VIDEO: Evidence of Voter Intimidation By Margo Davidson Ahead of #HD164 Endorsement Vote

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The Delaware County Democratic Committee held their annual endorsement convention on Thursday, and it was not without controversy. There have been allegations of voter intimidation by State Representative Margo Davidson and her campaign manager, Shannon Marietta, which impact the validity of the Delaware County Democratic Party’s endorsement of her re-election. Many within the county fear that these tactics are an indication of similarities between the way the Democratic Party and the famous Delco GOP political machine select their candidates.

We have video footage, and for those unfamiliar with the committee endorsement process, the misdeed may not be completely apparent. I will do my best to outline some key points throughout the video footage, and about the endorsement process in general, to provide some clarity.

Background: In places like Philadelphia, where the Democratic Party has been organized and finely tuned to serve the needs of its members, a committee endorsement can make or break a race. Ward leaders and their respective committee members determine what sample ballot is distributed at each polling place, and generally, candidates will disburse funds to ward leaders to pay for their committee members’ service on Election Day. Anger a powerful ward leader or key committee person, and you might as well drop out of the race, because you are not getting elected.

In Delaware County, party leaders have taken great strides to increase their organizational power, which is evident through various local electoral successes over the past few years. Nonetheless, their evolution toward Philly ward boss status is still progressing for the DCDC.

It’s somewhat rare within the DCDC to have a primary at the state legislative level; the most recent notable primary in the annual endorsement process was the race for attorney general between Patrick Murphy and Kathleen Kane. Murphy won the party endorsement, and it was a close vote, but there were no controversial actions taken by either campaign to try to impact the results of the vote.

Current Situation: State Representative Margo Davidson currently has two primary challengers; Dafan Zhang is a third year JD student at the University of Pennsylvania living in East Lansdowne, and Billy Smith, a former Lansdowne councilman and Philadelphia ADA, is also seeking the nomination. Davidson’s voting record on public education issues, women’s reproductive rights, and the redistricting plan, have left her vulnerable along with the new district lines that add approximately 40% of the new district’s voters.

Going into the DCDC endorsement convention, it had been leaked out into the general public that Billy Smith and Dafan Zhang were both seeking the opportunity for an “open primary” within the Democratic Party, which in simple terms means that no endorsement would be made by the party members. Neither expected to earn the 51% of member support to get the endorsement themselves, but by having an open primary, it allowed them the opportunity to discuss the issues, rather than be impeded by even more institutional power that Representative Davidson wields.

Staff members from all three campaigns made their calls to voting members, and pitches (and in some cases, lies) were made to earn the support of whatever scenario best suited the prospective candidate. Here is an email sent out by Davidson CM Shannon Marietta, 48 hours before the vote.

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 8.02.01 PM

I had fielded about five to six emails just from people I know, who were frustrated by the harassment they were enduring from Davidson’s campaign. When committee members stated their hesitance over the phone, Davidson’s manager created falsehoods about Davidson’s record and the platform of her opponents, sometimes even threatening that they’d be thrown out of the party if Margo wins and their support had wavered even a bit.

That brings us to the video footage, which took place Thursday night.

At 6:30 PM, Delaware County Democratic Chairman David Landau stood in front of the voting members within the 164th district (Davidson’s current seat) and called a motion to the floor to vote on the idea of an open primary. Those who raised their hand in favor of an open primary, therefore, wanted no endorsement to be made. All three campaigns knew this would be the first motion, and they had time to prepare, as proven by Marietta’s email. As you can see from the video, Davidson (closest to the aisle near the camera-holder at 1:07) is marching up and down the aisle, even getting up close to one of those voting in favor of an open primary, saying “Put your hand down,” over and over. Marietta, in the white sweater, is doing the same in the aisle furthest from the camera, at an even louder volume, drawing the attention of dozens occupying the many chairs in Strath Haven Middle School’s auditorium.

