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Philly Democrat takes state House seat as election is probed

Written by Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press | Apr 6, 2017 4:05 AM
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Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF

(Harrisburg) -- A Philadelphia Democrat who won a write-in campaign last month was sworn in as a state representative Wednesday, while an investigation continues into allegations of impropriety during the special election.

Emilio Vazquez, 49, a ward leader who until last week was an auditor with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, succeeded Rep. Leslie Acosta to represent a district in a Latino neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Acosta, a Democrat, resigned in January after being re-elected despite having secretly pleaded guilty last year to a federal felony charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The city district attorney's office has asked people with evidence of fraud at the polls on March 21, the day Vazquez was elected, to contact its election fraud task force. A spokesman for the prosecutors' office on Wednesday offered no update on the probe, which also involves the attorney general's office.

The district attorney's office has said it received about 50 calls regarding the race and responded to dozens of allegations of illegal activity at the polls. The election fraud task force is looking into issues that include how candidate write-in stamps were used and where they were placed, whether electioneering occurred inside polling places and if voters received improper assistance.

Despite an overwhelmingly Democratic registration advantage in the district, the only person on the March 21 ballot was a Republican, Lucinda Little. That's because the Democrats' nominee, Frederick Ramirez, was thrown off the ballot in February after a judge determined he did not live in the district.

Vazquez ended up with nearly 2,000 write-in votes. Cheri Honkala with the Green Party got nearly 300 write-in votes, and Little collected fewer than 200 votes.

Before Acosta, the district was represented by Democratic Rep. J.P. Miranda, who pleaded guilty to conflict of interest and lying to a grand jury after engaging in a scheme to have his sister work secretly in his district office, to avoid anti-nepotism rules.

Acosta won a four-way primary in 2014 while Miranda, who at the time was facing charges, came in last.

Vazquez moved to the Franklinville section of Philadelphia in 1976 and graduated from Olney High School. He has been a ward leader for seven years.

With Vazquez's swearing-in, the House remains firmly in Republican control, 121 to 82.

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