Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Shot Across the Bow: Regionalization, Seth Williams, and the Philadelphia Machine: Part 3

I have spent the past few days 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 third of three parts. See Part One here, and part two here.

12,000 votes. Seth Williams, a little known candidate, running against the incumbent who had an 8 to 1 money advantage lost by only 12,000 votes. I know I have repeated that number quite a bit, but, take Seth completely out of the equation for a minute, and return to that number. It is important, because when we think about the future of Philadelphia, and specifically when we think about mobilizing real forces for change in 2007, there are some real lessons here.

Before I go further, I should say that although most of these thoughts are my own, they have unquestionably been influenced by conversations I have had with a series of people over the past two weeks.

The biggest lesson? The Democratic Machine in Philadelphia does not know what they are doing. The Philadelphia paradigm of how you get out votes, by throwing up posters, handing out street money to committeeman and ward leaders, and tell people when they come to the polling place is simply not effective. Again, the margin in a race where a 14 year incumbent outspent her opponent 8 to 1 was 12,000 votes.

Where did Lynne Abraham’s money go? Let me give you a personal experience. The polling place where I worked had the usual Democratic committeewoman. And all day, as Val and I went and knocked on doors and talked to voters, many of whom had no idea there was an election out there, the committeewoman sat and watched DVD’s. All day. Now, to be fair, that is not representative of what committee people generally do. Nah, what they do is sit by a polling place and hand out ward endorsed ballots to those about to vote. Anyone who has been in Philly knows this is pretty much standard operating procedure. But how many people have stopped to ask whether this is actually works? Is this really the most effective way to get as many votes as possible for your candidate?

At one point, ward leaders in Philly were very powerful. If you needed a job, etc, you went to see your ward leader, to see what the party can offer. In return, you voted for who they said to. But how about today? Who even knows who their ward leader is? Even committee people, who in theory are the most local of all representatives, really do not seem to do too much. (There are some exceptions of course, with some very active, effective Ward leaders. But again, they are the exception.)

Tom Ferrick hints at similar thoughts:
District Attorney Lynne Abraham is the closest thing to a permanent force in Philadelphia politics.

She's been a public official - in one capacity or another - for 30 years, 14 of them as the city's chief prosecutor.

So excuse me if I wonder out loud what happened to her in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Abraham won, of course.

She got 56 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for her opponent, Seth Williams.

But Williams - a young former prosecutor - had no money, no name recognition, and nearly zero support among the organized Democrat pols.

Yet he came within 12,000 votes of beating the incumbent? Hmmm.

2007 is going to be a huge year in Philadelphia politics. Huge. Besides a new mayor, we could potentially have a slew of new councilmen, as people retire, go to jail, or are too old to campaign. We are going to be presented with a stark choice: Do we use this opportunity to fundamentally change how our political system operates? Or we do stand by, and do the same old shit, as people like Sharif Street (he who represents Predatory Lenders) et. al. entrench themselves as the next generation of political leaders?

People ask me who I suppot for Mayor in 2007. My honest answer at this point? No one. Not a single damn candidate, from Michael Nutter or John Saidel to Chaka Fattah or John Dougherty. Why? Because fundamentally, when it comes to real changes in Philly politics, they are all the same person.

Fattah, in fact, is a very useful example of what I mean. Yes, as a Congressman, Fattah has a very good voting record. Generally, it is a given that he will vote the right way. (The same goes for Bob Brady. I cannot say the same about NE Philly’s Congresswoman MBNA.) But really, when you represent all Democrats, voting the right way is not really tough. Yet, would Fattah, who assuredly would be a darling of many as a candidate, fundamentally change anything about the way Philadelphia politics operates? Doubtful. Why would he, anyway? It will have elected him Mayor. And so, we get the same policies, the same way of selecting our officials, and the same political culture in Philadelphia, where our candidates our based on their last name, or their political chits. Well, for me personally, I am tired of that culture, of that system. I want something different. I want a candidate who will be elected on the basis of making permanent changes to the Philadelphia power structure. None of the current slate, and frankly, no one currently in office, will do this. So, I think that unless something changes, I will support nobody.

