Notes From The Underground

Occasionally, whenever I write about the need to reform urban machines, especially Philadelphia, I will stray into hyperbolic rhetoric about "smashing" said machines. Whenever this happens, in the comments, at least one or two people will worriedly note that if city Democratic machines in places like Philadelphia or Chicago were to go down, then important states like Illinois and Pennsylvania would no longer be Democratic. Personally, I have long believed that the increasingly ineffective city machines are actually holding down the vote in places like Philadelphia and Chicago, because they tend to discourage the entry of new blood and energy into the electoral system. If you are not encouraging new volunteers to register voters, knock on doors, distribute candidate information, connect with neighbors, and otherwise perform the important functions of local Democratic precinct captains, then you are not doing all that much to help the Democratic cause in your area.

A comparison of voter turnout in Philadelphia serves as an excellent example to demonstrate this thesis. As I have written about numerous times on MyDD, in 2005 I became a committeeperson (precinct captain) in the 27th ward, 23rd division. For those of you not familiar with the details of Philadelphia politics, there are 66 wards total in the city, and a "division" is the same thing as a precinct. Anyway, right around the same time I was becoming a precinct captain, the 27th ward had something of a little revolution, where we recalled our ward leader and elected a new one. After several months, the recall campaign was successful, despite consistent opposition from the leaders of the party citywide (the party leaders are primarily the 66 ward leaders). Given this, I thought a comparison of voter turnout in the first year of the free 27th ward, 2006, to voter turnout in the last mid-term election, 2002, would serve as a useful test case to see if city machines are helping or hindering voter turnout.

I was up early this morning, so I wandered over to the election results page on the Committee of Seventy website to find the numbers necessary to make this comparison. It turns out the 27th ward went from 2,755 total votes in 2002, to 4,797 total votes in 2006 (the last midterm election). That is an increase of 74.1%. For the entire city, in 2002 there were 404,025 total votes, and in 2006 there were 429,029 total votes. That is an increase of 6.2%. Overall, the 27th ward represented 8.2% of the increase in voting across the city from 2002 to 2006, which is amazing considering that there are 66 wards and we happen to be one of the smaller ones. Importantly, despite gentrification and an influx of students (which almost pushed me out of the ward back in 2004), the increase did not come from Republicans. In 2002, Governor Rendell won the ward 87.76%--7.46%. In 2006, he won the ward 90.41%--9.44%, a virtually identical margin of victory. The 90% voting rate for Rendell is particularly impressive when one considers that the voter registration of the ward is only 58% Democratic.

Not too shabby for one, small, independent ward. We also managed to sneak two of our committee people onto the state committee this past year, including yours truly. Citywide, there are 57 elected members of the state Democratic committee, seventeen of which were not filled in the 2006 elections (but were later appointed by Bob Brady). So, the 27th ward represents 5%, or two of forty, elected members of the state committee at the current time.

Here at MyDD, my primary focus has always been a wide-angle lens on the national picture, but I have to admit I enjoy the local stuff at least as much, if not more. We have had some fun times out in the 27th ward lately. You really can make a difference with local action. Retuning to the wider view for a moment, while the example of one individual ward with only twenty-three divisions (precincts) does not provide conclusive evidence supporting the thesis I presented at the start of this post, it does give me a lot more confidence in that thesis. Ossified city machines that are fearful of new members are not helping the Democratic cause. In fact, I honestly believe they are hurting it. Not only can silent revolutions improve confidence in local Democratic parties, weed out corruption, inject the system with progressive political views and increase transparency, but they can also greatly enhance Democratic electoral prospects as well. We did all of those things where I live. As you read this, I am sure it is happening in hundreds, if not thousands, of other locales across the country as well.

Afternoon Open Thread

Here is an afternoon open thread for you:
  • I forgot how funny this was:

  • Boy, the NCAA tournament committee really made a good call by including Stanford instead of Syracuse (or Drexel, or whoever). Nice pick.

  • I just received word from the Tom Knox campaign that when they make endorsements, they will only be endorsing challengers in City Hall races.

  • In contrast to a report from The Hill back on Tuesday, it is now clear the House Democratic leadership will use the whip on the Iraq supplemental. From subscription only Roll Call:
    In the meantime, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) acknowledged Wednesday that the whip operation -- now being used to "survey" lawmakers on their support for the bill -- will be used when the spending bill moves to the House floor.

    "We are getting ready," Clyburn said.
    Good. This is a solid report, which I have had confirmed by sources close to the leadership. They better use the whip on this, both because they currently do not have 218 votes, and because they better be willing to stand up for what is currently a watered down compromise. If they are not ready to go to bat for something this weak, what will they stand up for?

    This has been a pretty painful process, and we should all expect it to go on for several more weeks. At the absolute minimum, Democrats have to at least make a good show of standing up against Bush and Republicans on Iraq. Failure to even do that minimal amount would be devastating.
Chat away.

