Yes, I'm asking you to vote for a Republican: Singer and Schmidt for Commissioner

Are you really asking me to vote for a Republican?

That’s the question I get all the time, when I encourage people to give one of their two votes for City Commissioner to Al Schmidt. (The other one, of course, should go to Stephanie Singer.)

I’m a liberal / progressive Democrat. I don’t recommend people vote for Republicans often. I’m pretty sure the last time I voted for Republicans it was for my dad for Village Justice in my hometown of Liberty, New York. New York elections have some peculiarities. One allows for cross-party endorsements. My dad was a Democrat but, knowing they could not beat him for reelection, the Republicans endorsed him. And knowing that I might not ever have a chance to vote for a Republican again, I voted for him on the Republican line.

We have some electoral peculiarities in Philadelphia as well. One of them mandates that only two of the three City Commissioners can come from one party. Another gives us only two votes for Commissioner. Given that rule, each party nominates only two candidates for Commissioner. And given the overwhelming registration edge of Democrats in the city, the two Democrats win. Only one of the two Republicans will win.

So if we liberal / progressive Democrats use one of our votes to vote for a Republican, we can decide which of the two Republicans will hold the seat.

Vote for Al Schmidt and Stephanie Singer

Now why should we do that? Because one of the Republicans, Al Schmidt, is committed to good government as is Stephanie Singer, the leading Democratic candidate for Commissioner.

Make no mistake, Al is a Republican. He believes in economic policies I don’t care for. And he wants to build up the Republican Party in Philadelphia which is not my goal (although you could make a case that stronger competition with Republicans would keep Democrats honest.)

But all of that is irrelevant to the position of City Commissioner. As Commissioner, Al Schmidt and Stephanie Singer can do two things which should important to all Philadelphians.

Fair, Transparent Elections

First, both Al and Stephanie are committed to fair, transparent elections. That means the both will support the end of practices that help the Democratic machine and the Republican establishment such as moving polling places at the last minute; hiring officials to run election who have an interest in the outcome; and turning a blind eye to the various ways in which politics is played dirty here: intimidating voters, directing them in the polling place, and stuffing absentee ballots.

Turning out Voters

Even more importantly, Al convinced me that, as City Commissioner, he will put the interests of Philadelphia ahead that of the Republican Party. And he understands that a high turnout in the city benefits the city as a whole, as well as Democrats. That is why he, along with Stephanie, oppose the Voter ID bills and are open to new ideas about increasing turnout in the city.

Four or five years ago, Ray Murphy and I led a delegation to meet with Commissioner Edgar Howard. We had a set of ideas for encouraging turnout—including printing election reminders and polling place location on utility bills and using the city’s robo-call system to urge people to vote. We made little headway. (I discussed some of these ideas, and explained why the City has a responsibility to urge people to vote in a blog post I wrote at the time.)

Singer and Schmidt are supportive of these ideas. They’re also talking about reaching out to community groups to get them to encourage people to vote. And they have both responded positive to something I recently proposed to them: seeking foundation funding to carry on non-partisan GOTV campaigns that might, for example, include canvassing and phone banking. (Foundations support this work, but haven’t done in as much in Philly as they might because no officials have asked them.)

We can make a difference this time.

The other Republican, Joe Duda has been a Commissioner forever and is tied to the old Republican hierarchy. We are not going to see any change coming from him. The other Democrat, Anthony Clark is going to get elected either way. I’ve heard him say some encouraging things recently, but he’s not committed to the reform agenda I just set out.

So Schmidt and Singer are the obvious choices for progressives.

This is going to be a low turnout election. There aren’t all that many Republicans in the city to begin with. Progressive / liberal Democrats are more likely to vote than any other bloc in the city. So we can make a real difference in this election. That’s why Neighborhood Networks and the ADA have endorsed Al Schmidt and Stephanie Singer. Philly for Change may do so tomorrow.

So please join this progressive effort. Cast this one vote for a Republican, because it’s most important step we can take this year to reform elections in Pennsylvania and encourage people (who will be mostly Democrats) to vote in primary and general elections.

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