Will November 5th be Independents Day?

(October 2019)

Democrats and Republicans have had their opportunities to run Philadelphia.  Could Independents do better?  There are 17 members of Philadelphia's city council. Ten of the members represent city neighborhoods while seven additional members are elected to represent the city at large.  Political parties may only nominate five candidates for those at-large seats so no one political party can hold all seven seats.  While some share a mistaken understanding that this all means that the Republican Party is guaranteed those two final council-at-large seats, the truth is that any party can win representation on city council.  With Democrats dominating local elections and routinely winning enough votes to win five of the at-large seats, the question is whether candidates of any party besides the Grand Old Party can win enough votes to claim one or both of the final two seats.  Can the November 5th election be Independents Day in Philadelphia?  More important, should Election Day be a chance for Independent Party officials to govern?

Democrats in Philadelphia have managed the affairs of government in an unsatisfying manner, but it is hard to argue that Republicans have done much in recent years to demonstrate that they have anything to offer Philadelphia in terms of better ideas about governing.  The Republican Party has offered little competition in races for most local political offices and has not articulated a compelling vision for Philadelphia to win elections.  Where the Republicans have had power to exercise, they have failed to be an effective loyal opposition and have even contributed to the grotesque aspects of local governmental ineptitude and worse.

The Republican-controlled Philadelphia Parking is the city poster child for waste, mismanagement, and more.  Republican silence and acquiescence has been necessary for every recent story of governmental corruption and abuse of power from abuses of councilmanic prerogative in disposition of city-owned land to the problematic acquisition of new voting machines.  If Republicans did nothing more than point out every way in which the ruling Democrats we're failing Philadelphia, they would serve a very productive role even if they never managed to enact a single policy change.  That low bar for success has proven to be a high hurdle for the local party of Lincoln.

So, it may be a good thing that Philadelphia has a number of independent candidates for city council at-large on the ballot November 5th.  A few of the independent candidates have made news by generating endorsement from elected Democrats --which may or may not be positive depending on how one feels about the Democratic stewardship of the city for the last 70 years.  Curiously, the notable Ds who have called on voters to vote for someone other than a Democrat in the General Election have not confessed which of the five Democratic at-large candidates they will not vote for in order to support their endorsed independent candidate at the polls.  Perhaps most interesting, while there has been a lot of attention paid to defeating Republican at-large council members, there seems to be no concerted effort among Democrats to unseat the lone Republican district council member.  With no Democratic candidate vulnerable in the General Election, the full "might" of the Democratic machine is available to concentrate all of its efforts in support of the Democratic challenger in Northeast Philadelphia's 10th District.  The fact that tangible party support may not materialize for a Democrat running against the city's only Republican district council member could tell a lot about city politics.

If Republicans do not offer an effective opposition, the question must be whether council members who represent a non-major party might.  Would independent candidates do more on city council to advance policies to make Philadelphia a preferred place to live, work, and visit?  Would independent candidates do more on city council to provide citizens with budgetary transparency and governmental accountability?  Would independents do more on city council to call out the casual corruption that compromises Philadelphia government in so many ways?

Most of the independent candidates on the ballot are left-leaning, politically. Those who believe in the power of government to address societal woes should care passionately about wasted public funds because spending those funds could help solve Philadelphia's problems.  But, many independent candidates have not made a focus on government efficiency and effectiveness a major focus of their platforms.  Those who have rejected participating in either of the major political party Primary Elections might have qualms with the leadership of currently elected officials (or lack thereof) and their tolerance for malfeasance and misfeasance in city government.  But, many independent candidates have worked to build closer ties to the political establishment instead of criticizing it.

Philadelphia elections have often felt like Veterans Day so the promise of new faces in elected offices is a positive thing.  But if independent candidates are going to provide a reason for Thanksgiving, they need to offer more than just a lack of membership in the major political parties.  They need to offer true independence --and the promise of providing a voice for change in a city that desperately needs a different direction.