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A tweet by one of Pa.’s Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate created a bunch of confusion among politically involved Philadelphians Sunday night.
The tweet came from U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. He’s running against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and community organizer Alexandria Khalil for the Dem nomination to the U.S. Senate seat Pat Toomey will be vacating.
The question it raised: Who landed the endorsement from Philadelphia’s 5th Ward Democrats?
Short answer: Nobody.
The longer answer gives us a peek into how endorsements are handled in Philly’s 66 voting wards (and the smaller divisions that make them up) — and how that can get messy when they don’t agree on which primary candidate to back.
Lamb sent out the tweet Sunday night proclaiming he was endorsed by Philadelphia’s 5th Ward Democrats.
Within an hour of Lamb’s post, at least three people who said they were committeepersons in the 5th Ward tweeted the claim was untrue — that no candidate for U.S. Senate had been endorsed by their ward.
Early Monday morning, in the account’s first tweet since 2019, the 5th Ward Democrats attempted to clear the air.
As of Monday afternoon, Lamb’s inaccurate tweet was still live on Twitter. His campaign did not immediately respond to Billy Penn’s request for comment.
The ward leader’s letter
The confusion appears to have stemmed from a request for street money.
Mike Boyle, Democratic leader for the 5th Ward, told Billy Penn he contacted Lamb’s campaign on Friday seeking a donation “to pay for the two ward letters that we mail to our voters.”
In making the request, Boyle told the campaign that Lamb was being endorsed in 19 of 37 of the ward’s divisions, and that another division was giving Lamb partial support.
“This was based on the feedback I got from the 5th Ward endorsement meeting as well as me reaching out to committeepeople who did not attend that meeting,” Boyle said.
“We did not vote as a group to endorse a particular Senate candidate. That choice was left to individual committeepeople,” he added.
Malcolm Kenyatta was fully endorsed in 11 divisions with partial support in two more, per Boyle. John Fetterman got full support in two divisions and partial support in one more. Three divisions declined to endorse any candidate.
When ward leaders mail endorsement letters to voters, each division will list the appropriate candidate, according to Boyle.
Why does it matter?
The 5th Ward is a big one.
It stretches from Broad Street to the Delaware and from Spring Garden to South Street. It also includes another chunk, from Girard to Spring Garden and 6th to the river.
This ward had more registered voters in the 2021 general election than any other (36,606), one of just three that had more than 30k. And the voters are relatively active: of those registered, 9,343 cast a ballot in November 2021.
Lamb noted that in his celebratory tweet, referring to this part of the city as “one of the most progressive & high turnout wards in Philly.”
Lamb did get endorsed by the Philadelphia Democratic Party in March.
Bob Brady told WHYY at the time that Lamb, who is from Western Pa., made an impression because he has spent a lot of time in Philadelphia meeting ward leaders and committee people. Brady said Fetterman hadn’t campaigned in Philadelphia enough, and Kenyatta “did the work” but wasn’t thought of by enough people as someone who could win the primary or general election.
The statewide Pennsylvania Democratic Party did not make an official endorsement in the race.