By Michael Sainato
In March 2017, a special election for a State Representative position in Pennsylvania became a center of controversy, as allegations swirled around the Democratic Party’s candidate who emerged as the winner. On September 14, Our Revolution backed Green Party Candidate Cheri Honkala and the National Green Party formally filed a lawsuit for voter intimidation and election fraud, seeking to have the election’s results overturned. The district, Pennsylvania‘s 197th, is the state’s poorest and also one of its most corrupt. The two previous Democrat State representatives for the district resigned due to federal fraud charges; Leslie Acosta plead guilty to money laundering charges in 2016, and her predecessor Jose Miranda resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
Among the allegations include the Democratic Party winner, Emilio Vazquez, a write-in candidate because the initial candidate was barred from running by a judge for not living in the district, include widespread voter intimidation, ballot tampering as a photo of a ballot box was pictured at a victory party when it was supposed to be in the hands of police or city staff, and electioneering in which Democrats coerced voters within the polling places and at the ballot box to vote for their candidate.
“After several different politicians having to step down in the 197th District, which is the poorest district in Pennsylvania, I felt like I had no other choice but to step forward and throw my name in the hat and to run for State Representative. Little did I know that they were going to be up to their regular, fraudulent tricks here in the district. So, it was very difficult. I went through a major loss of innocence. I had the best ground game. I had amazing field organizers. We raised over $100,000 in two months. We went to every single event. We had the most people at the various different voting booths working, you name it. But then we didn’t know that they would be on the inside,” said Cheri Honkala in an interview with me. “How decisions are made right now in 197th District is by about five people. It’s a few of the ward leaders and our congressmen and a bunch of money, and that’s how decisions are made. They are not made by going into the voting booth and people casting their votes, and I think that that’s something really important that we have a responsibility to do something about and to change.”
Honkala continued, “The people here in the 197th district are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We’re not just dealing with poverty and the opiate crisis and all of those kinds of things. We can’t even decide who it is that we want in elective office, and those things are not going to change unless we fight for our right to vote. So, this is something that we really need people’s support, and I’m hopeful, because we’re going to rise up. There’s no place else to go.”
Pennsylvania’s 197th district and the undemocratic special election held their earlier this year is part of an ongoing trend that reflects the state of politics in Philadelphia, one of the most corrupt cities in America.
In just the past year, former Congressman representing a district in Philadelphia, Chaka Fattah (D-PA), was convicted and sent to jail for corruption after serving 11 terms, and the Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams opted out of running for re-election because he is under federal investigation for corruption.Statewide, Pennsylvania hasn’t fared much better; last year the first Democrat to be elected as Pennsylvania‘s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, was convicted for leaking grand jury materials and the scandal also pushed two Democrat State Supreme Court judges to resign. This year, another veteran U.S. Congressman in Philadelphia, Robert Brady, paid off his primary challenger in 2012 to drop out of the race, leading to the aide of the primary challenger pleading guilty to falsifying FEC documents to cover-up the payment. The special election for Pennsylvania‘s 197th ward is a continuation on this trajectory of brazen corrupt politics in which the Democratic Party will do anything to maintain and expand their own political power at the expense of democracy.