Talk to political pros, and they’ll tell you that for some important races in Philadelphia this spring, among them the battle for City Council seats, the outcome will depend less on issues and ideas than on basic, street level politics — like getting or buying the support of ward leaders, and putting your own field workers out on Election Day.
We’re going to talk to a veteran of just that kind of politics. Howard Cain spent years as an operative for South Philadelphia state Sen. Vince Fumo, who you may know went to prison in a notorious political corruption case. A prosecutor once called Howard Fumo’s Karl Rove. Howard testified against Fumo in that case after the feds discovered he hadn’t been filing income taxes. He plead guilty and became a government witness. I’ve known Howard for years, and we sat down recently to talk about how he approached campaign politics.
On challenging nominating petitions:
“One way to get people off a ballot or get signatures off a petition is to challenge the circulator. Circulator is the person who takes the petition around and asks people to sign it. When they are done, they have to sign an affidavit at the bottom of the petition. They have to be a registered voter in the jurisdiction in which they’re circulating. They have to be a member of the party their candidate is a member of. And if any of those things are not there and you can prove that to the court, the whole petition gets tossed. So if they’ve got a full petition of 50 names, and you can knock out the circulator, you took out 50 names. And if they’ve only got 443, and you take out 50, bingo: they may be off the ballot.”
On gaining the support of ward leaders:
“If you are a candidate that they really want to support, they will tell you how much extra it’s going to cost…it could be anywhere from $100 a division to $200 a division [there are roughly 20 divisions in a ward]. And I will tell you that at times I have run incentive campaigns. I’ve looked at the numbers and said OK, in this election, historically, you get a 43 percent turnout. That’s what we expect for the additional money…and then I used to say 43 percent is the base. You go to 50 percent, we’ll kick in an extra $100 a division. If you get to 60 percent, we’ll kick in an extra $200 a division.”
On uniforms for your election day campaign workers:
“For your own workers, you want to use something that stands out because one of the things that has to happen is somebody’s got to monitor what’s going on. You’re paying people, you want to see that they show up, that they’re doing what you’ve asked them to do and what you’re paying them to do. And the way I did that was to make really ugly colored t-shirts. And you have to get them like 2-XL or bigger because people are just going to put them on over their normal clothes. But if they’re like orange or lime green or magenta, they stand out and you can look down a street and see if your people are there.”
For more campaign words of wisdom from Howard Cain, click above to listen to the interview.