Philadelphia Elections: Casino Free Philadelphia

In the 2007 Philadelphia elections, the top issue is crime. This is both in terms of corruption in local government and, most important, in terms of the skyrocketing rate of violent crime throughout the city. Philadelphia has become the murder capitol of America. The city is also in desperate need of increased social programs. The solution that many local politicians, as well as Governor Ed Rendel, have decided on to solve this problem it to bring the casino industry into the city. Considering the massive social problems that casinos bring with them, this will only exacerbate our already severe problems with crime and violence. It also has the potential to destroy a few local neighborhoods.

Many grassroots activists, both conservative and progressive, have been working together to fight moves by the local and state government to bring casinos into Philadelphia. The central nexus of this fight is an organization known as Casino Free Philadelphia. A couple months ago, Casino Free Philadelphia collected more than enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot for the May 15 elections that would forbid the construction of any casinos in Philadelphia within fifteen hundred feet of schools and residences. This would have effectively blocked the introduction of the casino industry into the city, and it also would have passed easily (one poll showed 79% support for the ballot measure). However, the casino industry took the matter to court, and successful had the referendum thrown off the ballot over a zoning issue.

Long story short: against the overwhelming will of the people of Philadelphia, local and statewide politicians of both parties who have all received huge contributions from the casino industry are trying to ram social-fabric destroying casinos into several neighborhoods in the murder capital of America. Yeah, that will help out the city. Here is a ten minute interview I conducted with Dan Hunter of Casino Free Philadelphia to further explain the situation, as well as what local activists are doing to fight it:

In response to the referendum being thrown off the ballot, Casino Free Philadelphia is taking a page out of the civil rights movement and holding a counter election so people can vote on the ballot measure anyway. Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is that even after having an overwhelmingly popular referendum thrown off the ballot, the casino industry is actually spending money and conducting robocalls to run in that counter-election. Even though they have a huge number of local politicians in their pocket and have denied the people a legally binding vote, the casino industry is clearly still afraid of the locals.

There are ways you can get involved in this campaign. Casino Free Philadelphia's home page can be found here. Their voter guide for the upcoming elections can be found here. They have also engaged in a number of unique actions, including clever online videos and civil disobedience. You can get involved by emailing them at This issue may seem local, but it is rapidly spreading around the country, as the casino industry continues to move into more and more cities and states. Fighting it here in Philadelphia is an important step in fighting it nationally.

Next up on my Philadelphia election blogging will be an update on the mayor's race.

Philadelphia Elections Update: When The Machine Blinked

Today, I actually (gasp) left my house in order to meet face to face with some of the people working on progressive and reform issues for the upcoming Philadelphia election (May 15th). Right now, the big story in Philadelphia is how Michael Nutter has surged into a strong second place against Tom Knox, and by now might even be in a dead heat. Back in December, if you had asked pretty much any political insider in Philadelphia, I doubt that a single one of them would have predicted that the campaign would culminate in a fight between Nutter and. Knox. This development is a huge shock to the establishment political system in the city, but it is also a story for another post.

There many other important campaigns taking place in the city besides the mayoral election. In fact, when city council races and many of the issue-based campaigns are combined, the mayoral race is arguably secondary. One such campaign is for clean election reform. Philadelphia has long been plagued by corruption and a pay-to-play system of government, Last year, as a means of trying to reform the system and reduce local corruption, Michael Nutter successfully led the fight to pass campaign finance reform legislation that reduced the amount of money individuals and business could donate to local candidates from infinity (no joke) to much smaller amounts. However, a couple months ago, in response to Tom Knox's self-funded rise to frontrunner status in the mayoral election, the Philadelphia city council had introduced a bill to repeal that campaign finance reform legislation. This turnaround on campaign finance reform took place in less than six hours after the release of the first poll showing Tom Knox leading the campaign. However, what was even more shocking than city council's attempt to repeal a major cornerstone of local corruption reform in a desperate attempt to save their own asses, was that a couple of weeks later they actually backed down to public pressure and left the existing campaign finance law in place. Truly, city council actually listening to outrage from residents in the city was unprecedented. Of the incident, over at Young Philly Politics, Dan U-A wrote:

There's more...

Obama! Phila! May 22! $25? Yes, $25.

In a typical presidential campaign, the candidates spend almost all of their time in the early primary states, typically venturing outside of those states only for high-ticket fundraising events put together by and for those who don't mind dropping $2300+ for dinner and a handshake.

Barack Obama is not running a typical campaign.

He's coming to Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 22 for a series of events, and the centerpiece is a Community Kick-Off Rally at the Electric Factory at 5pm.   This is not a $2300+ per-person event, or a $500 cocktail party, or a $250 "stand in back of the people who attended the cocktail party to watch a speech on tv monitors." 

You can join us for as little as $25.

There's more...

