In Eighth, an Election Day stew of money, clout and dreams

If endorsements matter, Cindy Bass would look to be in the best shape for tomorrow’s Democratic primary for the Eighth District Council seat.

If campaign cash matters, Howard Treatman still has a strong chance.

If having powerful civic leaders and ward leaders behind you matters, Verna Tyner is still in the hunt.

If name recognition leads to votes, Greg Paulmier’s long-time dreams could come true.

If miracles do happen, William Durham, Andrew Lofton and Robin Tasco can cling to hope.

Tomorrow, we’ll all find out how a lively, crowded Democratic primary campaign in the Eighth District sorts out at the polls.

Bass leads in endorsements

Bass has racked up a list of endorsements that dwarfs those accumulated by the other six candidates in the race.   Her lineup of endorsers is topped by Mayor Michael Nutter. It includes District Attorney Seth Williams, powerful state Rep. Dwight Evans, state Rep. Jewel Williams, and Cindy Bass’ boss, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.   Most of the influential unions in town are backing her, including District Councils 33 and 47 of American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Transport Workers Union and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. She got the nod from four newspaper editorial boards, the Inquirer, the Daily News, the Tribune and the Philadelphia Gay News. And, oh yes, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, too.

That all sounds daunting, but in a race where many voters seem to be looking for someone who is not party of the power status quo, Bass’ list of big-name supporters could be a double-edged sword – or least her opponents hope it proves to be.

Treatman is the only candidate who’s matched Bass’s spending. As of May 2, he’d raised $167,334 for the race, compared to Bass’ $139,092. A lot of Treatman’s campaign cash comes from his own private resources.  The other candidates lag far behind those two in terms of money spent and cash on hand for a final push, though Paulmier did report $39,000 cash on hand as of May 2.

Tyner has racked up a few endorsements of her own, including those of the 9th, 11th, 12th and 17th Wards. She’s backed by state Sens. Leanna Washington and Shirley Kitchen. And she got an endorsement from incumbent Donna Reed Miller. Given Miller’s unpopularity with some in the District, that was also potentially a double-edged sword. It became even more so Friday when the city Board of Ethics raided Miller’s Council office, investigating whether Council office resources and equipment were improperly used to support Tyner’s campaign.   Tyner has been supported throughout by several influential residents of the district, including Trolley Car Diner owner Ken Weinstein.

Ward leaders could tip result

So does any of this matter when the talking ends and the actual voting begins tomorrow morning?

Several veteran political hands in Philadelphia say money always matters, in terms of being able to put money on the street on Election Day to turn out your voters. And ward leaders could play a big role in this election, they say.

Mark Nevins, a campaign operative who’s working for several Council candidates this spring, but none in the Eighth, says a race like this, with no incumbent and a crowded field, puts a lot of clout into the hands of ward leaders.

Political strategist Ken Smuckler agrees with Nevins about the importance of ward leaders.

“They have an ability to talk to super-voters and super-voters are primarily who is coming out in this election,” says Smuckler, who is not working with any city candidates at the moment.

If voter turnout in a larger ward is strong, he said, it could make the difference on Election Day.

Former Eighth District candidate Irv Ackelsberg thinks the impact of ward leaders depends on which part of the District you’re talking about: “There are wards where what their ward leaders do has a lot of weight and then there are other wards where it doesn’t have much weigh at all in terms of result.”

In a few Eighth District wards, he says, voter turnout is traditionally very low and so a ward leader’s recommendation means little in that atmosphere of apathy.

In other wards, voters typically turn out, but don’t have a lot of confidence in the local leadership or simply don’t plug themselves into the ward decisions.

“In some places, the ward endorsement might actually be viewed by voters as a reason not to vote for someone,” says Ackelsberg.

A particular candidate’s roots in a particular ward can also potentially mean more to voters than how the party leadership is leaning.

Not a done deal yet

Ackelsberg still thinks the result in the Eighth is up in the air.

Jim Foster, the weekly newspaper publisher who ran in 2007 as an independent, agrees. Many voters, he says, probably are still struggling with the choice today.

“It’s really going to be a real crapshoot,” he says.

Foster says in a crowded, open race, traditional predictors for campaign success, such as ward support and flush financial backing, won’t be as important.

What will, he says, will be whatever controversies have been unearthed most recently. Foster says Eighth District residents had some stomach for corruption in urban politics, but have had enough in the wake of the national recession.

The collapse of Germantown Settlement, for example, is still fresh in minds. The social service and housing agency recently went bankrupt, and faces a court-ordered dissolution.

The election could turn, Foster says, upon “whatever is stirring in the community, whatever is percolating, whatever is rumbling around the rumor mill in the days leading right up the election.”

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