Philly Mayor: Knox Pulls Ahead (Updated)

Survey USA has the latest poll on the Democratic primary for Philadelphia mayor (3/9-3/12, 442 LVs, MoE 4.8, previous numbers in parenthesis):

Knox: 25 (22)
Fattah: 22 (32)
Brady: 17 (18)
Evans: 13 (10)
Nutter: 11 (8)
Other: 5 (5)
Undecided: 8 (4)

Tom Knox is almost certainly going to win this campaign (in Philadelphia, despite the 1999 fluke when it was close, the Democratic primary is the same thing as the general election). The money he is spending on television and a large ground game play an important role, but it is just as important that he is not an elected official from the city of Philadelphia at this time. People hate the administration in City Hall right now. Brady is stagnant and trailing in third place even though he has been an elected congressman from nearly half of the city for eight years, recently had 85% of the ward leaders give him their public endorsement, and is running several hundred thousand dollars worth of television every week (my ward was one of the few places where he did not receive the endorsement). Brady pulls virtually none of the black vote, literally no Asian vote, and trails Knox among white voters. This is important, because in Philadelphia race is by far the clearest determining factor in how someone votes in a primary. It is not really a surprise, since Brady campaign is being run largely by the same Fumo machine whose leader was recently indicted, and which is well known to generally oppose African-American leadership of the city.

Between now and Election Day, I do not expect any non-Knox candidate to show any substantial upward movement in this campaign. Just five months ago, Knox was at about 0% or 1% in the polls, and he just keeps rising. There just isn't any message any currently or previously elected official can use in Philadelphia to improve their standing at this point. Whatever flaws Knox may have, the reformer candidates for city council (virtually every incumbent has a challenger from the reform movement) would be smart to get on his slate, and even possibly endorse Knox, for mayor. I know that won't sit well with my friends at Young Philly Politics, given Knox's past connections to pay day lending, but he is going to win. Further, the machine hates Knox in a way they just do not hate or fear any other candidate (loathing toward Knox was quite palpable at the Philadelphia caucus at the last state committee meeting), which is a big plus for Knox in my book. I know that this is at least partially because urban machines still view themselves as defenders of the working class against powerful moneyed interests, but it is also because he poses a much more significant threat to the machine status quo than anyone else around. The machine does not defend anyone against powerful moneyed interests anymore. Hell, it can't even defend itself against Knox, and for all of its supposed on the ground prowess, Brady might not even be on the ballot.

As is also the case with quite a few of my progressive friends, I like Michael Nutter quite a bit, and I like Chaka Fattah too (I don't really know anything about Dwight Evans, and I have made my opinion of Bob Brady clear). However, in the short term, only Tom Knox can bring the Philadelphia machine down. So far, the reform movement has consistently run up against a very slight electoral deficit (see Seth Williams and Anne Dicker--Tony Payton Jr. won because of unusual circumstances in his district). If the reform movement wants to get over the hump and make its way into local government, right now I think Knox is the path. At least a temporary alliance can change this city for the better for a long time to come. The primary is quite close now--only nine weeks away. Quite frankly, our chances to win in Philadelphia might be now or never.

Update: I just received some information that causes me to retract much of what I said in this post. Specifically, Knox is endorsing at least one of the worst incumbents on city council. So, forget all of that. I am looking for a mayoral candidate with the guts to endorse, and help out, city council reform challengers. When I find a mayoral candidate who does that, then I have found the mayoral candidate I will support, whether it is Nutter, Fattah, Evans, Brady or Knox. Anyone who is willing to do that is someone I am willing to get behind. Right now, I only have enough patience, energy and time to work on campaigns that are larger than trying to get a single person elected.

Within the System and Without

Here is how Nanette put it.

There is a huge gulf between those that want a tweak... and those that feel that what is really needed is a change. Most of the kos and kos satellite blogs - bootrib, fdl, mydd, mlw to a lesser extent, etc - and participants are tweakers. They've convinced themselves (especially the mydd'ers... good god) that, yes, they really can be THE progressive movement, even if their ranks are made up of primarily comfortably well off white males. Tweakers. A mile wide and an inch deep... because, as I mentioned to Stoller, when whatever burr is in their hide (war in iraq, Bush in white house, etc) is removed, the slightly discomforted will be comfortable again and go on with their lives.

There's more...

Second Report From The Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee

I had a great experience at the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee meeting this past Saturday, which was a dramatic turnaround from my previous experiences. In the extended entry, you will find my promised write-up of the events that transpired. Check it out--I really think it is worth the read. Local activism really can make a big difference, as well as make you feel pretty damn good. This meeting was better than previous meetings in four key ways:

There's more...

Diaries

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