PHILADELPHIA'S political terrain can be confusing to outsiders. Sometimes it's confusing to us. And we're in the belly of the beast.
The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee had endorsed Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. for state attorney general in Tuesday's primary.
But a Philly endorsement is different from a regular endorsement. It's malleable. Like a jar of Cheez Whiz left out in the cold.
Voters in Fairmount's 15th Ward, for instance, may have headed into the booth thinking that the Democratic City Committee had actually endorsed Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro for attorney general.
Why? Because the "Official Democratic Ballot" at some polling places listed Shapiro, not Zappala, as its endorsed candidate. The ballot even included the tagline saying it was paid for by the Democratic City Committee. The committee's treasurer, Frank L. Oliver, was listed at the bottom.
So, what gives?
A Clout tipster sent us a photo of the ballot, thinking it might be fraudulent. But knowledgeable sources say the Democratic City Committee actually granted leeway to certain renegade ward leaders who backed Shapiro - not only turning a blind eye to wards that cut Zappala from the official ballot, but even paying for some of the new "official" ballots on which Shapiro was subbed in.
Can we really call it an "endorsement" if a committee also forks out money to support the "endorsed" candidate's opponent? What kind of big-city political machine is this, anyway? Feels like we popped the hood of a Ferrari to find a rusted-out Ford Pinto engine.
"This is what our reputation always is: That no deal sticks," said a Philadelphia political consultant who got wind of the Zappala-Shapiro switcheroo.
Shapiro went on to win the race comfortably. Zappala campaign manager Marty Marks said Thursday that the campaign believed - understandably so - that the Democratic City Committee endorsement meant that Zappala would appear citywide on all official ballots printed by the committee.
"That was our understanding," Marks said.
Also, Zappala's most powerful supporter in Philly, labor leader John Dougherty, said through a spokesman Thursday that he, too, was unaware that Shapiro had appeared on official committee ballots, until Clout provided a photo.
We're told that at-large Councilman Bill Greenlee, who also serves as leader of the 15th Ward, was at the polling place where the Shapiro ballots were being distributed.
Greenlee, who endorsed Shapiro, was unavailable Thursday. How convenient. But the Zappala-Shapiro swap was not limited to Fairmount either, we're told.
We reached out to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who chairs the Democratic City Committee, but the congressman and Clout are not exactly BFFs these days. He declined to comment.
Here's a horrifying scene in Northeast Philadelphia, where State Rep. Kevin Boyle (brother of U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle) was trying to unseat State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. (son of ward leader John Sabatina Sr.).
You may have caught Holly Otterbein's Philly Mag report about King of Prussia-based Mike Lemon Casting sending out an email to actors, offering $120 for "extras" to go to polling stations to support Boyle. "A script and information will be given to each person," the email read, according to Otterbein.
We touched base with Bob Stewart, a judge of elections in the 58th Ward, who described what very much sounded like actors at his polling place: Three guys backing Boyle who didn't seem to know who Boyle was. One had a guitar.
"My spidey senses were tingling right away," Stewart said. "It was like, 'What is up with these dudes?' These guys were just off."
Then it got worse.
"The one guy showed up with a guitar. He's got a Kevin Boyle shirt on," Stewart said. "He's playing Extreme's 'More Than Words.' The acoustic version. I'm like, 'Is this really happening? Am I getting punked?' "
If there is Spotify in hell, that song is on Satan's playlist. It is one of the worst songs of our generation. A surefire way to lose an election.
Kevin Boyle did not respond to Clout - or to Otterbein - about who hired Mike Lemon Casting to recruit the actors. It's possible, of course, that they were recruited by an independent group.
"The whole thing was just odd," Stewart said. "I've been around the block many times. Something was wrong."
- Staff writer William Bender
contributed to this column.