Judge dismisses lawsuit between two warring political factions in Northeast Philly

A lawsuit that could have pushed committee people out of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party — and changed the makeup of the local GOP — was dismissed Friday.

Jimmy Lewis, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully this week for ward leader, sued the Philadelphia County Board of Elections along with fellow committee person James Ryan. Their lawyer, Samuel Stretton, argued that the board shouldn’t have certified the election of 11 committee people in Northeast Philly’s 58th Ward.

Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Anders ruled that Lewis and Ryan did not have standing to sue because they don’t live in the voting divisions of the committee people they believe shouldn’t be certified.

Lewis said he will appeal the decision.

Stretton argued that write-in candidates for ward committee posts must receive at least 10 votes to be elected, equal to the number of signatures required to get on the ballot. The 11 committee people who were challenged had won with fewer.

They also supported Lewis’ opponent, incumbent Jim Donnelly, for leader of the 58th Ward.

There is no consistent way Pennsylvania’s 67 counties settle the question of whether one or 10 votes are needed to elect a committee person for the local Democratic or Republican Parties. This case’s dismissal means that question is left unresolved.

But the issue was ripe for discussion in the week after the May 15 primary election on a Yahoo message board for Pennsylvania election officials, according to emails obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News.

Officials from 11 counties shared their varied ways of applying the same law, according to those emails.  And they discussed how the most relevant court decision on the matter dates to a 1978 Westmoreland County case.

One Mercer County election official posited that a new court case could ultimately lead a statewide precedent in Commonwealth Court.

Lewis is separately contesting his loss to the city’s Democratic Party. He is allied with U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and his brother, State Rep. Kevin Boyle, both Democrats from Northeast Philadelphia. Donnelly is the brother-in-law of Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III, a fellow Northeast Philly Democrat and foe of the Boyles. The two political families are warring.

Michael Meehan, leader of the Philadelphia Republican Party, also joined the suit after two incumbent GOP ward leaders lost reelection to candidates backed by write-in committee people who got fewer than 10 votes.