He was not on the ballot. But make no mistake about it, the big winner coming out of Tuesday’s Philadelphia primary election is Kevin Kelly. For six years, the 43-year-old Monsignor Bonner and Villanova graduate has been trying to overthrow the Republican Party in Philadelphia. “The Republican establishment in the city has an unholy arrangement with the Democratic Machine in Philadelphia,” Kelly told me on the phone this morning. “They don’t run serious candidates in exchange for patronage jobs and no-bid contracts.”
So two-and-a-half years ago Kelly started The Loyal Opposition, a group of Republicans dissatisfied with the status quo in Philadelphia. The group has been nobly storming the castle ruled by city GOP bosses Michael Meehan and Vito Canuso, but until now have been little more than an annoyance. This week that all changed.
Loyal Opposition candidate Al Schmidt won one of two nominations for city commissioner, beating out party-endorsed Marie Delany. Hand-picked Meehan candidate—and former Democrat—Karen Brown is just 53 votes ahead of LO candidate John Featherman with several precincts still to be counted as of this morning. There will be a recount, but even if Featherman loses, the results are a stunning loss to the Philadelphia Republican old guard.
With the low turnout of a primary election, the party organization should easily be able to push its endorsed candidates to victory. The fact that the Philadelphia leadership was not able to do that makes them vulnerable. “The Loyal Opposition sent a message to ward leaders, the Pennsylvania Republican Party and Governor Tom Corbett that we can raise money, we can put together an election-day machine and we will run serious candidates,” said Kelly.
Insurgents in the party, including Kelly, are feeling so empowered by Tuesday’s result that they will hold another election on Tuesday—for a new Republican Philadelphia Chairman and a new Republican Committee. Letters have gone out to every Republican ward leader to show up at 7:30 in Northern Liberties for the election. “This is a chance for the ward leaders to make a principled stand for the future of the party,” Kelly told me. “We don’t want anyone to lose their patronage jobs, and we are not threatening anyone. But we will take notice of who shows up and remember. You are either with us or you are with them.”
Kelly is citing a ruling by Pennsylvania Republican Committee Chairman Richard Stewart as the basis for the election. After conducting a hearing, the state committee ruled that, because of irregularities in the election process, the Philadelphia Chairman seat would remain vacant until new elections are held. Kelly says the election will follow the state party’s bylaws, and he expected that come Wednesday morning there will be a new elected leader of the Republican Party in Philadelphia. “We are doing this the right way, legally, ethically and morally. We will have a quorum of ward leaders to make it official,” Kelly explained.
That does not mean the Republicans currently running things in the city will just go quietly into the night, but Kelly—a former Navy fighter pilot—is ready for the fight: “They will kick and scream, but we will have city ward leaders and the state on our side. More importantly, we will have right on our side.”
If all goes the way Kelly expects, the Loyal Opposition will go away. It will just be the “new and improved” Republican Party of Philadelphia.