The Philadelphia Democratic Party is worse than I realized

I haven’t posted on YPP for a while because I’ve been doing a blog about Women and Retirement at

However, I find my self increasingly writing about politics rather than focusing on retirement issues. It’s become clear to me that one of the main reasons I retired was to be able to devote more time to my activist projects. My job was getting in the way of my volunteer work. However I just wrote a post which belongs more on YPP than on my blog (or any other blog that I know of), so I’m cross-posting here:

The Philadelphia Democratic Party is worse than I realized. I’ve been a committeeperson for decades in the liberal oasis of Philadelphia's 9th ward. Curious about how the Democratic Party works outside of the 9th ward, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and run for Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. (This may turn out to be one of those careful what you wish for experiences.)

A recent incident in Southwest Philly reported in City Paper made me think I should be focusing on my own backyard rather than State Committtee . Holly Otterbein’s “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” ”is a must read for Philly progressives.

Six residents of the 40th Ward, in Southwest Philadelphia, decided to run for Democratic committee positions. Most of them were community leaders but new to politics. They said they were motivated by a desire to improve the appallingly low voter turn-out in their neighborhood and to improve the quality of life in their community.

The Democratic Party challenged their petitions and 5 of them were either kicked off the ballot or withdrew. Tracey Gordon survived the petition challenge and she won the election with 38 votes. Here’s where it gets really interesting. According to Holly Otterbein,

...on June 7, at the ward's first post-election meeting, deputy chair Gregory Moses suggested that the committee oust Gordon. He cited a bylaw to support his position:

"If at any time in the opinion of the majority of the entire ward committee, a member is unfaithful to the Democratic Party and the best interests of the party, or refuses, fails or neglects to work in harmony with the ward committee, the ward committee shall be empowered to remove said person from its membership."

The committee agreed, and unanimously voted Gordon out......

Gordon asked for a copy of the bylaw she broke. That request was denied. She also phoned the DCC, Philly Democratic kingpin U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party about the meeting, but heard zip back.

"How can a ward go against the will of the citizens who elected me?" she asks.
She still doesn't even have a copy of the bylaw used to toss her out.

What I found especially interesting is that the party officials would not produce a written rule: I had a similar (although far less outrageous) experience at Democratic State Committee. See My new volunteer project: The Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee

It turns out this rule does exist in written form in the Party’s by-laws. We progressives must protest Democratic City Committee’s unseating of a duly elected committee person and demand the removal of the clause which allows a ward committee to overturn the results of an election. To quote again from the City Paper article:

Though Gordon and the group's plight might seem like small potatoes, it speaks to a larger, more troubling issue: If the DCC can so easily push out an elected committee person simply because she wanted to bring in new blood, how will potentially corrupt elements in the party ever be weeded out?

There is the argument quoted in City Paper that "Parties are essentially private,” and can do whatever they want. Granted they are technically private organizations; however, in a one party town like Philadelphia the Democratic party fulfills a quasi public function. Almost all our elected officials-- the mayor, district attorney, controller, most city council representatives and all local judicial candidates-- hold office by virtue of winning a Democratic primary. The way the Democratic Party operates has consequences for all our citizens.

Well, it looks like I have another volunteer project. I’m trying to interest organizations I belong to to form a network of Philly progressives who work within the party structure. Often we do not know of each other’s existence. We have no way of communicating with each other and supporting each other.

If we were organized, when the party does something egregious, there would be an organized group which could take some action and try to combat the cynicism and apathy which allows the Democratic City Committee to get away with making a mockery of democracy. If we achieve modicum of success, it might encourage more progressives and fair minded citizens of all poltical persuasions to run for committee person slots.

Bottom line: We have to speak out against what happened in Southwest Philly. If those of us who are committee people and thus representatives of the Democratic Party in our neighborhoods, don’t speak out, then we’re complicit.

How about we all give Brady

How about we all give Brady a few more calls!
PA Office Phone: 610-874-7094

we need structural change.

we need structural change. this city politics is run more like communist russia than most realize. the party chooses a candidate and they win almost every time. there should be term limits for ward leaders and committee persons. people also shouldn't be able to hold more than one political seat at a time (ie state rep and ward leader).

will call brady in the meantime.

1970s ruling: party has no power to restrict decision of voters

I just received the following from Hal Rosenthal who gave me permission to post his message:

Let me tell you about the Byberry five. This was in the 70's when Byberry Hospital was still open. I was one of the five.

