File this column under: Suburban Drama. And try to follow along.
Last week, Democratic voters in Delaware County nominated Philadelphia native and nonprofit executive Jennifer Leith to run for the County Council.
A fine choice, in Clout’s opinion. Leith, on paper, seems like a rock-star candidate for the Delco Dems, who in 2013 finally gained a voter-registration advantage in the longtime Republican stronghold. Maybe she would be The One to finally crack the GOP monopoly in the county courthouse.
Except, on Thursday, Democratic officials fired off a news release announcing Leith's “imminent withdrawal” from the race and said they would swap in tech entrepreneur Kevin Madden to run for County Council.
But that’s not why we’re here.
Clout learned this week that Leith, executive director of the Douty Foundation, actually dropped out of the race a couple of months ago, right around the March 22 deadline for candidates to formally withdraw from the race.
But Democratic officials kept it quiet and allowed Leith to be nominated anyway. Why? So they could sub in Madden after the primary instead of running a write-in campaign to get him nominated.
The circumstances surrounding Leith’s March withdrawal are a bit murky.
Leith told us this week that, shortly after hitting the campaign trail in February, she realized that she had “personal and professional commitments I have to tie up before I can be the candidate I want to be.” She vowed to run in another race down the line.
Other sources tell Clout that a rival Democratic candidate talked Leith out of running as part of some bush-league Machiavellian plot that ultimately backfired.
None of that changes the fact that Delco Dems pulled a switcheroo on voters, a mini-conspiracy to secure the nomination for a candidate who had no intention of running in November. In fact, Madden has been campaigning since at least mid-April, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. He formed a candidate committee April 12.
Delco Republicans — no strangers to the occasional sneaky trick — are calling it a bait-and-switch.
“Deceiving voters by not telling them that a person on the ballot is no longer running is the height of hypocrisy for a slate of candidates claiming to run on the platform of transparency,” said Delco GOP leader Andrew Reilly. “If they cannot be honest with Delaware County residents now, there's not much reason to believe they will be any more honest if they get elected.”
David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Committee, said in a statement Thursday that Madden and medical reinsurance exec Brian Zidek are the “best opportunity Democrats have ever had to win countywide and we look forward to doing just that in November.” He also said he was “sad to see Jen Leith withdraw from the race.”
Not surprisingly, Landau didn’t mention that it happened two months ago.
Wolf rising … what about Stack?
Things have been looking up recently for Gov. Wolf. The Associated Press, citing a Franklin and Marshall College poll, reports that Wolf’s less combative, more harmonious tone toward state Republican officials has pushed Wolf's approval rating up to a somewhat decent 41 percent.
But if voters are digging the idea of a more chilled-out guv, what's that mean for Lt. Gov. Mike Stack?
On primary election day, Clout asked a handful of pols at Relish and Famous 4th Street Deli if they think Stack — a.k.a. "Detective Jadick" to fans of the online TV show Finders Keepers — will still be on the ticket when Wolf runs for reelection in 2018.
(The two haven't exactly been on the best of terms since Wolf revoked Stack's security detail amid allegations that Stack and his wife had been abusive to his staff. Stack told reporters that sometimes he's given to having "Stack moments.")
"That's an interesting question," said former City Councilwoman Marian Tasco. "Maybe he can get it together, but people have very strong feelings about his behavior."
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham was less circumspect: "I don't think so, not the way it sounds."
State Sen. Larry Farnese — ever the optimist, that guy — said Stack "absolutely" would be on the ticket.
"That's for the governor to decide," sighed Rich Negrin, a few hours before he came up short in the Democratic primary race for district attorney. "The last thing we need is a lot of turmoil there."
Former Mayor John Street had some advice for Wolf: Hang onto Stack — or beware.
"It would be a mistake to try and oust him from the ticket," Street said. "He's got lots of friends, and deep, deep Democratic commitments all over the commonwealth from having been in the Senate for a long time. I don't know if I would do that."
Wolf's campaign manager, Jeffrey Sheridan, could not be reached for comment.
Grossman: We're cool
“I think, going forward, I have the support of the party. After this, I’m sure we’re all on the same page.” — Beth Grossman, the Republican nominee for district attorney in Philadelphia, speaking on the Philadelphia City Council Live program on WURD-900 AM Thursday morning about the discussion, first reported Monday, among some Republicans about replacing her with a new candidate in the Nov. 7 general election.
Staff writers William Bender, David Gambacorta, and Chris Brennan contributed to this column. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org