Thursday, March 8, 2018

I had not expected this: Only 5 more Democrats filed for committeeperson in 2018 than filed in 2014!

Center: Steve Paul, Chair Democratize Philly

I had not expected this. In my book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party, I predicted that the green shoots of democracy which emerged in the 2014 committeeperson elections would take root in Philadelphia neighborhoods and result in a revitalized ward system in 2018.

On January 15, 2018 a group of progressive organizations announced the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition initiated by ADA to recruit and support progressive candidates to run for Committeeperson. In January and February organizations such as Caucus of Working Educators, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Moving Philly Forward, Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia and 3.0 ran workshops on how to run for committeeperson.

The level of activity and degree of enthusiasm appeared to be much greater in 2018 than was the case in 2014, suggesting that discontent with the undemocratic Democratic Party may be finally reaching a tipping point.

However, the numbers suggest otherwise. Dave Davies reported that 3,267 Democrats filed to run for committeeperson, only five more than in 2014. And only 513 Republicans filed for committeeperson, down from 788 four years ago.

Davies turned to Jen Devor, who ran committeeperson trainings for an explanation of these disappointing numbers. Devor suggested that perhaps fewer incumbents were running and so the mix contained a larger proportion of newcomers. She suggested that longtime committeepeople might not be running because "it’s a more competitive race this time around.“ Maybe. But there are other reasons long time committeepeople might be retiring. I am stepping down after 32 years as a committeeperson in the 9th ward because I think old folks should not be hanging onto these positions for 30, 40 years but should make room for a younger generation to fill these slots. I know others in in my age cohort who are retiring for this reason. I am happy to report that an energetic young woman will be running for the slot I’ve held for decades.

We won’t know until we learn the number of incumbents who chose not to run(for whatever reason), just how disappointing the 2018 numbers are. We also need to know where the newcomers are concentrated. According to Davies' report, City Commissioner Al Schmidt said that the neighborhoods with the highest number of candidates appeared to be in the Northeast and South Philadelphia where there are contests for ward leader.

Are they candidates who are running simply to support a particular candidate for ward leader, which is likely to be the case in the Northeast? Or are they candidates with a vision of how the ward system should operate or a political philosophy they would like to advance—-as is more likely to be the case in South Philly? The numbers are not what I had hoped to see; however, there may be a significantly higher number of people with a deeper commitment to political change than we had in 2014.

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