Charles Gray | A race that shouldn’t go unnoticed
The Gray Area | Keeping elections fair is important — and you have a chance to help
October 24, 2011, 11:55 pm · Updated October 26, 2011, 12:19 am·
The Gray Area
Local elections matter. One thing that has been clear while working with the College Republicans is that it has become very common for our political activities and discussions to solely focus on national issues.
This causes an unfortunate indifference to the important local off-year elections that we are having in two weeks.
On Nov. 8, in Philadelphia’s local elections, there will be a number of positions on the ballot. These include spots for mayor and the City Council. But there is one race at the bottom of the ballot that is especially competitive and where there is an opportunity for political unity — the race for city commissioner.
The three elected city commissioners are officials whose job it is to ensure that we have free and fair elections in the city.
But the current city commissioners have not been living up to their commitment to the voters.
This has become especially clear by the behavior of the current chairwoman of the City Commission, Marge Tartaglione. Tartaglione’s chief deputy, her daughter Renee, was forced to resign this past year due to multiple ethics violations of the city charter. Although Tartaglione was defeated in the primary, the behavior that she allowed while in office is representative of the downhill path the entire office has taken.
“In Philadelphia, we see situations of voter intimidation, electioneering occurring inside of the polling place and poll watchers being kicked out,” Republican city commissioner candidate Al Schmidt said. “It’s a recurring problem, and nothing is done about it.”
To put it simply, it’s time that the voters of Philadelphia bring new blood into the city commissioner’s office.
There will be four candidates for city commissioner on the ballot, two Democrats and two Republicans. Only three, however, will be elected. Due to the six-to-one registration advantage for Democrats in the city, it is pretty clear that the Democrats will have the top two positions. The question is which Republican — Schmidt or incumbent Joe Duda — will take the third position.
While the elections for this office are partisan, the management of the office itself should not be a partisan matter.
“There’s no really Republican way to do it or a Democratic way to do it or a liberal way or a conservative way,” Schmidt said. “It’s just a matter of doing it well — saving taxpayer dollars and delivering services better and faster and cheaper.”
Schmidt has the background of serving in non-partisan offices similar to the city commissioner’s office.
First, Schmidt worked as an analyst in the Government Accountability Office, which works to eliminate waste in the federal government by investigating agencies, programs and procedures. He did this work for both the House and the Senate, conducting much of it on behalf of Democrat Henry Waxman. In addition, he worked on Bill Clinton’s Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.
Schmidt has agreed to resign his post as a ward leader, a position that would be a conflict of interest for an official whose principal duty is to manage fair elections. That is an example of how Schmidt brings the kind of new blood that the office needs right now.
Schmidt has also stated he will take a 10-percent voluntary pay cut from the city commissioner’s outrageous salary of $120,000 per year during his entire term, while pledging to take a 25-percent voluntary pay cut during election years when the city commissioners have more limited responsibilities.
As a result, Schmidt has received the backing of a large and bipartisan group. Sen. Pat Toomey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, the local Firefighters Union, Americans for Democratic Action, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pentecostal Clergy have all endorsed Schmidt in this race.
It’s understandable that people get most excited for federal elections, but we should also want to make sure that these elections are run fairly. One of the first steps in the decline of a democracy is the compromising of free and fair elections.
In the primary election for these positions that occurred in May, citywide turnout was only 14 percent, according to Schmidt. This level of turnout is the lowest of any county in Pennsylvania. It is also very dangerous — when turnout is very low like this, special interest groups can dominate the local election.
On Nov. 8, it would be great if Penn could fight against this trend by having a strong turnout for Schmidt, a Republican candidate for city commissioner whom we can all be proud of.
Charles Gray, president of the College Republicans, is a College and Wharton senior from Casper, Wyo. His email address is email@example.com. The Gray Area appears every Tuesday.