12,000 votes. Do you know what that means? It means that if progressive minded people unite, with a campaign run with real intelligence, using proven, modern methods of reaching the people of Philadelphia, we can send shock waves through Philadelphia. We need a candidate. One who can inspire, and think big. A candidate who will run a campaign that will be ignored by the powers that be until it is too late. The powers that be are not paying attention. But, as the leaders are replaced bya younger generation, I worry that they will eventually modernize, and we will lose the chance we have, the chance to awake the sleeping giant that could make a huge difference in Philly politics.

We need a candidate though. In fact, including the race for City Council, we need a slew of candidates. Any idea who they are?


At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Thanks so much for this series of important recollections, Daniel. I, for one, am very glad that you got this down in the record.

I also support your ideas for change, though it will be a tooth-and-nail fight all the way.

You wrote:

We need a candidate though

If he loses the Senatorial primary, how about Chuck Pennachio?

At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Donald Rumsfeld, SecDef of the United States will be giving an address at the Park Hyatt Hotel today, Wednesday May 25 in Philadelphia, PA. between 12:00 Noon and 2:00 pm. schedule

Location of the Park Hyatt: Corner of Walnut and Broad streets.

Location of the Park Hyatt service entrance: 225 South 15th Street

Protests are expected.

At 1:27 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...


As good a guy Chuck seems to be, he isn't from Philly. We need someone from outside the electoral system, but who still has a local basis of support already in place.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Friedman said...

Look a little closer at the folks who might be running, and you'll find that they're definitely not the same person. I am supporting Nutter; he's the guy who brought us the Police Advisory Commission, the Tax Reform Commission, and has been at the forefront of the fight against pay-to-play nonsense in Philadelphia government. It looks like he's got the votes in Council to pass legislation that will make fundamental changes to how the City does business, not bad for a guy who is a Ward leader and a product of "the system". The real problem isn't with the political system or structure in Philadelphia, it's the apathy of our citizenry and electorate. Want to change your City and the Democratic Party? Run for committeeperson in your division, support progressive, good government candidates.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...


While I appreciate what you are saying, I disagree, obviously. Take Nutter, for example.

Lets say I thought you were right about him (not saying I do). He was someone who, to his credit, spent years building up his local base of ward leaders, etc, became a ward leader. fine. But if you want to attract the best and the brightest into City Hall, why in the world do you want to put candidates through those loops? Why do you want a system that ensures that it is not the best people who run, but simply (good candidate or bad) those who are willing to play by such limited rules. How many good candiates do you know who would never run for office in Philly? I know far too many. And, until we fix that, we will not get the kind of government Philadelphia deserves.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

I have to say that I really like Nutter, too (he's my councilman). I've been pretty impressed by the energy he has thrown into issues like the smoking ban, the pay-to-play issues (as Friedman notes), and, most importantly to me, the library issue. I highlight the library issue--the city's reduction of local library branch hours and firing of librarians--because it seems to me to be a completely UNSEXY issue. I very much respected the fact that Nutter was at the forefront of that fight (which I wrote about here and here).

Daniel, the fight you are talking about is very, very big -- changing the entire local political system is a pretty daunting task. I would think that you (we) would need some significant funding to fight that battle.

Though I share your concerns about the ward system, it IS a system. And with major battles such as the 2006 Senate seat shaping up, I'm not sure it makes sense to try to eradicate the entire system. It's kind of like that quote from The Big Lebowski:

"Nihilists! F**k me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

If you're going to try to wipe out the entire structure of local political action (or even inaction), you probably need something concrete to replace it.

What kind of system will you put in its place,and how will you prevent it from turning into another ward system in five years? Old habits (and old money) die hard...

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Friedman said...

I actually like a system that makes people jump through some hoops. I want the best and brightest, but I also want people who are committed to and knowledgeable about Philadelphia government and politics. Putting your time in, building a base, working your way up are just steps in the process. Nobody is stopping you, me, or anybody else from participating in the system that currently exists; the only real obstacles are laziness and/or apathy.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

How does putting people through hoops automatically get you the most committed people to good government in Philadelphia????

