The Delaware County Democratic Committee held their annual endorsement convention on Thursday, and it was not without controversy. There have been allegations of voter intimidation by State Representative Margo Davidson and her campaign manager, Shannon Marietta, which impact the validity of the Delaware County Democratic Party’s endorsement of her re-election. Many within the county fear that these tactics are an indication of similarities between the way the Democratic Party and the famous Delco GOP political machine select their candidates.
We have video footage, and for those unfamiliar with the committee endorsement process, the misdeed may not be completely apparent. I will do my best to outline some key points throughout the video footage, and about the endorsement process in general, to provide some clarity.
Background: In places like Philadelphia, where the Democratic Party has been organized and finely tuned to serve the needs of its members, a committee endorsement can make or break a race. Ward leaders and their respective committee members determine what sample ballot is distributed at each polling place, and generally, candidates will disburse funds to ward leaders to pay for their committee members’ service on Election Day. Anger a powerful ward leader or key committee person, and you might as well drop out of the race, because you are not getting elected.
In Delaware County, party leaders have taken great strides to increase their organizational power, which is evident through various local electoral successes over the past few years. Nonetheless, their evolution toward Philly ward boss status is still progressing for the DCDC.
It’s somewhat rare within the DCDC to have a primary at the state legislative level; the most recent notable primary in the annual endorsement process was the race for attorney general between Patrick Murphy and Kathleen Kane. Murphy won the party endorsement, and it was a close vote, but there were no controversial actions taken by either campaign to try to impact the results of the vote.
Current Situation: State Representative Margo Davidson currently has two primary challengers; Dafan Zhang is a third year JD student at the University of Pennsylvania living in East Lansdowne, and Billy Smith, a former Lansdowne councilman and Philadelphia ADA, is also seeking the nomination. Davidson’s voting record on public education issues, women’s reproductive rights, and the redistricting plan, have left her vulnerable along with the new district lines that add approximately 40% of the new district’s voters.
Going into the DCDC endorsement convention, it had been leaked out into the general public that Billy Smith and Dafan Zhang were both seeking the opportunity for an “open primary” within the Democratic Party, which in simple terms means that no endorsement would be made by the party members. Neither expected to earn the 51% of member support to get the endorsement themselves, but by having an open primary, it allowed them the opportunity to discuss the issues, rather than be impeded by even more institutional power that Representative Davidson wields.
Staff members from all three campaigns made their calls to voting members, and pitches (and in some cases, lies) were made to earn the support of whatever scenario best suited the prospective candidate. Here is an email sent out by Davidson CM Shannon Marietta, 48 hours before the vote.
I had fielded about five to six emails just from people I know, who were frustrated by the harassment they were enduring from Davidson’s campaign. When committee members stated their hesitance over the phone, Davidson’s manager created falsehoods about Davidson’s record and the platform of her opponents, sometimes even threatening that they’d be thrown out of the party if Margo wins and their support had wavered even a bit.
That brings us to the video footage, which took place Thursday night.
At 6:30 PM, Delaware County Democratic Chairman David Landau stood in front of the voting members within the 164th district (Davidson’s current seat) and called a motion to the floor to vote on the idea of an open primary. Those who raised their hand in favor of an open primary, therefore, wanted no endorsement to be made. All three campaigns knew this would be the first motion, and they had time to prepare, as proven by Marietta’s email. As you can see from the video, Davidson (closest to the aisle near the camera-holder at 1:07) is marching up and down the aisle, even getting up close to one of those voting in favor of an open primary, saying “Put your hand down,” over and over. Marietta, in the white sweater, is doing the same in the aisle furthest from the camera, at an even louder volume, drawing the attention of dozens occupying the many chairs in Strath Haven Middle School’s auditorium.
At 1:19, Davidson is heard saying “They’ve never been here before. This is their first time.” Some of those who voted in favor of her were voting by proxy, meaning that they were non-committee members who were voting in replacement of committee members who were absent for the controversial vote. They reportedly were recruited by close supporters of the Davidson campaign so as to stack the deck in their favor. The credential process for this particular endorsement vote has been called into question by many attendees.
