Monday, November 07, 2011

ACM's general election guide for November, 2011

This is a bit of a sleeper election, with lots of uncontested elections and judicial retentions -- however, there are three races where a smattering of votes can really make a difference, and surprisingly, two of those involve Republican candidates.
  • At the top of the ballot are two state-wide judicial races that are likely to be close. Especially important is the Commonwealth court, which is likely to handle critical cases on political redistricting and on Marcellus Shale development. Getting a sane candidate in there is thus important, and Kathryn Boockvar (D) needs every vote she can get. While you're up there, pick David Wecht (D) for Superior Court, which handles appeals of everyday criminal and civil cases from the city.

  • City judges at all levels, not that interesting. For Common Pleas, I recommend Charles Ehrlich (D, R), Barbara McDermott (D), Kenneth Powell (R), Carolyn Nichols (D), Diana Anhalt (D) based on meeting them in the spring.

  • Mayor, Nutter is the only real choice. Maybe the economy will recover and give him a chance to do more than tread water -- here's hoping!

  • City Commisioners: this is the second really important race this fall, as crusty insider Marge Tartaglione, who ran city elections for the last 50 years, has finally been ousted and replaced by reformer Stephanie Singer, who promises to modernize that office and let some fresh air in. However, she'll do that best by being chair of the Commission, which requires some political maneouvering to guarantee an alliance. Her Democratic teammate (virtually guaranteed election) is backed by the machine, who has also picked a Republican insider to vote for him as chair; instead, please punch the button for Al Schmidt (R), who is a GOP upstart likely to help Stephanie become chair and get the job done. This is a rare chance to really make a change in city politics and functioning, and we need to make it happen.

  • Sherrif: Jewel Williams is a shoo-in, although Cheri Honkala (Green) has gotten a lot of progressive endorsements too based on her work with the homeless and embattled in Kensington.

  • City Council At-Large is the third of my marquee races. The 5 Democrats are in no danger, so the interest comes in the narrowing of the Republican field from 5 to the final 2. In this case, there appear to be two that really stand out, Dennis O'Brien, who was the compromise State House Speaker when the Democrats squeaked out a slim majority a few years back, and David Oh, who has shown himself able to work with Democrats on a handful of issues (not least immigration) where the rest of his party is intransigent on all. Really, just having Johnny Doc spending a fortune on negative mailers aimed at him could be seen as endorsement enough! I recommend sparing a couple of your votes for one or both of these guys. (The lowest-scoring Democrats usually get 2-3 times the votes of the top Republicans here, so you're not endangering anybody by doing it, and a few votes go a long way in such a case.)

  • Retention judges give me crossed eyes, but I think it's best to OUST those that aren't given Bar qualification: in this case that means a vote AGAINST James Lynn (Common Pleas), Robert Rebstock (Common Pleas), and James DeLeon (Municipal).

  • Yes on the (two) ballot questions from me.
Hope to see a few of you at the polls!


Monday, May 16, 2011

ACM's Voter Guide for May 17 Democratic primary

Yes, there's an election tomorrow! Which, if nothing else, may reshape City Council for the next decade. With all the government functions being pushed down from federal to state and local levels, this means a lot of important decisions may fall upon the shoulders of the people we elect this year. Nevertheless, low turnout is expected, so anybody who cares needs to get their vote logged!

checkboxI offer the following thoughts, listed in order of regional importance, rather than ballot position (which often delays the races we care about to the very end):
City Council, At-Large (5 votes allowed)

None of the incumbents is terrible, but few of them are inspiring either. For my money, Bill Green deserves a second term on the basis of his attempts to help make the city's business taxes make sense for both small businesses that live here and large corporations that hide elsewhere but do a lot of trade here. He's much more progressive in general than I expected from his original machine support, so I'd like to see more. For new blood, I'd like to see Sherrie Cohen, a longtime community activist from the Germantown area (and daughter of longtime Council liberal flagbearer David Cohen) in office, as well as Andy Toy (who seems to have a lot of momentum this year, although I'm not sure I ever really see him between council elections). You might stop there, or consider Wilson-Goode and Reynolds-Brown to fill out the slate. (I know little about most of the other newcomers in the race.)

City Council, District reps. (1 in your area)

A lot of incumbents have stepped aside this year, so these races are where a lot of changes are guaranteed to happen. Some have several great candidates, others nobody I'd want to see in office -- so it goes. If you want to read more about the choices, the Committee of 70 has full lists and links to profiles/interviews here.

  1. Jeff Hornstein stands out (over the listless Joe Grace, crazy Vern Anastasio, or machine-backed Mark Squilla).
  2. No recommendation among Barbara Capozzi, Tracey Gordon, and Kenyatta Johnson, all underwhelming in various ways.
  3. Incumbent Blackwell runs unopposed, sorry.
  4. Incumbent Jones unopposed.
  5. Incumbent Darrell Clarke challenged by Suzanne Carn -- I know nothing about this race or the challenger.
  6. Martin Bednarek over Bob Henon (apparent Doc tool).
  7. Maria Quinones Sanchez over Daniel Savage in a big way.
  8. What a mess. Greg Paulmier by a nose over Cindy Bass (who appears to have accepted aid from a Voldemort-like figure in neighborhood politics), in a field including Andrew Lofton, Robin Tasco, Howard Treatman, and Verna Tyner.
  9. I know nothing about the race between incumbent Marian Tasco and challengers Bobby Curry and Lamont Thomas.
  10. Bill Rubin runs unopposed (incumbent is Republican).

Sorry I haven't been more attuned in all of the districts, but things have been interesting in the 1st (where DiCicco's departure was a surprise), and I've also been trying to figure out the 8th, where the departure of Reed-Miller left a huge vacuum and an overcrowded race.

City Commissioner

Stephanie Singer and Blair Talmadge offer a real chance to modernize this office (which oversees elections), looking to replace long-time incumbent Marge Tartaglione, who has continually resisted calls for change and has all the bad habits of the city political machine. (At our ward meeting, Tartaglione actually responded to the question of why she wanted the position for yet another term by saying some variant of: What else am I going to do, bump around the house? Out!) Singer, in particular, has been working to make the city's voter lists and election results more widely available and seems tailor-made for this position.


We're already way ahead because the incumbent has resigned. I favor Jon Kromer over Jewell Williams, but if either of those wins, the office will look pretty different in a few years!


There are judges at all levels running this year, including the usual heap of aspirants to Common Pleas. Here are my recommendations, drawn from a combination of organizational endorsements, surveys of regional lawyers, and the opportunity to hear from many of them in my Ward:

  • PA Commonwealth Court (1 vote): Kathryn Boockvar

  • Common Pleas (up to 10): Giovanni Campbell, Charles Ehrlich, Sayde Ladov, Carolyn Nichols, Kenneth Powell, Barbara McDermott, Daine Grey, Jr., Roger Gordon, Diana Anhalt

  • Municipal Court (1 vote): Nycole Watson

  • Traffic Court (1 vote): Robert Tuerck
Well, that about does it -- any other offices are unopposed or, you know, involve Milton Street, heh. Don't forget to vote!


Monday, May 17, 2010

ACM's Democratic Primary Voters' Guide (May '10)

This feels like a low-profile election, despite the presence of at least two pretty important primaries. Maybe it's the lack of enthusiasm that many voters feel about the Senate race, plus the feeling of inevitability that has come to be attached to the gubernatorial race; combine that with the crappy weather forecast, and the prospects of low Philadelphia turnout mean that every voter is really critical.

