Thinning of the herd to replace Verna; Blackwell unopposed

The race to replace outgoing City Council President Anna C. Verna in her second district seat is down to five candidates with the withdrawal Monday of attorney Richard C. DeMarco.

DeMarco, an attorney specializing in zoning and land-use matters for the Center City law firm Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg, said Monday an illness in the family will leave him unable to devote his full attention to a campaign, and he would throw his support behind attorney Vincent DeFino.

"My family and the DeFino family have known each other for decades, and I believe Vince has what it takes to represent this district, bring positive change to City Hall, and carry my message of reform and accountability," DeMarco said in a press release.

It's still not clear whether all five candidates will stay in the race, in the district that covers South Philly, mosly west of Broad, up into parts of Center City and out over Southwest and the airport.

The other candidates are attorney Damon K. Roberts, who lost to Verna in 2007, state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, Southwest neighborhood activist Tracey Gordon, and Packer Park real estate agent Barbara Capozzi. Political strategists expect the jockeying for position to fall along racial lines, with candidates calculating to what extent the Africa-American vote would be broken up between Roberts, Johnson and Gordon, or the white vote between DeFino and Capozzi.

Verna has represented the district since 1975, when she won election to succeed her father, who died in office. DeMarco worked for Verna from 1994-2000. Verna has not yet endorsed a successor.

In another development, Jannie Blackwell is now running unopposed in the Third District in West Philadelphia. Candidate Tony Ophax King was knocked off the ballot Friday and the remaining challenger, Alicia Burbage, agreed over the weekend to drop out rather than fight a petition challenge.

Over the weekend, Burbage said she would run in the general election as an independent candidate.

“After consideration, I have chosen to advance my candidacy, but under the banner of an independent," Burbage said in an emailed statement. "I look forward to continuing the debate on substantive issues on behalf of the constituents of the 3rd District, being on the fall ballot and changing the paradigm of politics in Philadelphia. We’re moving forward, on purpose.”

Both challenges were handled by Charles M. Gibbs, a May law school grad who grew up in the Blackwell camp with the councilwoman's late husband, Rep. Lucien Blackwell, as his mentor.

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