Democratic ward leaders pick Neilson for Council special election

Philadelphia's Democratic ward leaders this afternoon selected state Rep. Ed Neilson of Northeast Philly to be their candidate in a May 20 special election for the at-large City Council seat vacated last month by Bill Green IV, who resigned to become chairman of the School Reform Commission.

The vote was unanimous, according to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic chairman, after four other Democrats expressed interest and then withdrew from consideration "for party unity."

The selection of Neilson helps avoid a nasty primary fight.  Neilson is finishing his first term in a district that was moved by redistricting in 2012 from Northeast Philadelphia to York County. He was planning on running against state Rep. John Sabatina Jr., who is seeking a fifth term.

Neilson worked for the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  Sabatina is the son of a longtime Northeast Philly ward leader.

Local 98 leader John Dougherty, who voted as the 1st ward leader, dismissed the notion that he is trying to build his union's power in Council. Neilson, like Councilman Bobby Henon, served as the union's political director.

"It has nothing to do with their history with me," Dougherty said of the vote. "They're just really good people who came up the line."

Neilson too disputed that he would be part of a union block in Council, though he called himself a "Local 98 guy" and said he had several conversations with Dougherty about the Council run.

"He made it my decision," Neilson said.

City Council President Darrell Clarke last week ordered the special election to be held on May 20, the same day as the primary election.  Matt Wolfe, a Republican ward leader from West Philly, is seeking his party's nomination for the special election.  Independent candidates must collect the signatures of 1,785 registered voters on nominating petitions by April 8 to secure a spot on the ballot.