Thursday, June 16, 2005

Who's afraid of Neighborhood Networks?

Just a few of the movers and shakers in Philadelphia politics:
City Commissioner Edgar Howard, leader of the 10th Ward in Northwest Philadelphia, said that the group would be limited by the absence of patronage jobs and money to reward loyalists and punish dissenters.

"You have to be able to deliver goods and services to the constituents or else why should people stick with you?" Howard said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: Do they have staying power? It's a big, big city."

Others say liberals should be wary of hurting a city party that advances their goals by providing the big vote margins crucial to Democrats in statewide races.

"Why weaken something that works?" said Vernon Price, leader of the 22d Ward in Mount Airy and Germantown. "I believe they may have real issues they are passionate about, but they should... try to work with the party."

Democratic media adviser Larry Ceisler said Neighborhood Networks can generate enthusiasm that will help turnout in the 2006 U.S. Senate race and beyond.

"The only threat City Committee should feel is that these people are not motivated by money, but by ideals," Ceisler said.
The article is sort of weird, because it comes almost two weeks after the founding conference of Neighborhood Networks. Still, it's nice to see the Inky providing such positive coverage. I think the interesting thing about this article is how clearly the organizers of NN are throwing down the gauntlet to the power structure in Philadelphia. They aren't being coy about their intentions at all.

In some ways, I wonder if this is the correct strategy. Will the party bosses deploy their resources to try and quash Neighborhood Networks before it begins? They were never trying to keep the entire thing secret, but now the opposition knows who they are and what they are trying to do. The entire strategy was laid out on page B1.


At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stealth won't help NN; its fatal flaws are its philosophical underpinnings (old school liberalism, the same notions that have failed american cities for decades) and it's organizing structure that duplicates the perfectly functional democratic ward system.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Ha. How do you know what NN stands for? Were you at the organizing conference?

So, by old school liberalism, do you mean awful things like a *gasp* minimum wage? Or *egads* responsive government? Or that its goals are not *oh boy* driven by getting a piece of the patronage pie?

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Dumplingeater said...


Ben -- If you were a party boss, how would you use your resources to "quash" NN? How would you go about preventing people from knocking on their neighors' doors to give them information about how current party bosses don't represent their interests, or to discuss how to support legislation on the minumum wage, for example?

Anon -- Your prediction is a bit opaque. Could you descibe more specifically how "old-school liberalism" is going to bring NN down? I suspect your trying to apply generalities without really dealing with the nuances of NN's approach.

Also, if you believe the democratic ward system is functional, then why wouldn't a similar competing structure that is motivated by ideals instead of money work?

At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Schwartz said...

To Anon: When's the last time you tried to get a copy of a city record, start a business, get a permit or even find a city worker to pick up the phone before the sixth ring in Philly?

The only people who the democratic ward system is "perfectly functional" for are the tiny minority with the patronage posts. It fails everyone else. If you don't believe me, try sitting on the busted bleachers on the softball field across from Pat & Geno's, or count the shuttered stores on Passyunk Ave. You'd think that South Philly of all places could get their powerful City Councilman and even more powerful State Senator to deliver the goods, but instead, the neighborhood is falling apart and you have to call your committeman to get the snow plowed off your street or an easement from the ZBA. That's the DCC's definition of "responsive," convincing voters to beg for the minimum level of city services that they're entitled to as taxpayers, then using the rest of their political capital to benefit their contributors, their allies, and themselves. The whole thing is a shell game, and it can only last until voters realize that there's a viable alternative.

At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK - we all have our predictions...we'll see how NN does.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Dumplingeater said...

Anon-- Your answer certainly suggests that your prediction is based on "liberal-bashing" rather than any logic or facts. So why don't you just comment "I hate liberals" rather than make empty predictions?

At 11:53 AM, Blogger lutton said...

"You have to be able to deliver goods and services to the constituents or else why should people stick with you?" Howard said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: Do they have staying power? It's a big, big city."

