There’s been no shortage of salvos in the long-running feud between two Democratic political families in Northeast Philadelphia. But the ongoing spat that’s now tumbled into Common Pleas Court may set new (low?) standards for mudslinging.
In a defamation lawsuit, State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. says his rival, State Rep. Kevin Boyle, sought to not only sully his name but to undermine his political career by spreading scurrilous and unfounded gossip. He likens Boyle to the royal standard of schemers, Machiavelli, and accuses him of “recklessly and knowingly perpetuating a false and malicious lie.”
At issue are text messages Boyle allegedly sent in April to the son of an influential labor leader, in which he speculated that Sabatina had raped a woman in 2006. The suit also cites a conversation Boyle allegedly had at Chickie’s & Pete’s in Northeast Philly about the same topic.
The woman isn’t named in the lawsuit, and Sabatina hasn’t been charged with any sexual-assault allegations.
Boyle’s attorneys say Sabatina has failed to meet the typically higher standard for winning a defamation claim against a public figure: that Boyle knew his alleged statements were false or that he acted "with reckless disregard to their falsity.”
Judge Linda Carpenter agreed and dismissed Sabatina’s initial complaint, which had been filed in July. Last month, Sabatina kept the issue alive by filing an amended complaint that says Boyle had no “informational source” for the allegations and didn’t take any steps to test their veracity.
He claims he’s suffered “physical and emotional distress” and injury to his reputation as a result of Boyle’s actions, and deserves compensatory and punitive damages.
The rivalry stems from a successful effort by Boyle and his older brother, Brendan, now a U.S. House member, to build their own political brand without the party’s blessing. Though the Boyles have risen to prominence, Kevin Boyle suffered a setback in 2016 when he lost to Sabatina in the Democratic primary for state Senate.
Text messages cited in the lawsuit suggest the younger Boyle might give it another shot.
"I’ve always said the downfall of Irishmen is drinking and the downfall of Italian men is sex,” Kevin Boyle allegedly wrote in an April 25 message to Gary Masino Jr., whose father is business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19. “I was told [Sabatina] raped” a woman in 2006, he wrote, according to the suit.
After Masino allegedly responded that Sabatina didn’t “seem like the rapey type,” Boyle wrote that the woman’s family “tells me she was raped,” according to the suit, and that a lawyer “arranged a settlement to get her something.”
“I felt dirty talking about this in 2016,” Boyle’s allegedly continued, adding that in "2020 Sabs will have to talk about it.”
Masino couldn’t be reached for comment.
In addition, the suit says that around March or April, Boyle was at a “crowded” Chickie’s & Pete’s in the Northeast when he told an acquaintance that Sabatina had “sexually harassed” the same woman several years ago. The suit says a “known colleague” of Sabatina’s was there and overheard the accusation.
The lawsuit identifies the woman only as Jane Doe, and says she and Sabatina “had shared a healthy and productive relationship.”
Brian S. Paszamant, a lawyer for Boyle, said his client was “perplexed by Mr. Sabatina’s desire to air in public purported statements that he claims are so damaging to his reputation and family, while continuously refusing to discuss the situation with Mr. Boyle.”
Sabatina didn’t respond to a request for comment, and his lawyer, James E. Beasley, said he did not want to comment on pending litigation.
He’s already got a campaign hashtag — #SGBD, which he told us stands for “S**** gonna be different.”
He may soon have plenty of company in the primary.
John Featherman, a real estate broker who narrowly lost the Republican nomination for mayor in 2011, said he is “strongly considering” another run.
Daphne Goggins, the Republican leader of the 16th Ward in North Philly, said she too is “thinking very seriously” about seeking the nomination. Goggins has built an unusual national platform via guest appearances on CNN as a staunch supporter of President Trump, where she has shrugged off questions about his behavior with women and promulgated conspiracy theories, including one that violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 were a “hoax.”
Mark Cumberland, a former City Council staffer and onetime Republican leader of the 33rd Ward, which includes parts of Juniata Park and Kensington, said he was discussing a run “with some advisers and financial folks.”
It has been 15 years since the Republican Party in Philadelphia fielded a competitive candidate for mayor — Sam Katz — in a city where 77 percent of registered voters are Democrats.
Kenney in 2015 defeated the Republican nominee, Melissa Murray Bailey, with 85 percent of the vote.
Michael Meehan, chairman of the Republican City Committee, said he is hopeful the primary will not be a crowded affair so his party can unite behind a candidate.
“We want to put up a fight,” Meehan said. “We want to talk about the issues.”
You might just call the city’s One Philly project the Never-ending Project.
Launched in 2014 with a plan to replace the city’s antiquated timekeeping and benefits programs, the city’s new workforce management system, called One Philly, has been in the works for years and already missed initial “go-live” dates in 2015. When we spoke with city officials in late August, they assured us everything would be ready by the latest go-live date, Monday.
“We have confidence right now that they will,” be done by Monday, project manager Rick Stewart said then.
Except it’s not all ready. The city is rolling out the plan in phases, starting with human resources and benefits Monday. Then pensions will roll out in February. Payroll is expected to be done by March.
“No major IT project puts every single component live at once. By launching the program in phases, we ensure full integration and a smooth transition from our (in some cases) 30-year-old systems to this modern solution,” city spokesperson Mike Dunn said when we asked about the delay.
Other sources say that’s just spin. The deliverables schedule for the project shows everything going live on Monday — with an estimated total cost of more than $44 million.
“It’s disingenuous to portray this as a success when they’ve been saying all along that everything would be ready at the same time,” said a source with knowledge of the One Philly planning.