2014: Pennsylvania election year will excite

Congressman Bob Brady, who also serves as the 34th Ward Leader as well as the chairman of the Democratic Committee, has this advice for prospective committee people. “Show respect to your ward leaders,” he said, stressing that ward leaders will not turn away anyone who wants to play a role in their community. DAVID SWANSON, File / Staff Photographer

Just two weeks into the new year, many pundits are already calling Tom Corbett the most unpopular governor up for reelection. Sensing weakness, Democrats – and even one Republican -- having been lining up to challenge him.

In addition, all 18 seats in Pennsylvania’s United States congressional delegation are up for grabs, as well as all 203 slots in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. Half of the State Senate seats (the even-numbered districts) are also on this year’s ballot.

Tens of millions of dollars will be spent in Pennsylvania on those elections alone with glitzy TV and radio ads. And the nation’s eyes will be on us.

But the real down and dirty races – the ones where the fists fly literally – will be going on right in our backyard. With a lot of elbow grease, leather to the pavement, and knuckles that will be sore from door knocking for months, thousands of Philadelphians will be vying to become one of two of their precinct’s committee people.

Committee people? Wait. Didn’t the Internet put them out of business? Who needs an archaic party officer when you can get things done on your smart phone with a few clicks over at Phila.gov?

This is the 21st Century after all, right? If the snow hasn’t been plowed from our street yet, one quick email to the Streets Department will resolve it right away, right?

Umm … okay, I get your … umm … drift, as in snowdrift. Maybe I do need someone I know down my block to make a call on my behalf.

“Take the recent snowstorm. In New York City, they have GPS on the snow plows. You can track the plows and see how quickly they will clean up,” said Alan Butkovitz, the city controller who also is the Democratic ward leader in the 54th Ward in lower Northeast Philadelphia. “Nor does 311 work the way it does in NYC.”

“There is no beating the human touch,” Butkovitz told me via telephone today, adding, “Whether they are committee people or civic association presidents, somebody has made it their mission to know what buttons to push and get service.”

I think most street-savvy Philadelphians would enthusiastically agree with Butkovitz there. It’s who you know. That’s always been the Philly style.

“In Jewish mysticism, there are 36 righteous people,” Butkovitz said. “If it falls to 35, God will destroy the world. It’s something like that. There are hundreds of people dedicated to getting their neighborhoods taken care of.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Frank Jacovoni, the broker of record at Howard Hanna Philadelphia Realty at Broad and Porter in South Philadelphia, knows that knowing the right person matters. “Because most of the businesses on our block close at 5 p.m., we were putting our trash out exactly at 5 p.m. when we close. We were receiving violations for putting it out prior to 7 p.m. So we reached out to Kenyatta Johnson, our councilman, who worked along with Councilman Mark Squilla, and they were effective in getting the Streets Department in changing the collection time for us.”

It definitely pays to know the right people.

So, if you want to make a difference in your community and in your party, what should you do if you want to become an elected committee person?

Start with the Committee of 70’s how-to guide on running for committeeperson found here.

“The easiest thing to do, once you get your petitions, is to get a street list, knock on doors, introduce yourself to your constituents and ask them to sign your nomination petition. You only need 10 signatures, but get 25 to be safe. Sign it, and get it notarized,” advised Tim Dowling, the acting supervisor of elections.

Door-to-door, retail politics. Getting elected the old-fashioned way. Earning it.

U.S. Congressman Bob Brady – who also serves as the 34th Ward Leader as well as the chairman of the Democratic Committee -- suggests a different route. “Show respect to your ward leaders,” Brady told me, stressing that ward leaders will not turn away someone who wants to play a role in their community. “We won’t turn away anyone who is interested.” Sometimes, Brady confided, there will be contested committeeperson elections. But even in those cases, Brady said the ward leader has the ability to appoint an “auxillary committeeperson.” And they often will – even if there was a contentious fight for the two electable positions. “We will not turn you away,” Brady stressed.

I believe Brady. As someone who knows Brady very well, I can tell you that Brady’s reputation as a peacemaker is deserved. Whether it was solving a SEPTA strike or getting bitter factions in the Democratic Party to declare a truce, Brady has an incredible talent to keep the peace. And appointing auxillary committeepeople – after some pretty bruising elections – is simply pure genius. No party should rightfully turn away anyone who wants to make a positive difference in their community.

The Democratic City Committee can be reached at (215) 241-7800 or yolandadcc@hotmail.com.

Joseph DeFelice, the executive director of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee, would likewise like to hear from Republicans who would like to run for committeeperson or any other elected position. DeFelice can be reached at (215) 561-0650 or josephjdefelice@phillygop.com.

Two useful seminars on how to run for committeeperson are happening this week. And they are free!

“How to Run for Committeeperson in the 2014 primary” will be presented by City Commissioner Stephanie Singer and Deputy City Commissioner Tracey Gordon. The event will be at 1606 Walnut Street in Center City tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 14) from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Reservations are not required.

Flaster/Greenberg PC will sponsor an election law seminar on Wednesday, Jan. 15, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. While the event is free, you must reserve here. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is a free breakfast that begins at 8 a.m. A limited number of spaces remain.

So if there is a local issue that has you hopping mad and you can’t think of a better person to get the job done, I encourage you to help fix the problem by running for committee person.