How Mac-n-Cheese and Water Ice Caused a Small Voting War in Southwest Philly

Low turnout. That was the story during election day. In his concession speech last night at the Sidecar Cafe, losing City Controller candidate Brett Mandel told his supporters that voter apathy—the “Philly Shrug”—had doomed him. Ellen Kaplan called it the “sleepiest” election in her eight years working for the Committee of 70.  The roughly 62,000 who voted in yesterday’s Controller primary represents considerably less than 10 percent of the primary electorate. So any effort to get out the vote would have been welcomed yesterday, right?

Over in Southwest Philly’s 40th Ward, not everyone felt that way. I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon visiting polling places with City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, whose job is to oversee elections. At about 7 p.m., we rolled up to Patterson Elementary, where a group of young African-American volunteers were serving chicken wings, water ice, and mac-and-cheese, in hopes of enticing voters to the polls. The goal, said organizer Melissa Gray, who runs a non-profit called Adopt-A-School, was for “this smoke to get you over here.”

While Singer was elated by the concept of the cookout, Brian Keenan, the burly, ruddy-faced Committeeman for 22nd Division of the 40th Ward, didn’t share her enthusiasm. Standing across the school courtyard from the barbecue table, he began kvetching to Singer the instant he realized who she was.

“When I have people coming to me, walking to me, saying, are there sodas and water here, I’m trying to find out your address, make sure you’re in the right polling place,” he told her. “We got no notification for this type of situation getting sanctioned,” adding that thanks to the cookout, little kids were blocking the entrance to the polling place. The 22nd Division election judge, Keenan’s daughter Katrina, complained that people were “playing with their food” while she was trying to run an election.

What really irked him, however, was a flyer put out by the group. At the bottom, it read: “!!!! Free FOOD if you vote!!!!” “This isn’t Boardwalk Empire,” he said. On this point, Singer sympathized with Keenan. “Given the history of the country of people being paid to vote, you know, it raises a question.” Whether it constituted a violation of any sort, she said she didn’t know. (Melissa Clark says it was simply a motivating tactic, and that she wasn’t turning away hungry passersby.)

A few minutes later, back at the barbecue table, Clark raised some concerns of her own. Several voters, she said, had been told they were in the wrong polling place, without being redirected anywhere else. Singer immediately went inside to inquire, asking that I not follow her in. When she came out, she was explaining to Katrina and Brian Keenan that they were required to give a provisional ballot to any voter who asked. After nine years as a committeeman, he apparently did not know that, thanking Singer for clearing up a “gray area.”

“It sounded like someone came in and was not on their list and that they did not offer the person a provisional ballot, and they should have,” Singer told me a few minutes later. Oh, and about the flyer Keenan was so upset about? “The question is, was it that, or was it something else pissing him off?”

In a part of the city known for its tight grasp on political patronage jobs—where low turnout can be a boon for party-backed candidates—that’s not such a bad question for Singer to be asking.

Republicans Still Trying To Find Ways to Steal PA’s Electoral Votes

Hey, remember when Republicans tried to win Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for Mitt Romney by making it really hard for poor and minority people in Philadelphia to vote? Remember how that didn’t work? Well, the GOP is back at the drawing board, trying to figure out some way of delivering votes in 2016 to Jeb Bush or whoever the party’s nominee is that year. The latest idea is an old one: Split the state’s electoral votes proportionately between the winner and loser of the popular vote. ““This advantage of this system is clear,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. “It much more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state.” True, but if Pileggi really cared about “the will of the voters” he’d also redraw the Congressional districts to give Democrats more seats—and that’s not on the agenda. One way or another, though, Pileggi seems determined to find some electoral votes for Republicans in a state that hasn’t supported the GOP since 1988. [Politics PA]

Philly Democrats Are More Than Capable of Conspiracy

“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.”

I remembered that quote by the late great Italian journalist Italo Calvino when I read Post contributor Stephen Silver’s “‘Massive Voter Fraud’ in Philly Is a Myth.” Read more »

How Churches Have Brought the IRS to Its Knees

Election 2012 has come and gone, and at least one thing has become clear: It’s time to start taxing the churches. The IRS might finally be becoming aware of that fact, too, as complaints about churches violating the infamous “no political endorsements” rule continue to flow in. Maybe it’s the growing non-believing population in the U.S., or maybe Americans are getting tired of the freeloading political proselytizing, but either way, something is shifting. Read more »

Did Dead People Vote in Philadelphia?

Once again, the voting process in Philadelphia is a joke told over and over again on national newscasts. Every four years, the fairness of voting in the city is questioned, and every four years, the suspicions and allegations swirl without investigation. Read more »

Marijuana Is Winning

For marijuana activists, Tuesday’s election was much like an overnight success literally decades in the making. Let’s take a tally: Two states legalized cannabis for recreational use, another for medical, and still another came out strong on the decriminalization front in three cities. Where pot measures failed, they failed only marginally. Read more »

Philly VP Candidate Came in Fourth in Presidential Election

Once a homeless mother, Cheri Honkala moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s and has been fighting for the rights of the poor and homeless ever since. This past year, she was chosen as running mate by Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate. I spoke to her about Obama, Romney, and whether the Green Party would ever consider merging with any other third parties to try to gain a larger base. Read more »

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