Secrets Of Philly Politics

(June 2011)

A recurring theme from this election -- and, frankly, most city elections -- is that the collective lack of participation from the general citizenry continues to allow a tiny minority of interconnected, insipid, and often inglorious individuals to get elected and re-elected. They do not prevail because of their strength. No, we let them win because we choose not to exercise our strength. The dirty little secrets of elections in Philadelphia are these:

They Hate Each Other

The members of the political class that circle their wagons to thwart outsiders mostly can't stand each other, but they continue to back each other for fear that they would lose their elections if they had to connect with voters on their own. The relationships that protect and promote political alliances in Philadelphia are almost all shotgun marriages of conveniences. The truth is that most of the pols support each other while holding their noses, because they feel they have to do so to retain support of other pols who supply the money and manpower that can make the difference in tight races and low-turnout elections. Then, they espouse the virtues of "loyalty" until they have the opportunity to stab each other in the back.

They Can’t Raise Money

For the insiders, political fundraising in Philadelphia is about shaking the money tree of a small number connected donors who are anxious to purchase influence among the political class. Now, due to campaign-finance contribution limits, the pols are only raising a fraction of what used to fuel their campaigns. Where outsider challengers report hundreds and hundreds of donations from real people -- friends, family, and citizens -- the insiders count on money from PACs and pols that then get passed along from hand to hand before ending up on the street. Looking at donations flowing in the waning days of this election, one can see the same money spent and re-spent: a $10,000 contribution from a PAC to a mayoral candidate, who made a $10,000 contribution to an at-large council candidate, who made a $3,000 contribution to a district council candidate, who spent thousands on Election Day expenses.

They Don’t Want Your Vote

They know that there are far more of us than there are of them so they work to maximize the turnout among voters connected to the machines and keep the rest of us away from the polls. When we stay home, that is just fine for the pols because they want know that if too many of the rest of us show up, we might just elect some quality leaders. Low turnout means that campaigns in Philadelphia are not about reaching voters, connecting, and convincing. It means that campaigns are about cutting deals, peddling influence, and doing little to encourage the rest of us to come out to vote.

They Know Their Days Are Numbered

Those who operate the mechanics of the party machines know that if the rest of us were actually engaged and energized to participate, we will outnumber them, out-fundraise them -- and oust them. There are more of US. If we give more money, our candidates will out-spend entrenched incumbents and if we vote, our candidate will win. If we don't get involved, if we don't contribute to worthy candidates, and if we don't vote, the pols will continue to win and Philadelphia will continue to suffer under leadership that is too concerned about petty politics and personal gain to make Philadelphia the city we know it should be.

We deserve better.