Friday, June 17, 2011

I’m feeling a little more optimistic about Philly politics lately

I’m feeling a little more optimistic about Philly politics after reading
Holly Otterbein’s City Paper article on the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC)

Our major dailies, the Inquirer and Daily News have generally ignored the internal workings of Democratic Party—a real problem given this is a one Party town and it’s difficult for candidates (especially in low profile or judicial races) to be elected without some Party support. Many thanks to City Paper for covering this.

Municipal elections tend to get progressives focused on reforming the local Democratic Party. The last municipal elections cycle there was some talk of changing the Philadelphia Democratic Party, but after the election, it petered out.

This time rates to be different. Our focus so far has not been on individual candidates but rather on the way the Party operates. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus was formed in response to the party’s failure to seat Tracey Gordon, a duly elected committeeperson.

It was distressing to see how even some progressive ward leaders were willing to condone this on the grounds that none of the committeepeople in the ward voted to seat her. The fact that she was the clear choice of the voters apparently did not matter! The PDPC has managed to keep this issue alive and has filed a grievance with Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee

I was struck by the comments of party functionary Ann Brown quoted in the City Paper article:
“Ann Brown, a high-level staff member within the local Democratic Party, argues that committee people have to take orders at times: "If we don’t stick together," she says, "we can’t run a party."

How will the party ever attract committed, talented people if all they are expected to do is “take orders?”

We may finally have a critical mass of progressives who are serious about reform. More and more progressive candidates and their supporters have seen the way the Party operates up close and personal. And they don’t like what they see.

The closed structure of many wards has made it difficult for strong progressive candidates to win citywide. In this primary season, we have seen that in wards that are democratically run, wards where committee people actually VOTE on endorsements, progressive candidates like Sherrie Cohen and Andy Toy have a chance of being endorsed.

In addition to support for Tracey Gordon, after considerable discussion and many revisions, the PDPC adopted “The Open Ward Statement of Principles”based on a document by second ward committeeperson Mitch Goldin. Although the PDPC has not yet disseminated this document officially, some progressive caucus members have made good use of it. Pennsylvanians for Reform has posted it on their website and one committeeperson reported sharing it with committeepeople in his not-so-democratic ward to let them know that another ward model is possible.

By virtue of bringing together committeepeople from wards around the city, the PDPC is challenging the party culture which sees each ward as its own little fiefdom with committeepeople having a voice only through the all powerful ward leader. In response to being told, “It’s none of your business what happens in other wards,” our answer is low-turnout in the 40th ward hurts us all. (Tracey Gordon ran for committeeperson to try to increase the dismal turnout in her ward)

By supporting Tracey and bringing her case to the attention of State Committee, by starting a conversation among progressive committeepeople around the city, by developing a model of what a democratic, transparent ward should look like, the PDPC has made some progress. Having the caucus in place, having a network ready to respond when something like the Tracey Gordon incident occurs is valuable in and of itself.

Interest in this project will no doubt be much greater as we approach 2014 when we will once again elect new committeepeople. There will be generational change in the Phila. Democratic Party. Will the new leaders be mostly the children and grand children of the old guard or will they include a new generation of young progressives? It certainly should be easier to encourage more young progressives to get involved in grassroots politics and run for committeeperson if they know there is an organized group trying to change the culture of the Party.

If a democratic tide can sweep the Middle East, surely a movement for democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party is possible.

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