Gregory Harvey, 81, a top election lawyer, Democratic activist, and leader of the effort to recall former Mayor Frank Rizzo, died Tuesday, Aug. 7, after battling heart problems for several months.
Mr. Harvey, an attorney for the firm Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, stood out as an expert in campaign finance, ethical issues, election litigation, and the First Amendment. He represented the campaigns of numerous public officials, including Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and Democratic State Sen. Larry Farnese.
He was also active in Democratic Party politics. Mr. Harvey recently served as the Democratic cochair of the Eighth Ward in Center City, and in the late 1970s led the Southeastern chapter of Americans for Democratic Action. In the 1980s, Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. appointed him to chair the city’s Board of Ethics.
Farnese, leader of the Eighth Ward, called Mr. Harvey a mentor and friend who helped him win elected office in 2008.
“It didn’t matter who the Eighth Ward leader was. Gregory was always the de facto patriarch of the ward,” Farnese said. “He was the person everyone always turned to for advice.”
Mark Sheppard, a partner at Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, said, “Gregory was the consummate Philadelphia lawyer — patrician in his demeanor but a scrapper and a fighter underneath.”
Adam Bonin, a fellow local election attorney, credited Mr. Harvey with “creating this field in Pennsylvania.”
“He really was the model of not only working with candidates, working with the party, and working with groups trying to reform politics, but also doing it conscientiously,” said Bonin. “He was a strongly principled guy.”
Election lawyer Kevin Greenberg said Mr. Harvey “has been for my entire career the leading light.” Mr. Harvey had previously worked at the legal firm Morgan Lewis.
“He litigated cases 50 years ago that we still talk about today. And every time he was across the table, I learned a ton.”
Larry Otter, another member of the small fraternity of Philadelphia-area election lawyers, said Mr. Harvey stood out with his knowledge and patience. “Greg was the king, the founding father. He was a gentleman and a worthy adversary and my friend.”
Mr. Harvey was patient with opposing counsel and the many reporters who called him for pointers on political stories. He had a knack for explaining complex legal issues.
Activist Ralph Nader, who had complained for years about “two-party tyranny,” attempted to run for president in Pennsylvania in 2004 on the Green Party ticket. But with Mr. Harvey as the lead attorney on the case for the Democratic Party, Nader was knocked off the state’s ballot.
Mr. Harvey was unimpressed, estimating at the time that 85 percent of signatures Nader submitted on nomination petitions were flawed or forged. “In terms of fictitious signatures, this sets a Pennsylvania record,” Mr. Harvey said 14 years ago this week.
Mr. Harvey had crossed swords with plenty of tough politicians. He served as chairman of the 1976 campaign to recall Rizzo as mayor, forging a diverse coalition of voters upset about rising taxes, as well as white liberals and African Americans fed up with what they saw as Rizzo’s racist approach to politics.
The anti-Rizzo forces needed signatures from at least 141,000 voters to get their question on the ballot; they received more than 211,000. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately thwarted their cause, however, ruling that the city’s provision permitting elected officials to be recalled was unconstitutional.
Mr. Harvey was also active in the arts. He served on the Association for Public Art, formerly known as the Fairmount Park Art Association, for 38 years.
“He was really dedicated to civic space and the idea that public art is for everyone, which is consistent with his ideas of public life,” said Penny Balkin Bach, the association’s executive director.
Election lawyer Sam Stretton said going up against Mr. Harvey in the 1970s and 19080s was an education for him and many other lawyers.
“Greg Harvey taught me just about everything I know about election law,” Stretton said. “He taught us. He beat the daylights out us. And then we started beating him. He taught us to fly on our own.”
Mr. Harvey grew up in northern New Jersey and attended Harvard as an undergraduate and for law school. He is survived by his wife, Emily Mitchell Wallace.
Mr. Harvey scored a final victory, albeit on a small procedural issue, in a decision in state Commonwealth Court handed down Tuesday. It involved a race for the state House.
“He actually beat me in court today,” said Greenberg.
Mr. Harvey also represented newspapers such as the now-closed Philadelphia Bulletin and various suburban outlets, and won the James Madison Award from the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his work on First Amendment issues.