Philly Dems Need a Loyal Opposition, and the GOP Isn't Interested


(Bob Brady (left) with Mike Meehan (right))

The most important bedrock reality of Philadelphia politics is that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 8 to 1, making it very difficult for non-Democrats to win any citywide elections. 

Until the 1950's, it was just the opposite, with Republicans in the overwhelmingly electorally dominant position, and Democrats at a deep disadvantage, until a reform movement originating in the Democratic Party turned that whole dynamic on its head.

Philly's left-of-center politics mean that relatively few Philadelphians are especially interested in seeing a competitive Republican Party re-emerge in the city. But whether it's the Republicans or the Green Party or the Democratic Socialists of America, Philly Democrats badly need a well-organized loyal opposition party that engages on the issues of the day, and tries to win elections. 

A piece by Chris Brennan in the Inquirer this week underscored that the Republican City Committee—or at least their current leadership—is not interested in fulfilling this role. A big disagreement has broken out once again concerning the propriety of even criticizing Democratic City Committee chairman and 1st Congressman Bob Brady, with RCC Chair Mike Meehan taking the position that this is not appropriate, and going so far as to eject one of the Party's hardest-working ward leaders from Republican state committee over it. 

"5th Ward GOP leader Mike] Cibik on July 30 published on social media an 825-word criticism of Brady, calling him the boss of “the most corrupt political machine” in the country.

That came after three days of stories in the Inquirer and Daily News about Brady’s 2012 campaign’s paying $90,000 to the campaign of now-Municipal Court Senior Judge Jimmie Moore, who then dropped a primary challenge for Brady’s seat [...]

Cibik signed his post with his party credentials — leader of the Fifth Ward, vice chairman of the local party, and member of the Republican State Committee.

Meehan asked Cibik in an email the next day to “kindly make your comments as an individual” and not as a local or state party official. Meehan also knocked as “biased” the Inquirer and Daily News’ reporting about Brady. “Another example of ‘fake news,’” Meehan wrote to Cibik, defending Brady.

There's plenty of grist for fellow Democrats to fairly criticize Brady for, though lots of people shy away from this. But if you're the party with the second-highest number of voters in the city, it's just political malpractice not to make hay of his recent stumbles for your own gain—that is, if your goal is to win some elections and not just patronage jobs for your buddies. 

This matters even if you don't care about the fortunes of Republican City Committee on the merits, because competitive elections are the only tried-and-true path to making local politics less corrupt and more responsive. If the Democrats are screwing up, there should be another party trying to win over voters with a competing and relateable agenda. To really fix the competition problem in local elections, we'd probably need new municipal parties, distinct from the national parties, who would divide up politics along an axis that reflects the actual ongoing local-level policy disagreements (growth vs. stasis, insiders vs. outsiders, etc.)

But even absent that, the City Charter creates at least a foothold for partisan competition by reserving two At-Large City Council seats for non-majority party candidates, giving Republicans (or Greens, or Working Families, or somebody) a platform to articulate an alternative approach. The Republicans currently occupying those seats have shown they're not interested, and neither is the party leadership. Somebody who is interested in developing an alternative to Bradyism should give it a shot. 

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