Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Democratic Party defends our system of electing judges by insisting on the critical importance of the voters choosing judges. Judicial candidates meet the voters, listen to their concerns and respond to their questions. Many judicial candidates themselves have said that meeting voters in neighborhoods around the city has been an educational process for them.

However, despite arguing for the election of judges, leaders of the Philadelphia Democratic Party cynically encourage judges who plan to retire to do so at the last minute, thus opening up new judicial seats. Since it is too late for candidates to run in a primary, the party has the power to appoint the Democratic nominees in the general election and thus short-circuit the electoral process. Instead of being elected by the voters, the nominees are chosen by a small group of party leaders and, given the overwhelming Democratic voter registration edge, they are almost certain to win in the general election. Chris Brennan has noted that appointees for these last-minute openings, known as magic seats, enjoy “fast-track candidacies for 10-year judicial terms paying $212,495 per year while not having to raise money for an expensive primary, hire political consultants, or even campaign.”

So much for the importance of meeting the voters.

The judicial candidates who run in the primary are interviewed and vetted by a range of community groups which endorse candidates aligned with their values. For the Democratic Party, the main criteria for endorsing candidates appear to be providing pro bono legal work for the Party and willingness to pay a substantial sum to the Party, ostensibly to defray the costs of printing and disseminating City Committee’s sample ballot.

The chief beneficiary of our system of electing judges is not the citizenry but rather the Philadelphia Democratic Party. Party Chair Bob Brady is quite open about this. The Inquirer reported Bob Brady’s dismissive remark in response to progressive challengers to the results of ward leader elections: “They want to go to court? That’s fine,” he said. “One thing I have is plenty of attorneys. We’ve got a lot of people who want to be judges.”

Brady’s remark underscores what is wrong with our system. It is difficult to become a judge in this city without spending substantial sums on payments to the Democratic City Committee, to Democratic ward leaders, and to Democratic ward committee people. The encouragement of “magic seats” is one of many examples of how the Philadelphia Democratic Party undermines democracy.

In the wake of the January 6 insurrection, there has been much discussion of the fragility of our democracy and the need to strengthen our institutions and the democratic culture which sustains them. The essential work of defending democracy begins on the local level.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Seth Anderson Overman for the 8th councilmanic district!

On February 11, I attended the campaign launch for Seth Anderson Overman, candidate for the 8th councilmanic district. I've been to many such events over the years and they always provide some insight into the candidate's prospects. Seth's launch was probably the best attended, most enthusiastic campaign launch I’ve attended in recent years. It had more the feel of a social movement than that of a traditional campaign-- appropriate given Seth's background as a civil rights activist as well as a union organizer.

Among the most powerful of the testimonials was Chris Rabb's tribute to his good friend, whom he described as a good person as well as a gifted organizer with the intellect, the values and political skills which will enable him to make a real difference in the lives of citizens in the 8th district. Also among the most memorable speeches was Seth's wife's soft spoken, gracious tribute to her husband.

The event got a little raucous at times with one speaker acting a bit like a stand-up comedian, but when Seth spoke with dignity and conviction, the audience quieted down; everyone seemed to realize that this was serious business, an opportunity to make real change. Seth spoke about his values and positions on issues. See Seth on the issues:

When I watched everyone walk out, they all looked very happy. Finally a candidate they could support with enthusiasm,a candidate they really believed could make a difference in the lives of people in the district and the city. I saw a few people who live outside the district. They know political representation is not just geographic; it's also ideological. Seth will initiate/ support initiatives that will help working people city-wide and will advance the local progressive movement.

When later in the day the euphoria of the launch wore off, I faced the reality that his would be a struggle--a winnable fight--but a real struggle nonetheless. Seth started his campaign late and has a lot of ground to make up. However, he's been quite successful at fund-raising despite the relatively late start. Defeating a long-term incumbent takes money and let's hope Seth's supporters will do as much as they can to fully fund his campaign. You can contribute to his campaign at Seth for the People