Philadelphia Mayor: Nutter Rising, and Lessons For Reformers

Last night, instead of watching the debate, I attended the Democratic primary candidate endorsement meeting for the 27th Ward in Philadelphia. With endorsements to be made for traffic court, court of common pleas, city commissioner, register of wills, sheriff, clerk of the court, state superior court, state supreme court, local city council, five city council at large seats, and mayor, the meeting took more than three hours. The city council at-large seats were particularly difficult, since there were six candidates the ward liked quite a bit, but we could only make a maximum of five endorsements (the majority party is allotted a maximum of five at-large council seats in Philadelphia). I would like to personally endorse the four challengers we took the most time to consider, Andy Toy, Marc Stier, Derek Green, and Matt Ruben. If there is any way you can help these candidates, I would strongly recommend doing so. The other two candidates, incumbents Bill Greenlee and Blondell Reynolds Brown, are very good public servants, but I am far more focused on trying to help the challengers to city council seats this time around. It should be noted that these are the six progressive and reformer candidates who have been endorsed by virtually every single progressive and reformer organization in the city in various combinations. The 27th ward seems to be one of those organizations in its own right.

For Mayor, we endorsed Michael Nutter on the first ballot with over 75% of the ward's vote. Now, a new poll was released today showing Michael Nutter to actually be in a strong position for the upcoming primary. Susequehanna polling, April 24-25, 450 LVs:

DateApril 25March 14Dec 06Fav / Unfav
Tom Knox20%22%9%47 / 21
Michael Nutter18%12%12%58 / 16
Chaka Fattah14%17%29%48 / 25
Bob Brady9%13%10%36 / 32
Dwight Evans7%10%12%46 / 17

With leaners included, Nutter draws to within less than one point of Knox. Note that this is a very different result than the recent Survey USA poll, which showed Knox cruising. However, across most polls, Michael Nutter is the only candidate besides Knox who is rising in the polls. Right now, it certainly appears that he is moving into second place, and the last two weeks of the campaign might be Nutter vs. Knox.

From the Susquehanna polling memo:
This poll shows all the movement has gone to Nutter, going from 12 points in the last poll (4th place) to 18% on the current poll which puts him in a virtual statistical dead heat with Knox at 20%. All the other candidates have dropped since the last poll - and the key reason is that Nutter has surged with white Democrats, where he is now in first place at 29% even ahead of Knox at 24%. From a name ID standpoint, Nutter now has the best ratio of favorable to unfavorable name ID while Brady's negatives have shot up, which says to me that Nutter is partly benefiting from Brady's faltering campaign. Among black Democrats, the same trend is showing that even though Fattah continues to lead (at 23%), black support for Fattah and Evans has waned from the last poll while Knox and Nutter have both picked up a couple points, although surprisingly, it is Knox who is finishing second with blacks at 15% (Nutter only has 8%). I think from a big picture standpoint what this poll is telling me is that the black community isn't inspired this time around.
One of the reasons this is so surprising is that Michael Nutter is African-American. It might be the first time, like ever, that an African-American candidate in Philadelphia is winning the white vote. The Democratic primary vote in Philadelphia typically splits along racial lines more than anything else, but this campaign could spell an end to that trend. Or does it? When it comes to pushing himself over the top, Nutter actually faces a problem among African-American voters, where he trails Knox (who is white).

The combination of racial politics and progressive reformer politics in Philadelphia is extremely interesting. If it is true that the African-American community is not very excited about this election, certainly the extreme unpopularity of Mayor John Street (20% approval rating), who is African-American, is playing a major role. In other words, the African-American community might not be very happy with its leaders and representatives in the local political establishment, but isn't thrilled with the existing reform options either. At the same time, it is interesting how the white progressive and reform communities were split between Chaka Fattah and Michael Nutter, not unlike the Obama vs. Edwards split in the progressive blogosphere. However, with Fattah consistently slumping since starting the campaign as the frontrunner, now Nutter seems to be consolidating his support among the white progressive community. However, Nutter still struggles among African-Americans, not unlike early netroots candidates such as Dean, while Fattah is able to at least vaguely stay in the campaign because his African-American support remains decent. In fact, Nutter's early commercials, which seem to be fueling his rise, actually framed him as the anti-John Street reformer, which adds another element to this discussion. Overall, we seem to have a situation where both whites and blacks are unhappy with the Democratic political establishment in the city, but the organizing being conducted to fix the system is itself split along racial lines in much the same way the city has always been split. Further, neither the machine nor the reformers appear strong enough to hold off Knox's millions, which is telling. It is all very convoluted and deserves much, much more discussion. There are lessons here for the progressive movement and the Democratic Party that go far beyond the local level.

The primary is on May 15th. The winners of the primary will all go on to win the general, since Philadelphia is basically a one-party town. I am going to try and have more coverage on both the mayoral and city council campaigns during the next two weeks.

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.


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