The Philadelphia Democratic Party is worse than I realized. I’ve been a committeeperson for decades in the liberal oasis of Philadelphia's 9th ward. Curious about how the Democratic Party works outside of the 9th ward, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and run for Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. (This may turn out to be one of those careful what you wish for experiences.)
A recent incident in Southwest Philly reported in City Paper made me think I should be focusing on my own backyard rather than State Committtee . Holly Otterbein’s “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” ”is a must read for Philly progressives.
Six residents of the 40th Ward, in Southwest Philadelphia, decided to run for Democratic committee positions. Most of them were community leaders but new to politics. They said they were motivated by a desire to improve the appallingly low voter turn-out in their neighborhood and to improve the quality of life in their community.
The Democratic Party challenged their petitions and 5 of them were either kicked off the ballot or withdrew. Tracey Gordon survived the petition challenge and she won the election with 38 votes. Here’s where it gets really interesting. According to Holly Otterbein,
...on June 7, at the ward's first post-election meeting, deputy chair Gregory Moses suggested that the committee oust Gordon. He cited a bylaw to support his position:
"If at any time in the opinion of the majority of the entire ward committee, a member is unfaithful to the Democratic Party and the best interests of the party, or refuses, fails or neglects to work in harmony with the ward committee, the ward committee shall be empowered to remove said person from its membership."
The committee agreed, and unanimously voted Gordon out......
Gordon asked for a copy of the bylaw she broke. That request was denied. She also phoned the DCC, Philly Democratic kingpin U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party about the meeting, but heard zip back.
"How can a ward go against the will of the citizens who elected me?" she asks.
She still doesn't even have a copy of the bylaw used to toss her out.
What I found especially interesting is that the party officials would not produce a written rule: I had a similar (although far less outrageous) experience at Democratic State Committee. See My new volunteer project: The Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee
It turns out this rule does exist in written form in the Party’s by-laws. We progressives must protest Democratic City Committee’s unseating of a duly elected committee person and demand the removal of the clause which allows a ward committee to overturn the results of an election. To quote again from the City Paper article:
Though Gordon and the group's plight might seem like small potatoes, it speaks to a larger, more troubling issue: If the DCC can so easily push out an elected committee person simply because she wanted to bring in new blood, how will potentially corrupt elements in the party ever be weeded out?
There is the argument quoted in City Paper that "Parties are essentially private,” and can do whatever they want. Granted they are technically private organizations; however, in a one party town like Philadelphia the Democratic party fulfills a quasi public function. Almost all our elected officials-- the mayor, district attorney, controller, most city council representatives and all local judicial candidates-- hold office by virtue of winning a Democratic primary. The way the Democratic Party operates has consequences for all our citizens.
Well, it looks like I have another volunteer project. I’m trying to interest some organizations I belong to to form a network of Philly progressives who work within the party structure. Often we do not know of each other’s existence. We have no way of communicating with each other and supporting each other.
If we were organized, when the party does something egregious, there would be an organized group which could take some action and try to combat the cynicism and apathy which allows the Democratic City Committee to get away with making a mockery of democracy. If we achieve modicum of success, it might encourage more progressives and fair minded citizens of all poltical persuasions to run for committee person slots.
Bottom line: We have to speak out against what happened in Southwest Philly. If those of us who are committee people and thus representatives of the Democratic Party in our neighborhoods, don’t speak out, then we’re complicit.