Out candidate receives unfavorable appellate ruling

Out candidate receives unfavorable appellate ruling

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Undaunted by an unfavorable appellate court ruling, Sherrie Cohen has vowed to ask the state Supreme Court to hear her case for reinstatement to the November 5 ballot as an Independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council.

Last month, Common Pleas Judge Abbe Fletman disqualified Cohen from running for a seat on City Council as an Independent candidate in the general election after having relinquished her primary run as a Democrat. Fletman ruled that March 27 was the deadline for a candidate to voluntarily withdraw from the primary and still be eligible to run in the general election. Cohen didn’t withdraw from the primary until April 18.

On  September 5, Commonwealth Court upheld Fletman’s ruling. The court opined that the nomination petitions Cohen filed as a Democratic candidate weren’t voided in time for her to run as an Independent candidate.

“[Cohen] admittedly filed nomination petitions seeking the Democratic nomination for the office of an at-large seat on the Philadelphia City Council in the May 21, 2019, Municipal Primary Election,” Commonwealth Court’s ruling states. “She also admittedly pursued her candidacy for such office by seeking endorsements and contributions to the point of actually drawing her placement on the Democratic Party ballot for that office in that election. Although she was ultimately granted leave to withdraw as a Democratic Party candidate from the [primary] by the trial court prior to the election, her extensive participation in the nomination process as a Democratic candidate clearly falls within the purview of Section 976(e) [of the election code], which [precludes her from running as an Independent.]”

Cohen, a lesbian, dropped out of the primary race after her former campaign manager made negative comments about Deja Alvarez’s ancestry during a Trans Day of Visibility celebration.

Alvarez ran as a Democrat for an at-large Council seat. Had she won, she would have been the first openly trans member of the municipal governing body. Alvarez is challenging Cohen’s candidacy as an Independent in the general election.

Of Council’s 17 seats, seven are at-large, including two reserved for non-Democrats — which Republicans have historically held. Cohen hopes to fill one of those posts as an Independent.

Cohen’s appeal to Commonwealth Court faulted Fletman for allegedly interpreting the relevant case law on election matters too narrowly.

“All the case law in election cases cites a need for liberal interpretation to keep — if at all possible — a candidate on the ballot. Judge Fletman failed in not using this liberal interpretation, which is so obvious in this case — particularly since Sherrie Cohen, in her nomination papers, had over 8,000 signatures, which is a very significant number of signatures,” Cohen’s appeal stated.

But Commonwealth Court asserted in its ruling: “We are mindful that we must strike a balance between the liberal purposes of the Election Code and the provisions of the Election Code relating to nomination papers that are necessary to prevent fraud and to preserve the integrity of the election process.”

Louis S. Agre, an attorney for Alvarez, agreed with Commonwealth Court’s ruling.

"We think the court made the right decision,” Agre told PGN. “It's a well-written and well-reasoned decision.  I would be very surprised if the state Supreme Court overturns the decision. I think that, at this point, any more appeals would be futile."

Cohen expressed hope that the high court will agree to hear her case.

“I have a large amount of case law in my favor,” Cohen told PGN, “I’m very disappointed with the Commonwealth Court ruling.  It’s a setback for ballot access. It limits the choices available to voters, and it limits the right of candidates to choose in which race to run.”

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