Chris Bowers Is A Committeeperson in Philadelphia, Ward 27, Division 23
by Chris Bowers, Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 08:32:41 AM EST
Last Tuesday, I was appointed as the next committeeperson (precinct captain) for Division 23, Ward 27 of the Philadelphia Democratic Party (in Philadelphia, "division" means precinct). The nomination was made by the outgoing committeeperson, Ali (as in Mohammed Ali, not Ally McBeal), who is moving out of the ward (you can see a map of the ward here). A vacancy had opened up because Anuj, Ali's previous committeeperson partner, resigned because he also had moved out of the ward. In January, during our next ward meeting, my first act as committeeperson will be to nominate my friend Carol to become my partner committeeperson (in Philly, every division has two committeeperson slots).
I have to say, that even though I live in a ward that votes roughly 90% Democratic, it did not take much for me to become a committeeperson. Currently, of the 46 potential committeeperson slots in Ward 27, 26 are vacant. I first attended award meeting in October, only two weeks before the November elections. Because of the lack of manpower, I was able to start working right away. I canvassed my neighborhood before the election, which was fabulous because I was able to knock on every door within a two-block radius of my house. This allowed me to meet a lot of people in my neighborhood and become more familiar with the place I have lived for over six years now. Also, on Election Day I handed out Democratic literature outside of my polling place. I had been offered an opportunity to be a poll watcher, but I preferred the opportunity to be a partisan, even if it meant standing outside in the cold. I am sure that my choice to be a partisan activist rather than a non-partisan judge will come as a surprise to no one on MyDD.
That was really all there was to it. Even in one of the most Democratic areas of the country, the party still faces a severe shortage of active members and volunteers. As Howard Dean has often said, politics are determined by those who show up. I showed up. That was really all it took. In May, I have a feeling that Carol and I will be unopposed when we stand in the primary election.
My "victory" was not the real news at last Tuesday's meeting, however. In fact, my appointment as committeeperson was the final piece of business in a truly remarkable meeting. The meeting had actually been called in order to recall our current ward leader, Kevin Fassett, who, from what I understand, had over the past two years abandoned his duties as ward leader. This meeting was the culmination of the ultra-grassroots work of the existing committee people over the past several months. This work that was not supported, and indeed was actively opposed, by the leadership of the Democratic Party of Philadelphia. It was also, as I understand, unprecedented. From what I have heard, no ward leader had been recalled in the Philadelphia Democratic Party for decades.
On primary Election Day in May, Fassett disappeared.
That meant he failed to give his committee members poll- watcher certificates, campaign literature and, worst of all, thousands of dollars in cash donated by judicial candidates and Democratic City Committee.
His committee members were so angry, they seized control of the ward. Fassett sent a resignation letter in June.
Six weeks ago, he suddenly returned.
So when city committee distributed the $3,000 or so for Tuesday's election in the 27th Ward, the money went to - you guessed it - Kevin Fassett.
Longtime readers can guess what happened next.
"No one saw him" on Election Day, said committeewoman Mary Goldman. "Everyone was embarrassed and furious."
Fassett did distribute some money. Committeeman Don Engel said that on Sunday, Fassett gave him and four other committee members $50. City committee gave Fassett $150 per division, $75 per committeeman. The ward has 23 divisions.
What happened to the rest of the money is anyone's guess. Luckily, in D.A. Lynne Abraham's Philadelphia, missing money at city committee is not a crime.
Fassett reappeared Sept. 22 at a ward meeting, where he apologized for his disappearance in May.
"He said he'd had some personal problems and had been away for awhile," said Engel. "He said the money was gone and that he was sorry."
He also said that he hadn't signed his resignation letter. Sources say the letter was signed by Fassett's former employer, state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, whose initials appear next to the signature.
Sources familiar with the situation say Williams signed the letter at Fassett's request because Fassett was in a rehab institution.
At the Sept. 22 meeting, Fassett agreed to resign if the ward committee voted him out. It did, 14-1.
"Then I get a call and Kevin says he isn't resigning," said party chairman Bob Brady. "What am I going to do? There's a procedure for removing a ward leader, and if they don't do it, then he's still the ward leader."
Brady made sure that the ward's insurgents got Election Day packets and says that if any workers didn't get paid, "they will be made whole."
Meanwhile, committee members in the 27th say they may circulate a recall petition to remove Fassett formally as ward leader.
Fassett did not return our call.There is a lot more to the story than all this, including many twists and turns with which, as I newbie, I am not entirely familiar. I first met Mary Goldman in March at a save Social Security event, and Don Engel in July at a Neighborhood Networks meeting. I did not meet Nancy Ruane, the acting ward leader, until October, when I first attended a ward meeting. While I cannot tell this story as well as these and other local activists can, I can praise for the remarkable rays of hope that they are. If the party is to be freed from the grip of Unreformed Democrats,, these will be the sort people who will do it.
As Congressmen Brady noted in the above article, there is indeed a formal procedure to remove a ward leader from office. In accordance with that procedure, the following petition was distributed to every member of the 27th Ward committee on November 15thPetition to Recall Kevin A. Fassett, County Committeeman, of the 27th Ward Philadelphia according to the 1954 printed Rule of the Democratic Party of the City and County of Philadelphia under Rule VIII, Article I Section B and Article 2 Section B
We the undersigned members ofhte 27th Ward Democratic Executive Committee aver that the following petition to recall Kevin A. Fasett, County Committeeman (Ward Leader) of the 27th Ward in Philadelphia is made in good faith.
