Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What Ward Leaders Do

When this blog was started, Dan asked me to do a post about the Ward structure and what Ward Leaders actually do. With all this talk of Neighborhood Networks and the fraud known as the judicial elections, I thought it was about time I did that post.

I live in a working/middle classed diverse neighborhood, which is rare here in “the city of neighborhoods”. I have known my Ward Leader all my life, but I have only been working with him for the past year. I keep the specifics of which Ward I am in private, because I don’t want anything I say on here to be construed as coming from a particular Ward Leader or Candidate. I think that it is important to note that there are actually good guys who are Committee people and Ward Leaders, even if they are few and far between. I think that it heightens the fact that we need reform and we need more good guys to step up to bat.

So what does a Ward Leader do? Well, as has been noted before, around election time, they get out the vote for the candidates that they support. They hold little fundraisers to pay the Committee people, buy literature, and sometimes just to do something fun for the Ward. They help the committee people put up posters and do lit drops before the election. On Election Day, they coordinate the efforts in the more or less 20 divisions in the Ward by dropping off food, literature, and paying people at the end of the day. They often do what can best be described as musical chairs by driving campaign workers and Committee people from one division to the other, depending on who is under and over staffed.

When it isn’t election time, they pretty much devote their efforts to staying Ward Leaders. This includes doing anything that they can to keep their Committee people happy, or trying to get new people to run to be a Committee person. They usually do this with patronage jobs as well as services and free tickets. When you help get people elected, they usually help you in getting your people jobs or giving you a few tickets to a concert or a Baseball game. Also, if the Committee people have problems, like their heat doesn’t work, their child needs a job, or they need help with something in the neighborhood, they often call their Ward Leader to help them out.

In theory, when you have a problem in your neighborhood, like your street light doesn’t work, you need a pot hole filled on your block, or you got your heat cut off without reason, you talk to your Committee person, who then talks to your Ward Leader, who then talks to your District Councilperson. How often it works this way, of course, depends on your Ward Leader and District Councilperson. City Council controls the budgets for the city organizations, so if you ever get the run around, it is always good to have a Councilperson call on your behave. Ward Leaders also do a lot of things to get in contact with the neighborhood, like organize cleanups and attend every neighborhood, Rec Center, and block meeting under the sun.

Seeing what it takes to be a Ward Leader, I have to tell you that I would not wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. There is prestige involved in it, and you do get to rub elbows with people in power and get free stuff from time to time, but it is not for the faint of heart. So the question arises, who in their right mind would ever want to become a Ward Leader? Well, either you want to run for something or you want to get a nice cushy job at some do nothing quisi Governmental organization that does “Community Development”.

I think that we need to change all that. I think that we need more people involved in the political process who are in it for doing good and not in it to get a job or be a power broker. I urge everyone to ask around about their Ward Leader. If you hear good things, then get involved or maybe even run for Committee Person. If you hear bad things, then do what you can to get their butts out of there. You have no idea how appreciative some Ward Leaders are of go-getters who are willing to pull up their sleeves and do some work. They need all the help that they can get. While I think things like Neighborhood Networks are good, I also think that some of us need to try and change things from the inside. It is hard and isn’t as fun as sitting around with like-minded people trying to change things from the outside, but it is necessary.

15 Comments:

At 10:23 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Thanks, Charles.

This is, from someone who knows it well, a very informative post. Good stuff. I will have some more comments on it, but yeah, good stuff.

 
At 5:58 AM, Blogger Antonia said...

Couple of questions (you'll have to excuse my British ignorance of your system!)

- how large an area does each ward leader cover?
- why do they need to pay people to work for the Democrats at a local level - do they have a problem getting volunteers?
- why do people who need something fixed call their ward leader and not their councillor direct?
-what's the difference between a ward leader and a committee person, and how do both these roles relate to the Democratic party structure in the city and state?

Many thanks. I'm enormously impressed by your work here at YPP, keep up the good work.

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger Friedman said...

Great post Charles!

 
At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Although I don't agree with your stance on many issues, you have the right frame of mind here. You summed up a ward leader in a nut shell.
A NE Philly Republican

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger ACM said...

In theory, when you have a problem in your neighborhood, like your street light doesn’t work, you need a pot hole filled on your block, or you got your heat cut off without reason, you talk to your Committee person, who then talks to your Ward Leader, who then talks to your District Councilperson.

Actually, in many neighborhoods there is a Civic Association or the like that takes care of this. Or you can call the gas co, traffic police, or whomever.

However, the real job description of a Ward leader should involve (a) keeping their Committeefolks in line (with carrot or stick), (b) turning out the vote for the party (although this has devolved over time into more local considerations), and (c) keeping the voters in line (through education and/or finding out their concerns). Many ward leaders hardly do (b) or (c) (although services such as you list can help with loyalty), since their power is really based in (a), but theoretically that's why the ward system exists.

Their neglect of these functions is what offers an opening to current liberal activists (or to GOP operatives, in many other regions). Voters would like to be better informed, and education on the issues is likely to make them more likely to vote. So there's room for empowerment of citizens and for shifts in electoral outcomes...

I also think that some of us need to try and change things from the inside. It is hard and isn’t as fun as sitting around with like-minded people trying to change things from the outside, but it is necessary.

Well, NN, at least, isn't presuming one strategy over the other, but just that the right choice will vary with neighborhood. As you say, some Ward leaders are allies and others are impediments, and we should all try to support the former and replace the latter...

 
At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do I find out who my ward leader is?

 
At 7:36 PM, Blogger Charles said...

Antonia:
- how large an area does each ward leader cover?

