State Rep. John Sabatina Jr. edged Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby to earn the Democratic nomination in the 5th Senatorial District special election.
The election will be held to replace Democrat Mike Stack, who resigned two weeks ago to become lieutenant governor.
“We were blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the field of outstanding prospects who expressed an interest in running for the vacated 5th District Senate seat,” said Stack, Democratic leader of the 58th Ward. “Among them, Rep. Sabatina stood out based on his solid experience and stellar voting record in the state legislature and the fact that he presently represents a large portion of 5th Senate District voters by virtue of the 174th District House seat he presently holds.”
The special election will likely take place on May 19, coinciding with the primary.
“Lt. Gov. Mike Stack has served his constituents in this district as senator with honor, conviction and incomparable leadership. Today, I turn my attention to running a vigorous campaign to make our streets safe, fully fund our public schools and creating good jobs through economic development,” Sabatina said.
Sabatina is a graduate of Father Judge High School, West Chester University and Widener University’s School of Law. A former assistant district attorney, he has been in office since 2006. He lives in Rhawnhurst with his wife and infant daughter.
Ward leaders and party boss Bob Brady gathered at the Somerton home of retired judge Felice Stack, the lieutenant governor’s mom, to nominate candidates for the Senate seat and the 170th Legislative District seat vacated by Brendan Boyle, now a member of Congress.
The Senate nomination was considered a battle between Sabatina and ward leader Shawn Dillon.
The House nomination was expected to go to John Del Ricci, vice president of the Parkwood Civic Association and a roadway operations manager with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Seth Kaplan, a Boyle loyalist, also wanted the nod.
Instead, Mike McAleer nominated Sarah Del Ricci, John’s 34-year-old wife and executive director of the Parkwood Therapeutic Riding Center, a facility that is known for its work with autistic children.
Stack seconded the nomination.
“I was not included in that process,” Dillon said of the surprise switch.
Dillon nominated Kaplan.
In the end, McAleer and Stack voted for Sarah Del Ricci. Dillon abstained, but pledged to support Del Ricci.
“Sarah Del Ricci is a respected, popular and active member of our community and will be an excellent candidate for the upcoming special election. Her nomination makes a strong statement about our commitment to diversity and desire to field a strong candidate up to the challenge of running against a well-funded Republican in what is certainly going to be a hotly contested election,” Stack said.
Del Ricci was in the room for some of the proceedings.
“It was a little awkward,” Dillon said.
Del Ricci will face Republican Martina White on March 24.
Kaplan was expected to run as an independent. He had union support and even resigned his job as chief of staff for state Rep. Kevin Boyle, but backed out of the race.
“I wanted to take the time to inform you that I will not be filing petitions as an independent in the 170th race,” he said in an email statement. “After significant polling, my entering the race would take away votes from the Democrat and likely cause the Republicans to win the race. For the sake of party unity, I have decided to not file.”
Kaplan, who does not consider Del Ricci a strong candidate, could challenge her in next year’s primary if she wins the race. Or, he could take on White if she prevails.
John Del Ricci said he declined to run 30 minutes before the nomination vote because he would have had to resign from the Turnpike, losing medical coverage.
“I had a lot to lose to run,” he said.
Dillon sensed that, because of the surprising turn of events in the 170th vote, he would probably lose the Senate nomination.
So, after Sabatina was nominated, he nominated McNesby.
“John was the best candidate,” Dillon said of McNesby.
In the end, the 10 ward leaders split.
Stack, McAleer, Connie Dougherty, Harry Enggasser and John Sabatina Sr. voted for Sabatina Jr.
Dillon, Bobby Henon, Alan Butkovitz, Pat Parkinson and Lorri Bednarek voted for McNesby.
Sabatina Jr. prevailed because the ward leaders supporting him have more divisions in the Senate district.
Henon said he’ll do what he can to restore harmony and unrest, but still wishes the outcome had been different.
“I think Shawn would have been a good senator. I think John McNesby would have been a good senator. You win some, you lose some,” he said.
Republicans have not settled on a candidate. McNesby could be an option, or he could run as an independent.
“We’re looking at all the options,” McNesby said, adding he’ll have a decision by the end of the week.
McNesby said some ward leaders promised to support him, but did not.
“We’re going to remember that down the line,” he said.
McNesby wouldn’t identify who promised support, but did not deliver.
“They know who they are,” he said.
Even if Sabatina wins, he could face a primary challenge next year when he’d be seeking a full four-year term.
Henon said it’s too early to say if he would support a challenger against an incumbent.
“That’s a millenium away when it comes to politics,” he said of the April 2016 primary.
If Sabatina wins, Dillon would be the Democratic nominee for the 174th District seat, if he wants the nomination.
Local Democratic ward leaders, in Dillon’s view, are not united.
“There’s a big divide in Northeast Philly,” he said. ••