Elections Voters
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November 07, 2017

2017 Pennsylvania general election: What you need to know

It may be an off-year election Tuesday, but Philadelphians will elect a new district attorney just weeks after disgraced former DA Seth Williams was sentenced to five years in prison on a corruption conviction.

Voters in the city will also elect a new city controller – the incumbent lost in the primary – and vote yay or nay on a ballot question that seeks approval to borrow millions of dollars for municipal projects.

There is also a statewide ballot question that seeks to give the state legislature approval to enact legislation that would allow local taxing jurisdictions – municipalities and school boards, for example – to exclude the full assessed value of primary residences from taxation. (How they would make up those tax revenues is not addressed by the amendment.)

There are also a lot of city and state judges looking for your vote.

Here's a rundown of what to expect, as well as a list of voter resources:

NoneSource/Candidate campaigns

The city district attorney's race is between Democrat Larry Krasner and Republican Beth Grossman.

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Democratic defense attorney Lawrence Krasner cruised past a field of challengers in the May primary and will face Beth Grossman, a Republican with more than 20 years of experience in the district attorney's office.

Grossman, a former Democrat, is in private practice handling civil and criminal cases. She was a former chief of staff in Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and a former assistant district attorney who headed the Public Nuisance Task Force and the civil forfeiture unit. She is a 1990 graduate of Penn State and a 1993 graduate of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.

Krasner's career includes six years as a public defender. In private practice, he specialized in civil rights and often represented protesters pro bono. He has defended many political activists, including members of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School. 

The district attorney's office handles about 75,000 cases each year with an annual budget of $38 million, employing about 600 people. The district attorney serves a four-year term with no term limits and earns about $175,000.

PHILADELPHIA CITY CONTROLLER

NoneSources/Candidate campaigns

The city controller's race: Republican Mike Tomlinson and Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart.

The race for city controller is between Republican Mike Tomlinson and Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart.

A lifelong resident of Northeast Philadelphia, Tomlinson is a CPA with both corporate and tax accountant experience. He also has taught mathematics, accounting and finance in Philadelphia schools and gives his time to community service organizations, including the Tacony-Holmesburg Town Watch and the Holmesburg Civic Association. He is a Temple University graduate.

Rhynhart, who defeated incumbent controller Alan Butkovitz in the primary, has served in top City Hall positions since 2008. She was, most recently, the mayor's chief administrative officer. Under the previous administration, she was budget director and city treasurer. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University.

The controller is chief auditor of city financial affairs. The position carries a four-year term with no term limits and pays about $133,000. The office has an annual budget of $9 million and a staff of about 138.

BALLOT QUESTIONS

HOMESTEAD PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT EXCLUSION (STATEWIDE)

THE BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?

IN PLAIN LANGUAGE: This measure would permit the state legislature to pass a law allowing local school boards, municipalities and counties to exclude the entire assessed value of each primary residence (homestead or farmstead) in their jurisdictions from taxation if they chose to do so.

This would significantly reduce — and, in some cases, eliminate – residential property taxes in those jurisdictions. Local taxing bodies have been able to exclude up to 50 percent of the median assessed valuation of all properties in their jurisdictions since 1997, but few have done so.

If approved by the voters, the legislation would have to pass the General Assembly and be signed by the governor. It would also require approval by any local jurisdictions proposing it.

If implemented, jurisdictions would have to replace all or part of their property tax revenues with other taxes, a scenario that is not addressed by the amendment.

CITY BOND QUESTION (PHILADELPHIA ONLY)

THE BALLOT QUESTION: Should the City of Philadelphia borrow $172 million to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?

IN PLAIN LANGUAGE: This ballot question will determine whether the city increases its indebtedness by $172 million in order to fund capital initiatives. If approved by voters, money borrowed through the bond issue will be spent by the city for five purposes: transit, $4,767,309; streets and sanitation, $23,997,918; municipal buildings, $95,666,840; parks, recreation and museums, $32,325,872; and economic and community development, $15,242,061.

PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT

A Democrat and a Republican are seeking election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Terms are for 10 years, and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Every voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for just one candidate.

Sallie Updyke Mundy, who was appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in June 2016 to fill a vacancy, is the Republican. A former volunteer public defender in Tioga County, she was elected to the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2010. 

She is "Highly Recommended" by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Dwayne Woodruff, an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge who presides over family and juvenile matters, is the Democrat. He also was a certified NFL player representative.

He is "Recommended" by the bar association.

In addition, two Supreme Court justices face retention votes. Those approved by voters will serve another 10-year term. The mandatory retirement age is 75. They are Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, who has been on the Supreme Court bench since 1998, and Justice Debra Todd, on the Supreme Court bench since 2008.

