Prominent ward leader Edgar “Sonny” Campbell, the scion to a storied West Philadelphia political dynasty, has moved up a rung in Democratic City Committee leadership.
Campbell, who heads the city’s 4th Ward, has served as acting treasurer of the city’s Democratic machine since the passing of ward leader Frank Oliver in February. But Congressman Bob Brady, who, via his position as DCC chair, has tremendous influence over the makeup of its leadership, said he wants the 81-year-old Campbell to stay on permanently.
“He’s acting treasurer now, but he has to run for it,” Brady said. “I hope he wants to run for it. I asked him to.”
Campbell’s father had served as the first African American leader of the City Committee, and also was the city’s Register of Wills – a clerical office that has been targeted by critics for abolition as a patronage den. The junior Campbell has long been heavily involved in city elections and ward politics, succeeding his sister, the late power broker Carol Campbell, in the 4th Ward, and heading up an influential political bloc called the United Ward Leaders of Color.
Tom Ferrick, a former Inquirer political columnist and occasional City&State PA contributor, has been a frequent critic of the Campbells for playing fast and loose with ward PACs and street money. He reiterated many of those concerns when asked about Campbell.
“I don’t think it's wise to let any of the Campbells near the party’s money,” he said.
A PAC called Genesis IV, linked to Campbell, takes in campaign contributions, often from candidates in low-turnout judicial elections. Campbell purportedly uses the money for get-out-the-vote operations, paying himself rent and a small personal salary along the way. Yet the PAC appeared to endorse, on paper, the same candidates as the city committee.
Ferrick described the arrangement as a sort of political extortion racket.
“The Campbells run a parallel organization where they make judges pay them for their endorsement but they don’t endorse anyone...but people are afraid to not give to them because there is an unspoken threat that they will cut them from their ballot,” he said.
Although Brady and the Campbells have long been allied, the Congressman said little about his hope to promote Campbell, other than he was simply following the party’s hierarchy.
“He was the secretary, now he’s acting treasurer,” Brady said, in a phone interview. “It’s a natural transition.”
But Ferrick added that Brady, who has been chairman for nearly 30 years, was failing to move the party’s electoral apparatus into the 21st century by advocating for a treasurer who was himself nearly two decades past retirement age.
“Brady did say that he wanted to sort of embrace a youth movement – and, in a way, he has. Oliver was in his 90s and this guy is 81,” Ferrick joked.
Campbell did not respond to a call for comment.