Anyway, this is the sort of election where people often have strong opinions (unlike, say, those packed with judges, where a little guidance really helps). Will offer mine, but not be deluded that you'll be taking them as gospel. Also, can at least clarify what other bits will be on the ballot further down from the hot races:
U.S. Senate

As Karen Heller put it, this is a bit of a hold-your-nose race, what with all the mud in the air. But don't let that obscure the real differences between these two candidates. Yes, Specter has brought home money to PA for decades, but he also voted for all the most odious Bush legislation and his extreme judicial nominees. In contrast, Sestak looks to be a bonafide liberal on most issues (link is to a PDF download), whatever you might think of his military service or his management skills. As the man with less money in the race, Sestak saved most of his advertising and big appearances for the last couple of weeks, and he appears to be pulling a Nutter-like burst into the public awareness; recent polls have put to rest any arguments that he might not do well in a general election -- in fact, anti-incumbent sentiments appear to drive the findings that Sestack would do better against (the loathesome) Toomey in the fall. Altogether, I think that Joe Sestak is the clear choice for the Democratic Party.

PA Governor

Dan Onorato is clearly the annointed son of the establishment in this race, and it may be that he's unbeatable. However, Joe Hoeffel is clearly the choice for any progressive, as he's the only candidate in the race who takes the liberal position on the majority of issues -- he's also smart, hard-working, and seems incorruptible. Unfortunately, the arrival of Anthony Williams in this race probably means that the Philadelphia vote will be split along a variety of axes, leaving the choice to our more conservative breathren to the west, but this is where turnout becomes important.

PA Lieutenant Governor
I don't really know much about the candidates, I'm sad to say. The Committee of 70 has a list and short blurbs here. Local boy Saidel is in there, and he was a decent Controller in Philly, but the usual Establishment caveats apply.

U.S. Congress

Most of Philadelphia is within the districts of either Bob Brady or Chaka Fattah, both running unopposed. (Things are a bit more interesting in the suburbs, especially in the 6th, where there was brief hope that Gerlach's seat was wide open.) Not much to say here.

PA General Assembly

State Representatives are up this year -- you can find out whether your local race is competitive by checking this list at the Committee of 70. None of my nearby races have grabbed me this time around.

Democratic State Committee

I'm embarrassed to admit how little I understand about this theoretically important group, who vote on statewide endorsements. I can't even pin down how many you can vote for. It's a mix of well-known and obscure names. um, yeah.

Ward Executive Committee of the Democratic Party

This office, generally referred to as Committeepeople, is the street-level branch of the party -- it should be the people who write to you before elections, maybe knock on doors before important votes, and hopefully convey your feelings to the party higher-ups. If you've appreciated the advice of yours, be sure to reward them with a vote; if the race is competitive, this might be a chance to replace some dead wood with somebody with new energy, or to actually talk in person to your conduit to the party. Either way, it's worth meeting your committeepeople, at the polls at least, as most of them want to be useful to their neighborhoods.

Ballot Questions

No Philadelphia election is complete without a smattering of ballot questions, most of which nobody knew about in advance. A couple chewy ones this spring, along with a couple more obscure:

  1. To allow City Council to require businesses that contract with the city to adopt "Economic Opportunity Plans" (addressing diversity issues such as minority hiring). I don't feel strongly on this one -- better inclusion of minority contractors is clearly a worthy goal, but it feels odd to make this a City Council issue. No recommendation.

  2. To reorganize the Zoning Board of Appeals to make it easier to have quorum (specifically, making the L&I rep an alternate rather than a full member). It seems that this is a small and reasonable move to improve the operation of the Board of Appeals, which apparently regularly fails to conduct its business due to a lack of quorum. It's hard enough to get business done on zoning. Recommendation: YES

  3. To abolish the Board of Revision of Taxes, dividing its duties between two new city agencies, one for assessments and one for appeals. This is the big one! This measure would end a long-time corrupt and ineffective patronage backwater (as explored in gruesome detail by a recent Inquirer expose). The quality of the successor agencies is unknowable, but just about anything would be better than the current BRT, and the idea of splitting the assessment and appeals processes seems like a good checks-and-balances idea. Recommendation: YES

  4. To borrow $65 million for various capital projects. This question appears almost every election and I know what to say: clearly these projects are all important, but why is this funding handled in an extra-budgetary way? (It seems to be handled the same whether we're running a deficit or a surplus.) Will probably sigh and vote for it, but not making a recommendation to anybody else.


Monday, May 18, 2009

ACM's Democratic Primary voters' guide (micro-election, May'09)

I've gotten to meet and/or hear from a large percentage of the candidates this year, but that hasn't always given me a clear sense of preferences, as you'll see. The big-ticket races tomorrow are District Attorney and City Controller, both important and interesting races, but most of the ballot contains judicial races, which is where small numbers of thoughtful voters can really make a difference.
  • At the bottom of the ballot, D.A.: I was very enthusiastic about Seth Williams four years ago, and I still recommend him this time. However, the field as a whole is quite strong, and I find Williams rather off-putting in person (in the sense that while he's still shaking your hand he's already looking over your shoulder for Somebody More Important), so I'm not putting any foot power into this race. Still, Williams has done great as Inspector General, has clear and convincing plans for the D.A.'s office, and avoids much of the unseemly political connections that dog some of his rivals, so I think he merits your vote.

  • City Controller: How well this office does its job becomes starkly clear in these times of fiscal crisis, and a conscientious Controller can find the inefficiencies, root out nepotism, and make sure that budgets are using realistic assumptions. Incumbent Butkovitz has done well with a few high-profile investigations, but has steered around many political minefields (including putting off a PPA audit requested by the Governor!) that make it clear his experience as a politician have left him too indebted to those he's supposed to keep honest. In contrast, Brett Mandel seems a dedicated reformer, has experience in the Controller's office under Saidel, and looks well set to be the bulldog he claims to be. I worry some about his corporatist outlook (he's focussed on cutting business taxes for years), but I don't think that matters much in this job, and he's got the energy to get stuff done on many fronts. Again, not working for this campaign, but recommending him for your vote. (The third horse in this race, Braxton, seems like a good guy, but he's been nearly invisible and thus is unlikely to succeed.)

  • Judges of many stripes: There aren't really any stand-outs here to me, as there have been in the past, at least at the local level. Be sure that you vote for Anne Lazarus for Superior Court, as she is one of the most highly recommended and universally acclaimed jurors to get on the ballot, and she missed this seat last time by just a few votes...

    1. Supreme Court (1 vote): Panella
    2. Superior Court (3 votes): Lazarus, Younge and Colville
    3. Comonwealth Court (2 votes): Lynn and Pollock
    4. Common Pleas (up to 7): Thompson, Robert Coleman, Roca, Woelpper, Anders, Eubanks
    5. Municipal (up to 4): Segal, Hayden, Dugan
There are also two ballot questions, one to establish posthumous promotion for police, firemen, etc., killed in the line of duty, and the other to let City Council change its rules on announcing hearings, bids, etc. more easily (I think). Committee of Seventy recommends a yes on the latter, to give the government flexibility (especially if a major paper closes), but my instinct is to vote against it because I'm not sure Council can be trusted -- unannounced hearings and invisible calls for bids seem well within their peskiness. Anyway, just be forewarned that these questions will be there; no solid advice from me.


