Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia Progressive Divide

The latest Keystone poll (PDF) is out on the Philadelphia mayoral race, and while it is good news for Tom Knox, it is also clear he has not achieved the knockout blow I, and at several other election watchers, had been expecting.

3/28-4/3. 364 RVs. MoE 5.1 (1/31 numbers in parenthesis)
Knox: 24 (22)
Fattah: 17 (26)
Brady: 16 (8)
Nutter: 12 (12)
Evans: 10 (10)
Unsure: 21 (22)

BooMan has more on the poll. Overall, there is not much movement over the past two months. What movement there was simply put Brady's number more in line with his results in other polls. Knox's momentum seems to have decidedly slowed, and with a high number of undecideds and a lot of soft support all around, there are openings for other candidates. Not huge openings, mind you, but definitely still openings.

I think what is really dragging down Fattah is anemic fundraising and a resulting lack of presence on the airwaves. I actually haven't even seen any ads for Fattah yet, even though I have seen ads for all other candidates. He might go back up if he can increase his visibility.

Nutter just went on the air last week, and this poll has a very low percentage of young voters (only 16% under the age of 35!), so I am inclined to believe that his numbers have decent buoyancy. I should note that I donated $50 to his campaign recently, and I expect that my ward, the 27th, will endorse him. But that doesn't mean I don't like the other candidates, or would be unwilling to work with them after the campaign, or on other issues.

There is a real divide in the reform / progressive community in Philadelphia between Fattah and Nutter (and, to a lesser extent, Evans and Knox). Mike Connery had an interesting diary at MyDD earlier in the week that I think summarizes the basic lines of this divide:
As I've been considering the place of - or more frequently total lack of - organizations whose mission it is to reach out to, engage, and elevate young people of color in our politics, I've started to think a lot lately about the divide between two major progressive constituencies: those who understand political activity through the vocabulary and history of social justice movements, vs. those who consider themselves to be part of a new progressive movement.

This new progressive movement seeks to work within and transform the system. It is party-based and electoral. During interviews for my book, a couple people pointed out to me that a lot of political terminology and basic concepts that we in this movement take for granted - including the term progressive - are either alienating or just nonstarters among a lot of young people of color. Instead, young people of color understand politics through a language based in community organizing, human rights, civil rights, and social justice. That is a language the progressive movement rarely embraces. Worse, its a language that the Democratic Party - our chosen vehicle of change - almost never embraces.
In my experience, I think this is basically true, and such a divide absolutely does exist. In Philly, in the political circles in which I operate, the social justice types tend to be for Fattah, while the progressive movement types, including myself, tend to be for Nutter. A piece I wrote back on Sunday, Institutionalism and the Progressive Movement, goes a long way toward explaining, at least in the abstract, why I eventually chose Nutter (in fact, as you might notice at the end of the piece, I wrote that article with an explanation of my Nutter endorsement in mind). In a broad sense, I just really feel like Nutter is the best choice to engage in the types of intra-institutional fights the progressive movement is already deeply engaged in here in Philadelphia. By way of contrast, over at Young Philly Politics, Dan explains why it seems he has come down on Fattah's side, very much in terms connected to the idea of social justice. I disagree with Dan's definition of philosophy. What I really think he is describing is a difference in management style and bureaucracy organization, as both Nutter and Fattah think government should help the poor, just different parts of government. Nonetheless, I think Dan's post and my post are a decent explanation of the social justice vs. progressive movement divide Mike outlines.

The two groups can, and often do, end up working together, as this is something of a natural alliance. Many people probably move somewhat freely in and out of both groups, and have a real affinity for people on both "sides." However, there are also moments where the two groups break apart, as I think we saw in the blogosphere over the Iraq Accountability Act, as we can see in the Philadelphia mayoral race, and as we saw in 2003 between Kucinich supporters and certain types of Dean supporters. In the end, I'm not really sure if this is even a big problem, or if there is any need to somehow merge the two groups. I do at least think it is interesting to discuss, and that it adds another wrinkle into any generalized discussions of the broader progressive political ecosystem.

