Philly elects first Whig in 157 years
Though voter turnout in Tuesday's municipal election was low and the Democratic party took most of the races in the traditionally liberal stronghold, at least one ticket saw a notable outcome.
Robert Bucholz, who Rhawnhurst voters chose as Judge of Election for the 5th Division in the 56th Ward, became the first Whig elected in Philadelphia in 157 years. He beat out Democratic candidate Loretta Probasco, who received 24 votes to Bucholz's 36.
"As neither a Republican nor Democrat, in a city with a reputation for electoral dishonesty, I am an honest broker in administering elections," Bucholz said Wednesday in an email.
Bucholz, an engineer who spends most of his time working for defense contractors, said he first began identifying himself as a Modern Whig three years ago.
"The political tone turned nastier and I didn't identify with either Republicans or Democrats," he said. "The time for a third party that can broker consensus is long overdue. There have been many attempts since the beginning of our country, but the two major parties control the election laws, the ballot and the conversation."
First founded in America in 1833, the Whig Party promoted consensus and compromise over partisan politics. Though the party counted among its ranks many prominent figures, including four U.S. presidents, it was virtually disbanded by 1856 after the issue of slavery exposed deep fissures within its membership.
But the movement was revived about five years ago after a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans began meeting in response to what they saw as the divisive nature of the county's partisan political system. They went on to found the Modern Whig Party, which Time Magazine in 2010 named one of America's "Top Ten Alternative Political Movements." The party now has a Washington, D.C. headquarters and counts 25,000 to 30,000 members across the nation, according to statistics from The Modern Whig Party of America's website.
"A basic tenet of the party is pragmatism," Bucholz said. "They believe that politics is all about compromise instead of getting everything you want and giving up nothing. The recent gridlock in Washington could not have happened under Modern Whigs."
Bucholz hasn't encountered many Modern Whigs in Philadelphia. "But I’m sure many people feel the current system is not working very well," he said.
According to Bucholz, the Modern Whig party, rather than concerning itself with imposing ideology, instead seeks to forge consensus and simply get things done. Democrats and Republicans have failed to achieve effective compromise, he said. "Immigration and tax reform are a good examples where there is a lot of agreement between all the parties, and yet it’s not getting done," he said.
With the state's looming voter ID law still locked in a court battle, Bucholz believes it's more important than ever for Philadelphia to have officials who will respect and enforce the policy, regardless of what it may turn out to be. As a Judge of Elections, tasked with resolving polling place disputes and ensuring voter eligibility in his division, Bucholz is now positioned to do just that.
"The voter ID is turning into a political issue instead of being argued on the merits," he said. "I ran in order to make sure that the law, whatever it will be in the end, will be followed."