Monday, March 28, 2005

Seth Williams, and the case for Philadelphia Reform

In Philadelphia, and in cyberspace, there is so much talk about "reform." The slogan most said, generally in reference to national politics, is that "I am a Reform Democrat." The idea is that, ideology aside, we in the Democratic party need new ideas, new leaders, new ways of thinking. This is not about a left vs. center slug fest, but an acknowledgement that Republicans aside, we as Democrats can do more, and can do better. Nowhere is that more apt than in Philly.

Reform. Reform. Reform. Everyone loves it. The question is, how do you put it in to place? And are you willing to take actions to help make it happen? Are you willing to go to bat for a candidate who is putting himself on the line?

I got an email from a future candidate, one who is clearly on his way up in Philly politics, who said he was trying to travel the City and start a neighborhood by neighborhood reform movement. The Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks are forming, building on the MoveOn work during the election. Philly for Change continues its effort to mobilize. This is all good... But, in the end, we need good candidates to run for office. We need officials who are going to fight against a status quo that is not good enough. And, we all need to put our money (proverbial and real) where our mouths are, and make sure that when candidates who will fight for change in Philadelphia are running for office, we support them. Well, all BS aside, we have one such person running for office in just a few short weeks. His name is Seth Williams. And we need him as our District Attorney. Now.

Why support Seth? Here are a just a couple of reasons:

How about the fact, if this tells you about his character, that when Williams was the head of the Black Caucus while a student at Penn State, he led an extraordinary 100 mile march from Happy Valley to Harrisburg, to protest PSU's investment in companies that supported apartheid South Africa?

Or, more specifically in Philly, how about changing and reforming a broken DA system?

There is not enough time to write about how screwed up the DA system is in Philly. Real quickly though: Individual District Attorney's are not connected to any specific neighborhoods at all. They are in one Center City office, away from the police stations where suspects are being brought in. Rather then being able to take a case and see it through from start to finish, many DA's see just a tiny piece of a case, which they got the file of the night before. Creativity is stifled. This is not good enough.

Seth Williams has a plan to reorganize the DA's office by neighborhood. Just as neighborhood groups attempt to have relationships with police, they would have relationships with District Attorneys. Getting DA's out in our neighborhoods, working with communities to both prosecute and to prevent crime, is a huge step in the right direction. Different neighborhoods have different needs, and Williams' plan would aim to address that. While car theft may be the biggest crime in one neighborhood, guns may be in another. A cookie cutter, wait and see approach does not work... People don't come forward in gun cases? What if they knew, and trusted a DA that answered to their neighborhood? Williams' plans do not come from pie-in-the sky theory, but from real experience that comes from ten years in the DA's office.

Or, how about making the death penalty the exception, not the rule for our courts?

Lynn Abraham's philosophy is to ask for the death penalty whenever possible. Hell, it seems like a goddamned point of pride. Personally, I dislike the death penalty and think it has no place in a civilized society. Others disagree. But, how about having a DA who feels the burden of making that kind of ultimate decision, rather than one who gloats about it?

This is just a small sample. More will come regularly...

But, this is where it all hits the fan. This is where if you are invested in Philadelphia, and care about Philadelphia, you have a chance to act on it. This is where you have a chance to be part of the solution.

What can you do? Get involved. Go to his website and sign up to volunteer. Do you have connections to some sort of community group, from a town watch to a social club to a softball league? Invite him to speak and hear for yourself. I assure you, he is the real thing. Can you give money? Lynn Abraham will have 7 figures spent by election day, Seth Williams will not. Can you donate $25 or $50 to the cause? Can you send out an email to people you know in Philly, and spread the word about his candidacy? Can you simply email this post to people who should hear about him? People respond when they hear from people they trust, and this is a race that cannot go under the radar screen. Can you volunteer on election day? Can you put a sign up in your window, or on your lawn? Can you simply tell 10 people about him at work, or at school? Can you do something, anything? Can you, and can we, start the process of changing Philadelphia with a smart, dynamic candidate who wants the very thing we all talk about: Reform?

We have less than 2 months.

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