Recently The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “The city’s Democratic Party organization invited 27 Philadelphia judges to a buffet breakfast this week and asked them to pay $10,000 each to assure party support.”
A Daily News editorial called the event “a stick-up.” Anyone who pays attention to judicial elections in Philadelphia knows the process is riddled with corruption. But our local press doesn’t connect the dots. Reporters who are well aware of the corruption documented by the Inquirer are unwilling to shine a light on these undemocratic practices in the Philadelphia Democratic party – to cite a recent example, the failure to seat duly elected committeeperson Tracey Gordon. (City Paper’s Holly Otterbein who broke the Tracey Gordon story is a notable exception.) City Democratic Party chair Bob Brady can use judicial elections as a moneymaker because he has for the most part a docile group of ward leaders and committeepeople who in many cases have political patronage jobs. (I’ve often wondered why there is no investigative reporting of what are often referred to as “sponsored” positions–city jobs doled out by ward leaders. Can an economically struggling city really afford this?) You can run this kind of judicial shakedown operation only if you are confident that enough committeepeople and ward leaders will go along. Tracey Gordon did not intend to be a docile committeeperson who was there just to take orders. She was unhappy about the lack of voter participation in her neighborhood and ran to increase turnout in her division. This may not be what some ward leaders want. But energetic committeepeople who want to educate voters and increase voter participation are just what we need. We’ll never clean up Philadelphia’s political mess until more civic-minded people run for these slots. And how many of these folks will choose to run if they know that the ward leaders are allowed to ignore the will of the voters and to refuse to seat duly elected committeepeople they may not be able to control? If we had more independent committeepeople and ward leaders, the kind of judicial shakedown operation reported by the Inquirer would be a whole lot harder to pull-off.
Karen Bojar is a member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus in Philadelphia and has served as a committeeperson in the 9th ward (Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy) for the past 25 years. She is a former Philadelphia NOW president, and writes about women and retirement at The Next Stage.