This is exactly the issue; they admit that they have a stranglehold over delivering 'goods and services.' You shouldn't need to know someone to get the basics done, but you do in Philadelphia. We shouldn't support and propagate a system where you need to know someone, but in Philadelphia, we do.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NN will do a lot of energetic work, bring out a lot of new voters and empower a lot more people for elections -- and then the existing party structure will just take credit for it because the well meaning members of NN will fail to do the kind of pr needed to establish a credible and verifiable political identity with the lazy media types who cover politics in this town.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger ACM said...

There's a great old aphorism, "There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn't care who gets the credit." Sure, publicity will raise the clout of NN, but networking is what finds recruits, and canvassing/constituent contact is what gets the job done. If the Dems want to take the credit, we'll hold them accountable for putting our principles into action -- and if we can do that, then I won't care who gets the credit...

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Marc Stier said...

There are lots of powerful people in the city who are scared of NN and others who dismiss us. But there is a third group of powerful people, who are looking for allies on issues ranging from political reform to economic development to Medicaid funding and in support of particular candidates. My phone has been ringing off the hook with phone calls from them.

One of the nice things about NN is that I have no authority (and no desire) to make deals with them about one issue or another. Instead I tell them to join us, come to our regional meetings, and send proposals to us. As our organization develops, we will democratically decide what to do in each case.

At the founding conference I said that the existence of NN will bring out the “inner liberal” in some of our office holders who, whether because they see no allies or because they are indebted to the usual power brokers, see no prospects for political advancement in defending good government and social justice. I think NN can change that.

There really is not much ward leaders can do to stop us from contacting voters about issues or candidates or from standing outside of the polls on Election Day. We, the members of NN will determine whether NN has a following or not. And, if we do have a following, we will be able to form coalitions with other groups and also among party leaders and office holders.

So I am not particularly concerned with the party knowing our strategy which is not especially innovative or new. (It probably was first deployed when Pericles tried to get the Athenians who thought like him to go to Assembly meetings). The ball is in our court.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Charles said...

To answer you question to Ben, Dumplingeater, the way the party bosses would squash efforts like Neighborhood Networks is through physical intimidation. This happens more often than it should.

I think that the problem that NN faces is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Either you try and work with the party, or you try and take it over. There really isn’t any middle ground here. The party bosses see anything that is different from status quo as a threat.

They also don’t have a system in place. Like what values do they “stand for” and how do you determine that “officially”? How do you endorse a candidate? Without this system in place, it will probably just be another org that worked hard for a few campaigns and kind of died because of internal bickering.

The biggest problem is the obvious one, the lack of diversity. A high concentration of the members are from middle classed liberal White areas. Who, exactly, are they going to bring out to the polls in their own neighborhood that wouldn’t have gone already and voted for the progressive candidate?

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Dumplingeater said...


I completely agree with you that a huge problem with NN is its current lack of racial and socio-economic diversity. If all NN becomes is a coffee klatch for white middle-class liberals who already vote for "progressively", it will have very limited impact. But, I don't see the lack of diversity as being a static condition. Transforming into a more diverse group will be a massive undertaking, but doing so is a fundamental goal of NN. Its success in achieving that goal is impossible to predict -- so unlike some, I'm not making predictions that don't have a basis in fact. Still, I know from canvassing at the Odunde festival that NN's mission has a lot of appeal to a wide range of Philadelphia's citizens, so I do have hope and energy to commit. Your contributions towards diversifying NN are needed and would be greatly appreciated. I would suggest that you become a part of the "membership development" committee.

True, what NN stands for is somewhat not completely fleshed-out yet. However, some of its clearly established goals do have a relatively wide appeal. The goal of infusing Philly's political processes with transparency and accountability clearly appeals to many folks who feel they are poorly represented by their current government. In fact, your recent post on this blog speaks exactly to that point and its relevance to specific communities. Of the tens of people I spoke to at the Odunde festival, only one person indicated that he felt raising the minimum wage was not an important issue.

As for physical intimidation -- I've been lifting weights recently.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberals don't need to be bashed by anybody; they do a good enough job self-destructing.


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