Byko: Don't mess with Dems in North Philly

Republican candidate Lucinda Little, who was the only name on the ballot, lost a bid for a state house seat to a write-in candidate in North Philadelphia’s 197th House District. The D.A.'s office is investigating the election.

Last week’s special election in North Philadelphia’s 197th House District, which Democratic City Chairman Bob Brady called a “must win,” demonstrated the Democratic Party’s pythonlike grip on the City of Brotherly Love. The fairness and squareness of how the Democrats won has been challenged, but you can’t have everything.  

Using write-in ballots, Democrats defeated Republican Lucinda Little, who had the advantage of being the only candidate on the ballot, the result of unforced errors by the Dems.

There was speculation the majority-Hispanic district —  85 percent Democratic, 5 percent Republican, 10 percent independent — might go Republican for the first time in more than half a century and hand Democrats a humiliating loss on their home turf.

It didn't happen. Those counting Little’s chicks before they hatched underestimated the fractious Democratic machine’s ability to go to the mattresses when threatened. Little got trounced — 201 votes for her and 2,493 write-in ballots for a bunch of other people, with the party’s pick, Emilio Vazquez, piling up 1,972 write-in votes.

Vazquez became the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer after the party’s first nominee, Frederick Ramirez, was kicked off the ballot after a court ruled he did not live in the district. Oops.

By that time the deadline for nominating a new candidate had passed. The Dems had to go to a write-in, which seemingly put them at a great disadvantage. 

There are two explanations for how Democrats dug themselves out of that hole. The first is hard work. The second is cheating.

Let’s do cheating first, because it’s more fun.

“[It was] all cheating,” says Little. “I never thought it would be to the extent it was.”

Voters who planned to vote for her were told they couldn’t because they were Democrats, as if it were a primary election, she alleged. In her own polling place, the Second Division of the 43rd Ward, she said she saw almost every voter getting “assistance” from a poll worker, even when they hadn’t requested help.  

Rubber stamps with Vazquez’s name were passed around the polling place like doughnuts, said Little. The D.A.’s Election Fraud Task Force has opened an investigation, and GOP attorney Linda Kerns told me that she and the Green Party will be plaintiffs in a federal suit to be filed Thursday to overturn the election results.

Vazquez wasn’t bothered by Little’s assertion of fraud, he said, because he is innocent and her campaign did “bad things.”

“My people must have really sucked,” said Little. “He got 1,900 and I got 200.”

Another complaint about Democratic dirty tricks came from Orlando Acosta, one of the other Democratic write-in candidates.

“I was passing out my fliers at the 19th Ward, 18th Division, and I seen the ward leader walking into the polling place encouraging people to vote for Emilio Vazquez,” which is illegal, said Acosta.

That ward leader, Carlos Matos, told me, “No, sir, I was outside the polling place encouraging people to vote for Emilio Vazquez.”

We can play “who struck John” all day long.

Matos said Little spent too much time courting Democratic voters, who weren’t going to vote for her anyway. The district has about 2,000 Republican voters, and had she gotten all of them to turn out she would have won, said Matos. We then had a good laugh about the idea of a 100 percent voter turnout. The turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 55.4 percent; the turnout for the special election was 6 percent.

Philly GOP Chairman Joe DeFelice said the party put a lot of resources into the race, which he never thought was a sure thing. “They say there’s no moral victory in politics, but this is a moral victory,” he said. “We made the Democrats spend over $100,000 for a seat they shouldn’t have to spend a dime for.” He gloated about having knocked the Dems off the ballot, for all the good it did.

The 197th was a Democratic machine victory and the chief mechanic was Brady, who gave credit to ward leaders. “They got it done,” he said.

But how? That’s what the D.A.’s Office and the courts will have to resolve.