Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James removed one independent City Council candidate from the ballot this week, and he let a handful of others stay. But more upheaval may be in store for an already chaotic off-year municipal election.
Candidate Quincy Swatson is out, again, in the race for the Pittsburgh City Council District 1 seat currently held by Darlene Harris. Swatson and another candidate, Chris Rosselot, both withdrew from the Democratic primary this past spring after challenges were filed to the nominating petitions they submitted.
That freed both men to mount campaigns as independents in November against Bobby Wilson, who went on beat Harris in the primary. But Swatson was removed by Judge Joseph James this time around because, the judge found, Swatson had not filed a financial-interest statement with the city clerk’s office, as he was required to do by an August deadline.
Swatson apparently filed his statement with the city controller’s office by mistake, and it didn’t get forwarded to the city clerk by the deadline. Even so, when WESA checked with the city clerk’s office at the time of the filing deadline, Swatson’s initial financial statement – the one filed in March – was still on file. But attorney Chuck Pascal successfully argued on Tuesday that when Swatson withdrew from the primary, all his paperwork became void.
While the original filing might be visible in the clerk’s office, Pascal said, “Legally, it doesn’t exist.”
Swatson said the law only requires a statement of financial interest to be filed with the clerk, and that he had met that burden. “We didn’t agree with, or really understand, the judge’s ruling,” he said. “So we’re looking at appeal options.”
For now, at least, Rosselot and Wilson will appear on the ballot in District 1, alongside Socialist Workers Party candidate Malcolm Jarrett.
The picture is little changed in County Council District 9, the largely black East End district where three candidates are seeking to challenge incumbent Ricky Burgess. (A fourth candidate, Prince Matthews, withdrew). But the remaining candidates have been locked in a dispute about who gets to be labeled as the “independent” on the November ballot.
Only one candidate can run under a given party name, and Randall Taylor was the first to file nomination papers listing himself as the “independent” in the race, When two other candidates, DeNeice Welch and Barbara Daniels, sought to file their own papers with the county, elections department workers told them the “independent” label was taken, so they’d have to write in a new one. Taylor argued that the petitions should be thrown out because the law doesn’t permit candidates to change petitions after they’re signed.
James threw out those objections on Tuesday. Dave Voye, who manages the county elections office, said the decision upheld a longstanding practice by department workers. “I’ve never seen this kind of challenge before,” he said.
But it may not be over: Pascal, who represented an ally of Taylor’s who’d challenged Daniels and Welch, said Tuesday he would appeal James’ decision in both cases. That news upset Daniels.
“This just proves Randall is running for selfish motives, not for the community,” she said. “He can do whatever he wants, but if it’s God will for me to be in the race, there is nothing he or anyone else can do.”
Meanwhile, in a separate case, a district voter sought to strip the “independent” label from Taylor himself, arguing that when he first filed petitions – the filing that locked up the “independent” label for Taylor’s use alone – he didn’t have the 100 valid signatures he needed from district voters. Attorney Joe Perrotti noted that on one page alone, several voters identified themselves as being from Clairton, not Pittsburgh.
Perotti acknowledged that Taylor submitted a second batch of petitions before deadline the next day, which gave him enough signatures to earn a spot of the ballot.
But by then, he said, Welch had filed her own petitions under the “independent” label … and she should get to keep it.
“Timing is critical,” he said.
Ordinarily, county election workers do a “facial review” of petitions that are turned in, a cursory examination that verifies whether signature lines are filled out properly. More rigorous examination – to ensure voter names and addresses match voting records, for example – is usually undertaken by rival campaigns.
But in this case, the initial review was the basis for assigning the “independent” label to one of three candidates who sought to use it. And Voye told James that an obvious mistakes like listing Clairton as a voter address “should probably have been checked at the counter.” If enough signatures didn’t appear to qualify, he said, “they would have been handed back.”
Still, when Perotti said Taylor had filed improper petitions in an effort to “subvert” other candidates, James scoffed, “That’s a stretch.” He decided to leave Taylor on the ballot as the “independent” in the race.
Perotti said he wasn’t sure if he would contest James’ ruling. Such appeals must be filed by Monday, and would be heard in Commonwealth Court.