Three Penn students — two Democrats and one Republican — submitted petitions to run for their respective parties’ local ward committees, according to ward committee leaders.
Penn’s campus is part of Philadelphia’s 27th ward, a political division used to determine representation and administer elections. Both of the major political parties are represented in the ward by a party committee, which is made up of residents elected to represent their neighborhood, or “division.”
College of Liberal and Professional Studies student Barbara Nolan is running for re-election to her seat in the 23rd division of the ward, which is located south of Spruce Street between 42nd and 45th streets.
Nolan has served on the Democratic Committee for the past three years after being appointed by members of the committee to fill a seat left vacant after the last committee election in 2010.
“I joined the committee because I had a general sense of frustration about politics,” Nolan said. She initially became involved after she emailed Democratic Committee Leader Carol Jenkins in response to a message in a ward newsletter seeking community members to get involved.
In addition, College junior Kelly Stine is running to fill a vacant seat in the division representing the several blocks directly west of campus.
Jenkins, who teaches political science at Temple University in addition to her duties as ward leader, says that having two students running for the ward committee is typical for most years. “Young people have a negative view of political parties,” she explained, noting that the ward committees are political entities first and foremost.
The committees represent their party on the local level by registering voters, disseminating information and working to get out the vote on Election Day.
Presidential election years usually generate the most political activity among students, a fact which was especially true during President Barack Obama’s first campaign in 2008, Jenkins said. However, she cannot remember a time when she had more than five students serving on the committee at once.
Both Stine and Nolan agree that it is detrimental to the University that more students aren’t involved in local political life.
“A lot of people who are interested in politics simply don’t know how to get involved, which is why the education of Penn students [about] the ward is so important,” Stine said in an email.
Nolan described what she sees as “a tension between the town and gown” — a divide between the University and the wider West Philadelphia community. In her mind, having more students serving on the ward committees could be a way to foster discussion and community and bridge the gap between Penn and the surrounding neighborhood.
In addition to the Democratic candidates, one student is running for the Republican Committee — a separate body. Penn Law student Cary Davis , who will graduate this semester, is running in the hopes that he can help change the way Philadelphians interact with their government.
Davis, who grew up north of the city in Cheltenham, believes it is a problem that the average citizen can’t get their ideas heard by members of the government. He wants to use this position within the Republican party to facilitate greater dialogue between the people and government and greater political and civil engagement in the community.
He says that his father, who immigrated from Germany to the United States in 1952, always told him growing up that “if you want to fix the broken things in the world, you have to start in your own home, your own backyard and your own neighborhood.”
Elections to fill the ward committee seats will be held on May 20.