That varies. I think that it goes by population though more or less. Some wards, like the 21st Ward are huge, covering all of Roxboro, all be it a lot of it Woods. I don’t have a square footage or something to compare it to, but there are 66 Wards in Philadelphia, so the average size would be 1/66th of the size of Philly.

- why do they need to pay people to work for the Democrats at a local level - do they have a problem getting volunteers?

Well, first of all, when you work on election day, you have to take off work, and that costs money. So if it is your responsibility as a Committee Person to be there and take off work, then you get compensated. Also, we are talking about working, non-stop from 630AM to 8PM. Who would do that for free? Most campaigns usually hire people to be there as well. And yes, they can’t get enough volunteers for that, because we are talking about 2 people at each polling place. For a Council seat, that might be over 100 people. Most of the paid election workers who pass out lit for a particular candidate are poor people who have nothing better to do on a Tuesday and appreciate 50 dollars in cash at the end of the day.

You also have to realize that here in Philly, the primary is the big thing. More or less, the primary is the election, with the exception of the state wide races. Where Ward Leaders yield the most power is in the primary process. IN the general, for state rep, congress, and City Council, the Democrat wins by default in most areas.

- why do people who need something fixed call their ward leader and not their councillor direct?

It’s basically the chain of command. City Council Districts can get pretty big (only 10 in the city), and thus they don’t necessarily represent a monolithic body or geographic area. It is a Ward Leader’s job to field these issues and pass them on. It is his job to represent the voice of the Ward, which usually is a monolithic body. Also, if you have a problem in the neighborhood, then someone else probably has that same problem. So it’s a way of organizing things. In a perfect Ward, it’s kind of the Councilperson is the Don, and the Ward Leader is his or her Capos.

-what's the difference between a ward leader and a committee person, and how do both these roles relate to the Democratic party structure in the city and state?

Each Division, which comprises 2-4 square blocks, elects 2 Committee people. All people in the same division vote at the same polling place. It is the Committee person’s job to stand out in front of the polls. It is also their job to elect the Ward leader, who oversees the operations at all of the divisions. I don’t know how this works outside Philly. I think that their systems are a little different. But the Ward Leaders elect the head officials of the Philadelphia Democratic Party.

 
At 7:54 PM, Blogger Charles said...

ACM: Actually, in many neighborhoods there is a Civic Association or the like that takes care of this. Or you can call the gas co, traffic police, or whomever.

I’d beg to differ with you hear. In the neighborhoods, like mine, where people would need the most help, you get nowhere by talking to the departments directly. It may be different where you live. Most of the Civic Orgs I can take or leave, and a lot of them are literally do nothing organizations, paid for with my tax dollars, which are tools of local politicians. But I think that you missed the point. Council controls the Budget to these city departments. If Council calls and they don’t act, then it is their ass, and they jump high and fast. It’s like Al Capone said, you get farther with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.

However, the real job description of a Ward leader should involve (a) keeping their Committeefolks in line (with carrot or stick), (b) turning out the vote for the party (although this has devolved over time into more local considerations), and (c) keeping the voters in line (through education and/or finding out their concerns). Many ward leaders hardly do (b) or (c) (although services such as you list can help with loyalty), since their power is really based in (a), but theoretically that's why the ward system exists.

(a) There is no stick. These are the people that elect you. If you are smart, and you want to stay there, you better have a carrot farm. The only stick that you have is to make sure someone beats them in the next election, but you better keep it under raps, or you will be in trouble.
(b) This is Philly. The election is the Primary. Their job is to get out the vote for the candidates that their Ward supports. For the general election, everybody, more or less, does what they are supposed to do, assuming that there is something at stake.
(c) I don’t disagree with you here.

There power is based in (a), but (c) is important, because if you don’t have a rapport with your neighbors, then you saying who to vote for doesn’t mean anything at all, and thus (a) falls apart.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Charles said...

Anonymous:If you want to find out who your Ward Leader is, then call the Committe of Seventy at 215.557.3600. Give them your address, and ask them your Ward and Division, as well as who your Ward Leader is.

 
At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok thanks. I'm surprised it's not on the web.

 
At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The list of ward leaders is online at:

http://www.seventy.org/electioninfo/ecward.html

The ward outline mayp is:

http://www.seventy.org/maps/wards.html

 
At 3:36 PM, Blogger ACM said...

Thanks, anon -- I just added that link to the other resources on The Scorecard.

http://home.earthlink.net/~missias/scorecard.html

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Antonia said...

Charlesdog 12:

Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate them. I think what I can't get my head round is the mixing-up of posts people have because they're Democrats (such as ward leader), and posts people have because they have been elected by everyone (such as city councillor). What do you do if you're a Republican and have a problem? Do they have to go to their ward leaders who intervene with the councillors?

Thanks for your comments about getting paid. You'll have to excuse me, I'm just not used to the amount of money that washes around US politics. Here in Oxford, we had three paid members of staff, 60-100 volunteers and a limit of about £12000 (that's maybe $21000) to get our Labour MP re-elected, and despite us all having jobs, we all took time off. Don't people just use a day or so of their annual leave? The 6.30am to 8pm (actually 10pm in the UK) thing is nothing new - I did it for Kerry in Center City last autumn, and at every set of elections in the uK annually since 1999.

 
At 4:32 AM, Blogger Manikandan said...

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At 12:30 PM, Blogger Mklemens said...

Charles,

i just have a quick question. I have had to do research on the philadelphia ward system for an internship and is was wondering why there are ward leaders for both parties in a single ward? also, I am correct in assuming that ward leaders help organize campaign efforts for the candidates that they support and not elect them into office.

It is hard to find information on the ward system in Philadelphia. any suggestions on where I can find some relevant info?

 

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