Tags: Bob Brady, Chaka Fattah, Dwight Evans, Ideology, Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, polls, Tom Knox (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P

Regardless of which camp you come down in, I don't see how one can say that a divide that involves such basic issues as how public resources should be raised and spent, can be labeled not important.  Because in practical terms, that's what the two groups are debating in the mayoral race.  One candidate, Fattah, says that his major priority for spending is on programs that deal with poverty, and that he's willing to continue taxes on corporations to do it.  The other candidate, Nutter, says that it's a priority to cut taxes on corporations, and that any major effort to fight poverty requires new money from the state and federal governments.

That difference is going to have a pretty important impact on the real lives of a lot of people depending on who's elected.  And although I prefer Fattah's take by a large measure, I'm not posting here so much to defend it, as to simply point out that there's a lot of substance to the debate.  And we can't ignore the size of the gap between the sides as a movement because it invites exploitation by those who we all can agree are not our friends.

by Stan Shapiro 2007-04-05 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P
Of course there are questions. Can the sale of the airport can even be pulled off during a mayoral term? There is real reason to doubt that. And if it doesn't happen, then basically you are electing someone to implement a program that won't happen.

Even if the airport is sold in, say, three years after Fattah takes office (a generous estimate), will it generate the money needed to pull of his programs? The amount of the sale isn't a guarantee--it is just an estimate. Will it actually serve as a reliable source of revenue? We don't know that either--he is projecting an annual 8% return on investment, which seems pretty optimistic to me. also, not a guarantee. Further, virtually everything in Fattah's plan to spend the airport money on education--which is great--but with the state in control of the school system, there will be resistance from the same governmental bodies Fattah is trying to circumvent. Not to mention the the effectiveness of the new revenue will be highly relative to the skills of the people implementing it, and the quality of people hired by the system. We all know the city has real problems on that front.

I'm not a policy expert, and I want to help the city's poor as well. However, just because someone says they have a plan to help the city's poor doesn't mean that plan is guaranteed to be implemented when s/he takes office, or even that it will work. I like Fattah, but just because he wants to use the city government to do what, yes, the state and federal government should be doing does not make this election an open and shut case.

As far as an education plan, it is pretty good. If Fattah wins, I hope he is able to pull it off, and I hope that it works. But hey, Knox says that he wants to provide health care for everyone in the city, so why not vote for him based on that promise? I think the obvious answer is that there is no way to know how in hell a local city government can provide a service of that magnitude. Just because someone says they want to use city funds to pull something like that off, doesn't mean they actually can.
by Chris Bowers 2007-04-05 02:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P

I was responding to the  part of your post in which you questioned whether the divide was important.  I grant that making poverty reduction a major theme doesn't guarantee that you can accomplish poverty reduction.  But it's not insignificant if a candidate makes it a priority, nor if it's not a priority for another candidate.  Or even if it seems that it's not a priority for that other candidate.

Again, the divide is important for our movement.  Those in one camp will tend to rally to a candidate with one set of priorities, those in another camp will trend toward another.  How a candidate talks about things does matter.  And given that I think 95% of us in this movement do want to drastically reduce poverty, it would be great if we could find common ways to talk about it.  Best, of course, would be if we could find actual workable ways to accomplish it.

If we don't at least find common language, however, we will continue to have large parts of the left working for candidates out of a sense of lesser evilism rather than with enthusiasm.  And that's important.

by Stan Shapiro 2007-04-05 03:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P
I meant "important" as to whether or not the "divide" it will hold us all back. I don't really think it will, at least very often, and at least right now.
by Chris Bowers 2007-04-05 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P

I really need to educate myself before figuring out how to obtain my absentee ballot before leaving for the summer. I haven't really been paying much attention, unfortunately, but my main concerns are about crime and public transportation. The Penn Dems have already endorsed Nutter, FWIW.

by PsiFighter37 2007-04-05 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll,

Since my firm represents one of the candidates in ballot access litigation, I'm only going to speak in general terms.  And that's to say that I'm really surprised than none of the candidates have sought to nationalize this race, either message- or fundraising-wise, and I've made the direct suggestion to friends working for two of the candidates that they do so.  There's an opportunity out there that's being missed, and it feels like the last campaign of the previous century rather than something which builds off the experiences of Dean, Lamont and the like.

