In a stunning but characteristic act of cowardice and cynicism, the Democratic Party Machine redefined the Scranton mayoral contest that ends Nov. 5. The race to replace Bill Courtright is now a struggle between the stale status quo and fresh ideas, perennial insiders and a persistent outsider, losers used to winning rigged fights and a contender who won’t play by their rules.

Bob Sheridan vs. Paige Cognetti.

The former, a past president of the Scranton School Board who helped drive the district into the ditch, is chairman of the city Democratic Committee. The latter is an Oregon transplant and former Scranton School director who left the board for a job with the state auditor general and changed her registration to independent rather than bow and scrape before The Machine.

Sheridan and the mechanics who built Courtright were never going to endorse “Harvard Barbie,” which made Cognetti’s choice to sidestep the city and county committees as easy as it was smart. Now The Machine has done Cognetti the favor of revealing just how scared they are of her candidacy.

Machine attorney William E. Vinsko Jr. went before the Board of Elections on Wednesday and said with a straight face that Scranton City Council erred when it labeled the obviously special election as a “special election.” It should have been called a “municipal election,” Vinsko said.

What’s the difference? Well, under state election code, candidates who seek nomination as independents can’t be on the ballot if they were registered as Democrats or Republicans 30 days prior to a primary election. The rule disqualifies Cognetti, Kyle Donahue, John  Goshleski and Convicted Felon Bob Bolus, Vinsko contends.

Read Times-Tribune Politics Reporter and Roderick Random writer Borys Krawczeniuk‘s explainer story here. Borys is keeping a jaundiced eye on the process, so keep checking back for updates.

Lopping Cognetti, Donahue and Goshleski off the ballot would clear the way for attorney Chris Cullen, the Machine-endorsed Democrat, to steamroll Republican Short-Straw Winner Charlie Spano. While Donahue is bound to clip some votes from Cullen, it’s clear Cognetti is the candidate that most worries The Machine.

Vinsko’s performance before the Board of Elections is the kind of PR an outsider candidate can’t buy. Ask Jessica Rothchild. Every time Bob Bolus stepped to the public microphone to denounce the council candidate’s “gay agenda,” social media exploded with support for Rothchild. If I were her campaign manager, I’d drive Bolus to every council meeting between now and the municipal election.

Whether the special election will be reduced to two candidates picked by the parties — or even happen at all — remains to be seen. As Vinsko noted, state law doesn’t provide for special elections for mayor. He contends that council had no standing to call for special election. If The Machine takes these arguments to court, Mayor Until January Wayne Evans could be stuck with the job through 2021.

Evans is a Republican, but local, likable and moderate. The Machine can tolerate Mayor Evans until it gets another electoral shot at the seat. The Machine’s attempt to rig the ballot shows it cannot stomach even the chance of a Mayor Cognetti.

Bob Sheridan vs. Paige Cognetti. Harvard Barbie couldn’t have asked for a better Ken.