Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Shot Across the Bow: Regionalization, Seth Williams, and the Philadelphia Machine: Part 2

I have spent the past fewdays going over the results of the Seth Williams v. Lynne Abraham battle, and I want to get this down on paper, and solicit your thoughts. What I am trying to get out is to examine the effect that bloggers and online activists had in this race, and what I think are some lessons and indicators for the future of Philly blogs and Philly politics.

This is the second of three parts. See Part One here.

....

Seth Williams, and his Campaign Organization

I cannot help but think that with Seth Williams we have seen a real future leader of Philadelphia. His concession speech, a copy of which we will hopefully soon be able to release, was maybe the best speech I have ever seen in person (or maybe second only to Paul Wellstone discussing the future of our Country). It was wonderful, for the same reason the Williams campaign so engaged those who actually were paying attention: it was motivational, emotional, and heartfelt. You knew that Seth took the loss hard, but the enthusiasm and electricity there is for those who have met him is something that many politicians can only dream of.

The audience for his speech, at his campaign party was incredibly diverse, which leads to another hope I have: That Williams can create a heretofore unique coalition (well, maybe Fattah has this, but other than him, no one.) of black and white, and of middle-class, working-class, and poor. His next race is four years away, and that is a damn long time in politics, but the groundwork is there. We just have to figure out the best way to keep him visible in that time.

In terms of how the Williams campaign functioned, I do not really have a ton of inner knowledge of how campaigns or GOTV operations are supposed to work. Ray does, and I hope he will answer this post with one of his own, as an analysis of how the campaign functioned well, and how it did not.

The campaign was willing to embrace internet outreach and blogs, and attempted to do so. As you know if you were on the email list, the campaign sent out plenty of emails. Was it effective? Honestly, I don’t know. It is frankly hard to get people to open mass emails. As any organization can tell you, people are opening less and less from their inbox these days (yeah, that can be tracked). So, while I would like to hear Ray’s thoughts, I think it points to a different way to approach the use of email. Just as the most effective way to GOTV is going door to door and making personal contact, we need to figure out how to recruit people to send real, personal messages to their personal networks. In other words, we need to have people volunteer to almost be “email captains.” I don’t know how many people signed up for vote pledges from my blog, because I didn’t really get people to say they were coming from us. But I do know that multiple people pledged their vote in response to real emails from me. It speaks to how we must act in the future.

(The same goes for the happy hour, which certainly got as many or more attendees from personal pleas from me than any blogging I did. While that may change as the readership of Young Philly Politics grows, there are a very limited amount of people around the Country who have the following devoted enough to have enough committed readers that they can simply post a message and inspire an army of volunteers or donations or whatever. I certainly aspire to that, as do all political bloggers, but we are a long way from there.)

I actually think the vote pledge thing is a very good idea. However, just as I think it can be effective, and quick, when you get emails, the most effective way this can be used, as I see it, is for a campaign that uses strong, grassroots, door-to-door canvassing. As you spend five or ten minutes talking to someone, you do not finish by asking them for money, or anything like that; you finish by asking for their vote pledge. And, if you start that about a year out for a major campaign, I think it can really make a huge difference.

As an aside, I just want to note that many ward and City leaders who deem themselves “progressives” basically blew this, in a big way. If just a few of them had stepped up, they could have made a huge difference. But, instead they were “disrespected” because some didn’t feel that the campaign paid them enough “respect.” Give me a freaking break. Here we had a candidate who virtually everyone believed would improve Philadelphia, and virtually no one was willing to take a chance. Seth was standing there, shouting at the gates, and even those who knew he was right refused to let him in.

From a personal perspective, here is why I supported Seth so strongly, and will continue to do so, assuming he continues his fight in the same way: He fought on the issues, and he fought against the status quo, and did so in the right way. He was the model of what a “reform Democrat” should be. I am unabashedly liberal, progressive, whatever. But what I want most out of my elected officials in Philadelphia does not necessarily surround ideology, but is instead based around ideas, process, etc. I have no idea who I will support for Mayor, but I will not support someone who is happy with the way things are in Philadelphia, with the way our Government functions. There are too many progressives, and far too many “D’s” in Philly to accept what we have. Philly needs more than people who are satisfied with the trains running on time. Seth epitomized that.

When we have a City being dealt body blows form the Federal Level (and the State level when a certain guy from East Falls is not Governor), we cannot afford to have officials only considering their own hold on power. I say this because I have faith that in a City like Philadelphia, if we can start picking officials the right way, if we take down the barrier that keeps good people from running for office, we will be happy with most of the issues, most of the time.

Seth was outspent by 8 to 1. Yet, he only lost by 12,000 votes. Part of that was his campaign, and the fact that he worked his ass off. But part of it was this fact: The Philadelphia Democratic machine is not nearly as strong as many would have you believe. I mean, really, what exactly did Lynne Abraham spend all of her damn money on?

In fact, that brings me to part, number three.

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