Seth Bluestein Confirmed as Philadelphia City Commissioner


Philadelphia City Council on Thursday confirmed Seth Bluestein, a longtime aide to retired City Commissioner Al Schmidt, to replace his former boss.

Like Schmidt, Bluestein is a Republican who will serve in the minority-party seat on the three-member board which oversees elections in Philadelphia. After the former was first elected in 2011, Bluestein joined his staff and eventually rose to the position of chief deputy. Last autumn, Schmidt announced he would leave his position to head the Committee of Seventy, an advocacy group working on governance issues.

“I am honored and humbled by the support I’ve received from Mayor Kenney and City Council to serve as city commissioner,” Bluestein said in a statement. “Throughout my 10 years serving the voters of Philadelphia, I have focused on improving the voter experience and ensuring our elections remain fair, secure and accessible. I look forward to continuing my service in this new capacity and working with my colleagues and staff to expand access to voter services and help oversee a successful 2022 election.”

His nomination by Mayor Jim Kenney (D) received the support of all councilpersons except for Kendra Brooks (Working Families-At Large). 

While the municipal charter stipulates that one of the three city commissioners must not affiliate with the same party as that of the other two, it leaves open the possibility of the minority commissioner being independent or belonging to a third party. Brooks, an avowed socialist who defeated incumbent GOP Councilman Al Taubenberger in 2019, urged her Democratic colleagues to reject Bluestein based on his party affiliation. She mentioned that third-party and independent voters now outnumber Republicans among Philadelphia residents.

“I am proof that there is a viable third-party alternative to defaulting to appointing Republicans to open minority seats,” Brooks said. “Further, I have real concerns about the Republican Party occupying a seat in the commissioners’ office. Across the country, the GOP has been leading efforts to undermine the integrity of our elections by silencing working-class black people, immigrants and other marginalized voters.” 

Brooks then recalled the riot that erupted during a January 6, 2021 protest of the previous autumn’s presidential election results at the U.S. Capitol. 

Brooks’s hyper-partisanship echoed a request made last month by Philadelphia-based Democratic state Reps. Chris Rabb, Joe Hohenstein, Rick Krajewski and Elizabeth Fiedler as well as state Sen. Nikil Saval that the council refuses to confirm Bluestein or any Republican. Rabb and Hohenstein later retracted their opposition, acknowledging that Schmidt and Bluestein have governed in a manner that has sometimes aligned them with Democrats and raised the ire of Republicans, including former President Donald Trump. 

In November 2020, Schmidt sided with Democratic Commissioners Lisa Deeley and Omar Sabir against allowing poll watchers to closely observe vote canvassing. This resulted in litigation by the Trump campaign that ultimately failed once it was considered by the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court. In a November 2020 Twitter post, Trump called Schmidt a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and said the commissioner “refus[ed] to look at a mountain of corruption & dishonesty” regarding the election.

Councilman David Oh (R-At Large), speaking to colleagues before the confirmation vote, noted Bluestein’s reputation for non-ideological governance and recalled that all commissioners of both parties favored selecting him as their office’s chief integrity officer in 2018.

“While there was a lot of rioting and anger and all those insults going on, Seth Bluestein was a recipient of much of that as he worked in a very nonpartisan manner to do what he thought was a good job for the people,” Oh said. “Yeah, he’s a Republican, but I think we judge the fruit of every tree on the basis of what it produces. He has been someone with integrity, someone who has been a nonpolitical person serving the public interest and I think it’s rare that you get someone like that.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].






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