State Rep. Martina White

Philly Republicans have voted to elect their first woman chairperson to lead the party out of one of its lowest points in recent history.

At the smoke-filled United Republican Club in Kensington, the overwhelming majority of GOP ward leaders threw their support behind Pa. Rep. Martina White. Two ward leaders abstained from voting, and one voted against White. Eleven wards did not have representation when the vote occurred.

White, 31, is considered a rising star. The youngest woman elected to Harrisburg in 2015, she’s in her second full term in the state House of Representatives, representing parts of the city’s far Northeast. Early in her political career, she landed in the center of national conversations with her opposition for Philadelphia’s so-called “sanctuary city” policy and its proposed reforms to around police-involved shootings.

“This party is ready for a resurgence,” White told reporters after her election to lead the party. “We’re really excited about the future.”

That future wasn’t looking too bright after last week’s general election.

Tuesday night’s vote came after the abrupt resignation of former Chairman Mike Meehan over the weekend following a crushing election loss for the local party. Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks secured a seat on Philly City Council that had been a stronghold of the Republican party for decades.

“What happened last week, it happened last week,” White said.

This was one of the few elected posts in Philadelphia the party had to call their own. Come January, Republicans will hold just five elected seats in the city — two on City Council, one City Commissioner, and two in the House of Representatives.

That’s a historic low for a party that has been hemorrhaging relevance in Philadelphia for years, despite its stronghold over Harrisburg. William Austin Meehan, the late father of Mike Meehan, ran the party for four decades until his death in 1994. Under his rule, he carved out deals with the Democratic party to maintain a certain number of power seats and patronage job for the city’s outranked Republican residents. But as Democratic voter rolls surged, the party has lost far more battles than it has won.

Other candidates threw their names in the ring after Meehan’s abrupt departure this weekend, but the wagons circled around White at the last minute. About 15 minutes into deliberations, Meehan himself descended the stairs into the dimly lit lobby of the Republican Club.

“It’s still dysfunctional,” Meehan said of the vote. “I’ll leave it at that.”

The mood in the club brightened after the near-unanimous vote for White. The infighting that has plagued party leadership in the party for a moment appeared to subside around White.

“Martina is a fresh voice for the Philly GOP,” said GOP consultant Albert Eisenberg. “She’s talented. She’s competent. She’s aggressive. It’s definitely time to rebuild based on what we’ve had, and I think she’s the one to do it.”

Calvin Tucker, who served as a Trump surrogate in 2016 and now works for the state Republican party, also heralded White’s election as a good sign for the party.

“We’re bringing in the kind of leadership we need in the millennial community to grow this party,” Tucker said.

White will take over as the party’s acting leader immediately. She said she’ll be focussing the party around the 2020 presidential race for now, and then looking to take back local races when the time comes.

Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...