All eyes on the City Council president for at-large seat vacancy

All eyes are on Philly council president Darrell Clarke, who holds the power to call a special election for someone to finish the last year-and-a-half of councilman Bill Green's four-year term. Green is resigning to chair the School Reform Commission. (Michael Bryant/Staff/File)

BILL GREEN IV will make his final appearance as a Democratic at-large City Council member next week before being sworn in by Gov. Corbett on Feb. 18 as the new chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

And that has a lot of people watching City Council President Darrell Clarke very closely.

Clarke holds the power to call a special election for someone to finish the last year-and-a-half of Green's four-year term.

That could solve a brewing problem in the city's Democratic Party between Northeast Philly state representatives Ed Neilson and John Sabatina Jr.

Neilson, in the second year of his first full two-year term, has an unusual problem: Legislative redistricting moved his 169th District to York County, so he can't run for a second term here.

Neilson now lives in the 174th District, where he will challenge Sabatina, who launched his campaign last night for a fifth term.

Neilson is a former political director for the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Sabatina is the son of longtime 56th Ward leader John Sabatina Sr. So this could get ugly.

But what if Neilson or Sabatina is nominated by the party's ward leaders to be the candidate in a Council special election?

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic chairman, is working on just such a deal. Brady yesterday said he spoke with Clarke, who would have to issue a writ for a special election 60 days before the May 20 primary election to get it on that ballot.

The Democrats and Republicans would have 15 days from the date of the special-election writ to nominate candidates.  

Matt Wolfe, a West Philly Republican ward leader, wants to run in such a special election.

Independents could run, too, but would have to collect at least 1,785 signatures on nominating petitions to get on the ballot.

Clarke yesterday would not say if he would call a special election.

"If we can avoid a fight between two incumbents, that would be better for the party," Brady said. "If we can avoid a family fight, we should do that."

Sabatina says he isn't interested in Council. Neilson didn't respond to a request for comment.

Neilson's former boss, Local 98 leader John Dougherty, said his background in the union and on Gov. Rendell's staff would make him a "great choice" for Council.


13th District money race

Former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies continues to turn political heads with her spending to recapture the 13th District seat she held for one term in 1993-95.

Year-end campaign-finance reports filed last Friday show Margolies in last place in the money race for the primary election.

Margolies had $173,866 in the bank as of Dec. 31. Dr. Val Arkoosh led with $643,932. State Sen. Daylin Leach had $481,197, while State Rep. Brendan Boyle reported having $381,102.

Three Republicans have filed to run for the 13th District - half in Northeast Philly, half in Montgomery County - but none has filed 2013 finance reports, according to the Federal Election Commission's website.

Margolies raised $211,039 in the last three months of 2013 and spent $223,828, with 77 percent going to 10 political consultants.

One of those consultants, Ken Smukler, dismissed interest in the campaign's cash "burn rate," noting that Margolies is leading the field in name recognition.

"I am well aware that conventional wisdom calls for campaigns to limit their burn rate and horde all their money for large television buys at the end," said Smukler, adding that such practices don't always pay off in multi-candidate primaries in the Philadelphia media market.


House family matters

The arrests last week of state Rep. J.P. Miranda and his sister in an alleged ghost-employee scam prompted the state House Democratic Caucus to have two staff members review the status of more than 700 employees.

Their quest: determine if any House Democrats have family members on their staffs.

State Rep. Angel Cruz's sister, who had been on his payroll for nearly a decade, got her walking papers after the Miranda bust.

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody "suggested" the firing, according to Dermody's spokesman, Bill Patton.

Cruz, who didn't return our calls last week or this week, went on the Spanish-language El Zol-1340AM last Friday to counter that claim. Cruz said the Democratic leadership fired his sister due to the "chaos" that Miranda's arrest caused.

Cruz also suggested that other House Democrats were having relatives fired in the same way.

Patton said House Democratic rules prevent members from hiring spouses, children, siblings or parents. So far, no other relatives like that have been found, said Patton, adding that the review would be finished today.



Phone: 215-854-5973

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN