War in the ward

Flying in votes on plane tickets bought with campaign funds, committee people registered to vacant lots, allegations of meddling politicians, goons with tattoos …

Looks like Buddy Cianfrani left control of his ward in capable hands.

Depending on whom you ask, last Thursday’s election of the Second Ward leader, held in the basement of the Broad Street Diner, had all of those elements.

The news of the night was Tony Palmiere defeating Councilman Frank DiCicco 31 votes to 18, but the story is what’s brewing in the city’s Democratic Party.

"Had it not been for the mayor, I would have been the ward leader," DiCicco said. He claims Mayor John Street influenced the outcome by contacting several of the committee people prior to the election and convincing them not to support the councilman.

"What the deal is, time will tell. The mayor got involved."


DiCicco believes there are two reasons.

First, he said, Street harbors bad feelings from the successful campaign DiCicco waged earlier this year with Councilman Michael Nutter to reduce the city wage tax. The mayor opposed the tax cuts but begrudgingly signed the bill anyway because of the outpouring of public support.

Second, DiCicco was backed in the race by Street’s archenemy, state Sen. Vince Fumo.

The councilman said he tried to contact the mayor Friday but that his calls were not returned.

On Monday, Street’s spokesperson called the accusations preposterous.

"If the councilman is of the belief that [the mayor] personally made phone calls to sway the outcome of that election," said Frank Keel, "he is mistaken."

Keel did not eliminate the possibility that backroom political dealing could have impacted the results, but "none of them directly involved the mayor." And the notion that Street sought revenge for the wage tax bill is "ridiculous," Keel added.

"DiCicco can point all the fingers that he wants to," he said, "but despite what he may believe, the mayor’s fingerprints are not on the outcome of this election."

Committeeman Ed Nesmith put it more succinctly.

"Don’t be a crybaby," he said in regard to DiCicco’s blame throwing.

Nesmith was one of three candidates vying for the Second Ward seat last week. On election night, he said he declined the nomination because he knew he didn’t have the votes to win, and he and his supporters — a contingent consisting of most of the 19 black committee people in the ward — backed Palmiere.

DiCicco said he was promised support from at least eight of Nesmith’s people in the event the committeeman dropped out of the race. Nesmith claims he spoke with DiCicco a week before the election and told him he was voting for Palmiere if he were to concede his own bid. Additionally, most of the black committee people were voting with him.

The balance of power tilted too far DiCicco’s way in the ward, and Nesmith said it’s time to start sharing.

DiCicco doesn’t believe it. He maintains that Street phoned Nesmith the night before the election and struck a deal, but Nesmith denies it.

As far as Street’s rivalry with Fumo being a factor, that situation has been intensifying since May’s gubernatorial primary, when Street backed Rendell and Fumo supported Bob Casey Jr.

DiCicco said he is not involved, although he is closely aligned with the senator and is part of a dissenting group of city councilmembers led by Councilman James Kenney who make life difficult for the mayor.

"Jimmy does what Jimmy wants to do. He’s my friend and my ally and so is Sen. Fumo … [but] they don’t tell me what to say," DiCicco maintained. "If we are in the trenches and we have to make some choices, I am going to be with them. If [Street] has a problem with Vince and Jimmy, let him go worry about Jimmy and Vince."

On the ward election night, the councilman showed up outside the diner feeling confident he had support from 31 committee people he had talked to during the weeks since Cianfrani’s death. He had concluded his campaign the night before with a dinner at Kristian’s, 11th and Federal streets, for more than half of his supporters.

"I’m no fool," he said. "If I had 18 and the other side had 31, I wouldn’t have ran."

As people arrived to vote, he said, he sensed momentum changing when his committee people wouldn’t look him in the eye, but "15 to 20 of the guys with the muscle shirts and the tattoos, milling around with the cell phones," believed to be from the electrical workers’ union, certainly did.

The defeat heightens the intrigue of next year’s Democratic primary, when DiCicco is up for reelection. The councilman is sure he will face an opponent in the election — probably one supported by John Dougherty, a Street ally, treasurer of the Democratic City Committee and business agent of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.

DiCicco downplayed the ward defeat as indicative of his power slipping away.

"The voters in the Second Ward didn’t vote for me or against me," he said. "It was 53 committee people … that decided to vote for somebody else for ward leader. None of those people said they weren’t supporting me for Council."

However, DiCicco did acknowledge the Second Ward election may be emblematic of a growing rift citywide within his party.

"I think the party has serious troubles," he said.