City Republicans skirmish over party leadership

The skirmishing inside Philadelphia’s Republican Party is heating up again, this time focused on the status of Vito F. Canuso Jr., who either is or was the party chairman, depending on which faction is telling the story.

Canuso is still listed as chairman on the party’s official stationery, thanks to a disputed vote of some Republican ward leaders two years ago at the United Republican Club in Kensington.  Some duly-elected ward leaders were barred from the premises, others were ejected before the vote took place and others were allowed to vote despite challenges that are still pending, two years later – overall, such a mess that the credentials committee of the state Republican party (already at odds with the party leadership in Philadelphia) said Canuso’s election was invalid and took away his vote at state committee meetings.

But the party’s de facto leader, general counsel Michael P. Meehan, says Canuso is still Philadelphia chairman in all other respects.

Ward leaders Matthew Wolfe and Michael Cibik, part of a dissident faction that has been battling Canuso and Meehan for the past two-plus years, beg to differ. They say the chairman’s post is vacant, and they invited some of the city’s Republican ward leaders –­ about 32 they regard as legitimately elected – to a meeting Wednesday night in the St. Michael’s Church hall at 335 Fairmount Ave., to fill the vacancy.

Their candidate for chairman is Rick Hellberg, 60, founder and president of a financial consulting firm based in Conshohocken and the Republican candidate for Congress two years ago against Chaka Fattah.  Until now, Hellberg has largely avoided taking sides in the intra-party dispute.

  “I’m just tired of the fighting,” he said Tuesday. “It’s very difficult and frustrating when a bunch of grown people act like three-year-olds in a sandbox….If this is one step to get the fighting resolved, so be it. If nominated I will run and if elected, I’d look forward to it. It’s something the party needs and, I think, the city needs….The city of Philadelphia suffers by not having two viable parties.”

It appears unlikely that anything will get resolved anytime soon. 

"I am the chairman and there's no vacancy," Canuso said Tuesday. "This is ridiculous."

 Meehan sent a two-page letter Tuesday to the party’s officers and ward leaders , listing 11 alleged flaws in Cibik’s notice of the Wednesday night meeting.

“Mr. Cibik has no authority to call a meeting,” Meehan said in part. “The Credentials Committee of Republican State Committee has no authority to determine the validity of the election of City Committee’s chairman and its officers….Any alleged actions taken at that meeting are invalid. It is recommended that the meeting not be attended.”