GOP front-runner says insiders mounted smear campaign
David Oh, Republican candidate for city council, was the top vote getter in the spring primary, and has collected some pretty impressive endorsements, but is worried that powerful political forces opposing him are out to torpedo his campaign.
“They’re trying to get me to quit,” he told a recent meeting of the Tribune editorial board. He declined to elaborate, but said that Republican leaders backed by the Democratic machine hoped to stymie his efforts to win a council seat.
It may sound like a tangled local conspiracy theory, but a rift in the Republican Party, which has split traditional party members led by General Counsel Michael Meehan and Chairman Vito Canuso from a group of insurgents calling for a more active party, means that much is happening behind the scenes.
“Even Republicans are tired of the same old thing,” said Oh.
According to Oh, it all started three weeks ago with an attack on his military record.
The Daily News published a story saying that Oh lied about the fact that he was a Green Beret.
Oh told the Tribune (and brought military documents to back up his story) that the story was based on a misunderstanding over military language and terminology. Oh was a second lieutenant in the 20th Special Forces Group with the Maryland National Guard, a unit that at the time wore the Green Beret, he said. However, he did not complete full Special Forces training, which led to the misunderstanding.
“I didn’t claim to be a Q-Force qualified A Team Green Beret,” he said.
Last week, the newspaper published another story detailing Oh’s arrest in the mid-1990s on gun charges.
He anticipated the story but declined to discuss it with the Tribune before its publication Friday.
“The story is not true,” he said. “There are certain aspects of the story that are true.”
Still, he said, it demonstrated that a concerted effort was being launched against him, adding: “There is going to be another one after that.”
Oh, 51, is running for one of council’s at-large seats — meaning he won’t represent a geographic segment of the city, but the city as a whole, if he wins a seat in November. Both parties get to nominate five candidates in the primary, and the top seven finishers in the fall are elected. Democrats typically win five of the seven seats based on their astronomical voter registration advantage. The city charter reserves two at-large seats for the minority party. Traditionally, the top two Republicans have been elected.
Holding a more global council seat is Oh’s goal, noting that many of his ideas take a broad view and would turn the city into an “international, global city for a creative innovative economy.”
Rather than focus on the thing that many council people rely on — strong constituent services, Oh said he would reach across the world to reinvigorate Philadelphia.
“I’m going to talk to China. I’m going to talk to Korea. I’m going to talk to these different countries about bringing their corporations, bringing their assembly plants,” he said.
The key issue faced by the city is jobs, he said, and creating a vibrant economy is crucial if the city is going to prosper.
“We have people that see nothing but dead ends,” he said. “And that number is growing: 25 percent living below the poverty line, 80 percent of the poor in the state, a 50 percent drop-out rate … My issue is how do we take a job and a person who is getting paid $35,000 and get them paid $150,000.”
Having someone with the ability to bring together all the necessary threads to get that done serving in city government is crucial to that, he said.
“You have to be in government to bring all of these things together,” Oh said, adding that politics as usual prevented that. “I’ll take the heat. If it’s egg on my face, so be it. We need to get people to work.”
Oh, who grew up and still lives in Cobbs Creek, is a lawyer in Center City. He has run for City Council twice before, served on former Mayor Ed Rendell’s transition team and was Gov. Tom Ridge’s point man on a trade mission to South Korea. He worked as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office, and served on a variety of civic boards.