Monday, November 05, 2007

ACM's November, 2007, voter guide

Ok, here are my thoughts on this one. First, the main reason to turn out is the Supreme Court races -- you may not feel really excited or informed about them, but these are positions that will have a lot of influence over critical issues in the coming yeard, including zoning, casino, and health care lawsuits, and the critical legislative districting that occurs in 2010. Thus, it's important to have a good representative (and qualified) group there. Right now the Supreme Court is overwhelmingly Republican, and overwhelmingly from the western part of the state, and this year's slate offers good options to change that.

Second, if you live in the 8th Council District (Germantown and surrounds), you have a chance to replace the divisive Donna Reed Miller with a proven community leader (a Democrat running as an Independent), Jesse Brown -- don't miss the chance.

Elsewhere on the ballot, I'm pretty much happy about the Democratic ticket, from Mayor down to the row offices, with the following exceptions:
  1. For Municipal Court, do NOT vote for Frazier-Lyde, who was not recommended by the Bar. (This is probably a futile effort, given widespread ticket voting, but you can only do your part.)

  2. For Sheriff, it pains me to see Green still on the ballot (see prev. here). Sigh. I know nothing about his obscure Independent opponent, however.

  3. For Council At-Large, while I don't want to point to a particular Democratic nominee to skip (they all have their merits), I'd like to encourage folks to consider sparing one vote for David Oh, who is running for one of the two guaranteed Republican seats. He's not a perfect candidate, but appears to have much to recommend him over Jack Kelley, and would likely support at least some of the ideas favored by Nutter and other reformers.
There are two other main sections of the ballot (which is blissfully shorter than that faced by voters in May):
  • Ballot Questions (see here for plain English versions)

    1. Yes on #1, but I don't feel strongly. The idea is to prevent somebody from running for a District seat in an area where they don't live (and moving there afterwards), which seems a reasonable requirement, although I suspect the voters would hold their non-residency against them anyway.
    2. No on #2 & 3. I find the Committee of Seventy's recommendations persuasive here -- there are already groups to advocate for each of these populations, and it sets a bad (and expensive) precedent for other special interest groups.
    3. No recommendation on #4. I certainly support all the programs that would be funded by this bond issue, but continue to be perplexed as to why such capital programs are continually being funded via new debt rather than as part of the ongoing budget process (which currently claims a surplus). This may be a part of How The City Functions that just remains opaque to me.

  • Judicial retention
    This takes up a huge L-shaped swath to the right of and below the other parts of the ballot, and unlike the initial judicial elections, there is no party lever or other shortcut -- each judge must be voted Yes or No individually. I generally think that Clean Sweep's idea of getting rid of everybody is misguided -- there's no reason to think that the replacements would be better, and there would likely be all sorts of back-room dealing along the way. Instead, I recommend YES for all judges except the following:

    1. NO on Municipal Court judges Daher, Griffin, and Deni. (The first two were not recommended by the Bar, and the last was behind a controversial recent ruling in which she apparently substituted her personal judgement for the legal statutes and definitions.)
    2. You might also consider a NO on Supreme Court Justice Saylor, who is being targeted by the anti-casino activists and some of their allies because of his restrictive rulings on the issue. I don't know enough of the remainder of his record to advocate this stance, however.
check the boxThat's it! It's a shortie in many ways, but also offers some great new faces, from Nutter through the fantastic candidates for Common Pleas Court, so we can look forward to some good things in January, however the rest of the ballot plays out. Don't forget to vote!!


Monday, May 14, 2007

ACM's Democratic Primary Voters' Guide (2007)

This year I feel much better informed about the candidates than I have in the past (with more personal access, rather than reliance on organizational endorsements), and yet I find the choices much harder. In part that's because for many offices the question is both whom to vote for and how many people to vote for in total. I'll try to give you both my picks and my reasoning as I go along. Please, despite the daunting ballot, make the time to vote for City Council and Sheriff, the two places that really offer an opportunity for concrete change this year. But we have recommendations for all portions of the slate as well.

We recommend Michael Nutter, for all the reasons given here, as well as for the increasing sense that he may be the only man capable of beating Tom Knox, who would be a terrible mayor for this city.

City Council At-Large (5 votes allowed):
  • Marc Stier (see here)
  • Andy Toy
  • Matt Ruben
After that group, it gets a lot more difficult. Since all three are challengers, there's something to be said for "bulleting" them by only voting for three. However, another challenger, Derek Green, is getting a lot of support among progressives and others around town (see, e.g., here), and incumbents Jim Kenney, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Wilson Goode, Jr., and Bill Greenlee have all shown up on respectable lists and have done some good things along the way. I think this is the year to make some changes, and voting for the three men above is the most likely way to do that. If pressed to make a slate of 5, I think Derek Green and Jim Kenney would be my next picks.

See here for the Inquirer's reasoning, and here for Neighborhood Networks' endorsements, among others.

District Council races (vote for 1 in your district):
  1. DiCicco versus Anastasio -- no recommendation (sigh; see here)
  2. Verna versus Roberts -- Damon Roberts
  3. (Blackwell unopposed)
  4. Campbell versus several -- Matt McClure
  5. Clarke versus several -- Haile Johnston
  6. (Krajewski unopposed)
  7. Savage versus Quinones-Sanchez -- Maria Quinones-Sanchez
  8. Reed Miller versus several -- Irv Ackelsberg
  9. Tasco versus several -- Marian Tasco
  10. (O'Neill unopposed [Republican])

State Supreme Court (2 votes allowed):
  • C. Darnell Jones
  • Debra Todd

State Superior Court (2 votes allowed):
  • Anne Lazarus
  • Christine Donohue

Court of Common Pleas (4 votes allowed):
  • Ellen Green-Ceisler
This is the other tough race this year, because, unlike the last time around (when 8 Common Pleas judges were chosen), this time we have six candidates that are pretty clearly good options, but only 4 slots. I put Green-Ceisler alone on a line because it's pretty clear that she's everybody's top choice this year, with outstanding city service in oversight of the police department and school system, and she really deserves a vote. After that, my ordering changes by the day.
  • Mike Erdos
  • Angeles Roca
  • Linda Carpenter
  • Beverly Muldrow
  • Alice Dubow
The first three have endorsement by Neighborhood Networks and Philly for Change, which inclines me to recommend them, but Muldrow was also quite impressive (and got the Inquirer's nod), and I'd like to see more strong black judges on the bench at this level (the rest of my recommended candidates are white, although Roca is hispanic). Dubow seems to have a lot of enthusiastic supporters, and is clearly smart and sincere, although overly much is made of her having a mother with a distinguished judicial career -- at the end of the day, I think she'll be fine running another year.

