Brown, Kavulich seats to be filled in special elections on March 12

Brown, Kavulich seats to be filled in special elections on March 12

Author: Stephen Caruso/Thursday, January 3, 2019/Categories: News and Views

Two special elections will take place in Philadelphia and Lackawanna counties March 12 to fill the House’s two vacant seats.

Since Oct. 16, when former Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich (D-Lackawanna) passed away, and Dec. 11, when Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D-Philadelphia) resigned following her bribery conviction, the seats have been empty.

Candidates will be named by local party officials through their own processes. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, four candidates have already announced on the Democratic side, while a single Republican has also gotten into the race to replace Kavulich.

Meanwhile, according to Philadelphia Democratic politicos, names have been scarce to fill Brown’s vacated seat, but one common candidate mentioned is Movita Johnson-Harrell. She is a victim advocate for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and a gun violence prevention advocate.

Johnson-Harrell previously challenged Brown, one of a raft of opponents she faced in the 2016 Democratic primary. Johnson-Harrell finished fifth in the six-way race. She did not return a request for comment by press time.

As for odds, state political consultants agreed that the Philly seat was a foregone conclusion, but that Lackawanna district could be winnable for Republicans with a little luck.

Chris Nicholas, a GOP state political consultant, said winning the Lackawanna race, including the Scranton suburbs and Carbondale, “is not impossible but a pretty tough row to hoe for a Republican. It depends on who the Democrats put up.”

As for Philadelphia, it “is kinda over as soon as [Democrats] pick their nominee,” according to Nicholas.

The only thing controversial to any consultant was the timing. Last year, three special elections were scheduled to overlap with the May 15 primary, after the resignation of two members around New Year’s Day and one in February. This year, primary day falls on May 21.

The special dates are chosen by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). Neal Lesher, spokesperson for Turzai, said the timing was to get constituents a new voice in Harrisburg as soon as possible, as some hadn’t had an elected official since fall.

“Districts deserve to have representation as soon as possible,” Lesher said.

But Philadelphia Democratic political consultant Aren Platt took umbrage with the date. He said it was a vindictive act to get back at the commonwealth’s largest city, as primary day would already bring a flood of voters to choose the city’s mostly Democratic municipal lawmakers.

“[The date’s] just silly,” Platt said. “That’s the Speaker trying to give lip service to Republican colleagues.”

This story was updated at 3:17 with additional information.

Stephen Caruso is the Harrisburg bureau chief at The PLS Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at or call at 845-891-4306.