Why the Smallest Political Offices are Worth Contesting


The election of Donald Trump has been a huge boon for interest in local politics in Philadelphia, and we're seeing that firsthand. Over 300 people have signed up to run for local ward committee seats on our page, and we sold out all 100 tickets for our workshop on winning local ward elections in just two days. (We've since set up a second workshop to accommodate all the interest.) Philadelphia 3.0 Executive Director Ali Perelman talked with Liz Spikol at the Jewish Exponent about what she thinks is happening: 

“We’re hearing from a ton of people who, after the election, really felt compelled to take political action even if they haven’t necessarily been politically involved before,” said Alison Perelman, 34, executive director of Philadelphia 3.0. 
While some of these people may be active in their communities — engaged civically in neighborhood associations and friends of school groups — they’ve typically “been turned off by what they see as an ossified political system,” Perelman explained. “This election result was so unexpected that in spite of those a priori fears they have about the political process and the political system in Philadelphia, they feel like now is the time when they have to become more engaged.” [...]

“People feel much more acutely the possibility of a political system having an impact on your day-to-day life — which is always the case, especially when it comes to local politics — but I think a lot of folks frankly had the privilege of being a step removed,” Perelman said. “At this moment, that degree of distance has been eliminated and they’re now face to face with the reality of the importance of their political representation and their government structure.”

Donald Trump doesn't care what Philadelphia committeepeople think, obviously, but there are good reasons for focusing on local party elections if you're worried about what's happening at the federal level.

When the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee sends its people, they’re not sending their best. Or rather, they're sending who the current committeepeople and ward leaders think are appealing political candidates, but frequently aren't the most inspiring leaders.

This turns out to matter a lot, since a large portion of our elected officials tend to get into office via special elections (where party leaders hand-pick the Democratic nominee) as opposed to open and competitive primaries. Because of the 8-1 Democratic registration edge in the city, choosing the Democratic nominee is tantamount to appointing the election winner in most districts in Philly.

For instance, there's a rumor out there that Bob Brady plans to vacate his 1st Congressional District seat early, despite having just run for reelection, and let the Democratic Party nominate Ryan Boyer of the Laborers District Council in a special election that Democrats are pretty much certain to win. Whether you like the idea of Ryan Boyer representing Philly in Washington or you don't, you don't get a say if Brady retires early.

So, if you want a more influential vote on who's representing Philadelphia in Harrisburg and in Washington, you should think about running to become one of the people who gets to decide on party endorsements.

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  • Karen Bojar
    commented 2016-12-02 12:45:30 -0500
    Those of you who are thinking about running for committeeperson might want to check out my new book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party.

    Green Shoots is not intended as a complete analysis of the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s ward and committee structure, but focuses on the work of progressives within the party to make the Philadelphia Democratic Party, more democratic, more transparent. For more info, see https://www.facebook.com/GreenShoots2016/