FIGHT CITY HALL: Welcome To The Machine

Netroots Democrats in Philadelphia are locked in a fierce fight for control of the city’s Democratic organization, though their motivations have as much to do with good governance as winning elections. Chris Bowers is a Philadelphia activist and professional blogger for (as in Direct Democracy), a national netroots site. A former union organizer whose first foray into partisan politics was volunteering for Dean in 2004, Bowers says he got involved locally because “no one from the Democratic Party had ever contacted me about any election in the nearly seven years I had lived [here].” And he was fed up.

“The government here just basically sucks because city services are run based on loyalty and patronage,” he says. In the local Democratic primaries, which determine elections in blue Philadelphia, party leaders endorse candidates at every level of city government. The endorsement has a price — a mandatory “donation” that ostensibly covers the costs of printing the party sample ballot. For example, local judgeships go for $35,000, with another $1,000 to $2,000 for the leaders of each of the city’s 66 wards.

“Eighty percent of those endorsements are made with no public meeting or debate,” says Bowers.

IN THESE TIMES: Hello, I’m A Democrat — How Much Is This Gonna Cost Me?

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