PENNSYLVANIA SUPERIOR COURT

Nine candidates are seeking election to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Terms are for 10 years, and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Every voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for up to four candidates.

The candidates are Emil Giordano, a Republican and Common Pleas Court judge in Northampton County since 2004; Wade Kagarise, a Republican and Blair County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2013; Deborah Kunselman, a Democrat and administrative judge for the Civil Division of the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas; Jules Mermelstein, a Green Party candidate who has been an attorney since 1980 and a former educator; Maria McLaughlin, a Democrat and family law judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2012; Geoffrey Moulton Jr., a Democrat who was appointed to Superior Court in August 2016; Mary Murray, a Republican and magisterial district court judge; Carolyn Nichols, a Democrat and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge; and Craig Stedman, a Republican and current Lancaster County district attorney.

Giordano, Kunselman, Moulton and Stedman were rated as "Highly Recommended" by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. 

Kagarise, McLaughlin and Nichols were rated as "Recommended" by the bar association.

Mermelstein was rated as "Not Recommended" (for failure to participate) by the bar association because he announced his candidacy after the Bar Association’s evaluation process was completed. Murray did not participate in the evaluation process.

In addition, Republican Jacqueline Shogan, who has sat on the Superior Court bench since 2008, faces a retention vote. If approved by the voters, she will serve another 10-year term.

PENNSYLVANIA COMMONWEALTH COURT

Nine candidates are seeking election to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Terms are for 10 years, and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Every voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for up to two candidates.

The candidates are Christine Fizzano Cannon, a Republican and Delaware County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2012; Ellen Ceisler, a Democrat and nine-year judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; Irene McLaughlin Clark, a Democrat in private practice and former judge on the Pittsburgh Municipal Court; and Paul N. Lalley, a Republican in private practice who ran unsuccessfully for Commonwealth Court in 2015.

Cannon was rated as "Highly Recommended" by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Ceisler and Lalley were rated as "Recommended"  by the bar association.

Clark was rated as "Not Recommended" by the bar association.

No incumbent Commonwealth Court judges face retention elections.

PHILADELPHIA COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

Nine Democrats are seeking election to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Terms are for 10 years, and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Every voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for up to nine Court of Common Pleas candidates.

The Democrats running are Deborah Canty, a graduate of Messiah College, University of Pennsylvania and Temple University Law School; Shanese Johnson, a graduate of West Chester University and Temple University Law School; Deborah Cianfrani, a graduate of Cornell College and Western New England College of Law; Vikki Kristiansson, a graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington and Temple University Law School; Lucretia C. Clemons, a graduate of New York University and Temple University Law School; Zac Shaffer, a Temple University Law School graduate; Mark B. Cohen, University of Pennsylvania graduate; Stella Tsai, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and University of Pennsylvania Law School; and Vincent Furlong, a graduate of the University of Delaware and Widener University Law School.

All are "Recommended" by the Philadelphia Bar Association Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention, except for Johnson, Cianfrani and Cohen.

In addition, six Common Pleas judges face retention. Those approved by voters will serve another 10-year term. They are Linda A. CarpenterEllen H. CeislerMichael E. ErdosShelley Robins NewRosalyn K. Robinson and Teresa M. Sarmina.

All are "Recommended" by the bar association.

PHILADELPHIA MUNICIPAL COURT

Two Democrats are seeking election to Philadelphia Municipal Court. Terms are for six years, and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Every voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for up to two Municipal Court candidates.

The candidates are Marissa Brumbach, a graduate of St. Joseph's University and Widener University Law School, and Matt Wolf, a graduate of LeMoyne College and Loyola University Law School.

Both candidates are "recommended" by the Philadelphia Bar Association Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention.

In addition, nine Municipal Court judges face retention votes. Those approved by voters will serve another six-year term. They are James M. De LeonThomas F. GehretNazario Jimenez Jr.William A. Meehan Jr., Bradley K. MossDavid C. ShuterKaren Y. SimmonsJoyce O. Webb Eubanks and Marvin L. Williams.

All but De Leon and Williams are "Recommended" by the bar association.

POLLING PLACES

Polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Anybody in line by 8 p.m. must be allowed to vote. You can find your polling place here. Report issues or problems encountered at the polling place to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections at 215-686-1590.

HELP FOR VOTERS

Like all Pennsylvanians, Philadelphians are encouraged to vote and call the DA's Election Fraud Task Force at 215-686-9641, 9643 or 9644 if they experience any difficulty casting their ballot.

WEATHER

Don't head to the polls without an umbrella. There is a 60 percent chance of rain on Election Day, with precipitation more likely after 5 p.m. The high will be around 51, according to the National Weather Service.