Primary Postmortem: Election Was a Bloodbath for Pennsylvania Progressives

From left: Bob Brady (photo | Jeff Fusco), María Quiñones-Sánchez, Tom Wolf (photo | AP, Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal)

From left: Bob Brady (photo | Jeff Fusco), María Quiñones-Sánchez, Tom Wolf (photo | AP, Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal)

Ever since the heady days of President Obama’s 2008 run, when the Presidential campaign trained a new generation of organizers to compete with Hillary Clinton’s support among the old-line political machines in the Pennsylvania primary, it seemed like progressive reformers couldn’t lose.

From Joe Sestak’s victory over party-switching Republican Arlen Specter in 2010, to Matt Cartwright’s 2012 win over Blue Dog Tim Holden up in the Lehigh Valley, to the election of optimistic young leaders like Brian Sims in Philly and Erin Molchany in Pittsburgh in the same year; to progressive reform Mayor Bill Peduto’s coalition coming to power in Pittsburgh in 2013, there seemed to be a general trend toward more upsets, more power slipping away from the old-line power brokers.

But, at least on the surface, this past Tuesday night was a terrible night for Pennsylvania progressives. By sun-up, the electoral battlefield was littered with defeated liberal challengers.

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30th Ward Reformer Fight: Are New Philadelphians Finally Flexing Their Political Muscle?

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Back in 2012, Patrick Kerkstra wrote a seminal piece for Philly Mag entitled “What Will It Take for New Philadelphians to Clean Up City Hall?,” that wondered when the newcomers and Millennials who’d been driving the city’s recent population growth would get over their allergy to hand-to-hand electoral combat.

The New Philadelphians are no layabouts, he observed — they’ve just been choosing, for various reasons, to channel their civic energy into decidedly inoffensive activities on the edges of politics, rather than the longer-term project of seizing control of city government.

Two years later, the landscape has begun to shift, and nowhere is the shift more evident than in the quiet competition for 30th ward leader in Graduate Hospital, where 30-year-old Obama organizer TJ Hurst has been plotting a campaign to depose incumbent ward leader Marcia Wilkof.

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Tom Wolf’s Record on Racial Politics Is Clear

York businessman Tom Wolf during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014  in Philadelphia.  AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

York businessman Tom Wolf during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014 in Philadelphia. AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Let’s get real. If Treasurer Rob McCord were actually interested in initiating a serious discussion about racism in Pennsylvania, he probably would have chosen a more appropriate format and timing than a 30-second scare ad two weeks before election day.

Still, the random last-ditch attempt to impugn the character of Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Tom Wolf has succeeded in getting people talking about race, and it’s an important discussion for Pennsylvania to have with itself. It is, after all, the most prejudiced state outside the South.

But so far the conversation has fixated on the narrow and not especially productive issue of a racist guy, and the appropriate distance for a political candidate to have from him, when the real conversation Pennsylvania needs is about policy.

The biggest problem with white racism isn’t white people mistreating people of color on a personal level — it’s how those prejudices ultimately manifest themselves in state and local laws and policies that directly or indirectly favor white supremacy, and unfairly ration opportunities and public resources to people of color.

And as it happens, Mr. Wolf actually does have a very clear policy record on racial politics, and broadening the discussion to include that record reveals a very different picture of his time in York than the one portrayed in Mr. McCord’s scare ad.

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Tom Wolf Will Be the Democratic Nominee. Here’s Why.

Tom Wolf. AP Photo | Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal

Tom Wolf. AP Photo | Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal

The increasingly shrill tenor of the Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord campaigns’ hits on Tom Wolf heading into the last two and a half weeks of the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania Governor may lead some to believe the race is really about to heat up. Those people would be wrong.

The truth is that the race has been over for weeks, and Tom Wolf is going to be the nominee.

How do we know? Just look at the recent polling:

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