A Commonwealth Court judge has ruled to remove Democratic nominee Freddie Ramirez from the ballot less than a month before a special election for the PA House’s 197th District, which covers much of North Philly.
Linda Kerns, an attorney for the Philadelphia Republican Party, filed a complaint three weeks ago alleging that Ramirez, who was handpicked by ward leaders in January to replace convicted former State Rep. Leslie Acosta, did not meet the residency requirements to run in the race. State law requires at least one year of permanent residency prior to the specific election.
Ramirez runs several mental health clinics within the 197th's boundaries. Since 1988, he has also owned a residence in Hunting Park that he claims as his permanent home. But at a hearing two weeks ago, Ramirez also admitted to spending two to three days a week at an apartment he rents in Roxborough to spend time with his daughter, one night a week at his girlfriend’s apartment in Bristol, Bucks County, and several weeks of the year traveling to Florida and Puerto Rico.
Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey’s 50-page order, in its attempt to make sense of Ramirez’s many admitted residences, emphasized the legal meaning of “domicile” that is based on one’s “present intention.”
“Based on the evidence, it is clear that similar to his visits to his girlfriend's home, his visits to (his Hunting Park home on West Annsbury Street) are due solely to the location's proximity to his busiest clinic," Covey wrote.
Covey also noted that Ramirez’s own testimony about his Annsbury Street home was based on a past, not present, relationship to the property.
"All I can say on the record at this time is that we're surprised and disappointed by the court's decision and we're reviewing all of our options," said Adam Bonin, a political attorney representing Ramirez.
Wwhile satisfied with the outcome, Kerns, who filed the complaint on behalf of three 197th district residents, did not mince words about the Democratic party’s choice of a nominee.
“The people in that district deserve better, and the Democrats can’t just rubber stamp whoever they want or whoever ward leaders hand-pick,” she said. “People should be paying attention to this stuff.”
With the special election scheduled for March 21, the Democratic party has little time to appeal the decision and still mount a successful campaign in a suddenly contested race with two other contenders.
Two sources close to the process said that the Democrats may choose to put forth another candidate, given the timeframe.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.