The city’s top election official, Stephanie Singer, was toppled from that role Wednesday when her two fellow city commissioners, Republican Al Schmidt and Democrat Anthony Clark, voted to dump her as chair of the three-member panel and make themselves co-chairmen.
The move was a surprise to Singer and apparently to Clark as well, who said he knew nothing about replacing Singer until Schmidt made the motion at the commissioners’ first post-election meeting, Wednesday morning.
Schmidt gave a brief speech praising the commission’s staff for their work guiding the city through the demanding general election, “literally working through the eye of a hurricane.” Then he spoke of studying the agency’s performance to look for ways it might improve, and made a motion to “reorganize” its leadership – replacing Singer with himself and Clark.
Clark and Schmidt voted in favor, Singer against, and she pulled back her chair, allowing Schmidt and Clark to preside for the rest of the meeting.
The commissioners had been bickering for months at their weekly public sessions, over what appeared to be small issues – most recently, Singer’s bid to give a $12,000 raise to her top deputy -- an effort shot down by Schmidt and Clark.
Singer was elected commissioner last November after toppling the commission’s longtime chair, Marge Tartaglione, in the 2011 primary. Clark, who served one term with Tartaglione, had been interested in becoming chairman, but Schmidt and Singer had both developed reform agendas for the agency and Schmidt supported Singer for chair when the trio was sworn into office last January.
“It’s no secret we’ve had a bumpy time this past year and we’re looking to resolve that issue,” Schmidt told reporters after the meeting . “Each commissioner is independently elected, none of us has any more votes or influence than any other….We had disagreements at times over the role of the chair and making sure that all of the commissioners are equal to each other. “
“It was a surprise,” Singer said. She said she didn’t know what would happen next. Asked about her own plans, she said: “I’m here to serve the people of Philadelphia, I’m here for free and fair elections and an informed engaged electorate and a respectful and effective workplace. There are many, many different ways to do that job. I am honored to have that job.”