Challenger James Clay now a sure thing
State Rep. Tony Payton has withdrawn from the primary race for the 179th Legislative District, after being thrown off the ballot earlier this week by a challenge in Commonwealth Court, according to reports.
More than 1,600 signatures on his nominating petitions, which had 1,854 signatures, were voided in a court challenge filed by Doris Robinson, ward leader of the 23rd Ward.
Payton did not return the Tribune’s repeated phone calls Friday.
However, he told the Daily News that he thought Robinson’s ward leader, former city Councilman Daniel Savage, was behind the suit.
Payton acknowledged that he’d had problems collecting signatures.
“I went to several churches,” Payton said. “It turns out, a lot of people at church aren’t registered, or are registered Republican or with no affiliation.”
As the incumbent, Payton was expected to win re-election. His withdrawal leaves the seat open for Democratic challenger James Clay Jr., the only other candidate on the ballot.
Payton will continue to serve the rest of his term, which ends in January.
The 31-year-old Payton has crossed swords several times with the city’s Democratic establishment, and failed to receive the party’s endorsement in at least one of his re-election bids.
He first won the seat in 2007 when he replaced retiring Rep. Bill Rieger, who had held the post for 40 years. At that time, Payton prevailed over fellow Democrat Emilio Vasquez, who had the blessing of party leaders, only after a long court battle, which left a judge to declare Payton the victor.
Even after winning, Payton continued to spar with party leaders, openly feuding with Savage after Payton appeared at a campaign event with Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez as she fought Savage to represent the 7th District.
More recently, Payton was a vocal critic of Democratic City Committee Chairman and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady for his role in drawing up the state’s new redistricting plan, which Payton said gerrymandered the First Congressional District to give Brady more white supporters as he prepared to face a Black challenger, Judge Jimmie Moore.
Payton threw his support to Moore, who has since withdrawn from the congressional race.