Municipal Court
(2 votes allowed):
  • Diane Thompson
  • Joyce Eubanks

City Commissioner (2 votes allowed):
  • Blair Talmadge

Sheriff (choose 1):
  • Michael Untermeyer (see here)

Register of Wills (choose 1):
Ronald Donatucci (unopposed)

Clerk of the Courts (choose 1)
  • Vivian Miller

Traffic Court Judge (3 votes allowed):
  • Willie Singletary
  • Sandra Mills
  • Mike Lowry

Ballot questions:
We strongly recommend a YES vote on #4,5,6, which are all intended to improve the quality and fairness of city planning.
Note that the casino ballot measure has been blocked by court action, and will be marked off of the election day ballots. Other questions concern (#2) undoing resign-to-run laws, for which there are good arguments on each side; (#3) creation of a Youth Advisory Commission, which is well-intended but of dubious value in a tight budget era; (#7) a statement concerning redeployment of troops from Iraq, toothless, but perhaps valuable as an expression of growing public sentiment; (#8) approval of new debt, which is intended to fund good projects but bypasses the normal budget process (and adds to the city's already grim debt levels); and (#9) an attempt to forestall the property revaluation process that has already been approved by City Council and the Board of Revision of Taxes -- understandable fear of the tax man, but a this is a run-around the process already in place and which is attempting to make property taxes more fair. It's the politicians' job to make sure that long-term residents aren't hurt in the process, and this Charter Change just seems to tie everybody's hands -- we recommend a NO on #9.


Friday, April 27, 2007

The mayoral race -- new poll, some thoughts

Was excited to hear on the radio this morning about a new poll, which puts Michael Nutter within 2% of Tom Knox among likely voters. Notable here, in addition to Knox's drop and Nutter's surge, is that (a) the undecided group is way up, 32% here, and (b) even those with a preference show uncertainty, with nobody over 14% when respondants were pushed to say that they would "definitely support" their choice. What this means is that all the recent horse-race coverage, the talk about Knox as "unstoppable," or about other candidates as the "only alternative," etc., is pretty much crap. This race is wide open, with probably half of all voters still in play. Newspaper endorsements are likely to come out next week and make an impact, the types of ads that candidates run are likely to sharpen, and voters will start to tune in to the issues coverage and other discussion as the calendar flips over into May.

Thus it's important to get discussion going wherever you can -- talk up the candidate you really care about -- and also to be willing to support the right person, as you see it, rather than presuming that only this guy or that guy has a chance. I don't know how many people I've heard say, in particular, that they'd really like to support Nutter, but thought he had no hope, and thus they figured they'd better vote for [Fattah/Brady] lest they end up with Knox. That's not the right way to be thinking at this point -- this is a primary, the field is wide open, and it's not the time for cynicism and hopelessness. Our votes, our activism, can make a real difference in such a close race. We should be supporting the candidate that we think deserves to carry our banner and run the city.

And thus I think it's appropriate for me to say that better Nutter photo I'm endorsing Michael Nutter for mayor. I've had the opportunity to see all of the candidates in person, as well as to read about their positions and watch them debate, and Nutter made by far the strongest impression. Not only is he clearly smart and well-spoken, familiar with City Hall and how the city works, but he speaks with a genuine passion about Philadelphia and its residents and what needs to be done here. He talks about violence without resorting to simple one-shot solutions, arguing that we need not only more police, but a better system to support and monitor prisoners when they are released, better oversight of violence-plagued neighborhoods, and better early intervention to keep kids in school and out of trouble. He's serious about the desire to improve city education, so that all parents will be glad to send their kids to public schools and so that more of them will graduate and go on to productive lives. And he clearly sees the linkages between education, violence, and poverty, and the need to address them all together. More even than these insights, he brings a proven dedication to better government, and an energy and earnestness that can inspire listeners. Michael Nutter as mayor could give Philadelphians pride in their city and hope again, after some years of anger and division. I'll be voting for him on May 15, and I hope you'll join me.

Edit: I guess I should include Nutter's website! Still lots of time to make a donation, volunteer some time, get involved. (Same for our other endorsed candidates, who can be viewed from the sidebar link.)


Monday, February 19, 2007

Making a difference without fanfare

Untermeyer speaking at TempleI'd like to bring to your attention a small citywide race featuring somebody who just wants to make the government work better -- a race where some publicity and some volunteer time could really pay off -- Mike Untermeyer's race for Philadelphia Sheriff (website here). I knew little about the office or this candidate until he came to talk to a neighborhood meeting, and yet I think he generated more excitement than even the Council and other candidates that stopped by.

Why you should support him:
  1. He's incredibly qualified for the job, having worked as a District Attorney, helped fight money laundering, and even has some real estate experience. (A lot of the Sheriff's Office work involves sales of properties that are seized for tax delinquency.) In fact, he's probably overqualified -- see the whole run-down here.

  2. His motivation really seems to be just making one chunk of city government function more effectively.

    • He talked about the frustrations of watching criminal cases get thrown out because the sheriff's staff would fail to have the defendant in court for their trial (over and over).
    • He described the waste in the lackadaisical way that the office is run -- it seems to be the backwater endpoint for all kinds of political favors, and the Sheriff hasn't had a challenger in more than a decade -- and the unacceptable (really shocking) handling of funds found by the comptroller (see two reports linked from the campaign site).
    • He seemed to have numerous ideas for helping some people hang onto their homes (e.g., making older residents aware of reverse mortgages that can help them cope with rising taxes), as well as for making sheriff officers a better-trained reserve to help the overtaxed city police at times of particular need.

  3. Almost all the press that I could track down on Sheriff Green was negative, including unfair fees on destitute homeowners, and questions of conflicts of interest over real estate dealings. (Even more grim history here.)

  4. You can see the more detailed list of reasons that Untermeyer's campaign gives for why it is important to you that the Sheriff's office do its job better. This is a narrow niche in which very concrete improvement could clearly be made, and Mike seems serious about making a difference.
This race is far enough down the (already crowded) ballot that many Philadelphians won't even vote it in the primary. So it's a race that could be won by only a handful of votes -- help spread the word and put a dedicated civil servant into office.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The politics of hope

Marc in actionAs long as we're coming clean with early picks, let me say I strongly support Marc Stier for City Council At Large. It's not just because I've enjoyed his lengthy chewy blog posts, but because I've been able to see him in action on the Neighborhood Networks Steering Committee (and on several critical early subcommittees), and he's one of the most impressive folks working in the political and activist realms right now, and extremely dedicated to the principles he propounds. He seems to work 36 hours in a day, and yet still bring a sense of humor to difficult discussions, and all of those things mean that causes in which he is involved simply make progress faster than they would without him.

Marc seems always to be incredibly well informed on every issue facing the city (he picks the brains of the experts and seems to take in and synthesize what they say), he knows local politics well enough to be a good judge of where pressure can be applied and change can be started, and he is a good speaker capable of changing people's minds and pulling together coalitions of people who might not have thought that they had interests in common. Sounds a lot like a real leader, no?, and he's a true progressive trouble-maker as well, extremely unlikely to suffer ideal-rot once in office. Anyway, if you want to know his stances, a bunch of issues are addressed here, but if you really want a good overall sense of the man and his vision, it's worth investing the 7-8 minutes to watch this video (currently the lower of two on that page) from his speech at this summer's NN conference.

There are several other strong progressive candidates this year, so there's room for quite some excitement (and need for volunteers!) on many fronts; I hope to give space to some others as events or announcements merit. I'm unlikely to stump continuously for Marc in this space, but I do intend to work for his campaign, so I wanted to make my plug now and encourage others to consider giving some time and energy to him. For that matter, set aside a little time just to find out who's running in your District Council races, as well as to get a sense of the field of At-Large candidates (see some introduction here). These are races that get a fraction of the votes that the mayoral primary attracts, and yet City Council can have a huge effect on the future course of our city on many fronts. This is a good year to work (and vote!) for positive change.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

At-Large City Council Forum

As promised, here are my notes from Thursday night's event (sponsored by Neighborhood Networks and held at the Itailian Bistro on Broad Street downtown); I didn't check any names for those who weren't known in advance, and I also should make the disclaimer that my notes were abbreviated and thus may omit some points made or other impressions. But I did fill up both sides of the two sheets of notepad paper shared with me by another audience member, so perhaps there's enough to find of use...

