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The GOP’s Philadelphia Story

Look which party finally won a municipal race.

Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By KEVIN FERRIS
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The party was embarrassed further when many of the signatures on its challenges to the new committee people appeared to be forged. (It’s Philadelphia, so, yes, one signature was that of a woman who had been dead almost a year.) Meehan withdrew the challenges, blaming unnamed ward leaders. Hoping for more details, the district attorney’s office has been investigating.

It was no surprise, then, that the party refused to back Schmidt for city commissioner the next year. The real shocker came in November, when Schmidt beat GOP incumbent Joe Duda, whose campaign epitomized the way the city’s GOP leadership and Democrats often work together to fight reformers.

“I spent Election Day driving from polling place to polling place, preparing to concede because every Democratic committeeman outside Center City and Chestnut Hill had a ballot with Duda on it,” Schmidt says. “I don’t know what factor we were outnumbered by, but it was a lot.”

Two months later, and now sworn into office, Schmidt is encouraged but realistic. “It’s not like the city is going to turn into a Republican majority city,” he says. “There’s no race that’s going to be easy for Republicans.”

Schmidt hopes, however, that new leadership and a more united party can focus not just on the presidential election, but also on races for the state legislature, on recruitment of competent candidates, and on the long-neglected basics of party building.

“I don’t think the solution is a grand-slam home run,” he says, reminding supporters that the mayor’s race isn’t the only game in town. “I think the solution is to hit a single. That will help get a lot of people beyond the defeatism that’s there right now.”

Republicans have to be prepared for the long haul, Schmidt says. He points to Dilworth and Clark—the last century’s threat to the status quo—as a reminder of both the challenges and the potential the GOP faces.

“They lost and lost and lost and lost—until they won.”

Kevin Ferris is a columnist and Sunday Currents editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be reached at kf@phillynews.com.

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