PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee surprised and dismayed many party members this week with its endorsements in two primary races for seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Instead of a routine vote in favor of progressive incumbents Liz Fiedler in the 184th District in South Philadelphia and Rick Krajewski in the 188th District in University City, the committee endorsed their challengers who are arguably more conservative, Michael Giongiordano in the 184th District and James Wright in the 188th District.
“It’s disappointing and it’s frustrating,” said Fiedler, running for her third term representing South Philadelphia.
“Decisions like this feel like an attempt to send a message that certain people are not welcome. If we want to have as strong a party as possible, we need to make sure that more and more people are engaged, make sure there is a true transparent democratic process when things like endorsements are made, make sure that we are keeping our arms open and welcoming more and more people in and that we're listening to them, and that decision felt like an attempt to close a door."
Attempts to reach committee chair Bob Brady were unsuccessful, and the committee offered no public explanation for the decision.
Political analysts, speaking on background, pointed to two factors. Both Fiedler and Krajewski got elected by defying the party organization and running vigorous campaigns that ousted incumbents.
The committee, they say, wants people they can control.
But they also point to a pattern.
Pittsburgh’s Democrats made a similar move, endorsing more conservative challengers over progressive incumbents in three state house districts.
There’s speculation that the party may be trying to move itself more to the center.
Krajewski favors the theory that the party is asserting its power. But whatever the reason, he thinks it’s a bad strategy, especially this year.
“I think it’s them being threatened by people building their own organization,” Krajewski told KYW Newsradio, “and it’s really disappointing because this election, we have to build a strong coalition. We have a (U.S.) Senate and governor’s race that we cannot afford to lose and instead of thinking about how we can be collaborative and support each other, they are more concerned with how to power-check people.”
He also thinks it may backfire by energizing voters who may resent the party's decision.
Wright says he also considers himself progressive.
“I’m rooted in the community and I’m really about helping people,” he said. “Community development has been my calling since the beginning.”
He acknowledges, however, that he has attracted substantial support from Jeffrey Yass, the largest individual donor to Republican candidates in the state. Wright chalks that up to his support for charter schools.
Giongiordano has been criticized since the endorsement for now-deleted tweets that seemed to support former President Donald Trump. He dismissed the controversy.
“I’m not an ultra-conservative. I’ve been a Democrat since I was 18,” he said in an interview.
“I voted with honor for President Obama, I voted for Hillary Clinton, I voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and there’s numerous public posts to that effect.”
“I would say that my lines are more well-balanced and centered,” he said, “and I’m willing to listen to both Republicans and Democrats and work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done.”