There were a dozen candidates present, and probably 100+ people in the audience -- enough that a number had to stand throughout the event. The candidates were seated in a ring on a raised platform, and the rest of the space had tables with 4 chairs each---a higher ratio of chairs would have helped, but the restaurant staff were busy elsewhere and probably couldn't get through the crowd anyway.

Before the event got underway, there was quite a hob-knobbish scene as people flowed in, some in suits, some more casual; some apparently supporters of some candidate, most there to figure it out; a few reporters (though they may have represented only the Public Record). Among those glimpsed here and there working the crowd for their own ends: [mayoral candidate] Tom Knox, [recent and probably future State Rep. candidate] Larry Farnese, [likely District Council candidate] Vern Anastasio, and [likely District Council candidate] Irv Ackelsburg. Aside from those and some NN Steering Committee folks, however, most of the crowd was new to me. The crowd, like the candidates, were quite diverse in age and race (maybe 60/40 white/black, with a smattering of others). They were quite interactive, applauding some points made by the speakers, giving talk-back to various issues and discussions ("you preach it!" or "don't we know" and so forth), and generally creating a lively atmosphere very attuned to what was being discussed.

Gloria Gilman (NN Chair) gave a brief introduction to the organization and the event, and then John Hogan took over as MC of the forum itself. [It was announced that Jim Kenney was unable to make it due to a prior commitment, but hoped to attend any future such event.] First the candidates would each have 3 minutes to introduce themselves and their aims (going in alphabetical order), and then each would be given a "lightning round" question chosen randomly from a batch of prepared questions (going in seating order). (All of these were, I think, gleaned from the extensive questionnaire that the NN elections committee has prepared for citywide candidates seeking our endorsement; see here.) I'm going to present these two phases as two lists, for simplicity (I hope). First, the introductions -- just some out-takes:
Rev. Jesse Brown (around 50, black, N. Philly)
Touched on the importance of healthcare issues, anti-casino activism, eminent domain, environmentalism, city home rule. Had a good populist cant -- call and response with the crowd, quite dynamic, motivated/-ing.
Maceo Cummings (around 50, black, W. Philly)
A quieter presence than Brown (lost a bit by the contrast), he talked about having spent his life in community service. He spent most of this time telling his resume, which seemed largely financial -- comunity development.
Derek Green (around 40, black, not yet formally declared)
He gave his background, which appeared to be financial and legal. His motivation for entering the race would be to "end the culture of violence" and that's basically all he talked about here -- Blueprint for a Safer Philadelhpia may have been something he was involved with.
Bill Greenlee (50+, white, Fairmont)
Talked about his work in Fairmont, as Councilman David Cohen's chief of staff, as 15th Ward Leader, and his interest in working with all groups who want to make the city better. Talked about the speed entry he's had into Council in the last month, becoming chair of the Law and Government Committee, etc. Said that the challenge of the future would be how to keep government services running in the face of seeming zeal for tax cuts (and said he'd come down on the side of services, if a conflict arose). All good thus far, but then he brought up the issue of having been criticized for how he was s/elected -- this elicited grumbles from the crowd and made him sound defensive -- saying he's as progressive as anybody that the critics would like to see in office. Running long, wrapped up by quick mentions of housing, crime, and transit as top issues.
Elmer Money (45, white, NE Philly)
Not sure who this guy was, but he appeared to feel out of his depth (inexperienced? Republican?). He had a written speech prepared, then filed it away, then kind of went with "there has to be a better way" and "I want to make a difference" and sat down.
David Oh (40-50, Asian, SW Philly)
Background in D.A.'s office, army, legal services center; has served on many impressive Boards and Commissions. He was well-spoken and earnest, talked about the need to build on the city's strengths -- mentioned the Delaware River dredging issue and how it could increase port jobs by 10-fold, the need for improved education, etc.
Blondell Reynolds-Brown (40+, black, incumbent)
Mentioned that she worked her way up from committeewoman, had been a teacher. Said that she was interested in business and the arts, but decided to focus most of her efforst on children. Gave the example of the stadium dispute of a few years back, and how she wrangled a tie-in to benefit kids via a 30-year agreement that the teams would chip into a children's fund that could be given to various nonprofit organizations and programs. She has also sponsored childcare bills, and vows to continue making that issue her focus.
Ben Ramos (50+, Hispanic, N. Philly?)
He gave his educational history (M.S. in Community/Economic Development), worked with the Housing and Development Agency, various other boards. In politics, he was chief of staff for Councilman Angel Ortiz, Deputy Mayor under Rendell, and a State Rep. (!), working on Health and Human Services committee and Urban Affairs. He mentioned that the city is facing some complex issues in coming years, including increasing benefits costs, need for ethical reform, neighborhood development, and tax reduction. He was softspoken and earnest.
Matt Rubin (around 40, white, Northern Liberties)
He was the head of the Northern Liberties Civic Association, and has been an activist on issues including abortion access, HIV, and fair housing. Said his two top issues were education and jobs, but also mentioned overhauling the zoning code, ethics, economic fairness (specifically that we must have growth with justice), and maintaining community diversity (rather than letting gentrification push people out), bridging the ethnic divides that have been used to turn us against each other. Cleary a kindred spirit to NN folks. He had a good exhortative style that got the crowd behind him -- great quote near the end (from some philosopher): "A society of sheep begets a government of wolves."
Marc Stier (around 50, white, Mt.Airy)
Worked with West Mount Airy neighbors, saw "how the system worked," which is that it *doesn't* -- favors the connected. His theme is that "politics in Philadelphia is broken" and that we need to replace the "politics of fear with the politics of hope." Speficially, he talked about overcoming the discriminatory structure of local government (need to know somebody to get anything done), to let ourselves try some policies and programs used successfully in other large cities, etc. Mentioned working on our economic corridors, inclusionary housing, violence, and letting people stay in their homes "during the good times, after they stayed through the bad times." He also has a good style while hitting his high points, got the crowd excited. [Also one of NN's founders, so by definition sympatico.] Ended with a short (anticlimactic) note thanking the other candidates for being willing to "come to my house" (an NN forum) for this event, saying he "looked forward to visiting yours."
Sharif Street (35, black, N. Philly?, dreadlocked)
Talked about his background as a lawyer, involved with affordable housing, drug addiction efforts, the Broad Street empowerment zone. Tried to distance himself from charges of nepotism by talking about parents who were "a hot-dog vendor and a substitute teacher," and that although they've done well, he's making his own way. Emphasis on remembering where you come from...
Andy Toy (35+, Asian, not yet declared)
Working on economic and community development (CDC). Mentioned the importance of the community coming together behind common goals, mentioning the battle to keep a new stadium out of Chinatown a few years back. Also spoke on the need for Philadelphia to promote our assets better, as well as to improve fairness and protect diversity in the city. He was quiet but well-spoken, and it was unenviable to go last after a long line-up.
On the whole, this was a more impressive showing than I had expected. No loons or losers, although clearly some had made more of an impression than others. From there we went pretty directly into the question round (although a portion of the crowd took off). I was happy that some of the people whose introduction had been more resume than policy got into some chewier material in response to their questions -- perhaps all the issues and crowd responses were getting some cross-pollination going.
  • Q: What steps do you think the city can take to increase the amount of material we recycle?
    A: (Stier) There's a great pilot program, Recycle Bank, that has been working like crazy (ties recycling to an economic growth stimulus, saves city money) -- we just need to care enough to put it into practice.

