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March 20, 2015

Milton Street clears one hurdle to mayoral run; one remains

Does candidate Milton Street’s common law marriage to a woman who lives in New Jersey make him a resident of that state and ineligible to run for mayor of Philadelphia?

That question will be taken up Monday by Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Chris Wogan. On Friday, the lawyer who argued the challenge against Street’s campaign, Kevin Greenberg, said the address of the candidate’s spouse was Street's legal residence. To run for mayor, a candidate must live in the city but Theresa Ragunan, who was described as Street's common law wife, lives in Moorestown, Burlington County.

Wogan heard testimony on the issue Friday but agreed to reconvene the hearing on Monday so both sides could research the law, which dates back to the 1930s.

Street said he was confident he would win.

“I’m going to overcome this, this antiquated law,” Street told reporters. “I don’t live there I swear under oath, now I’m swearing to you. Don’t ever ask me again.”

“I’ve always had residency.”

The residency challenge was the second of two arguments Greenberg made against Street’s position on the ballot. Greenberg also argued Street was not properly registered as a Democrat and made incorrect statements on an affidavit.

A review of city records revealed that Street was an Independent when he filed his nomination petitions on March 10. A few days later, he switched his affiliation from Independent to Democrat, he told the judge.

Wogan called this point “almost a concession.”

Not being a registered Democrat was an honest mistake, Street argued. He told the judge he thought he mailed in a registration change from Independent to Democrat in March 2013, but the city has no record of that request. Street was, however, mistakenly allowed to vote in the following two Democratic primaries.

“The candidate was beyond negligent here," Wogan said at the hearing, which took place at the City Commissioners' Hearing Room. The question then came down to intent. Street incorrectly claimed he was a Democrat on his affidavit and if he did so purposely, he would be taken off the ballot, said the judge.

But that motive couldn’t be proven. Street likely “didn’t intent to deceive the voters,” the judge said, and would not be struck from the ballot for his mistake. 

Of the mistaken party affiliation, Street agreed he was negligent.

“I think I’ve overcome the most difficult [challenge],” he said.

While the judge said there were “many red flags” that should have alerted Street to the fact that he was registered as an Independent, there was no law requiring him to be registered as a Democrat in order to file nominating petitions to appear on the Democratic primary ballot. 

At a certain point prior to the primary election, however, Street had to be a registered Democrat for his candidacy to remain valid.

Street’s candidacy is being challenged by Joseph Coccio, treasurer of the Transit Workers Union, Local 234, which has endorsed Anthony H. Williams in the Democratic primary.