At 1:19, Davidson is heard saying “They’ve never been here before. This is their first time.” Some of those who voted in favor of her were voting by proxy, meaning that they were non-committee members who were voting in replacement of committee members who were absent for the controversial vote. They reportedly were recruited by close supporters of the Davidson campaign so as to stack the deck in their favor. The credential process for this particular endorsement vote has been called into question by many attendees.

At 2:23, Laura Wentz, an Upper Darby committeewoman, who I could hear protesting Davidson’s advances politely and firmly from my position at the front of the section, became even more vocal and insistent, saying “There’s too much intimidation going on.” She sent me this statement after the vote:

“During our caucus, there was a vote for an open primary. During the voting, while our hands were in the air to vote YES for an open primary; Margo & Shannon were walking up & down the aisle surrounding us shouting “Put your Hands Down if you support Margo!”, “Frank put your hand down”, Margo grabbed peoples arms & pulled them down. The whole time I was saying “This is Intimidation!”. I have attended non-political conventions before, I have never experienced anything like this before. That was outrageous & unacceptable! They were manipulating the vote, while invalidating the vote. And No One stopped them. Billy & Dafan were standing there respecting the vote & those voting. Margo was changing the vote, intimidating those voting, grabbing at them, yelling at us.”

Another committeewoman, Mandy Santiago, of Springfield Township, who watched in horror from another section, sent me this email:

“As a newcomer on the Delaware County politics scene, I was truly looking forward to the nominating convention – it is supposed to be a time to energize the troops. My spirit started to wane when I witnessed Rep. Margo Davidson yelling instructions to convention attendees from the 164th district who were voting on whether or not to have an open primary. This was upsetting for several reasons. Despite repeated requests from Chairman Landau, Rep. Davidson and her staff continued to try and sway voters. Her behavior was unprofessional and intimidating. If the party leaders wanted to preserve the integrity of the democratic process, all of the candidates should have been asked to leave the room while a paper vote or hand count was conducted. The fact that an incumbent feels so threatened by an open primary that she feels the need to bully people to vote for her suggests what voters already know…her voting record and performance are lacking and it’s time for a change. I am thrilled that two excellent candidates have stepped up to run against Rep. Davidson this Primary. That is what true democracy is all about…choice!”

The final vote for the open primary vote was 29 against (those who wanted Davidson’s endorsement) to 24 (for those who wanted an open primary and no endorsement). Given the level of intimidation that was experienced by those participating in the voting process, it is unclear whether any of the votes were swayed. The caucus then moved on to a vote for the endorsement of Representative Davidson, motioned by Upper Darby councilwoman Sekela Coles. The final tally for endorsement votes was as follows:

Davidson: 32 votes
Smith: 18 votes
Zhang: 1 vote
Abstention: 3 votes

Within five minutes of the announcement that Representative Davidson had won the nomination, (with only 59% of the vote as the incumbent – 55% minimum required for any endorsement), the following press release was posted on her Facebook page:

Upper Darby, PA – Democratic Rep. Margo Davidson (PA-164) today received the overwhelming support of the Delaware County Democratic Party. “My fellow democratic committee members know I’m a strong democratic leader who delivers for our community. I work every day, all day to increase the quality of life – fighting for better schools, raising the minimum wage, ending corporate loopholes, and protecting homeowners from predatory lenders. I won a historic election in 2010 and have continued to work to build the Democratic Party. I believe my support comes from my efforts working hand in hand with my fellow committee members. It is an honor to be endorsed.”

Within less than a minute of this post, Representative Kevin Boyle, who has raised controversy for his support of increased charter school funding and school vouchers, became one of the first to like her post. There have been rumors of a coalition between Representative Cohen, Representatives Brendan and Kevin Boyle, Former Representative Josephs, and Representative Davidson, to combat Representative Brian Sims’ efforts to elect more progressive voices to the state legislature. Although this certainly does not prove anything, it does raise further suspicion of a secret alliance forming, for local conscientious observers of these races.

