Sunday, May 22, 2022

New political landscape demands new Democratic Party Leadership

Candidates from all walks of life are running for and winning public office; the ranks of those aspiring to become elected officials are no longer dominated by those with backgrounds in law and business.

The old route to election, gaining the endorsement of the Democratic or Republican Party, is no longer the road to victory, either in Philadelphia or for state-wide races in Pennsylvania. Conor Lamb, whose campaign was based on his presumed electability and who was endorsed by a host of elected officials, lost to John Fetterman by a 30 point margin state-wide. In Philadelphia, he came in third place (25%) behind John Fetterman(36%) and Malcolm Kenyatta(33%). A cautious, conventional politician who presented himself as a centrist, he was the kind of candidate who won in Pennsylvania in the past, but he was clearly not the candidate of the present moment.

The value of party endorsement has dwindled over the years and in some cases has arguably become a liability. Party endorsement did not help Lamb and served only to demonstrate that the party establishment was out of touch with the electorate.

Democratic Party endorsement counted for little both in the statewide race and in several high-profile races such as Chris Rabb’s race for a state house seat in Northwest Philadelphia. Rabb’s opponent was endorsed by every elected official in the Northwest, but Rabb won decisively with over 60% of the vote. In my conversations with voters, they frequently indicated they chose Rabb because of his political independence.

Political endorsements have declined in importance , but money matters, especially so in state- wide races. In the past, funds have been raised mostly through large donations. Now, a candidate with widespread support can raise significant sums through the contributions of many small donors. Still, a state-wide campaign demands considerable resources, and until we get campaign finance reform and public funding of campaigns, progressive candidates like Kenyatta will be at a disadvantage.

This is much less the case in local races, where candidates are likely to be known to voters. Given that Kenyatta was vastly outspent by his opponents, his high vote totals in Philadelphia are impressive, as are those of the progressives targeted by Bob Brady for defeat, Elizabeth Fiedler, Rick Krajewski and Chris Rabb, who were re-elected by wide margins.

The breakdown in political institutions that has led to progressive victories has led also to victories of Trump loyalists who believe against all evidence that 2020 elections were stolen. For progressives, the breakdown of the Democratic Party machine is an opportunity to work towards building a society committed to economic, gender, and racial justice. However, the breakdown of the Republican political machine has left the Democrats with far more frightening opponents than the Republicans of the pre-Trump era. The major challenge for Democrats is to engage young voters, especially young voters of color, who trend Democratic but who do not vote their numbers.

However, the Democratic Party has turned to candidates who strike most young voters as a return to the past and has at times sent the message that progressives do not belong in the Democratic Party. I have heard Democratic Party activists argue that progressives should not be running as Democrats but should run as third-party candidates because they are not really Democrats. They seem unaware that there is a long tradition of progressives building a base within the Democratic party. The labor movement did this; the civil rights movement did this. Also, there are progressive caucuses in many state legislatures and a progressive caucus in Congress. Progressives are an integral part of the Democratic Party.

Party Chair Bob Brady seems to be putting more energy into defeating progressives than into defeating Republicans. He ran an ugly campaign against progressive incumbents in conjunction with a PAC affiliated with the Republican Party. This city deserves better. We are, for good or ill, a one-party town, and almost all our elected officials pass through the Democratic Party. Given this, we cannot afford a Democratic Party leadership whose endorsements are so out of touch with the electorate, who are unable to motivate more than 20% of citizens to vote in mid-term elections, and who are so threatened by progressives that they focus on defeating them rather than the real threat posed by far-right Republicans.

In June, Ward leaders will elect party leadership. If new leadership is not elected in 2022, there will not be another opportunity for four years. We can’t afford to wait.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Why I support Malcom Kenyatta for US Senate

If everyone who thought Malcolm Kenyatta was the best candidate voted for him, he would have a very good chance of winning. Although Malcolm may not win, I think he will do far better than expected. I would like to see his campaign do well as an investment in the future. He is foregrounding issues of racial/gender/economic justice, and a strong showing for Malcolm will mean a strong showing for those issues and demonstrate that people of color can do well in an increasingly diverse state like PA.

I’ve decided to vote not on grounds of presumed electability, but for the person I would most like to see in the Senate.

The three major candidates currently agree on many issues such as abortion rights; however, there are differences in emphasis . Also, some of Conor Lamb’s progressive positions are relatively recent, which raises questions about his core beliefs. Organizations such as Pro Publica, Roll Call and Intercept have documented : the evolution of his positions.

John Fetterman’s positions for the most part have been held consistently over a longer period; however, his personal behavior has at times been troubling —e.g his pursuit of an unarmed African-American with a shotgun. Granted, this was a one-time occurrence, not a troubling pattern of behavior, but it is cause for concern.

Malcolm has the strongest and most consistent record on a range of progressive issues and perhaps differs most dramatically on environmental issues.

Kenyatta supports a moratorium on new fracking sites and an end to tax breaks for producers in the Commonwealth. Fetterman and Lamb, both of whom are from the western part of the state, oppose any ban.

We know the candidates’ positions on issues currently on voters’ minds. We don’t know how they will respond to issues before the Senate in the years to come. All we have to go on is what they have stood for in the past and what life experiences they bring to the public policy debate. Malcolm will bring the perspective and experiences of an African-American gay man from a working class background—a perspective sorely needed in the Senate.

It is worth looking at what groups and individuals have endorsed in this race.

There is a progressive movement building around Malcolm, including unions generally thought of as progressive such as : SEIU Pennsylvania State Council; American Federation of Teachers; Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; AFT Pennsylvania, AFT Local 2026, Community College of Philadelphia; AFSCME Local 1199C; AFSCME District Council 33; Temple Association of University Professors; Teamsters Local 623; and Teamsters BMWED.

And progressive organizations such as: Americans for Democratic Action; Collective PAC; One Pennsylvania; Working Families Party; Democracy for America; Victory Fund; Brand New Congress; the Chester City Democratic Party; Chester County Young Democrats; Philadelphia 1st Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 2nd Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 8th Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 18th Ward Democrats; Philly for Change; the 22nd Ward Open Caucus; Neighborhood Networks; Liberty City LGBTQ+ Democratic Club

Other than Pennsylvania NOW, Conor Lamb has few endorsements from the progressive community. Lamb is courting endorsements from some of the most conservative segments of Philadelphia politics— the Northeast Philly ward leaders.

Conor Lamb presents himself as the kind of centrist candidate who can win in Pa. That may have been true in the past, but Malcolm’ Kenyatta's candidacy challenges that expectation. Malcolm is pushing back against the narrative that he cannot win: ““I don’t think people have to look like me or love like me to know that I’m going to fight for them… I think that the perspective that I bring is critical not just to have ornamental diversity, it is about policy.” He told the Inquirer: “I reject this idea that Pennsylvania is so bigoted they would never vote for me.”

Finally, we need political leaders who will inspire voters—especially young voters-- to re-invigorate our hollow democracy. We need political leaders who will educate voters about how our system of government works and about the tools they will need to make government work for everyone. The candidate best equipped to do this is clearly Malcolm Kenyatta.