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Judge not


Memo to Bob Duffy and Tim Mains: Joe Morelle's got your number.

Morelle's held the Democratic Party's top job for less than two weeks, but he's not waiting to build political capital before twisting a few arms.

Exhibit A: Deb Crowder. Crowder was one of four people vying for the party's nod to seek a city court judgeship. When she lost that designation to Steve Miller at the party's convention, she started a primary campaign against him.

Then abruptly on Friday she (along with Morelle) held a press conference announcing she was backing out of the race. Crowder withdrew "with reluctance," she said, and "in the interest of party unity."

Party unity? When was the last time a party --- especially one as fractious as the local Dems --- was seriously divided by a judgeship race?

Something else Crowder said offers a better clue as to why she's dropping out: "It's because of chairman Joe Morelle's strong leadership ability that I'm withdrawing today."

It's unclear whether this new "strong leadership" will be embraced by the rest of the party. Morelle freely admits it may not be.

"I'm sure people will misinterpret what I'm doing as heavy-handed," he says.

What he's doing is approaching everyone who's running a primary against a party designee and leaning on them to stop.

"My intention is to try and meet with everyone who is out circulating petitions against a designated candidate," he says. "My hope is we would find people being as reasonable as Deb Crowder is being today."

To prevent any primaries Morelle will have to "reach out" to two other judge candidates, at least two county legislature candidates, a handful of aspiring city councilors, and, of course, mayoral hopefuls Tim Mains and Bob Duffy.

The race between Duffy and the party's mayoral designee Wade Norwood has heated up in recent weeks after Norwood's campaign distributed fliers and held a press conference attacking Duffy's police reorganization plan. The plan consolidated several city precincts into two districts --- east and west. Norwood once supported the plan, but now says it's a failure. Morelle says the fliers aren't negative, and suggests Duffy invited such criticism by deciding to primary.

"This is one of the reasons I don't like primaries," he says. "I don't think it's fair for candidates who choose to run primaries against the designee to complain after the fact that the party is fragmented and disunited."

Norwood and his campaign manager dismiss complaints of negative campaigning as baseless suggestions of the Duffy campaign.

"The truth is never negative; some people just have a hard time hearing the truth," says Campaign Manager Chris Christopher. "This is the single most frequent issue that Wade is hearing about on the campaign trail."

Norwood defends the move as issues-based, saying he's not attacking Duffy but a failed policy.

Rumors of collusion between John Parinello and the Norwood campaign have been flying around almost since Parinello entered the race. The Republican mayoral candidate has attacked just about every Democrat he can think of, including Norwood, but has consistently reserved his harshest attacks for Bob Duffy, calling him --- among other things --- "stone dumb."

The photograph above, snapped at Wednesday's talk by visiting PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell, doesn't confirm those rumors, of course, but it certainly won't help quell them either.

"I was surprised to see that was the empty seat saved for me," says Christopher, explaining the whole thing away as a coincidence; that was only the second time she'd met Parinello, she says. But wasn't it difficult to chat up someone who'd just accused her candidate of "a flat-out lie" a few weeks earlier at the Republican convention? No, says Christopher: "I thought [that speech] was a lot of showmanship."