By Denise Clay
When I was a kid, I went to circus at least once a year like clockwork.
Either my dad or my teacher would take us all to see the Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus. Some of us were really into the animals. Some liked trapeze artists. Others wanted to see the Ring Master.
Me? I liked the clowns. Clowns have always fascinated me and a lot of clowns fascinate me even more. Especially when they come pouring out of a car so small that you wonder “how in the heck did you all get in there?”
I thought of my favorite part of the circus as I stood in front of Room 142 at City Hall, the city’s Board of Elections on Tuesday, the day that nominating petitions for the May 17 primary had to be turned in.
Why? Because the wide-open nature of this year’s elections, especially the City Council races, has caused the political clown cars to open….and the clowns are falling all over themselves.
And everyone, especially the ones who have been sitting in the clown cars for four years waiting for another chance to pop out, thinks its going to be different this time.
“I’m going to win! That’s what’s going to be different this time.” said Al Taubenberger, who was last seen getting beaten mercilessly by Mayor Michael Nutter in the general election four years ago. This year, he’s running for City Council At-Large on the Republican ticket.
With the retirements of City Council President Anna Verna, City Councilwomen Joan Krajewski and Donna Reed Miller, and City Councilmen Jack Kelly and Frank DiCicco, (whose retirement came only after he twisted himself like a pretzel to try and appeal to the good government groups that think they’ve “forced” all of these retirements due to participation in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) ) everybody and their mama has decided “I’m gonna run for office, and I’m gonna win!”
Heck, there are 10 people running for the Eighth District seat alone!
And don’t get me started on the City Council At-Large races. The Clown Car for those seats has 21 people in it, and that’s only on the Democratic side. (Ten Republicans are also running including David Oh, who came all so close to sending Kelly into early retirement in 2007, and incumbent Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., who wasn’t endorsed by his party due to DROP.)
In fact, the only person on City Council who doesn’t have a primary opponent is Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones.
The atmosphere in the hallway by Room 142 was almost like that of a really weird cocktail party. You had people from both parties glad handing each other, nervous candidates waiting for petition circulators to bring them their last minute forms, and a group of harried Board of Election workers who kept saying things like “make sure your forms are numbered” and “is this signed?”
Meanwhile, you had reporters hanging along the walls, waiting for something to happen, reporters following the candidates they’re most interested in going into the Board of Elections to see petitions them drop off, and impromptu interviews being done with people said reporters had been trying to catch all week.
You had to have all of your paperwork into the Board of Elections at 5 p.m. and they meant that. If you were in line at 5, you were okay. If you weren’t, well, you might as well save those petitions for another time or as a monument to your own incompetence.
Or at least that’s what one guy found out when he tried to bring his petitions in at 5:15.
“He said that he called us and told someone that he was having trouble getting here,” said Carmelo Santaria, head of the Board of Elections. “We talked to him, but that was it.”
In the interest of time, I’ll start off with the mayor’s race. Or what’s passing as a mayor’s race. Depends on whom you talk to.
T. Milton Street, whose clown car is probably a Cadillac, is taking on Michael Nutter in the Democratic primary. When he showed up on Tuesday, he was was treated like a rock star with reporters thrusting microphones and cameras in his face and asking him questions that ranged from the important (Do you think you have a chance to win?) to the ridiculous (Have you started your Twitter feed yet?)
The brother of former Mayor John Street brought in 2,600 signatures and a promise to beat Nutter with the help of his fellow ex-convicts.
“If I get [the ex-convicts] to the polls, he can’t win,” Street said of Nutter. “We’re going to have a voter registration drive to get them to the polls. We have to get people registered. We’re going to force him to defend his record.”
Meanwhile on the Republican side, you have a insurgent with a fondness for punk rock and a woman who was gonna run for SOMETHING as a Democrat this time around vying for the nomination.
John Featherman, a real estate agent who is part of the group fighting the Republican City Committee and Karen Brown, a Democratic committeewoman from South Philadelphia, (or should I say a former Democratic Committeewoman because I’m guessing they’re not really happy with her for this) that was picked by said City Committee are competing to be the one who faces Nutter (or Street) in the general election.
Featherman, wearing his circa 1980 Elvis Costello glasses (Elvis is one of the great punk balladeers if you don’t know) talked to reporters about Brown’s Democratic ties while Brown, who was running for City Council in both the First District and At-Large as a Democrat before switching parties, said her decision was based on friendship.
“The Republicans and I have never been enemies,” she said. “We’ve always been friends. I just decided to seek out my friends.”
She managed to get almost 2,000 signatures on her Republican mayoral nominating petitions in four days, so she’s obviously got some serious friends…
(But one of her Democratic friends walked up to her as she numbered her petitions and whispered “Sucker!” to her. Not a good sign…)
Now here’s the fun part. City Council…
When Anna Verna announced her intention to stop, take her more than $500,000 of DROP, and roll, the race had one announced candidate: attorney and activist Damon K. Roberts. By last Tuesday, Roberts was one of six on the ballot for that race.
Among the others is State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, who has money, name recognition and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams behind him. There is also real-estate agent Barbara Capozzi, Vincent Defino, community activist Tracey Gordon, and former Verna aide Richard DeMarco.
The First District is also shaping up to be interesting as well with perennial candidate Vern Anastasio facing former political operative Joe Grace, Jeff Hornstein and Mark Squilla.
Even Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is looking at a challenge to her Third District seat. On the one side is Alicia Burbage, a former aide to Sen. Williams and Tony Dphax (he insisted on my including his middle name) King.
After talking to the both of them, Blackwell should worry about Burbage on policy, and King because he’s a tad bit off….
But the real fun is in the Northwest Districts.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco is among the folks who could have taken the DROP money and ran. But she chose not to and folks are not amused.
Thus, she has Sabriya Bilal, Rhaim Dawkins, Bobby Curry and Lamont Thomas running against her this time.
And for Thomas, it seems a little personal. He ran against State Sen. LeAnna Washington and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for him.
“[Washington] had her thugs on the payroll stealing my signs,” Thomas said. “There was a lot of intimidation. I don’t care. I’m prepared this time. I know that when you run against one of the folks in the Northwest Team, you run against all of them. They’re all a bunch of crooks.
“[Tasco] only comes out when it’s election time or when she needs something from the community,” Thomas continued. “She pretty much does nothing for us.”
But for sheer volume, the only thing that comes close to the Council At-Large races is the council race in the Eighth District.
Before her retiremen†, Councilwoman Reed Miller used to win the Democratic Primary with about 27 percent of the vote because her opponents could never agree on a consensus candidate.
That there are 10 people running for her seat in her absence shows that if nothing else, the Eighth District has a sizable population of healthy egos.
When it comes to name recognition, the edge would have to go to Cindy Bass, legislative aide to Rep. Chaka Fattah. But she has a whole bunch of challengers including Fay Dawson, Jordan Dillard, William Durham, Donna Gentile O’Donnell (who could also get a gig as an At-Large councilperson if this doesn’t work out), Andrew Lofton, Robin Tasco, Howard Treatman,Verna Tyner and Greg Paulmier.
Paulmier, who has run for this office a few times himself, believes that his experiences as a candidate will give him the edge. And if not, he has a secret weapon at home.
“My wife is my campaign manager this time around,” he said.
While the clown cars will probably thin out in the next few weeks due to court challenges, this group is what’s filling them now.
So let’s all enjoy the May primary circus. They’ll be lots of high-flying death defying feats. The animals will come out at night. And the clowns will be spraying each other with seltzer bottles from now till May 17.
Should be fun. Popcorn’s on me.