Tuesday, May 29, 2012

After two years, the will of the voters is upheld in the Tracey Gordon case.

After two years, Tracey Gordon and the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC) won Round 1! In 2010, Tracey Gordon was elected to be a committee member of the 40th Ward in the Philadelphia Democratic Party, but despite that election, she was denied her seat by the vote of the Ward. See “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” The Philadelphia Democratic Party and its chair, Bob Brady, refused to fix the problem.

Despite repeated attempts to resolve the matter by Tracey, her supporters, her attorney Irv Acklesberg, and the PDPC, it wasn’t resolved until Irv Acklesberg filed a lawsuit seeking not only to reinstate Tracey, but to permanently enjoin future election nullifications by the Philadelphia Democratic Party. See the chronology of the case posted at YPP.

No doubt realizing that it would lose the court fight, the Philadelphia Democratic Party reinstated Tracey Gordon. On May 17, 2012, under the direction of the Party, the 40th Ward voted to rescind the illegal resolution it passed almost two years ago. Because Tracy is now serving as a Deputy City Commissioner—a job in which she is continuing to protect the right to vote—she had to resign from her elected position. (City ethics rules do not permit employees to hold party office.)

It took two years to get the Democratic Party to honor the will of the voters. Isaiah Thompson’s Citypaper article is a fair and accurate account of the chronology of events and recent developments in the case. I was struck by the comment of Dan McCaffery, an attorney for the Democratic City Committee in this case: “This is about a group of individuals who identify themselves as the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus trying to oversee or take charge of the Democratic Party of Philadelphia.”

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus was formed not to take over the Party but to encourage more progressives to work within the Democratic Party, to make the party more transparent, more “small-d” democratic, and by doing so, to make the Party more attractive--especially to young people. McCaffery’s comments remind me of opposition to feminists' struggles for gender justice in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Those hostile to feminists assumed they were seeking role reversal rather than equality.

As Irv Acklesberg stated (as reported in the Citypaper article): “The case was never just about [Gordon],” he says. “It was to prevent the party from doing this, and we're still trying to do that. … They want to retain the power to nullify elections, and the purpose of this lawsuit is to make sure that there is no such legal power so that courageous people like Tracey Gordon will come forward in the future...and stand up to this dictatorial party.”

The Tracey Gordon incident was the catalyst in the formation of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. Remedying this injustice was critically important, but our goals are broader. The case now moves to Round 2. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus is seeking to take the baton from Tracey and continue this fight for a permanent injunction. We are awaiting a court ruling on that effort.

In partnership with a range of civic and advocacy organizations, the Philadelphia Progressive Caucus plans to develop materials and run workshops to encourage more people to run for committeeperson. The Democratic Party in many parts of the city is an empty shell with many committeeperson positions unfulfilled or filled by people who are not actively engaged in educating voters and getting out the vote. We intend to change that.

When I do voter registration work, I encounter more and more young people of all backgrounds who want to register as Independents. It’s getting harder and harder to convince them (especially those who identify as progressives) that there is space for progressive politics in the Democratic Party. The Philadelphia Progressive Caucus hopes to encourage significant numbers of progressives to run for county and for state committee in 2014. If we can’t guarantee that if they win election that they will be seated, how will we ever convince them that Democratic Party is worth their time and energy?

A note of thanks to Citypaper: Our major dailies, the Inquirer and Daily News have generally ignored the internal workings of Democratic Party—a real problem, given that 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 Citypaper for covering the Tracey Gordon issue and especially to Holly Otterbien. Most of us would not have known of this betrayal of democratic values without her story which first alerted citizens to the Tracey Gordon case.

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