I've been so Trumped-out and overwhelmed by the non-stop bombshells out of Washington that I managed to largely ignore "the big fight over the future of the Democratic Party." Maybe that's because there was really less to the race between Bernie Sanders-backed Rep. Keith Ellison and the eventual winner, Team Obama-backed former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, than met the eye. It's like a height war between Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. They're both pretty tall. Ellison and Perez are both pretty liberal. The 76ers are still something of a mess. The Democrats are a bigger mess. In fact, the Sixers may will the big prize before the Dems do.
With all the obsession over the White House, Perez has promised to help the struggling party get back to the basics -- like simply winning back some state legislatures. Good idea, but today's Democrats even have problems in places that should -- to continue with this badly forced basketball mixed metaphor -- be a slam dunk.
I know this sounds a little crazy but I've been wondering if the next mayor of Philadelphia -- who'll be the 100th in the city's long and occasionally even illustrious history -- could be a Republican. Maybe that could happen as soon as 2019, when the conventional wisdom has Mayor Kenney cruising to an easy re-election.
It's a nutty idea because Democrats outnumber Republicans here 7-1, there hasn't been a GOP mayor since the 1951 election, when Harry Truman was president and Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn were still Whiz Kids, and the so-called Party of Lincoln is down to a tiny smattering of office holders, including two City Council seats more or less mandated by law.
Yet here's three big reasons the Dems could blow it as badly as last year's Golden State Warriors:
1) Whether it's sports or politics or business or anything else, a lack of competition eventually takes a toll. The Philadelphia Democratic Party is riddled with corruption -- remember Seth Williams, Chaka Fattah, the state reps caught pocketing cash and other gifts, etc., etc., etc. -- and is becoming increasingly disorganized as well. Look no farther than the 197th State House district in North Philadelphia; last fall, voters re-elected a Democrat who had a felony conviction that no one even knew about. When Rep. Leslie Acosta was finally shamed into resigning, the Dems then put up a candidate who was tossed from the ballot for not living in the district. Now, this community that's 85 percent Democratic may elect a Republican -- a symbol of a party in deep decay.
2) Not many folks have picked up on this, but since President Trump's election there's a growing ideological split among Democrats here. The energy is all with the hard-core anti-Trump Resisters, who have allies like City Council member Helen Gym and -- often, but not always -- Mayor Kenney but who are mostly a force unto themselves. Other key leaders -- most notably labor leader and behind-the-scenes power broker John Dougherty -- want to play footsie with Trump and seem wary of unapologetic liberalism on issues such as immigration and Philadelphia's status as a "sanctuary city." This has some top pols like City Council leader Darrell Clarke looking like a deer in the headlights early in the Trump era. Could this growing gap be exploited?
3) This is the most important factor. Republicans haven't put up a fight in recent elections in part because they haven't had a galvanizing issue. They have one now...the soda tax.
I think the jury's still out on the new levy on sweetened drinks. It's doing two of the three things officials said they wanted it to do -- raising money while reducing consumption of unhealthy drinks -- and if Mayor Kenney and his allies are smart they'll have some flashy ribbon cuttings at pre-K programs and community centers over the next two-plus years to show off good things that the tax is paying for.
But it's also clear that the tax has shocked and angered everyday consumers more than administration officials expected -- and that the tax may also cause significant job losses both in the soda industry and at supermarkets. You don't need a Ph.D. in political science to know how to whip that anger into a winning campaign issue.
Whether the Philadelphia GOP -- barely above the status of a third party these days, and tarred, for better or worse, with the Trump brand -- can exploit this is another story. You can't beat somebody with nobody, and to win the Republicans would have to recruit a charismatic, outside-the-box candidate who's not on anyone's radar screen right now. The local GOP -- tiny as it is -- has its own ideological divide between its more cosmopolitan moderates and blue-collar Trump voters in rowhouse neighborhoods. And Kenney -- for all the grief he gets on talk radio and in the Philly.com comments (mostly from suburbanites) -- has remained fairly popular within the city. That's in part because of his skill in straddling the line between #TheResistance and the less-liberal union voters. For now, anyway.
Still, if I were Mayor Kenney or one of his political advisers, I'd take nothing for granted. You may recall the last time a Democratic candidate was overconfident. I don't know if Philadelphia has a neighborhood that's the exact equivalent of Wisconsin, but the mayor better make sure he doesn't forget to campaign there.