  • Q: Would you repeal, modify, or retain the current system of property tax abatements for new construction?
    A: (Toy) Interesting question. It might be that some parts of the city no longer need that incentive, others perhaps need more. We also need to give some thought to what we'll do with the additional revenue stream as past abatements end -- perhaps an affordable housing fund could be established.

  • Q: There is a shortage of 60,000 housing units for poor people in Philadelphia, and rents are skyrocketing. What do you propose to deal with this situation?
    A: (Rubin) tax abatement $$ could be used to subsidize affordable housing. One neighborhood was able to get such an agreement from a local developer, and the city's leverage is much greater...

  • Q: What changes would you make in how the city and related agencies contract for services? [Actually, I'm not sure whether he was asked that question or "What standards of behavior or operation do you think the city should require from businesses that receive contracts or benefits, such as tax abatements or subsidies, from the city?" Notes too minimal.]
    A: (Green) Talked about a program in Baltimore (CitiStat?) that helps oversee the effectiveness of city services...

  • Q: What steps can the city take to reduce handgun homicides?
    A: (Cummings) Before we can make any policy work, we need people to feel like the government cares, and also need people to feel good about where they live. [Lots of crowd agreement here. He warmed up a lot from the first time.]

  • Q: What role, if any, do you think casino gambling should play in Philadelphia's economic development?
    A: (Greenlee) We have to accept that they're a done deal and make the best of it. Glad Harrisburg left the city in charge of things after all. Need to watch carefully that comunity benefits agreements are honored...

  • Q: How would you exercise the city's leverage over SEPTA to improve its service and performance?
    A: (Street) We should ask that levels of city service match those in the suburbs -- we especially need to improve cleanliness and safety, so people will use more. Should also help SEPTA pressure the state for funding. Made an interesting note that gas tax money goes for highway improvements but not to help with city streets; if we could change that, we'd free up money for doing more with transit locally.

  • Q: What role should local communities have in determining whether and how casinos and other developments are built and operated?
    A: (Money) Neighborhood input is key to any large addition to the region...

  • Q: What measures would you support to protect low-income homeowners from rising property taxes in the wake of gentrification?
    A: (Brown) Don't want to tax people out, may need financial help not only with taxes but with upkeep of their properties.

  • Q: How would you regulate campaign finance in Philadelphia?
    A: (Ramos) The current bill is in the right direction but not enough. Ideally, we need public financing, but at the least we need better disclosure and clarification of how enforcement will proceed.

  • Q: What municipal services in Philadelphia do you think are most in need of improvement?
    A: (Reynolds-Brown) The big problem is that departments and agencies don't talk to one another, so they aren't working as efficiently in delivering services as they should (example of parallel programs for children run in 3-4 different departments with no coordination)...

  • Q: How would you deal with the financial difficulties of the Philadelphia Gas Works?
    A: (Oh) Need a clear way to look at different groups of users... Need more budget overall to help PGW among others -- off onto economic growth ideas, talking about the zoo as a city asset (but that the train doesn't stop there!), leveraging the tech/pharma health sector, bringing more people in by investing in infrastructure, tech. transfer... The crowd got restless over the change of subject, but he did what he could with an issue he clearly didn't know much about. Finally, Hogan ended things with a joke about how it's always the Republicans who run long.
Anyway, a range of chewy chat; I think everybody in the room was pleased and revved. I was happy to see that the majority of this group was intelligent, well-informed, and well-spoken. With a couple of exceptions, I could see any of them doing the job decently. Sharif Street, who gets the most flak, was better than I expected, although hardly wowing. But the folks who made the best overall impression on me were Brown, Oh, Reynolds-Brown, Ramos, Rubin, and Stier; Cummings and Greenlee also seemed reasonble. These are pretty early days, so you can expect all of these people to become better informed and polished, and we can hope that we'll hear more about all of their policy positions and priorities in the next few months. It's also likely that more candidates will emerge from the woodwork, and I'd still like to hear from incumbents Kenney and (Juan) Ramos. But at least we've kick-started the process, and gotten the candidates thinking about issues and voters before they get too wrapped into the political gamesmanship part of the process. The candidates appear to have enjoyed the experience as well, and at least one said he'd be doing some research about the issues raised by the questions. All in all, a great start!

oh, for those who want to know, there are seven total At-Large seats, of which two are reserved for the minority party (Republicans). Thus, presumably Democratic primary voters will be picking their top five from the final pile...

Update 2: for another perspective on the event, see this report at the Philadelphia Independent Media Center.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday round-up -- pre-election edition

  • Last-minute candidate scrambling

    • Senate candidates rev up their bases.

    • Swann continues to push (against dim poll predictions).

    • Surprise news: suburban House races tight. no, really?

    • Sestak campaign has weekend of GOTV fervor -- I'm sure many campaigns have had similar schedules.

    • Presumed mayoral candidates prefer not to talk about how tomorrow's results could affect their plans. Or they say they won't be affected.

  • Voter info
    I recommend that anybody uncertain about election logistics buy today's Inquirer, which has pages in the first section devoted to polling place locations, listing every person on every ballot by region, and even walking you through the process with photos of the machines. The same information does not appear to be mirrored online, so you'll have to consult various sources to put together for yourself the things you need.

    • Unsure where to vote? See this or this site to enter your address and find out.

    • First time voting in this area? Here's a primer on the machines. (Also, if it's your first time at your current address, be sure to bring a photo ID.)

    • Philly Future has an assortment of links to other resources and tools.

    • The Daily News summarizes the ballot questions that will appear tomorrow.

  • Recommendations

    • Inquirer summarizes its PA state-level endorsements today, and yesterday they summarized their higher office endorsements for both sides of the river.

    • The three ballot questions attract a mixed batch of recommendations which are hard to sort out. The DN piece linked above mentions the major party positions on only the statewide matter. The DN gives its own recommendations and rationales here, which can be compared and contrasted with those of the Inquirer, which appeared Friday here.

    • You may or may not be interested in my own opinions. If so, here are some.

      • In the races that I have followed, I'm pretty much favoring a straight Democratic vote this year, with the possible exceptions of McIlhinney for State Senate, and the 7th District City Council race, where I make no preference. In all the major races in the greater Philadelphia area, I really think that the Democratic slate is strong, offering some exciting opportunities to improve how our nation and our region are governed, and I encourage supporting them. Will be keeping my fingers crossed for the excellent but slightly long-shot candidacy of Tim Kearney in the Northeast Philly area, where he's taking on Perzel.

      • I differ from both major papers in my feelings about the ballot issues. (However, I also feel radically unclear on the history or context of most of them, so I'm not as clear on the choices as I'd like to be.)

        1. On the statewide question, concerning belated compensation for veterans, I make no recommendation -- surely we are acutely aware of the hard lives of veterans, and it's nice that PA has usually offered them something, but this strange option to have a bond issue 15 years after the fact strikes me oddly -- why can't the legislators agree to fund it? Not sure what I'll do myself.

