GOP reaches out to Castille to run for mayor; he declines

Ronald D. Castille was forced from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court bench on Dec. 31 because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 last year.

Republicans, in search of a brand-name candidate for the Philadelphia mayor's race, reached out to a recently retired heavy hitter: Ronald D. Castille.

The 70-year-old, who stepped down as chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just 37 days ago, was heavily recruited for the race by top city and state GOP leaders. He turned them down.

Rob Gleason, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said he commissioned a poll that showed Castille could have gotten right back into the game.

"He scored very well as a potential candidate for mayor," Gleason said. "He scored as high as anyone we asked about, probably the highest."

Castille, who declined to comment for this article, has spent time since he left the high court vacationing in Florida and attending a Pennsylvania Bar Association meeting in Jamaica.

"He would have been a great candidate for mayor because his strength was law and order, even in our poll," Gleason said. "Our poll showed crime is one of the highest concerns for the electorate. I think it was even ahead of education. I was shocked by that."

Gleason said he also spoke with Castille about running in a special election to fill the state Senate's Fifth District seat in Northeast Philadelphia.

That seat became vacant last month when Democrat Mike Stack III stepped down to be sworn in as lieutenant governor.

Castille also passed on that race, Gleason said.

State Rep. John Taylor, chairman of the Republican City Committee, said he "talked to Ron quite a bit down the stretch" about a bid for mayor.

"It depends on how he wants to spend his days," Taylor said of Castille. "Not everyone is cut out for a life of leisure."

A Republican run for mayor in Philadelphia, where Democrats have a 7-1 voter-registration advantage, is anything but leisurely.

"Let's face it: There's a dearth of top-notch Republicans in Philadelphia," Gleason said. "It's daunting, that registration."

Castille, who as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam lost his right leg in 1967 during a search-and-destroy mission in Duc Pho, has faced tough campaigns before.

He stepped down as Philadelphia's district attorney to run as the Republicans' endorsed candidate for mayor in the 1991 primary against former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo and Sam Katz. Rizzo won a close race but died eight weeks after the primary.

Ed Rendell, the Democratic nominee and another former Philadelphia district attorney, went on to win the general election.

Castille was hardly the type to give up after a loss. A day after the 1991 primary, he was mulling a run for the U.S. Senate.

Instead, Castille ran for the state Supreme Court in 1993.

Castille was forced from the bench Dec. 31 because he reached the mandatory retirement age last year.

That looming deadline did not deter him in 2013 from seeking a third 10-year term on the state's highest court, even if he could serve only one of those 10 years.

Voters statewide cast ballots to retain Castille on the bench by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. In Philadelphia, Castille's winning margin climbed to 77.5 percent to 22.5 percent.

215-854-5973 @byChrisBrennan