Kevin A. Fassett has shamed the members of the 27th War Executive Committee and has been derelict in performing his duties as Ward Leader over the last several elections. He has withheld money from committepeople and caused them to be unable to effectively inform their voters or bring them to the polls.
1. Kevin A. Fassett has failed to perform the duties of County Committeeman (Ward Leader) for the past three elections.
- he was unavailable the entire election day November 8, 2005
- he did not vote November 8, 2005
- distribute any Election Day money to Committeepeople to get out the vote
- distribute sample ballots to committeepeople for use in their division
- give poll watcher certificates to committeepeople
- give street lists to committeepeople
- communicate or answer Committeepeople calls or facilitate the election or help resolve pre-election issues.
- vote in the election
- did not distribute Election Day money to a number of committeepeople
- did not distribute watcher certificates to some watchers
- was absent the entire Election Day
- did not vote
by his malfeasance in not executing his duties as County Committteeperson of the 27th Ward, his disregard for common ethical standards and his blatant lack of integrity, he has forfeited his right to represent the 27th Ward Executive Committee. Therefore, we the undersigned demand his recall as County Committeeman (War Leader) of the 27th Ward.The petition was only a small part of the task, however. In accordance with the above mentioned 1954 rules, in order for the recall to succeed, it was necessary for two-thirds of the existing committeepeople to vote in favor of the recall at a meeting called by the ward committee for the expressed purpose of recalling the ward leader. This required actually tracking down every member of the ward committee, including those members who officially listed as committeepeople but were either inactive or no longer performing their duties.
Thus, before the meeting began, Nancy produced the resignation letters of seven or eight committeepeople who had moved out of the district and were no longer registered to vote there (the 27th ward includes three colleges, so there is a lot of local turnover). I do not know how she and others had managed to track these people and / or their information down, but this was one of the keys not only for the recall to succeed, but also to better map the currently active Democrats in the ward. The result was that while the official Democratic Party records showed 25 or 26 committeepeople, for perhaps the first time in years we were able to produce a fully up to date list of local Democratic activists. I cannot emphasize how important this information is, and how difficult it is to come by. Producing lists of this sort around the nation is perhaps the number one obstacle to a total revolution in Democratic politics nationwide. In Ward 27, we finally did it.
Once we had this list, it was also important that we had an election lawyer available to help us. In this case, the lawyer we found was also the former chair of the Chester County Democratic Party out in the suburbs. He was able to slowly walk us through the entire procedure that was laid out in the above mentioned 1954 rules. I do not image that such a resource will be available to most people attempting to clean up their local democratic Party. Access to, and understand of, the official rules of local Democratic Parties remains a second major obstacle to cleaning up the Democratic Party nationwide.
Once the meeting was moving, what I saw was truly remarkable. Time was allotted for debate, and several people from the neighborhood spoke up to say what a said day this was for them. While sometimes it is easy to think of Ward Leaders as faceless party bosses that only work as cogs in a machine, many people emphasized how for a long time Kevin had been a friend of theirs. That was how he came to rise to Ward Leader--he was, for a while, active in the local community, and he had been a good friend of many other local activists. This was the purest form of democracy I had ever witnessed. Friends and neighbors had gathered to discuss a matter that was perhaps only relevant to their local neighborhood. Their decisions were based not on some abstract ideology, or multi-million dollar ad buys funded by wealthy donors. Their decision was based purely on their own experience, and what they believed was the right thing to do based on that experience. I have never felt more proud of where I lived than I did last Tuesday night.
The result of the meeting was that, by a vote of 15-0, Kevin Fassett was recalled as Ward Leader. With only 18 active committeepeople at the start of the meeting, this was more than the two-thirds majority we needed for the recall to take place. After that meeting was adjurned, a new meeting was immediately called to nominate a new Ward Leader. Two people were nominated, Nancy Ruane and Jackie Owens (Jackie actually was the person who nominated Nancy. I think she voted for Nancy as well). Nancy won what I believe was a close vote, and Jackie was then immediately and unanimously voted in as committee chair, which is the second highest position in the ward. Several other positions were also filled. Toward the end of the meeting, I was appointed committeeperson for the 23rd division, and someone else was appointed as a new committeeperson for, I believe, the 20th division.
And that was it. It was democracy in action. It was taking the party back, in action. The decisions were made by those who showed up. Whenever I refer to Democrats from now on, I can proudly and justifiably use the first person plural, rather than the third person we see all too often in the blogosphere. It amazes me to think that it was not even all that long ago that I wasn't registered as a Democrat, and I didn't even know what a ward was. When I decided to run for ommitteeperson back in July, my main justification was that no one from the Democratic Party had ever contacted me about any election in the nearly seven years I had lived in Ward 27. Now, along with Carol, I will be the person in charge of making sure local voters are contacted, registered, and brought to the polls. Like so many others, I have been swept up in the national tidal wave of progressive reform over the last two years. We have taken our Ward back. Soon, we will take back the entire county party. From there, the sky is the limit. If we have people doing this everywhere in the country, it will not be long before progressives and Democrats are the natural governing coalition of America once again. Today is a bright new day, and it is a beautiful day in my neighborhood. Make it one in your neighborhood too.