        2. On the first local issue, having to do with minority contracting, I think it's good to have benchmarks and accountability, and both parties appear to support this move. I'm just not sure why you need a charter change to require a report, and I can imagine future problems with that system. But, on balance, perhaps a qualified yes; use your own judgement.

        3. On the second local measure, I find that I have a stronger opinion. The measure would attempt to compensate the families of police officers and fire fighters who are killed in the line of duty, by giving their children hiring preferences for civil service jobs (adding a few points to their exam scores). The argument is made that a similar benefit is offered to veterans. However, this parallel and thus this innovation seem misguided to me. (a) A distinction should be made between preferences offered to those who have sacrificed for the public (and perhaps lost seniority, training time, etc. to overseas service) and compensation offered to those who have lost a loved one (to war, or to high-risk jobs like fire-fighting). Certainly there should be survivor benefits for families who lose a parent on the job, but I would think that their need would be more immediate than to bump up their children's employment chances, possibly decades later. Better would be a scholarship fund, etc. (b) Do we really want to expand the amount of nepotism and unfairness in the construction and operation of local government, just at a time when we're working for increased transparency and ethics reform? I think that good government principles dictate hiring the best qualified people you can find, for every level of civil service. So, much as I admire those who protect and serve our city, I recommend a vote against this well-meaning but misguided measure.

      Not sure how much help that is, but something to chew on, anyway...


Monday, May 15, 2006

Tomorrow's elections -- what They're saying, what I'm thinkin', etc.

Last year at this time, Philadelphia voters were faced with a confusing array of judicial elections, which I attempted to research and sort out. Small races, but city-wide. This year, some of the races are larger -- essentially choosing the winner in a number of state House races, and choosing party nominees for some US Congressional seats -- and yet the districts divide and overlap various parts of the city and its environs. Thus, providing a coherent set of recommendations (or even a good list of what races are out there) is difficult. This is an attempt to summarize a variety of races that I've been following, as well as endorsements and other discussions directly related to tomorrow's primaries. I'll update it if I bump across races or folks I might have missed.
  • For everybody: There are two ballot measures which will be on all Philadelphia ballots, no matter where in the city or what party you claim.

    1. Ethics referendum. Following up on last year's City Council actions to regulate campaign contributions by city contractors, as well as forward-going discussions to extend those controls and add other restrictions on Philly's pay-to-play culture, tomorrow's ballot measure enables (via a Charter amendment) the establishment of an independent Board of Ethics to oversee enforcement, etc. This is key because current oversight positions report to the Mayor and other folks who might have interests in how such enforcement proceeds. If you want more details on the measure, see this explanation, and the Sunday Inquirer also had a longer piece on supporters' hopes for this ballot question.

      This one should be a no-brainer: vote YES. Everybody is behind it, from the Committee of Seventy, to Neighborhood Networks, newspapers, blah blah. (My ward/committeeperson, of course, strangely silent.)

    2. Surveillance referendum. This is a delicately worded measure asking for voter opinion about placement of cameras in "high-crime" neighborhoods around Philadelphia. I sympathize with residents of such areas, but sadly there's no evidence that such cameras reduce overall crime rates or do anything more than move the bad guys to a different corner. However, the wording of the current measure stipulates that any plan would be carefully screened to protect civil liberties, and it really only calls for discussion of the notion. Thus, both major city papers have encouraged a yes vote on this one. Neighborhood Networks took no stand, nor could I find any mention of this on Committee of Seventy's website, probably reflecting the fact that it's a bit too early and vague to get worked up about.

      I intend to vote NO on this one, but understand that those hearing gunshots more frequently may feel that they don't have the luxury of passivity.

    3. US Senate. Republican Rick Santorum is currently unopposed, but the Democratic slate features three candidates, summarized briefly here. Robert Casey is the annointed choice of the Democratic Party, having been asked to run by national leadership figures after a strong showing in his statewide Treasurer race that made him appear the best choice to beat Santorum. He's solid on labor and poverty issues, more conservative on social issues. Both of his opponents are significantly more progressive, but have had a hard time getting heard. The Inquirer endorses Casey, Neighborhood Networks and Philly for Change chose Pennacchio, NOW endorsed Sandals. The city party pretends that the latter two candidates don't really exist, but they have volunteers who feel otherwise.

      I recommend that Democrats who long for more progressive representation vote for Pennacchio or Sandals; there's plenty of time to come together behind the winner before the fall general election.

    4. Lieutenant Governor. Governor Ed Rendell has no primary opposition, but his Lt. Gov., Catherine Baker Knoll, does. Valerie McDonald Roberts is posing a surprisingly strong challenge from western PA, garnering the endorsements of the local progressive groups such as Neighborhood Networks and Philly for Change, as well as the paper and a smattering of ward groups. The current LG has not been a terribly visible presence over the years, but seems known more for missteps than for any positive contributions; in contrast, Roberts brings some energy and dedication to a range of causes such as public education. (There are also a number of independent and third-party candidates for this position, but I'm not clear whether they'll appear on primary ballots.)

      I recommend a vote for McDonald Roberts. She would balance the ticket as the incumbent does (and racially as well), but presents better prospects for work in current office as well as a more palatable potential Governor, should Rendell find himself appointed to some national position.

  • US Congressional races of note (see a full list here, although it has some errors!):

    1. Vote Murphy! Patrick Murphy is my choice over Andy Warren in the 8th district, and Lois Murphy over Mike Leibowitz in the 6th. I've given both of these candidates a lot of links over the last few months, so I'll just leave it at that. (Their Republican opponents are unopposed.)

    2. I think that the other US races are uncontested. Will fix if incorrect...

  • State House races (see maps of districts here and/or see this). There are a ton of these, but not all are contested. Two have gotten a lot of attention this year and are bound to be nail-biters:

    1. 182nd features incumbent Democrate Babette Josephs under assault from a Clean Sweeper named Larry Farnese (see short descriptions here). The former is a longtime legislator known for progressive stances and having some leadership positions; she has been endorsed by the party as well as by Neighborhood Networks. The newcomer claims a progressive background, but his campaign materials seem more focused on business interests and taxes than on social issues and civil liberties, and he is backed by local union boss John Dougherty (as well as by the 5th Ward leader, still holding a personal grudge against Josephs after losing to her 20+ years ago).

      Taking the pay-hike was stupid. But I still much prefer Babette to this business operative. Vote Josephs in this race.

    2. 175th is a close three-way between Mike O'Brien (onetime staffer of the departing rep), Terry Graboyes (longtime committeeperson and business woman), and Anne Dicker (progressive activist) -- see short blurbs on the candidates here. That ordering reflects my approximate guage of their relative indebtedness to the party "machine," but all three claim longtime progressive credentials. Philly for Change endorsed Dicker, one of its founders, and the City Committee endorsed O'Brien, but many other organizations have stayed out of this one. Some fear that the progressive vote will be split between Graboyes and Dicker; others think that the "politico" vote will be divided between O'Brien and Graboyes. Dicker is working the street with a host of dedicated volunteers, while O'Brien and Graboyes run TV ads in an expensive market. Some ward groups have nearly come to blows. Nobody knows which way it will fall, so anybody with a horse in the race should be putting in the time tonight and tomorrow.

