Supreme Court, Philly DA Race Headline Election 2009

Member Group : Freindly Fire

Tomorrow’s primary election features several significant races. As usual in most primaries, they will be largely ignored with a low voter turnout.

Locally, five Democrats are vying for District Attorney in Philadelphia. Based on the overwhelming Democratic advantage in the city, the winner tomorrow will, in all likelihood, be the next D.A.

The problems facing the incoming D.A. are substantial. Philadelphia owns some of the highest murder and violent crime rates in the nation and has a well-deserved reputation for pay-to-play political corruption on a grand scale. Complicating matters is the very real possibility of substantial cuts in the number of Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) due to the city’s budget crisis.

Since some political observers predict only a 10 percent turnout, the campaign that generates the most effective get-out-the-vote operation will claim victory.

Each of the candidates, all of whom served as ADA’s, bring negative issues into election day, so predicting a winner is far from a sure bet.

Brian Grady was disbarred for a time after brawling with opposing counsel in a judge’s chambers.

Seth Williams still faces questions on campaign finance issues, especially relevant given that the District Attorney oversees a $30 million budget.

Dan McCaffery is the treasurer of his law firm’s political action committee, an entity that seems to have violated a host of campaign finance laws.

Dan McElhatton’s letter of support for Leonard Ross, who was convicted in the City Hall pay-to-play scandal, has raised questions of judgment for someone running for the city’s highest law enforcement position.

Michael Turner, having raised little money, has run a virtually nonexistent campaign, calling into question whether he has the necessary name ID to even be competitive.

Philadelphia has a long history of voting along ethnic lines, so it remains to be seen how three white and two black candidates will split the vote in such a low-turnout contest.

On the statewide level, the most important race is for Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the Republican ticket (the Democrat, Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, is unopposed). Turnout across Pennsylvania is also expected to be quite low.

Despite the judiciary being the least understood branch of government, no entity has more of an impact on the lives of all Pennsylvanians — in many cases, for generations to come.

With the court split 3-3, the winning party in November will have a significant hand in shaping the future of Pennsylvania. From tort reform to the Second Amendment, from school choice to abortion, Pennsylvania’s highest court will decide cases of utmost importance to voters.

Three Republicans are battling for the right to represent the GOP in the general election.

Judge Joan Orie Melvin, who resides in Allegheny County, is the endorsed candidate. She has been a judge for 23 years, serving the last 11 on Pennsylvania Superior Court, the busiest appellate court in the nation. Having heard over 8,000 appeals, Judge Orie Melvin is considered a conservative and a strict constructionist.

Judge Orie Melvin has campaigned as a reformer. She opposed the controversial pay raise in 2005 and repays her mandated salary increase to the state treasury. She maintains low judicial expenses, doesn’t lease a state car and refuses to attend out-of-state judicial conferences.

Cheryl Allen, who serves alongside Judge Orie Melvin on the Superior Court, is also from southwestern Pennsylvania. She has been a judge since 1990, and, like Judge Orie Melvin, is considered a conservative candidate. Being from the same geographical area as Judge Orie Melvin, and not having the benefit of the GOP endorsement, may prove troublesome for Judge Allen.

Paul Panepinto, who has served on the bench for 17 years, is a judge on Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas. While he doesn’t have the benefit of the statewide GOP organization behind him, he is the only candidate from southeastern Pennsylvania, home to 40 percent of the state’s voters. Judge Panepinto’s strategy is to win the hometown vote, while his two competitors split the vote from the Pittsburgh region.

Since raising campaign cash in an off-year, low-profile race is so difficult, the candidate with the best grassroots effort will earn a spot on the November ballot in what will undoubtedly shape up to be a race of monumental importance.

Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]