State Rep. Tony Payton withdrew from the April 24 Democratic primary election this evening after a two-day Commonwealth Court hearing made clear that he did not have enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions to remain on the ballot. Payton submitted 1,854 signatures in his bid for a fourth two-year term representing the 179th District but a line-by-line examination of those names, with the help of a hand-writing analyst, resulted in many being disqualified.
The legal challenge against Payton was filed by Doris Robinson, a Democratic committeewoman in the 23rd Ward. Payton said the challenge was spurred by her ward leader, former City Councilman Dan Savage, who lost his City Hall post to Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez in 2007 and lost a bid to retake the Council seat from her last year. Payton said the challenge was payback for his refusing to support Savage over Sanchez.
Savage denied that while calling it a "disgrace" that Payton could not follow the state election code to collect at least 300 valid signatures on his petitions, the number needed to stay on the ballot. Savage said he was supporting James Clay Jr. in his bid to challenge Payton in the primary.
With no declared Republican candidate, Clay will win the seat automatically this year unless a third-party candidate emerges in the November general election. Payton will serve until the end of the legislative session in November.
Payton said a variety of problems brought down his petition signatures, including people who were not registered as Democrats, women who used their maiden names and people who didn't fill out the form correctly.
"I went to several churches," Payton said. "It turns out, a lot of people at church aren't registered or are registered Republican or with no affiliation."