Election day in Philadelphia – the knives come out

    It’s election day in Philadelphia, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of little pieces of paper will be handed to voters entering polling places, and if experience is any guide, those sample ballots will have much to do with deciding who runs our government and who sits in judgment on us in court.

    Candidates endorsed by the city Democratic party are expected to pay Democratic city committee $35,000 to be on the Official Democratic Ballot handed out by the foot soldiers of each of the city’s 69 Democratic ward leaders. But smart politicians know the 35 large won’t really do the trick.

    They know it’s a common practice for many ward leaders to “cut” some candidates from the ballots they hand out and subtitute others whom they like, or whom they’ve been paid by. So if you’re running citywide, you need to pay the party 35, then pay individual ward leaders something like $1,000 each to ensure you’re in with thems that matters.

    If you’re not among those endorsed by the party or well-received by ward leaders, you improvise. You get your own sample ballot cards printed, and get all your friends and relations to volunteer for a long day of handing them out. And if you’ve got the cash, there’s a cadre of field “consultants” who can help. These merry bucaneers may claim to quietly get you on a ward leaders ballot for the right sum, or supply their own army of 50, 100, or 500 field workers to “cover” polling places for the day.

    You can’t really trust most of them, but there’s only one election day, and you’re afraid if you don’t spend the scratch and get them on your side, your rivals will. So every election day we see candidates cleaning out savings accounts  and borrowing from relatives to come up with the last five grand they hope will put them over the top.

    Ah, democracy.

    I’ll cruise some polling places and report what I find as the day proceeds. Three upstart candidates, Council hopeful Andy Toy and city commissioner candidates Stephanie Singer and Blair Talmadge have pooled their money for a sample ballot with their names and some judicial candidates who’ve paid them a few grand for inclusion.

    Singer, though not really a political insider, is leader of the 8th ward in center city, and says she has commitments of support from 6 other ward leaders, which leaves 90 percent of the ward leaders with her opponent, Marge Tartaglione. But it’s something, and Singer is hoping to catch a wave of reform-minded voters who’ve had enough of Marge. We’ll see.

    UPDATE: A Singer campaign spokeswoman called to say the seven ward leaders Singer cited to me (including herself) were simply ones she named off the top of her head, and that her organizational support is far broader. She couldn’t say exactly how many of the 69 Democratic ward leaders would back Singer, but said it was “far more” than seven. I’ve seen Singer’s name on Democratic ballots in the 46th ward in West Philly and the 57th in the Northeast – not ones I would necessarily have expected.

    And I have to offer a thought on yesterday’s strange development in the 8th Councilmanic district in northwest Philadelphia. Self-funded candidate Howard Treatman crossed the $250,000 threshold in the city’s campaign finance law and triggered a doubling of the contribution limits in that race.

    But the announcement came too late for other candidates to take much advantage of it. Treatman’s last $35,000 contribution came Thursday. He had 24 hours to report it, so the filing came Friday. The weekend descended, and it wasn’t until mid-day Monday, the day before the election before the Ethics Board issued its statement increasing the contribution limits.

    I asked Treatman late yesterday if he planned it that way. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t exactly say no, either. “It’s about doing the most you can with the resources you have, and staging the use of those resources in the most effective way possible,” he said.

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