Note: Keystone Politics editor Jon Geeting reached out to Representative Davidson’s campaign manager for comment on this cycle’s endorsement process, but after a considerable amount of time, he has received no response from her, the candidate, or any member of her team. We are happy to post any response that Representative Davidson or her team have for this or any other article.

This entry was posted in Ethics, State House.

15 Responses to VIDEO: Evidence of Voter Intimidation By Margo Davidson Ahead of #HD164 Endorsement Vote

  1. Charlotte Hummel, School Director, Lifelong Democrat, Citizen says:

    I was there and could see this happening. I was relying on the party chairman who led the caucus to do his job. He was very mild mannered about the whole thing. When you stand up before your committee members to exercise leadership, especially in a the midst of a known controversy, you should be prepared to NOT be meek about it. I would have liked the chair to take the caucus to a private setting, include only those with a vote (proxy or otherwise) so that he could state the issues and the controversy as well as the questions that might be on the floor. Yes, it would have been best to have candidates and non-voters leave the caucus so that true deliberations could be held. All I know about the credentialing process was that the only elected officials who could not vote were district justices and school directors (because of the cross filing nature of their elections regardless of their real party history.) So, having a real interest in my state representative (who better to know what is wrong with public education than a 13 year incumbent school board member) I accepted the proxy of an elected committee person to have a vote. Regardless of my position on either question, I was very uncomfortable with behaviors. If there are issues – a feeling that there is too much Philadelphia influence in Delco politics or fear of representation by someone with whom you differ on their record; or as it now turns out for me, how people behave when under fire – we entirely missed the opportunity to discuss them. I guess many of us came with our fears and prejudices and positions intact. Those of us who were there or who see the video will draw their own conclusions. What a shameful place for my party to have come to.

    So, now my support will go to the person who is not so driven by fear as to behave with personal acrimony; the person who convinces me that they will not rely on threats of retribution or promise of reward to garner votes. Good governance goes out the window in this pay to play and politics is personal environment. It is what raised my hackles in the early ’90′s when I realized that those who try to influence with intimidation usually are those who lack the courage to stand up to the same when it is wielded against them. If ever we needed courage and vision in Harrisburg, we need it now.

  2. Delco Dem says:

    Wow. They need to take that over and get Jimmy Carter to monitor.

  3. Ed H. says:

    Billy Smith can now use this as a talking point against Davidson.

  4. Delco Dem says:

    What Davidson and her people did fell well short of intimidation and I think it’s silly to call it that. But what they did also fell well short of the precepts of good government and ethical behavior – and it looked just awful. If in fact Davidson is the nominee, she will have done as much damage to the party as to herself through the behavior recorded here; if you think the Republicans won’t be showing this video if Davidson is the nominee, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. What’s so totally ridiculous about the whole thing is that Davidson had the opportunity to make her pitch to committee members in advance of the meeting, to explain what an open primary is, why she is against it, why she is asking people to vote no, etc. Instead, she and her people insinuated themselves into the process shouting to people to put their hands down if they were for her WHILE THEY WERE VOTING. They apparently felt this was justified because “some people had never been there before.” Are they the Keystone Kops or what? And to try to say the vote was about her and people should vote a certain way if they liked her was a total distortion: The vote was about whether to have an open primary, and Davidson’s time to explain things to people was over. I actually think this whole think looks so bad that the party should not go forward with an endorsement of anyone without taking a re-vote so any endorsement made will have been won fairly and squarely. Otherwise, the party will look bad if Davidson is the candidate and this video starts playing everywhere. Davidson would no doubt hate this idea. She’s in a pickle, but she only has herself to blame.

  5. New Black Panther Party says:

    She should have just tapped her nightstick a few times.

  6. David Diano says:

    The problem here is quite simply that David Landau, the current Delco Dem party chairman, is just plain awful at his job. The vote was a disorganized mess, he completely lost control of the situation, and havoc reined. Margo and her team took easy advantage of the lack of leadership and whipped the vote in their favor.