At 2:23, Laura Wentz, an Upper Darby committeewoman, who I could hear protesting Davidson’s advances politely and firmly from my position at the front of the section, became even more vocal and insistent, saying “There’s too much intimidation going on.” She sent me this statement after the vote:
“During our caucus, there was a vote for an open primary. During the voting, while our hands were in the air to vote YES for an open primary; Margo & Shannon were walking up & down the aisle surrounding us shouting “Put your Hands Down if you support Margo!”, “Frank put your hand down”, Margo grabbed peoples arms & pulled them down. The whole time I was saying “This is Intimidation!”. I have attended non-political conventions before, I have never experienced anything like this before. That was outrageous & unacceptable! They were manipulating the vote, while invalidating the vote. And No One stopped them. Billy & Dafan were standing there respecting the vote & those voting. Margo was changing the vote, intimidating those voting, grabbing at them, yelling at us.”
Another committeewoman, Mandy Santiago, of Springfield Township, who watched in horror from another section, sent me this email:
“As a newcomer on the Delaware County politics scene, I was truly looking forward to the nominating convention – it is supposed to be a time to energize the troops. My spirit started to wane when I witnessed Rep. Margo Davidson yelling instructions to convention attendees from the 164th district who were voting on whether or not to have an open primary. This was upsetting for several reasons. Despite repeated requests from Chairman Landau, Rep. Davidson and her staff continued to try and sway voters. Her behavior was unprofessional and intimidating. If the party leaders wanted to preserve the integrity of the democratic process, all of the candidates should have been asked to leave the room while a paper vote or hand count was conducted. The fact that an incumbent feels so threatened by an open primary that she feels the need to bully people to vote for her suggests what voters already know…her voting record and performance are lacking and it’s time for a change. I am thrilled that two excellent candidates have stepped up to run against Rep. Davidson this Primary. That is what true democracy is all about…choice!”
The final vote for the open primary vote was 29 against (those who wanted Davidson’s endorsement) to 24 (for those who wanted an open primary and no endorsement). Given the level of intimidation that was experienced by those participating in the voting process, it is unclear whether any of the votes were swayed. The caucus then moved on to a vote for the endorsement of Representative Davidson, motioned by Upper Darby councilwoman Sekela Coles. The final tally for endorsement votes was as follows:
Davidson: 32 votes
Smith: 18 votes
Zhang: 1 vote
Abstention: 3 votes
Within five minutes of the announcement that Representative Davidson had won the nomination, (with only 59% of the vote as the incumbent – 55% minimum required for any endorsement), the following press release was posted on her Facebook page:
Upper Darby, PA – Democratic Rep. Margo Davidson (PA-164) today received the overwhelming support of the Delaware County Democratic Party. “My fellow democratic committee members know I’m a strong democratic leader who delivers for our community. I work every day, all day to increase the quality of life – fighting for better schools, raising the minimum wage, ending corporate loopholes, and protecting homeowners from predatory lenders. I won a historic election in 2010 and have continued to work to build the Democratic Party. I believe my support comes from my efforts working hand in hand with my fellow committee members. It is an honor to be endorsed.”
Within less than a minute of this post, Representative Kevin Boyle, who has raised controversy for his support of increased charter school funding and school vouchers, became one of the first to like her post. There have been rumors of a coalition between Representative Cohen, Representatives Brendan and Kevin Boyle, Former Representative Josephs, and Representative Davidson, to combat Representative Brian Sims’ efforts to elect more progressive voices to the state legislature. Although this certainly does not prove anything, it does raise further suspicion of a secret alliance forming, for local conscientious observers of these races.
Note: Keystone Politics editor Jon Geeting reached out to Representative Davidson’s campaign manager for comment on this cycle’s endorsement process, but after a considerable amount of time, he has received no response from her, the candidate, or any member of her team. We are happy to post any response that Representative Davidson or her team have for this or any other article.