Long before Grover Norquist and Karl Rove became GOP superstars, they were trained in the political arts by Morton Blackwell, who now heads the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based political boot camp for young conservatives. Because the institute is a nonprofit, wealthy Republicans can spend millions on training tomorrow’s party leadership and write the cost off their taxes.
Now wealthy liberals are fighting back with a nonprofit boot camp of their own — the Center for Progressive Leadership, which seeks to spread knowledge of how to get out the vote, craft a message, and raise money beyond the party elites. CPL chose Pennsylvania for its pilot program, led by Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz’s 26-year-old son Jordan. Not yet through its first year, CPL has already won accolades from local politicos Joe Hoeffel, Chaka Fattah, Michael Nutter and Happy Fernandez.
You might think such a fellowship would attract green student-government types, but in fact the first class of Pennsylvania fellows includes mid-career professionals and seasoned committeemen. Among them is Mark Stier, a Temple professor who founded the citywide grassroots organization Neighborhood Networks and made an unsuccessful run for the state legislature.
Stier says CPL has helped him with voter targeting and direct mail, but that these newfangled tactics won’t replace the city’s shoe-leather tradition: “Philly politics is this wonderful mix of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, and the 19th century isn’t going away.”