Jeff, honestly, I would ask you: Is that what you see in City Council? In our State Rep delegation?

We have a system now that has one ideology: the preservation of its own power. Period.

Jeff, again, I am pretty sure you know plenty of good people who will never run for office in Philly because of all the BS they have to go through. Do you disagree with that?

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Friedman said...

No - the hoops absolutely don't guarantee that great candidates get in. My point is more that the “system” isn’t impossible to get into – it just takes time and tenacity, like a lot of other things in life. In time, “outsiders” become “insiders” and – if they’re not co-opted, the focus and priorities of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia can change.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

No - the hoops absolutely don't guarantee that great candidates get in. My point is more that the “system” isn’t impossible to get into – it just takes time and tenacity, like a lot of other things in life.

Again, Jeff, I would ask you to look at City Council today, or our State Representatives, and ask whether you think the system is working.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger ACM said...

Dan, you seem pretty dogmatic here about wanting a working/not working dichotomy. I don't think it's that simple. Does the street get cleaned, the sewers fixed, etc.? yes (if not always as quickly or well as you'd like). Are there some motivated progressives in government (some long-term)? Yes -- I'll pick David Cohen as an example, or Babette Josephs at the state level. On the other hand, voter apathy allows the removal of other genuinely devoted civil servants -- here I'll point to Angel Ortiz, who was a bit of a thorn in the side of The Machine, and was easily ousted with one embarrassing revelation (no drivers license -- may all our city scandals be so large).

If voters paid more attention to local politics, or were used to thinking about genuine ideological differences (e.g., tagging people as progressive or conservative, knowing what those tags mean in terms of principles and programs that they care about), then things like a few bought Ward leaders or a low-level stupidity wouldn't matter; a little information would wash their influence away. But most people aren't political hobbiests, aren't sure that these choices actually result in changes in their lives, and wouldn't really know where to begin getting educated even if they wanted to make better decisions. It's up to those of us who care to educate and motivate voters, as well as to support the good guys who do make it through the hoops. But that's not the recipe for a revolution, but instead for a sustained effort at transformation. And it will always need renewal and more work. But incremental improvements are the right aim, not a quick fix from "not working" to "working" (whatever that would be). . .

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Dan - I think the City's system "worked" when Rendell was Mayor, not so much now. No, I'm not thrilled with all of our elected officials, but I met State Reps Mike Gerber, Josh Shapiro, and Daylin Leach (all young Dems from the inner ring and near suburbs) last night and thought they were fabulous products of the system. I'd add to this discussion that elected officials are just one part of the equation; of equal or more importance in our City are the tens of thousands of men and women who work for governmental (the City and School District) and quasi-governmental agencies (PGW, PHA). It's these folks - and more specifically the executives and managers of these entities that have the most direct impact on our daily lives, not folks in the City or State legislature.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Nah, I don't mean "working" or "not working" in that sense. for example, did the City make improvements under Rendell? Sure. Under Street? Well, less I think, but they are there.

The point is that until we change the playing field, we have to settle (in a City full of Demcorats) for scrapping issue to issue, and having government that can do a hell of a lot better than it does.

Lets be clear: What I am saying is that the way we elect officials keeps way too many talented, dedicated people out of office. And most importantly, that system that the Philly Dem Party is not really all that effective at getting out voters. So, progressives are provided with a real choice in 2007: More of the same, with a new generation of power hungry pols in office (with, obviously, certain good ones) entrenched for a generation, or something completely different.

Again, the chance is there.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

That was a response to ACM, not Jeff.

But Jeff, first of all, those reps aint from Philly? So how does that change the point, inside the City?

And, I guess fundamentally, how the hell does willing to be a ward leader make you more dedicated to the city? Again, I know so many people who work their ass off, and spend just as many hours, working for this City and its people every day, who will never enter Philly politics because of the barriers we put up.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Those state reps aren't from Philadlephia, but are products of the same, basic system. They have a party structure, wards, committeepeople. Being a ward leader doesn't mean you're more dedicated to the City, it just means that you got involved with party governance and worked your way up through the system. In terms of barriers to running, could you be more specific? I'm not sure it's that difficult to get your petitions signed, do the filings, run a race.

