Readers, I have a confession to make. I didn’t vote for Philadelphia City Controller in 2009.
To all of those disappointedly shaking their heads at me right now — perhaps there are a few of you — please accept my apologies.
But to all of those still asking, “What on earth is a City Controller and why would I vote for one?” know that you are not alone. Odds are that you and your friends didn’t vote in that particular election either.
Even those of you who aren’t into politics have probably heard of the so-called ongoing “crisis” that is low voter turnout. But if low national turnout is a crisis, then turnout on the local level is a Bruce Willis-style Armageddon.
According to a paper published in the Urban Affairs Review in 2003, “existing evidence suggests that turnout in city elections may average half that of national elections, with turnout in some cities regularly falling below one-quarter of the voting-age population.”
One might ask — is 25-percent turnout really comparable to gigantic asteroid jettisoning from space to destroy all life on Earth?
No, of course not. But it is symptomatic of an important issue: citizens are largely unaware of the impact local government makes in their everyday lives. That includes Penn students.
Take air quality, for instance. Thanks in part to Mayor Michael Nutter’s efforts on the Greenworks Philadelphia campaign — a plan to make Philadelphia the most “green” city in America by 2015 — SEPTA is now running more than 260 cleaner-burning hybrid buses.
The hybrids are also quieter, which is a big deal for any student living on a SEPTA route who has been woken up at 3 a.m. to the sound of a screeching bus engine. I should know — I’ve been there.
What accounts for this disconnect between citizens and local government?
“Students might not make the connection between the decisions made in Philadelphia and our everyday lives,” said Penn Democrats President and College junior Isabel Friedman. “They connect more with federal decision making.”
I completely agree, but it wasn’t the federal government that rebuilt the South Street Bridge, which opened after a 23-month reconstruction project last November. Eighty percent of its funding came from the federal government, but it was the Philadelphia Department of Streets that managed the project, finishing ahead of schedule and on budget. Yes, a government agency can actually do that.
Of course, nothing in this column is intended to suggest there are no Penn students that recognize the power of local government. College senior Jason Goodman, a resident of Lower Merion, certainly has.
Goodman lobbied his hometown to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. After a year’s worth of work, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance last December.
“I was frustrated with the lack of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] equality in the state laws,” said Goodman, who is the vice chair for political affairs of the Lambda Alliance, Penn’s umbrella organization for LGBT groups.
“There are many things that local governments can do and have done which are very relevant,” he added. “It’s really important to stay in the know about what’s going on.”
I don’t expect all Penn students to lobby for their own city ordinances, but perhaps we could be more aware of what local government is doing. Maybe even vote once or twice.
And just to quench your undying thirst for random facts, Philadelphia’s City Controller is Alan Butkovitz. Sparing you all the details, his job is to help save the taxpayers money as the financial watchdog of the city.
Sounds like a position worth caring about, particularly considering that many of you seniors out there start paying real taxes next year.
Evan Medina is a College senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. His e-mail address is medina@theDP.com. Peace Not Politics appears every other Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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