Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A tale of two meet-ups

Barely managed a double-header of political events this evening, one a Young Professionals gathering/fundraiser for Patrick Murphy (running for the US House, 8th District) and one for Anne Dicker (running for the state Assembly, 175th). Both are candidates who have generated a lot of excitement locally, and I hadn't met either, so was looking forward to putting some faces to names and stories. Murphy's race is quite high-profile nationally and has been underway for a number of months, while Dicker is prominent only among progressive activists and jumped into the race only a few weeks ago, when a seat became open at the last minute. Thus the campaigns are at pretty different scales and stages, and the events were necessarily something of a contrast. Anyway, my impressions of each.

The Murphy event (at a bar a few blocks north of Rittenhouse Square) was a bit of a Who's Who of local pols, with State Reps. Babette Josephs and Michael Gerber (another young rising star) giving introductions, fellow candidates Paul Lang (state Senate, Bucks) and Bryan Lentz (state Assembly, 161st) in attendance [all part of the alliance of veterans running for Democratic positions], and City Councilman Michael Nutter stopping by briefly to shake a few hands at the margins (before heading to an event of his own). Murphy himself was nice, direct and real, and gave a good speech that talked about things that needed changing in Washington and some specific things he'd like to focus on (from cutting the deficit to getting the government to buy medicines in bulk for public health purposes). His staff also impressed me -- for example, I spoke to a financial guy who was interested in getting Patrick to develop an online presence, but who demonstrated a meaningful understanding of the need to do it right or not do it at all (i.e., that a token blog brings only wrath from readers, rather than engaging possible supporters). In net, I was already a Murphy booster, because Patrick is a progressive running against a Republican yes-man, but now I can back my support with first-hand experience that he's also an earnest guy who's on top of his game. It also sounds like they may be announcing a big number for 1st-quarter fundraising, so the race is plenty live...

The Dicker gathering was in a bookstore just off of South Street. Having hustled across town, I got there about an hour after it started, and missed the formal talk (if there was one; a videographer might be planning to share the proceedings), although Dicker was fielding questions when I arrived. She seemed confident and enthusiastic, and was encouraging people to volunteer their time to go door-to-door and talk about her candidacy. I came in pretty certain that she would advocate the "right" viewpoints on various issues, based on the positions taken by Philly for Change, the Dean-for-America affiliate that she helped found and lead. However, I was a bit surprised that she wasn't a bit more on top of relevant local facts; for example, she was advocating taking action on the minimum wage to Senate President Jubelirer's home district/constiuents, but then she didn't know where his home base actually is (Altoona), and she was passionate on the need for controlling gun violence, but expressed a lack of familiarity with the bills currently under discussion at the state level. I grant that she's had to go from 0 to 60 in very short order, and that the focus of her efforts right now is probably on recruiting street troops and some donations to cover flyers and the like, but I feel like some knowledge of the issues should come just from being a political junkie, let alone a candidate. It's easier for many folks to rant about things that happen at the national level (and there's plenty that needs fixin') than to focus on the issues and measures that can be controlled more locally, and I guess I would have liked to see more mastery of the practicalities. On the other hand, I haven't seen other new candidates for state office "perform," so I don't know what the standard really is for polish and knowledge going in. Certainly, having a better grasp of the machine function but less ideology driving your candidacy is hardly a recommendation. Perhaps I'll have a stronger opinion after sizing up Terry Graboyes in coming weeks (unsure whether O'Brian will be reaching out my way, given likely party support).

I'd like to have a stronger opinion in this race than I currently do (even though it's not my district), especially with a progressive activist in the race, but I'm still collecting information (e.g., see the NN post from earlier today) and just feel that I don't know enough to commit my own energies yet. Perhaps this is what scares so many people away from primaries, where the policy differences aren't always so sharply defined nor the candidates so visible, leaving voters feeling unqualified to decide the party's fate. And yet here, where the primary is the race, we can't afford to stay on the sidelines. I hope to be in the game soon, and you'll be sure to hear more then.

[Updated with campaign/info links, 3/30/06]



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