Just, fyi, Chris -- Fattah isn't on tv yet.

by Adam B 2007-04-05 02:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll,
well, that would explain why I haven't seen his ads. :-)
by Chris Bowers 2007-04-05 02:35PM | 0 recs
The progressive versus activist split, and Edwards

During interviews for my book, a couple people pointed out to me that a lot of political terminology and basic concepts that we in this movement take for granted - including the term progressive - are either alienating or just nonstarters among a lot of young people of color. Instead, young people of color understand politics through a language based in community organizing, human rights, civil rights, and social justice. That is a language the progressive movement rarely embraces.

I guess this is as good a time as any to bring up something I noticed this morning, though it doesn't have a lot to do with Pittsburgh...

There was this MSNBC article about black female voters in the 2008 primaries, and how they were likely to lean. The article was all about Clinton and Obama, but it had this little tidbit buried in it:

Research by pollster John Zogby from February and March showed black women supporting Clinton with 35 percent; Obama, the only black senator, with 22 percent; former Sen. John Edwards with 6 percent; and the rest undecided.

6 percent? This stood out to me. I realize that there are specific reasons Obama and Clinton poll strongly among this group, but 6% still seems extraordinarily low, considering Edwards normally polls only about as far behind Obama as Obama polls behind Clinton, and considering in the last month Edwards has been so frequently catching up with or passing Obama. I find this chilly reception particularly odd given the extremely enthusiastic embrace Edwards has received among certain ideological/intellectual left groups like MyDD represents.

Given that this is just my perception of things, the way I view the Edwards candidacy is that he's running a very purely issues- and policy-driven campaign-- he's talking hard and specific policies, and the policies he's advocated are consistently in a very sharply distinct way the kind of thing that ideological leftists love to hear, but haven't been hearing from Democrats in a very long time. In doing so Edwards seems to be trying to scoop up early the "principle" leftists. This at the very least does appeal greatly to the sort of progressive that MyDD represents, which is I think why so Edwards is so popular around here-- progressive policies are being seen put forward in the unambiguous, nuts-and-bolts way that appeals to the practical-minded, and this is an unusually practical-minded site. (Conversely, Obama is perhaps a somewhat harder sell around here because  his campaign pitch has a relatively much larger component of intangibles, like "hope", as compared to practical matters; and also because his vague but dogged thing about how the left and right should find common ground may sometimes smell like triangulation or lack of commitment, or raise questions sometimes about exactly what set of principles he's working on.) With this certain kind of progressive, Edwards' positioning is connecting powerfully.

Despite this, though, here we have a group-- black female voters-- who would be, you'd think, one of the exact groups that these practically-minded, "populist"-ideology policies Edwards is pushing would be intended to benefit, yet where Edwards is distinctly not connecting. What is going on here?

Is this poll just a fluke? Or is it actually the case that the progressive/"populist" message Edwards is pushing is simply not resounding with this important part of the populace that the message is intended to be -ist for? If so, why? Is Edwards' brand of progressivism something that appeals to some liberals/leftists but not others? Is it that channels through which Edwards has been trying to move his message are equipped to reach some liberal/leftist voters but not others? Is Edwards not pitching or phrasing his message in terms that seem meaningful or relevant to black female voters? Is it that Edwards himself doesn't have the personal credibility among this group for the message to be taken seriously? Does it have something to do with the progressive/social justice split Chris's blog refers to? Or is it all something else? Is any of this making sense?

What is it that makes the Edwards appeal work in some places and not others?

As far as that "split" thing goes, I don't think there's any need for the progressive and activist/social justice/whatever movements to be merged, but I think it's also important that any two groups under the progressive/left umbrella not be alienated; the two groups should understand each other. There doesn't need to be unity, but there does need to be dialogue. If the progressive movement as MyDD sees it is something that "work[s] within and transform[s] the system", then it's not always going to be able to do that very effectively if it doesn't know how to convey the meaning of its ideals and actions to others...

by Silent sound 2007-04-05 05:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia P

I really value articles like this that help clarify my thinking.

Ten years ago I was social justice-driven. Unfortunately, the vast erosion of our democratic institutions has turned me into a hard core progressive movement type.

Until we turn back the tide of kleptocracy there will no meaningful advancement on social justice. It's like watering your garden while your house is on fire.

Even in the best of times, privatizing public assets has been immensely lucrative for the buyers. It's hard to see how Fattah can pull off this bit of capitalist jujitsu.

-- tentakles

by tentakles 2007-04-05 05:24PM | 0 recs

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