We won our elections for Democratic Committeepersons in the 58th Ward--Not a safe liberal ward.

The ward leader, Mike Stack, the elder, failed to send us notices of a ward meeting. When I spoke to him, he said we were not welcome and would not be permitted to attend a ward meeting. We sued in Federal District Court.

The Court's opinion was a Committeeperson is an entity of the voters of hi/er division and not of a political party. The party has no power to restrict the decision of the electorate. It must give equal rights to all duly elected committeepersons. That includes notice of meetings,
attendance and equal treatment.

I don't recall the citation. I may have been the Plaintiff and Mike Stack, the defendant. I am sure it can be found.

The decision is known. It was reported and I believe cited several times.

It can't be dug up quickly. It might take a trip to a law library. An attorney can help. It can be found.

Are there any lawyers on YPP with easy access to a Law Library who could track this down?

Yesterday, I spoke with

Yesterday, I spoke with someone who is very knowledgeable about inner workings of Dem. party who thinks there is a basis for a legal case here. The points made were similar to the one’s Hal Rosenthal made. Apparently there is a body of law which holds that if a private entity (like Dem. party) is significantly involved in governmental functions (such as running elections) this entity can not be considered purely private.

Sean Dorn sent me a 1966 PA Supreme Ct. case which ruled that the Dem. Party cannot unseat duly elected committee people; this was probably the basis for the ruling in Hal’s case.

I can’t seem to attach the file in the comments section, so I’ll try to do it as a quick hit. If anyone would like a copy email me and I will send one.

Another disturbing aspect of this: in the Citypaper article about the 40th ward, Otterbein turns to Committee of Seventy for an authoritative statement:

According to Jonathan David, director of voter services at the Committee of Seventy,

it "may not seem right, but it's legal." "Parties are essentially private," he explains. "It's a shame, though. They're turning away a person who wants to serve their community."

I would have expected Committee of Seventy to be aware of the body of law which argues otherwise.

can't really get rid of the language, but...!

One can see why that clause would be there -- for example, if somebody wrote himself in as a candidate in bad faith, intending to make a mockery of the position or to work against the party from within (e.g., by having cross-registered), then you'd want a way to kick them out (rather than letting them continue to claim party authority for their activities). It amazes me that a whole Ward would vote to oust somebody who hadn't even started the job yet, however, let alone proved herself a problem. Certainly the failure to seat somebody just because you didn't have a hand in picking them shouldn't be allowed, and I hope that either lawsuit or public pressure can get this thing fixed.

go, Good Guys! :)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
— Margaret Mead

I'm a former Green Party

I'm a former Green Party activist who still feels that the stranglehold of the two-party system badly stifles democracy, especially in PA. I've long wondered why, simply by virtue of their registration numbers, the Democrats and Republicans have the expenses of their candidate selection process and party official elections borne by all taxpayers, regardless of party membership or affiliation. At the very least, I would hope that these publicly-funded elections cannot be capriciously overturned by internal, private machinations. Sad, but not terribly surprised, that that is not the case.

Maybe you should join Bill Morris

After he lost the Democratic primary in the 194th state legislative district, he endorsed the Green candidate, Hugh Giordano. I believe he's also a Democratic committeeperson (or was?).

Check it out:

link to 1966 PA Supreme Ct. ruling re.unseating committeepeople

1966 PA Supreme Ct. case which ruled that the Dem. Party cannot unseat duly elected committee people is now available at

I have always believed the

I have always believed the entire Democratic Party is crap, at least it has been since Kennedy. I will give the Democrats this... They may be indecisive, and incapable of working together... But at least they aren't hypocrites like Republicans.

Republicans talk a good game, small government, minimize spending, maximize civil liberties, but the reality is they act Exactly like Democrats! They increase the size of government, spend money like there is no tomorrow, and generally crap all over the citizens of this country. The only difference I see in the two parties is how much Jesus you want in your politics, the Republicans will definitely be happy to give you lots of extra Jesus with your extra taxes.

I will say, if we are going to tax and spend ourselves into oblivion, at least the Democrats spend most of that money here at home, in an attempt to help people... Not on illegal wars against sovereign nations.

We need real change. That's why I vote Libertarian. Maximize Civil Liberty, Minimize Government, and give the power back to the people.

It's not just the Philadelphia Democratic Party that has gone to crap, it's our nation's entire political system.

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