Traffic Court candidates choose ballot positions

The Philadelphia City Commission, by tradition, uses a Horn & Hardart coffee can and bingo balls to select the ballot position for candidates in local elections.

The best bet, it seemed Wednesday morning, for candidates interested in three open seats on Philadelphia Traffic Court was to avoid the City Commission hearing where ballot position was determined. 

After all, the court is awash with controversy.  Nine current or former judges were charged with crimes by federal prosecutors on Jan. 31.  Three have already pleaded guilty.  And the state legislature is considering two bills to abolish Traffic Court.

Warren Bloom, a perennial candidate, didn't attend the standing-room only event to determine the ballot position for 40 Democratic candidates.  Commission staffer Gary Ferris picked for Bloom when his name was called. 

Ferris reached into the Horn & Hardart coffee can holding numbered bingo balls, a long-standing Commission tradition, and pulled the first ballot position for Bloom.  A mix of amazement and angst rolled through the crowd, since ballot position in a crowded field can make all the difference for a candidate.  One candidate dubbed Ferris "Good Hand Gary" and more than one candidate later said they wished he could draw their number.

Ballot position can help but is no guarantee for election. Bloom drew the number one spot in the 2011 Democratic primary election for City Commission but still finished six out of seven candidates.  He also ran unsuccessfully for the City Commission in 2003 and was removed from the ballot in a City Commission race in 2001 in a petition challenge.

Bloom later said his new campaign motto will be: "Forget the gloom, vote for Bloom."  He said he hoped voters urged the state legislature to reject the effort to eliminate the three vacant Traffic Court seats and then fold the agency's duties into the city's Municipal Court.

Lewis Harris Jr., another perennial candidate and the former Republican leader of the 29th Ward, sent a representative who drew the second ballot position for him.  Harris, who is running as a Democrat, has run unsuccessfully twice as a Republican for the state House and once for Traffic Court.

Fareeda Brewington drew the third ballot position on the last of 40 draws.  Harris and Brewington face legal challenges to their nomination petitions.  Hearings for the challenges, filed on Tuesday, start Friday Morning.

A NOTE: A miscount by the City Commission resulted in previous reporting that misstated the number of candidates for Traffic Court.  There are 40 Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates. One candidate filed as both a Democrat and a Republican.