And I'm not real clear on the bold choice you see before us: I'd love a great Mayor in '07, but I'm sure we'd get that with Nutter, a product of the system who has a pretty independent streak.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Charles said...

ACM: While Cohen and Josephs are great, you pretty much named the only two die hard progressives that we have. And, while I don’t like the machine, I will have to tell you, Ortiz was not ousted by the machine. He was just lazy and didn’t do what he should have done. He thought that he could just win on his name alone. And even if it were true that the machine ousted him because of this revelation, how stupid is it to be an elected Official who drives without a license? Why should we have people making the law who do not live within it?

Friedman: I like Michael Nutter too. I would take him over Donna Miller any day of the week. I have heard that he is really good to his constituents. However, let’s not act like the sun shines out of his you know what. The Ethics Bill was an “I’m running for Mayor” Bill if I have ever saw one. And let’s not act like the guy didn’t totally whore out for Comcast.

I agree with you that we need to get involved in the system. That is why I work with my Ward Leader in many areas. I am, of course, lucky that I can work with him, because many Ward Leaders are pretty awful. But at the same time, I see what my Ward Leader has to go through, and I wouldn’t wish that kind of horror on my worst enemy.

As far as the quisi orgs, I think that our elected officials are more important than you think here. At the end of the day, no matter who runs PGW and these other orgs, they all have to answer to Council for funding and price regulations and such. At the end of the day, our voice in those orgs is our elected officials.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Your characterization of Nutter's ethics bill as an "I'm running for Mayor" bill is wrong. It implies that the impetus for it is pure opportunism; knowing the Councilman personally, I know this is incorrect. He happens to be a true public servant who believes in good, clean government. As to the other issue, public officials serving in a CEO or COO type role have a much greater impact on our daily lives than those serving in the legislature. For instance, the Police Commissioner and Managing Director for the City touch lives more directly, on a more frequent basis than City Council ever could.

At 9:52 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Come on Jeff, you are ignoring what he said. As he stated, what is important is that it is officials who we elect who decide who those CEO and COOs are. We cant decide whether Carl Greene is the head of PHA, or whether Sylvester Johnson is Police Commisioner. We decide who appoints them.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Geez - the Young Philly Politics authors gang up on you if you don't agree with one of them. I'm not ignoring what he said; I just disagree with him based upon 15 years of professional experience. The Mayor - sure, lots of power to make appointments and such. City Council, not so much. That's not an opinion, that's a fact. I'm also making the point - which you seem to be ignoring - that the City's Managing Director or Police Commissioner - are more important positions - in terms of the impact they have on our daily lives, budgets, personnel, etc. - than anybody in the legislature, or other elected official in the City, except for the Mayor. Apologies for the run on sentence.

At 5:38 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...


Thats fine. But we dont elect them, right? And we are talking about elections. So I guess I don't see the point of what you are saying.

As an aside, I guess I want to make clear something which I have not made claer enough: the point of this post is not to advocate some huge, citywide structure that I just invented (although that would be cool). The point is that (and this is why I keep repeating 12,000 votes) I don't think the system is very effective, and I think it is ripe for a big surprise on election day.

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vern Anastasio, the ONLY young progressive democrat even being mentioned for 2007 is running at-large in the Democratic primary...or so is the word these days in Liberal circles. Anastasio was Josephs Chief of staff, worked with Cohen on neighborhood issues for a few years and chaired the city's Fair Housing Commission and Human Relations Commission, investigating hate crimes across the city. He is pro working-class, he supports an end to corporate welfare and he is not owned by any of the status quo factions in the current DEM party. Street and Fumo are supoprting Joe Grace and Johnny Doc are funding Andy Hohns. With Anastasio, the rest of us have a chance to send a younger version of Cohen to City Council--so someday, maybe even the Mayor's office.

--Wil Stevenson
710 Pine Street
Phila. PA

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Friedman said...

