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