A state Commonwealth Court judge nixed a petition Wednesday to keep Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala’s name on the ballot for a March special election in the state House’s 197th District. The reason: Honkala’s nomination paperwork wasn't filed by the deadline.
But Honkala, a longtime activist and the founder of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, is not ending her bid to replace convicted former Rep. Leslie Acosta in the district, which encompasses North Philadelphia.
Her campaign plans to appeal Senior Judge J. Wesley Oler Jr.’s ruling. If that fails, they’re ready to mount a write-in campaign, and in a rare move, the Green Party appears ready to back her.
“This would be the first time we’ve backed a write-in candidate in Pennsylvania,” says Chris Robinson, the local Green Party’s membership secretary.
Larry Ceisler, a veteran political analyst in Philly, can’t recall another time that a national party backed a write-in for a major seat. There may be for a good reason for that. Write-in campaigns, which require voters to manually cast their ballot for an unlisted candidate, are the definition of a longshot. They’re not impossible, though. Most famously, state Sen. Scott Wagner, a Republican, ran and won a write-in bid for a 2014 special election in York County. Wagner is now running for governor.
Briana Jones, one of Honkala’s campaign managers, sees no reason why the national and state party would stop supporting Honkala now.
“If it meant changing our literature to show people understood what a write-in sample ballot looks like, that would be the support that the [Green Party] would provide for us,” Jones said.
Honkala says she has more name recognition than other candidates in her district, including those of Democrat Fred Ramirez and Republican Lucinda Little. Ramirez, the candidate favored by the district’s Democratic voter edge, is fighting a residency complaint alleging that he doesn’t live in the district.
In the weeks since Honkala jumped into the truncated race, she’s shown a more robust ground game than her two opponents. Her campaign has a full website and active social media presence. More importantly, she claims to have raised more than $28,000.
The campaign has raised funds with the help of Honkala’s biggest endorsement to date, 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Jones says that the funding is coming from a variety of different national and local sources, though she declined to provide a donor list. Campaign finance reports are due to the state by March 10.
“Matching with large donations from the national Green Party are small donations from people who aren’t even registered Greens,” Jones said. “They just support [Honkala’s] work.”
Calls to the national Green Party office in Washington went unreturned.
Acosta confessed to one federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering last year. She ran unopposed in the 2016 general election, but was forced to resign in January, thus triggering the special election.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.