct involvement with Dougherty, according to Dougherty spokesperson, Frank Keel.

The mailing can be seen here.

When asked about Brown, Keel responded through email, “Karen Who?”

Keel then sent me a statement authored by Tom Rumbaugh, a committeeman in the 1st Ward who confirmed the statement and who indicated he was the PAC treasurer’s father.

In the statement, Rumbaugh said, “Karen Brown was the only vote against John Dougherty for Ward Leader. This is a joke and everyone but her knows it. She was a Democrat. Then she re-registered as a Republican. Now we’re supposed to believe that she’s once again embraced the principles of the Democratic Party? Please. Karen Brown has no shame. She’s promising jobs to people who will run on her ticket when she can’t even hold a job herself. She’s been sued multiple times for non-payment. She’s had multiple liens filed against her ... She declared personal bankruptcy at least four times. She faced mortgage foreclosure at least five times. The city filed liens against her for unpaid gas bills. It’s crazy that we’re even talking about her.”

Matt Wolfe, a ward leader in West Philadelphia seeking the GOP nomination for the City Council special election in May, said, “I am in the business, so to speak, of making the Republican Party larger and stronger. I would rather see Karen active in the Republican Party. I think that is the best avenue. We need community activists like Karen Brown. Short political resume, but long community activism resume. I want people like her in the Republican Party.”

In a year in which all the excitement was supposed to be in the governor’s race, all eyes will be on the rumblings in deep South Philly.