      I like both Terry and Anne personally, and am somewhat glad that I don't have to pick a button in this one. However, my heart is rooting for Dicker, who has a lot of energy, genuine progressive commitment, and the desire to help build a coalition in Harrisburg over the long haul.

    3. 188th sees longtime incumbent James Roebuck being challenged by real neophyte Devon Cade (see blurbs here). The W. Philly part of Neighborhood Networks strongly supported the incumbent after talking to both men.

      I agree -- Roebuck in this race.

  • Even more local: look for new names and faces at the polls this year. There are a lot of folks running for neighborhood ward committee positions, both in empty races and in places where the incumbents haven't been doing all they can to connect their constituents to the party. The last few years have brought a number of new people into the political process, through get-out-the-vote efforts, candidate campaigns, and issue education efforts. It's time to get some of them inside the machine . . .
For background to some of the above, here is the Inquirer's summary of their endorsements in a number of races. Also see the archives of this blog (or search them by candidate name) for further background on the races and choices. More other stuff in another post.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Election tomorrow -- an ACM voters' guide

check the box!Tomorrow is election day throughout the country, and the sort of tiny election where a few extra folks can make a big difference. Here in Philadelphia, it's really important that everybody who cares about honesty and transparency in government turn out to vote for the Charter Change ballot measure, which will be at the far lower-right of your ballot. If you need to know more about why this is a good idea, see the summary at Committee of Seventy's website; you can also download a flyer here for your workplace and/or polling place to encourage others to support the measure.

Beyond that, there are a number of smaller city offices on the ballot, as well as a raft of new judges and choices to retain older judges. A quick summary with my recommendations:
  • District Attorney: I'd rather Seth Williams were here, but Lynne Abraham is clearly more qualified than her opponent. Vote for the Tough Cookie or leave it blank as a feeble protest.

  • Controller: the Inquirer chose not to endorse, and the Daily News favors the Republican, Levinson. However, this office is going to become increasingly important as the city institutes financial oversight of campaigns and city contracts, and his cavallier acceptance of gigantic contributions is enough on its own to make me distrust Levinson. We recommend Butkovitz, who has done well as a State Rep.

  • There are a bunch of Common Pleas judges, many listed on both tickets. I can't track down the number you are allowed to vote for, but here's my ranking of the options:
    1. Definitely vote for Shulman, Tucker, Bronson, Butchart, and Heffley, all of whom we recommended in the primary.
    2. Consider adding Cunningham and Eubanks, also generally viewed well.
    3. I recommend leaving the rest blank, however many you're allowed, but by no means vote for Palumbo or Harris -- despite my Ward leader's claim that "incompentents were weeded out in the primary," the bar thinks these two don't cut it. They'll probably be elected anyway, but at least it won't be on your hands.

  • Municipal court: We endorsed Moss and Jimenez in the primary, so be sure to vote for them again. I have no opinion on the others.

  • Traffic court: no opinion. These candidates are pretty far down the food chain.

  • Judicial retention: we recommend that you vote to retain all the judges. State conservatives are trying to oust a couple of progressive Supreme Court justices, in particular, under cover of anger about the summer's pay-hike, but I don't think that's the right way to make decisions about important posts. See more arguments by Ben Waxman here. Vote to retain.
That's it for this round. There will be a lot more sparks next year, but be sure to turn out this year for the ballot initiative, even if nothing else, so we can give our local polticians a reason to think we take ethics reform seriously.

Update: A friend with lawyerly insights sends this about the Supreme Court Justice retention issue:
While I'd agree wholeheartedly that Newman should be retained, Nigro is another matter. He has a long history of being investigated on ethical issues; this year's problematic campaign contributions are the rule rather than the exception. And even on a court not known for its intellectual stature, he is no standout.
So there may be reasons for one no-vote here. I'm just not clear that those are the ones being used to motivate a fractious populace...

Update 2: Anybody living in wider parts of our region, or wanting to double-check my picks against somebody else's, can see the Inquirer endorsements for PA and NJ.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

So, about that ethics reform measure...

Inquirer columnist Chris Satullo exhorts Philadelphians to start a revolution by going to the polls on November 8 and voting yes on the Home Rule Charter ballot measure.
Through this five-minute act, you'll activate a significant reform of the squalid, pay-to-play culture of city government. Even more important, you'll send the political class in town a message its members try very hard not to hear.

The message is the same one Howard Beale urged TV watchers to howl out their windows in the film Network: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more."
The bill it enables will help squash the quid-pro-quo culture of government contracting, but it also puts politicians in general on notice that we're interested in more than bread & butter issues -- that we demand better government. Today's column also builds on the Sunday Inquirer editorial saying we've had enough trials and indictments of government officials, and it's time for reform. This is also a call to vote Yes on the ballot measure.
The law bars businesses, including officers, partners and related political action committees, from receiving no-bid city contracts valued at $25,000 or more - if they have donated more than $10,000 annually to city candidates or elected officials. Individuals would be barred from getting no-bid deals if they'd contributed more than $2,500 annually.

That reform is aimed directly at the pay-to-pay culture whereby businesses and individuals spread campaign cash around liberally, exploiting the city's Wild West campaign-finance atmosphere, then get the money refunded (and then some) by obtaining lush city contracts.

This ethics reform would also put in place extensive disclosure requirements for all players in the process. Sunlight is one way to disinfect a corrupt process.
If you need any further convincing, Philadelphia's political watchdog, The Committee of Seventy, also advocates a yes vote, and a constellation of local groups have joined their effort. Mark your calendars for November 8, and if you do nothing else, say yes to this measure!check the box!

(We'll offer our thoughts on judges and other races as the date draws a bit closer...)


Monday, May 16, 2005

ACM's Democratic primary Voter's Guide

Obviously, we encourage Philly voters to vote for Seth Williams for D.A. However, most voters will be more perplexed by the host of options further down the page. After reading whatever we could find, and cross-referencing the endorsement lists of the Philadelphia Inquirer, NOW, ADA, Naral, our Ward 5 Ward leader, and a few well-connected friends, we offer these recommendations (from a grantedly progressive perspective):

Common Pleas Court Judge: (8 votes allowed)
  • Ellen Green-Ciesler
  • Sharon Williams Losier
  • Ann Butchart
  • Leon Tucker
  • Glenn Bronson
  • Susan Schulman
  • Marilyn Heffley
If you want an eigth choice, the runners-up are Charles Cunningham and Joyce Eubanks. They have very different sorts of recommendations (Inquirer and Ward for the former, NOW and Naral for the latter), so I couldn't make a solid choice between them. Choose your level of iconoclasm.

Municipal Court Judges: (3 votes allowed)
  • Nazario Jimenez, Jr.
  • Brad Moss
  • Beverly Muldrow
Two already in office, and one newcomer with lots of progressive recommendations.

Traffic Court Judge: (pick 1)
  • John Furey
Apparently you only need a highschool education for this job, which explains a lot about the service they provide. Picking the guy with experience but fewer machine connections. I will admit to a modicum of whim here.

City Controller only offers one candidate.
On Growing Greener II, vote yes. (It's not everything one might wish, but it's a start.)
No recommendation on the gun thing, but given that it's sort of permission to consider doing something, I feel it's ok to vote it in. A long way from a meaningful measure.

Ok, that's it! Hope somebody finds this helpful!

Update: Don't be surprised to find a couple of other small races at the bottom of the ballot, but all with only one candidate. Local elections officials and the like...