There are real drawbacks to living in a one-party town. Recently the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
The city's Democratic Party organization invited 27 Philadelphia judges to a buffet breakfast this week and asked them to pay $10,000 each to assure party support when they face yes-or-no retention votes in November, according to judges who attended.
The figure is double what the party asked from sitting judges two years ago.
And the request was reportedly delivered with a warning from the party treasurer, former State Rep. Frank Oliver, that Democratic ward leaders would "cut" - withhold support from - judges who failed to pay, according to several witnesses.
Democratic Party Chair Bob Brady, who has a real talent for plausible deniability, left the room when the party treasurer made his pitch.
I don't know what was said at the meeting, because I wasn't there," Brady said Thursday. …. The Democratic Party, for the 25 years I've been there, has never endorsed or unendorsed anybody for monetary reasons. . . . A good-faith effort, that's what the party asks."
Of course nobody believes this. A Daily News editorial asks: "Dem Party courtship of judicial candidates a stickup?" Anyone who pays attention to judicial elections in Philadelphia knows the process is riddled with corruption. But our local press doesn’t connect the dots.
Reporters who are well aware of the corruption documented by both the Inquirer and Daily News articles have not wanted to report about the undemocratic practices in the Philadelphia Democratic party--to cite a recent example, the failure to seat duly elected committeeperson Tracey Gordon.(City Paper's Holly Otterbein who broke the Tracey Gordon story is a notable exception.)
Bob Brady and the Democratic machine can use judicial elections as a money-maker because he has for the most part a docile group of ward leaders and committeepeople who in many cases have political patronage jobs. (I’ve often wondered why there is no investigative reporting of what are often referred to as “sponsored" positions--city jobs doled out by ward leaders. Can an economically struggling city really afford this?)
You can run this kind of judicial shakedown operation only if you are confident that enough committeepeople and ward leaders will go along. Tracey Gordon did not intend to be a docile committeeperson who was there just to take orders. She was unhappy about the lack of voter participation in her neighborhood and ran to increase turn-out in her division. This may not be what some ward leaders want.
But energetic committeepeople who want to educate voters and increase voter participation are just what we need. We’ll never clean up Philadelphia’s political mess until more civic-minded people run for these slots. And how many of these folks will choose to run if they know that the ward leaders are allowed to ignore the will of the voters and to refuse to seat duly elected committeepeople they may not be able to control?
If we had more independent committee committeepeople and ward leaders, the kind of judicial shake-down operation reported by the Inquirer and Daily News would be a whole lot harder to pull-off.