Thursday, March 24, 2005

Santorum and Abraham

Everyone knows Rick Santorum is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. Particularly on social issues, Pennsylvania's junior senator is one of the most conservative in the nation. That's why his recent statements about the death penalty are so interesting.

Santorum's ultra right-wing politics are out of step with the mainstream of Pennsylvania. So his movement on this particular issue isn't that surprising. Neither is his recent attempt to reposition himself as a champion of minimum wage workers. In both cases, the actual public policy with be nonexistent or regressive but allow Santorum to claim a populist mantle.

Speaking of politicians out of step with the mainstream, what about Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham? She proudly claims to be "one tough cookie", but that cookie might crumble if Philadelphians were more familiar with her stances on specific issues. Both the Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia Citypaper have given extensive coverage to her positions on the death penalty. Here is a money paragraph from one article:
Here, like elsewhere in the country, juries are more likely to convict minorities as well as the poor, who can’t afford the kind of representation that guarantees you a fighting chance. But Philadelphia stands out. Here, assistant D.A.s seek the death penalty wherever they can legally get away with it — which is generally regarded as 85 percent of all homicide charges. Philadelphia offers up a greater death-row population than 30 states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s Paula Bernstein. Though no one represented by a Philadelphia public defender has gotten the death penalty since the Public Defender’s Office starting handling death penalty trials in the early ’90s, only one in five defendants are lucky enough to get assigned one, so most must take their chances with a court-appointed attorney. Pennsylvania provides no money to fund defense, and Philadelphia County, with the third-largest death-row population of any county in the nation, provides funds that are shabby even by shabby national standards. The issues are complex — and alarmingly simple: If you’re poor, you’re much more likely to go down. That’s nothing new, but the idea that Philadelphia is perhaps the biggest offender in the country, and that there is growing support for a change in approach, may surprise a lot of voters.
Now, I've never actually seen a poll on Philadelphian's attitudes towards the death penalty. We're a tough town, but I doubt this blue oasis has much support for capital punishment. So how does a candidate so far outside the mainstream get reelected over and over?

The first has to do with machine politics. Abraham has a lot of power and patronage at her disposal. Many community development programs in various neighborhoods count on her support to keep their doors open. She is pretty good about sprinkling resources around into drug treatment centers and other institutions. This builds relationships that translates into electoral support. Abraham is also semi-independent from the traditional power brokers of Philadelphia politics. Because she has developed an independent base of support, she can weather all kinds of political storms.

However, Abraham is vulnerable because of her stances on the issues. So why can't a guy like Seth Williams, who is smart and experienced, get any traction? He has real ideas about how to reform the DA's office. You'd think that in this time of heightened concern about crime, people might be interested in what he has to say.

Sadly, the media only likes to write process stories. Every single article I've seen about the race for DA has been about which ward leader is backing Abraham and how Williams doesn't have a chance in hell to beat her. Fundraising and endorsements are important, but ideas matter too. No politician will ever be able to break the strangle machine politics has on this city unless they put forth a compelling alternative vision that excites voters. And this vision can never reach the public if all the media writes about are stories about who has lunch with who.

3 Comments:

At 11:30 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Dead on.

How many people have real, substantive reasons for voting for Abraham? Very few. How many will. A lot more.

Seth Williams is hopefully the first in a wave of smart new candidates that we see. The more that do, the more chances of a real breakthrough.

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger Charles said...

I’m with you guys. I wish Williams had more traction. There are a number of reasons why he doesn’t. If you want to win, the whole fundraising and Ward politicking thing is important, and I think that he is lacking in that department. I think that maybe this run is just to get his name out there, but I’m not sure.

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Here's an idea for Seth and others who are trying to get traction; while acknowledging and to a certain extent respecting the political ward system, bypass it a little bit by reaching out directly to voters via the myriad neighborhood groups - the civic and community associations all over the City. Reach out to their leaders and officers, get them on your mailing and e-mail distribution lists, etc.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Counter
Unique Readers