This feels like a low-profile election, despite the presence of at least two pretty important primaries. Maybe it's the lack of enthusiasm that many voters feel about the Senate race, plus the feeling of inevitability that has come to be attached to the gubernatorial race; combine that with the crappy weather forecast, and the prospects of low Philadelphia turnout mean that every voter is really critical.
Anyway, this is the sort of election where people often have strong opinions (unlike, say, those packed with judges, where a little guidance really helps). Will offer mine, but not be deluded that you'll be taking them as gospel. Also, can at least clarify what other bits will be on the ballot further down from the hot races:
- U.S. Senate
- As Karen Heller put it, this is a bit of a hold-your-nose race, what with all the mud in the air. But don't let that obscure the real differences between these two candidates. Yes, Specter has brought home money to PA for decades, but he also voted for all the most odious Bush legislation and his extreme judicial nominees. In contrast, Sestak looks to be a bonafide liberal on most issues (link is to a PDF download), whatever you might think of his military service or his management skills. As the man with less money in the race, Sestak saved most of his advertising and big appearances for the last couple of weeks, and he appears to be pulling a Nutter-like burst into the public awareness; recent polls have put to rest any arguments that he might not do well in a general election -- in fact, anti-incumbent sentiments appear to drive the findings that Sestack would do better against (the loathesome) Toomey in the fall. Altogether, I think that Joe Sestak is the clear choice for the Democratic Party.
- PA Governor
- Dan Onorato is clearly the annointed son of the establishment in this race, and it may be that he's unbeatable. However, Joe Hoeffel is clearly the choice for any progressive, as he's the only candidate in the race who takes the liberal position on the majority of issues -- he's also smart, hard-working, and seems incorruptible. Unfortunately, the arrival of Anthony Williams in this race probably means that the Philadelphia vote will be split along a variety of axes, leaving the choice to our more conservative breathren to the west, but this is where turnout becomes important.
- PA Lieutenant Governor
- I don't really know much about the candidates, I'm sad to say. The Committee of 70 has a list and short blurbs here. Local boy Saidel is in there, and he was a decent Controller in Philly, but the usual Establishment caveats apply.
- U.S. Congress
- Most of Philadelphia is within the districts of either Bob Brady or Chaka Fattah, both running unopposed. (Things are a bit more interesting in the suburbs, especially in the 6th, where there was brief hope that Gerlach's seat was wide open.) Not much to say here.
- PA General Assembly
- State Representatives are up this year -- you can find out whether your local race is competitive by checking this list at the Committee of 70. None of my nearby races have grabbed me this time around.
- Democratic State Committee
- I'm embarrassed to admit how little I understand about this theoretically important group, who vote on statewide endorsements. I can't even pin down how many you can vote for. It's a mix of well-known and obscure names. um, yeah.
- Ward Executive Committee of the Democratic Party
- This office, generally referred to as Committeepeople, is the street-level branch of the party -- it should be the people who write to you before elections, maybe knock on doors before important votes, and hopefully convey your feelings to the party higher-ups. If you've appreciated the advice of yours, be sure to reward them with a vote; if the race is competitive, this might be a chance to replace some dead wood with somebody with new energy, or to actually talk in person to your conduit to the party. Either way, it's worth meeting your committeepeople, at the polls at least, as most of them want to be useful to their neighborhoods.
- Ballot Questions
- No Philadelphia election is complete without a smattering of ballot questions, most of which nobody knew about in advance. A couple chewy ones this spring, along with a couple more obscure:
- To allow City Council to require businesses that contract with the city to adopt "Economic Opportunity Plans" (addressing diversity issues such as minority hiring). I don't feel strongly on this one -- better inclusion of minority contractors is clearly a worthy goal, but it feels odd to make this a City Council issue. No recommendation.
- To reorganize the Zoning Board of Appeals to make it easier to have quorum (specifically, making the L&I rep an alternate rather than a full member). It seems that this is a small and reasonable move to improve the operation of the Board of Appeals, which apparently regularly fails to conduct its business due to a lack of quorum. It's hard enough to get business done on zoning. Recommendation: YES
- To abolish the Board of Revision of Taxes, dividing its duties between two new city agencies, one for assessments and one for appeals. This is the big one! This measure would end a long-time corrupt and ineffective patronage backwater (as explored in gruesome detail by a recent Inquirer expose). The quality of the successor agencies is unknowable, but just about anything would be better than the current BRT, and the idea of splitting the assessment and appeals processes seems like a good checks-and-balances idea. Recommendation: YES
- To borrow $65 million for various capital projects. This question appears almost every election and I know what to say: clearly these projects are all important, but why is this funding handled in an extra-budgetary way? (It seems to be handled the same whether we're running a deficit or a surplus.) Will probably sigh and vote for it, but not making a recommendation to anybody else.