The younger version of Councilman Cohen? Yikes! That doesn't speak to me at all. Dan - back to you - if you want to get all precise about who said what and how it was responded to, Charles was speaking about City Council and its importance; in a strong-mayor form of government such as ours, the Mayor's office is the real seat of power with the ability to make all sort of powerful appointments, not City Council. Do you have a different interpretation of Philadelphia's Home Rule Charter? As to your second point, the system is only as effective as those who administer it; I agree that the D machine isn't all that effective, but it's not the system per se, its the folks who are running it. Want a better system, encourage more qualified people to get involved.

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Dale said...

Back up a bit and look at the math -- as many as nine council seats will be open in '07, that's the majority of council. If we can find good candidates for those seats, mostly district seats, the 'system' will emerge by itself.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, regarding your comment about anastasio, "he is not owned by any of the status quo factions in the current DEM party."

Are you kidding me??? Can you do a bit of research and let us know how much of Vern's campaign money came from IBEW affiliated PACS or employees? And please correct me if I'm wrong, but after Vern was thrown off the ballot for what the court determined was a "fatal" error on his candidate disclosure form, didn't he land a job at the Redevelopment Authority, whose board chairman is.....Johnnny Dougherty? Do you really think that's a coincidence?

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude...you must be a political hack because they're the only people who don't think Vern Anastasio would make a great city councilman. Only a political hack would think otherwise.

Anastasio is a lawyer and the RDA has a legal department. SO what if Dougherty is the board chair? Is Anastasio qualified? Absolutely. He's been there a year and already wrote the new procedures that eliminate pay-to-play land sales in City Council and he got the RDA's board to approve the new regulations.

Anastasio is a member of MENSA and graduated top of his law school class. He's been chief of staff for Babette Josephs in Harrisburg, ran three successful businesses on 9th street and made Bella Vista the successful neighborhood that it is today---the fact that Dougherty briefly supported him in 2003 because he hated DiCicco so much tells us nothing.

Face it, if Anastasio runs at large for city council, he wins.
He'll have all the 1st district wards, all the "Nutter" wards in Roxborough, Chestnut HIll & Mt. Airy and Babette's center city wards.

Besides, IBEW is behind andrew hohns for city council in 2007. Get a clue.


At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IBEW gave NOTHING to Vern Anastasio. A PAC run by DOugherty gave $20,000 to friends of Vern Anastasio in 2003. Anastasio raised almost $100,000 from Friends of and Neighbors for Change. ALmost $80,000 was raised by individuals in $100 and $1000 and $5000 donations. AFter getting these donations, Anastasio condemned the labor tactics at the convention center, rallied against the labor-loving stadium give-aways and fought developments of walmarts and other big box retailers in neighborhoods --even though the building trades suported it. THAT tells me more than anything!

Johnny Doc also gave $60,000 to Andrew Hohns. Hohns also got $75,000 from anks and brokergae houses that protect Comcast and other corporate welfare queens. As a result, Hohns has stayed silent on campaign contribution reform, refuses to come our for ethics reform and bases his entire economic plan on more give-aways to banks, brokerage houses and multinational corporations.

This is why Vern Anastasio won't lose if he runs for city council.

C. Patch

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Friedman said...

Wow - this comment thread just keeps going. I don't really know much about Vern, so I can't make too informed a comment other than to say that I guess he's got some friends putting up some positive posts for him. It's not that I'm questioning whether he's a good guy or not, just that I don't think he's a shoo-in for a City Council seat - he's got a long way to go before he's got the kind of name recognition and support he needs to run citywide.

As to Andrew Hohns - whom I know personally and like and support very much - I don't think that these anonymous posters know him or what he stands for at all. Saying that he "bases his entire economic plan on more give-aways to banks, brokerage houses and multinational corporations" is an indication of this ignorance about Andrew and his positions.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger stan said...

With all due respect Friedman, Andrew Hohns is a fraud.

If he is ever elected, the entire Democratic party and ever independent progressive in Philadelphia will suffer for it.

He is far too right wing to be a democrat and far too dishonest to admit it.

I'd vote for anyone before Hohns.


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