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A Tale of Two Cities: Thank You, Jerry Holland!

Jerry Holland, Duval County Supervisor of Elections

A Week After The Election, Philadelphia Republicans are Still Waiting for Results

“It’s not the voting that’s democracy,” wrote celebrated British playwright Tom Stoppard, “it’s the counting.”

Long known for his literary acrobatics, Stoppard’s off-angle yet astoundingly astute observation was never truer than this past Tuesday when voters in two of America’s major cities went to the polls to nominate and elect candidates for mayor.

Unlike Jacksonville, voters who participated in last Tuesday’s primary election in Philadelphia, the nation’s birthplace, are still waiting to find out who their Republican nominee for mayor will be.

While the Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the City of Brotherly Love by a more than 6 ½-to-1 margin, easily re-nominated Mayor Michael A. Nutter, who faced only token opposition in his primary, the two GOP candidates for mayor are nervously awaiting the official outcome almost a week after the last vote was cast.

The fact that the tired and declining Philadelphia GOP is a party at war with itself has only added to the protracted suspense.

Karen Brown, a former Catholic schoolteacher and Democratic precinct committeewoman before being asked to run for mayor on the Republican ticket, clings to a narrow 57-vote lead over challenger John Featherman, a Center City realtor and former local TV correspondent whose rebel candidacy, fueled by a posse of angry young idealists and newcomers, took aim at the city’s entrenched GOP leadership.

Featherman and his supporters contend that the party’s leaders are nothing but lapdogs for the city’s powerful Democratic organization, deliberately running weak candidates in exchange for patronage jobs, usually in the ticket-happy and dreaded Philadelphia Parking Authority.

It was probably no coincidence, they claim, that the nominating petitions for Featherman’s opponent were circulated by thirty employees of that agency.

In any case, the race between Featherman and Brown was extremely close all night long — at one point they were literally tied at 8,084 votes apiece — and it still is.

Incredibly, it took until late Friday — nearly 72 hours after the polls closed — to complete the counting of the votes cast on Tuesday from the city’s 1,687 precincts, giving Brown her narrow lead over the insurgent Featherman in what many viewed as a fight for the soul of the Republican Party.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer.

City officials now say that it won’t be until some time later this week before the officials results are known. They still have to tabulate an undetermined number of Republican ballots in the estimated 1,675 absentee and provisional ballots that remain to be counted.

The reasons for the delay are numerous. On Wednesday afternoon there were some 65 cartridges used in voting machines in polling places across the city that still hadn’t been delivered to the office of the City Commissioners, as preposterous as that might seem.

By Thursday, 17 precincts still remained to be counted.

That was 48 hours after the election.

Marge Tartaglione

Moreover, Marge Tartaglione, the crusty and combative 78-year-old great-grandmother who’s been in charge of the Philadelphia election machinery for the past thirty years or so, suffered a stunning rebuke at the polls last Tuesday and apparently has been in no hurry to count the remaining votes.

She lost, that’s all she seemingly cared about.

In the meantime, the waiting continues.

Unofficially, only 12.9 percent, or fewer than 17,000 of the city’s Republican voters turned out for the election, but nearly a week after the polls closed, nobody yet knows who actually won the GOP mayoral primary.

While Tartaglione and Philadelphia’s two other city commissioners — those who administer that city’s elections — appear to have taken the late Eugene McCarthy’s adage to heart when he said that “an efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty,” the long delay in counting all of the votes borders on the edge of the ridiculous, if not completely over the edge.

McCarthy’s witty insightfulness notwithstanding, there are certain things one would hope the government can do efficiently.

Counting votes is one of them.

That’s something Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland clearly understands.

Contrast what happened in Philadelphia, for instance, to the lightning-quick speed in which Holland and his relatively small staff tabulated and reported the returns in Jacksonville’s razor-thin and hotly-contested mayoral race last Tuesday.

Alvin Brown and Mike Hogan didn’t have to wait long to learn their fate, nor did the more than 193,000 voters who took the time to cast a ballot in last week’s city elections.

Both men had poured their hearts and souls into the campaign, a contest with huge ramifications for Jacksonville’s future, and both of them deserved a quick and accurate verdict.

So did the voters.

Holland, a public servant who takes his responsibilities seriously, made it happen.

Unlike Philadelphia’s Marge Tartaglione, whose sad political remains were relegated to the dustbin of history on Tuesday and who has rarely been seen since, the mild-manned Holland immediately stepped up, reassuring an anxious public that his staff would begin counting the remaining 1,900 or more absentee and provisional ballots still outstanding as quickly as humanly possible, a process that began just after daybreak on Wednesday.

With only 603 votes separating Brown and Hogan — a lead amassed by the little-known and largely untested Democrat only after the final four precincts reported late Tuesday night — an anxious city waited.

Alvin Brown’s election night assertion of making sure “every vote is counted,” a momentary flashback to the controversially bitter 2000 presidential election — and a point stressed by the Democratic candidate no fewer than five times during his awkwardly-delivered two-minute speech at the Jacksonville Landing — was hardly necessary.

Holland, who was determined to complete the task as swiftly and accurately as possible, had no intention of doing anything less.

The day-long count on Wednesday gave the victorious Brown, the city’s first African-American mayor, an insurmountable lead of more than 1,300 votes, and by 7 p.m. that evening, Republican Mike Hogan, the Duval County tax collector, graciously conceded to his Democratic opponent.

Nobody questioned the legitimacy of the results, or the margin of Brown’s historic victory.

Thanks to the swift actions by Holland and his staff, Jacksonville knew with certainty — and in a timely fashion — who its next mayor will be.

Voters in Philadelphia still don’t even know who one of their mayoral candidates will be.

We should count our blessings.

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