Can the number of times you flush your toilet and turn on your lights determine if you are eligible to be on the ballot for a state House district?
Why, yes, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne E. Covey ruled Thursday, it sure can.
Covey booted from the ballot Frederick Ramirez, the Democratic nominee in the March 21 special election for the 197th District.
That came two weeks after Covey held a hearing on a challenge brought by four voters — two Democrats, two Republicans — in the North Philadelphia district who claimed the low levels of water and electricity usage at Ramirez’s home showed he didn’t really live there.
While Democratic voters were needed to challenge a Democratic candidate, this was really an efficient legal hit by the GOP. Linda Kerns, the Republican City Committee's associate general counsel, filed the challenge and was assisted by Annie Havey, the local party’s deputy director.
Customer service supervisors from the Water Department and Peco testified in the hearing that they could not discern from the levels of usage whether the home was regularly occupied, as Ramirez claimed.
But Covey was convinced Ramirez didn’t really live there, noting that he testified he keeps an apartment in Andorra, sometimes sleeps at his girlfriend’s home in Bristol, and takes long trips to Florida and Puerto Rico.
And the “leave a light on in the window” trick didn’t seem to sway the judge. Covey wrote in her 50-page ruling that Ramirez's “continuously leaving a bedroom light burning” at his home in the district “was to create the appearance that he resided within.”
Ramirez on Thursday accused Covey, a Republican, of acting on partisanship, not precedent, in her ruling.
“I can't believe this," he said. "This is a political decision. This is not a legal decision."
The Pennsylvania Department of State’s calendar for the special election set Tuesday as the “last day to certify names and residences of all candidates.” So that deadline has passed.
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said an appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible. Or the party could go to court to request a replacement candidate. Or it could run a write-in candidate.
Or, Brady said, “if everything fails,” a Republican will hold the seat until 2019.
That would be a remarkable pickup for the Republicans in a district where the voter registration is 85 percent Democratic, 5 percent Republican, and 10 percent independent or smaller political parties.
Lucinda Little, the Republican nominee, is currently the only candidate on the ballot.
Green Party nominee Cheri Honkala was not listed on the ballot because her party missed the deadline to file nomination papers. On Feb. 15, another Commonwealth Court judge rejected Honkala's request to be listed on that ballot. That ruling was appealed last week to the state Supreme Court.
Honkala is vowing to run a write-in campaign if she does not get on the ballot.
The 197th District seat is vacant because former State Rep. Leslie Acosta, a Democrat, resigned Jan. 3 after pleading guilty to a felony embezzlement charge in federal court last March.
No, the DA's race isn't growing
There was a flutter of speculation Wednesday that the Democratic primary election for district attorney was about to get its seventh — seventh! — candidate.
It was just the case of an attorney being technically tidy on Twitter.
Kevin Harden Jr., a white-collar-crime defense attorney who served as an assistant district attorney for about four years, said earlier this month that he was “seriously considering” getting into the race.
And then all of his tweets suddenly vanished Wednesday from his account, @KHJ_Esq. Was this political precaution in advance of a campaign?
Harden tells us he uses an app to automatically delete his tweets every 30 days. The app issued an alert about that, via Harden’s account. Then that alert was deleted too. How efficient.
Harden said he likes to eliminate the “back and forth banter” so common on Twitter.
“I don’t feel the need to have that out there,” he said.
And Harden is not running for district attorney.
“I am 100 percent OK with my decision to not become a candidate,” he said.
Homework: How I admire my state rep
Hey, here is some nice news from the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, which is accepting applications from high school and college students for its annual scholarship program.
The PLBC plans to award at least 10 scholarships of $1,000 each.
Applicants must have at least a 2.5 grade-point average and write two 250-word essays: one on their academic plans and career goals, and another “on why you admire your state representative.”
State Rep. Jordan Harris, who represents parts of South and West Philadelphia, was elected chairman of the PLBC in November.
The how-I-admire-you essay “had been included in the scholarship application in previous years. It was not inserted by myself or the current leadership of the caucus,” Harris said.
A staff member issued the information this week without his approval, Harris added.
That essay won’t be used to evaluate this year’s applications and it will be eliminated next year, Harris said.
For more information about the scholarship, call 717-772-6955.
Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this column.