Party of...

(June 2014)

I was just re-elected as a Committee Person for the Democratic Party in Philadelphia, which is a position of some consequence but little power.  It does, however, give me a front-row seat to Philly politics at its most granular level.  Will Rogers famously quipped, "I'm not a member of any organized political party.... I'm a Democrat."  As the link between my neighbors and the party of Jefferson and Jackson, I feel his pain.  In Philadelphia, Democrats rule with a monopoly on political power that would make a banana-republic dictator jealous, but that hasn't necessarily made a positive difference for our city -- or even for our political party.

Being a Democrat in Philly is a lot like being a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Our team always wins but there is no satisfaction in the victories.  We beat the Philadelphia GOP?  So what?  Northeast High has a tougher schedule. 

Including federal, state, and local executive and legislative posts, there are only two Republican office holders in the entire city who have won election.  (Three others hold the "mercy" positions we reserve for a minority party.)  What's the point of being virtually undefeated if we don't get the satisfaction in winning?  More important, what's the point of winning if it doesn't seem to matter?  

Party Pooper

For all our dominance in electing Democrats in Philadelphia, we haven't exactly created a progressive utopia or a shining city on a hill down here in the Delaware Valley.  What have we Democrats created with our half-century-plus political dominance in Philadelphia?  Jobs are down, poverty is up, and our schools are in perpetual crisis.  

Other cities can boast of more successful economic development and growth.  Despite some marginal progress in reducing crime and improving our municipal bond rating, we are still among the most crime ridden of the nation's largest cities and Wall Street considers us among the least desirable large American cities for investment.

I'm not sure at all that any other political parties would be better at running city government, but we Philadelphia Democrats have certainly set the bar for success pretty low.

Party Hearty

If being the dominant political party in Philadelphia isn't about achieving important policy victories to improve life in the big city or making positive change for our citizens, it has certainly not been about flexing our political muscle statewide.  Pennsylvania is currently the reddest of red states with the Governor's office, both houses of General Assembly, and the Supreme Court all in Republican hands.  If Philadelphia voters turned out in numbers, Democrats couldn't lose statewide elections.  But they don't.  Some of those political defeats have come courtesy of turncoat Philadelphia Democratic officials and their "consultants" supporting Republican candidates with Philadelphia votes or suppressed voter turnout.  Think of it this way -- when the Republican Party achieves a policy goal in Harrisburg, give the assist to the Philadelphia Democrats who endorsed and helped elect the Governor. 

Organized Political Party, Indeed! 

Yes, the state votes Democrat in presidential races, but that certainly seems to be a lot more about national campaigns energizing Philadelphia voters than the local party doing anything to create voter engagement.  There ain't no party like a Philly Democratic party ‘cause a Philly Democratic party don' much at all.  In fact, that may be the party's biggest strength.  By keeping voter turnout low, the party can dominate local primary elections by bringing out a reliable core of party faithful who can defeat outsiders.  More voters and more engagement might make for a stronger party in terms of winning statewide elections, but it would threaten the power of those who benefit from the status quo.

Party Of One?

But, what is that benefit?  If it’s not about making policy and not about making Philadelphia power count at the state, it certainly can't be about patronage for the party faithful, as we have been losing that battle as well.  Thanks to the excesses on the Democratic side and the power on the Republican side, we have lost political control of the Parking Authority and Traffic Court.  We even lost a local official -- bye-bye Clerk of Quarter Session.  With these losses came a loss of plum political appointments.  So loyal party workers now have fewer patronage posts and Democratic Party dominance in Philadelphia can't even serve to provide enough patronage to employ all party loyalists.

I would like to say that I represent a political party that is trying to set a successful policy direction for a city that has so much potential, but needs so much political change to move forward.  I certainly can’t say that today as a Philadelphia Democrat.  

Local dominant political control surely must benefit somebody, but it doesn't seem to be the sinecure-seeking party faithful, the true believers who want to enact progressive policy, or even Democrat candidates running for statewide office.  It's our party and we can cry if we want to, but while we wipe our tears, whoever is benefiting from the status quo is laughing at our expense.