A party endorsement for an obscure court seat in an off-year primary is now being called into question by some Democrats who may have judged their candidate on his actual qualifications -- but are now upset to find that he was a Republican until a year ago.
The endorsed Democrat, Daniel K. Bricmont, is a Downtown lawyer specializing in defending employee rights in workers-compensation cases -- one legal area that typically comes before the state's Commonwealth Court, where he hopes voters will send him this fall. But first he has to beat back a small but nagging campaign by some fellow Dems who like to point out that, before switching to their party in February 2008 to vote for Barack Obama in the state primary, this three-term Avalon Borough mayor was a member of the GOP.
"Shock and dismay," cries Jim Scisciani, Democratic chair in neighboring Bellevue, in a letter to the state party leader. "This newly minted Democrat will take his Republican history and philosophy with him to the court." Contacted at his home, Scisciani would not elaborate on his accusation.
"Most things you want to do in life are easy -- if you have tons of money," decries an anonymous blogger. "Pencil Tucky"'s anti-Bricmont screed alleges that the more than $25,000 in 2008 contributions to Democrats by William Caroselli of Bricmont's law firm, Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy, must have had a hand in Bricmont's endorsement. "Tucky" didn't respond to a request for comment.
Then again, the blog also claims that Democrats in Philadelphia are dropping Bricmont -- a claim that Charlie Bernard, an aide to Philadelphia committee chair Bob Brady, says is untrue.
"It's false," Bricmont says of allegations that Caroselli bought the endorsement. "And it reflects a disregard for the members of state committee, who take seriously their role in the endorsement process," Bricmont says.
Bricmont has now gone on the offensive against his accusers. He displays copies of $3,575 in personal checks he sent to Democratic candidates stretching back to 2005, in amounts from $100 to $500, supporting everyone from Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Bob Casey to legislators, judges and presidential candidate John Edwards -- alongside his online contributions to Obama.
Bricmont explains that he was a Republican for the usual reasons people end up in a political party -- it was the choice of his parents before him. He has countered Scisciani's letter and other anonymous online comments with a "Response to Libel" entry on his Web site (http://danbricmont.com/?page_id=69). He has also responded with several letters sent to the state Democratic Party by supporters. In one letter, Harry W. Dilmore, a Democratic council leader in Avalon, labels Bricmont a "progressive."
"I think he'd be a great judge," Dilmore adds when reached via phone. (The county Bar Association rates Bricmont "highly recommended.") "He never played politics. The kid had worked for Democratic candidates over the years -- it's not like he just came out of the closet" for the Dems. "Dan was as surprised as anybody he got the endorsement. If the other people are [feeling] sour grapes just because it's his first time in the race ..."
There may be one area of Commonwealth Court jurisdiction where party could be a factor -- election law. Or so says Linda S. Judson, another Downtown lawyer and one of several unendorsed Democrats running against Bricmont on the primary ballot.
"I have been a lifelong Democrat," Judson says -- a fact her Web site points out in sentence No. 1. "I'm not going to sit here telling you I wouldn't have liked the endorsement. I had reason to believe the deal had already been brokered" by party leaders. For evidence, she cites not only Scisciani's letter and the anonymous blog's contention about the power of political contributions but also "numerous phone calls from committee members" she says she received after the endorsement, saying they had been urged to vote for Bricmont but hadn't been fully informed about his history.
Judson worries that older voters depending on the party's slate card to make their choices will be influenced by seeing Bricmont on the list. (Although she also says the endorsement is helping her, since groups of younger or more progressive Dems might resent the way endorsements are done.)
Bricmont is hoping voters will look instead at other factors -- such as "competency, qualifications, community service ... ," he suggests. In the meantime, he embraces the RINO label to describe his earlier years -- Republican In Name Only.
And he has no idea who is behind the anonymous blog.
"Have I ruled out my mother?" he jokes. "It is a political race, so you have to expect there will be opinions on both sides. I'm not extremely surprised. Just a little disappointed."