Pennsylvania has always had its scandals and political feuds, but 2015 may have set a new standard. The porny email scandal, which started last year, enveloped more public officials — from another Supreme Court justice to D.A. Seth Williams — and finally pushed attorney general Kathleen Kane’s enemies to seek their revenge.
Locally, plenty of less-scandalous news defined the political scene. Philadelphia triumphed with news of getting the Democratic National Convention, and elected a new mayor after an open primary.
Here are the 9 stories that make up the 2015 year in politics.
Philadelphia gets the DNC
Take that, Brooklyn! In February, the Democratic National Committee announced Philadelphia would be the host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, beating out finalists Columbus and Brooklyn. The selection of Philadelphia was yet another sign that our city continues to enjoy a reputation as up-and-coming, innovative and young.
How’d Philadelphia seal the deal? Part of it was our great restaurants. The angry crab spaghetti at High Street on Market particularly persuaded DNC officials. Those officials also think Philadelphia has 18,500 hotel rooms within a 15-minute walk of the Wells Fargo Center. That’s definitely not true. But whatever, we’ll take it anyway.
The Kathleen Kane saga
The indictment came down in August: Kathleen Kane was charged with leaking classified grand jury information. And that really only felt like that was beginning of Kane’s year. Among the other things Kane did this year:
- Used her twin to fake out reporters during a court appearance.
- Held a press conference in which she didn’t take any questions but misstated while trying to communicate with her children.
- Held a press conference in which she didn’t take any questions but announced she was hiring an attorney to investigate and release more porny emails for a cost of $2 million that she’s not quite sure how she’ll pay.
- Got sued by a former staffer who says she fired him because he recommended she fire her chief of staff, who had been accused of sexual harassment.
- Got sued by porny prosecutors, including Frank Fina.
- Got her law license suspended by the Supreme Court, so the top lawyer in Pennsylvania can’t do lawyer things.
- Got a state senate that can’t agree on the color of the sky to unanimously vote to continue with a process that could lead to her impeachment.
Finally, the plot twist. Just last week, it was revealed that Kane’s twin sister received and sent questionable emails. Kane received at least one of those emails. Can’t wait for 2016. It’s an election year for Kane!
Jim Kenney wins
Jim Kenney couldn’t officially be called Philadelphia’s mayor-elect until November, but his victory really came in May. He dominated five opponents, beating runner-up Tony Williams by 30 percentage points. Toward the end Kenney’s campaign, his victory seemed like a given. At the beginning, he was the underdog. Williams, a state senator, and former district attorney Lynne Abraham entered the race as presumed favorites months before Kenney declared his intentions. He sat out until Darrell Clarke decided not to run. With Clarke out, Kenney got much-needed union support and earned votes from a broad coalition, from the LGBT community to black leaders in the Northwest.
Young people were one of the few groups who didn’t vote for Kenney, but he shouldn’t take it personally. Young people pretty much didn’t vote at all. Twelve percent of registered voters age 18-to-34 actually turned out to vote.
Dark money rises
In 2007, the last election without an incumbent, individual candidates spent $24 million. None of them came close to spending nearly that much money this year. Kenney, the winner, spent about $1 million. Yet the total amount spent for the mayoral primary was still over $10 million, thanks to PACs. These groups that are not allowed to coordinate with candidates funneled millions of dollars of dark money into the race. A PAC bankrolled by a suburban hedge fund spent $7.5 million on Williams. A PAC related to union maven Johnny Doc spent nearly $2 million on Kenney; and altogether PACs spent about $4 million the mayoral elect.
Milton Street hangs with new biffle Donald Trump
Milton Street’s mayoral candidacy was merely the appetizer for his 2015. Earlier this month, the former state rep. started (sort of) hanging out with Donald Trump. Street made an appearance at Trump rally in Virginia, where Trump called him “a highly respected great man.” Might Trump return the favor and visit Philadelphia with Street? It’s possible. Street said he wants to bring Trump here and show him the real black community.
Three Democrats to the state Supreme Court
The most important election this year came in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for seats that people usually pay little attention to. Three Democrats swept three open seats on the state’s high court, shifting its makeup from red to blue. They would have won even without a single vote from Philadelphia. It’s a big deal:
Porny judge No. 2 is on the ropes
What’s going to happen with Justice J. Michael Eakin? Like his former fellow justice Seamus McCaffery, Eakin sent and received porny emails. McCaffery resigned shortly after he was embroiled in the scandal. Eakin is still on Pennsylvania’s highest court, but a suspension could happen soon. Eakin’s most recent comments on the scandal came through his lawyer, and they formed a non-apology apology. Basically, he said: Sorry about the emails. I never intended for my “male banter” to be released publicly.
Seth Williams gets sensitive and takes a hit
Kathleen Kane isn’t the only top lawyer forced to answer questions this year. It’s been a long last few months for Philly D.A. Seth Williams. The release of porny emails by Kane led to increased pressure on Philadelphia prosecutors Patrick Blessington, Frank Fina and Marc Costanzo, who were formerly agents in the A.G.’s office and sent and received multiple misogynistic and racist emails. Anthony Williams, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and women’s rights groups are among those who have called for Williams to fire the men. He has not done so. Williams originally promised to send them to sensitivity training — in a news dump the Friday afternoon before Labor Day — but didn’t schedule the training until after people started asking questions about it months later. Earlier this month, Williams reassigned the porny prosecutors within his office.
And those controversies still shouldn’t be Williams’ greatest concern. The Feds are also breathing down his back. It was revealed in August a federal grand jury is looking into whether he used campaign funds for personal expenses. Who did he blame for leaking the story? Kathleen Kane, of course.
Yep, still don’t have one. It was due about six months ago. For Governor Tom Wolf, the budget impasse has defined his first year. He’s continuing to battle for the increases in education funding he promised but has had to give up on pushing for a natural gas severance tax.