    This is what candidates and campaign managers do. Based on the vote outcome, Margo’s team put more supporters in seats and won the game. As for the instructions/intimidation… part of the problem was that Landau hadn’t been very clear about what open primary meant and some of Margo’s supporters were confused: hence Margo telling them to raise/lower their hands. Landau ineffectively kept asking Margo to be quiet, as she didn’t have the floor, and she ignored him because he’s not a leader. Part of the confusion was that the first vote was for Open-Primary vs Endorsement. Margo wanted Endorsement, so she “instructed” the committee votes that Open was a vote against her, and Endorsement was a vote for her. Now, strictly speaking, that was NOT the question that Landau had called to a vote. But, being incompetent, he didn’t correct Margo and rectify the situation. This was no surprise to anyone who voted against Landau becoming chairman 4 years ago.

    What he SHOULD have done was get the voting committee members onto the stage, in two groups Yes vs No, and away from the candidates. He should have CLEARLY explained to them what they were voting on, checked their credentials, and done a head count.

  7. Bill thomas says:

    Was this intimidation, obviously not! The email has nothing questionable in it. As one who was there and watching the question that was legitimate was the clarification. Anytime a yes vote means No and the no vote means yes there is some confusion.One of the beauties every one speaks of in Upper Darby is its diversity in culture and language, this was a case of confusion. Could the chair have handled it better or different, yes, but was it poorly handled no. The bottom line that was verified by the Endorsement vote was Davidson could count and wanted the endorsement, and Smith didn’t so lets move on. If any one was out of place it was Bryan Lentz hovering over the voting like he has a voice. I empathize with the people of Lansdowne who were moved from the 163rd to 164th, as were a number of other areas. How much support was there for Billy Smith outside of lansdowne in the 164th, virtually none. He seems to have a campaign being funded in Philadelphia fundraisers, with a lot of support outside of the 164th.Looking at Smiths facebook he seems like a nice hard working candidate, he would be better off getting rid of all the whiners that say they support him but are bringing his campaign down.

    • Colleen Kennedy says:

      Bill Thomas, Bryan Lentz didn’t even arrive at the DCDC endorsement ceremony until 7:30 PM because he thought that was when it started. He missed the entire debacle, so there was no “hovering” as you allege. Let’s try to stick to the facts, for once.

  8. Delco Dem says:

    David Diano, your comments here make a lot of sense to me and provide some context and explanation for something that to the uninitiated just looks really bad. In a time where anything can wind up online, all involved here need to realize the potential for scenes like this and take steps to head them off. There was clearly a failure on the part of Landau to maintain control, but why didn’t Davidson and her team make their pitch in advance of the meeting so they didn’t have to resort to directing people what to do? Was there no opportunity for this? The way it played out, they left themselves open to videos like this that make the average voter want to hold their nose and reflect poorly on all involved.

  9. DelcoReformer says:

    Bill, you point out that Billy Smith is raising money outside the district, but fail to mention that Margo’s campaign is overwhelmingly financed by funds contributed from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Wynnewood. These mostly come from pro-voucher PACs. She raises only a tiny portion of her campaign funds from residents of her district (about $8,000 over the course of two terms). So, let’s be fair.

  10. Pingback: #HD164: The Ever-Shifting Education Platform of Margo Davidson - Keystone Politics

  11. Magda Byrne says:

    I was there and I thought Team Davidson’s behavior was disgraceful to say the least. I agree that Mr. Landau was the man in charge but he did not in any way assert himself. This was not the proper venue to be mild mannered!
    That being said, Ms. Davidson is the incumbent! If she is is so certain that she is the right person for the job and what she has done up to this point has been in the best interest of the 164th then why would you not rely on your service and history to back you up? If she is the right choice then open primary or not she would win right? The vote was for an open primary which had nothing to do with any one particular candidate. However, the implication from the Davidson team was that it was about supporting her which does in fact skew the vote in her favor. Maybe this shouldn’t be labeled “voter intimidation” but more “misrepresentation” which isn’t much better as far as I am concerned.
    Someone mentioned above that the endorsement should be pulled and I agree with that comment.