Monday, May 21, 2007

history and the election returns

I should leave this one be, but it's hard not to note all the commentary on the meaning of election results last week, and in particular the taxonomy of everything into whether it was in line with or opposed to AC Democratic Committee endorsement. One theory out there is that the results are a protest against, or at the very least a sign of diminishing power of, ACDC endorsements. The other side is that most endorsed candidates won. I actually think both arguments way overstate what happened last week.

The unstated premise of the both sides is that the endorsements really decided the elections in the past, something which history does not support very well. So a long way back for some I am sure, but back when the Lawrence machine was still the power to be reckoned with, a fellow named Harry Kramer received the unanimous (did I say unanimous) endorsement of the ACDC along with the support of most every other elected officials in town. Yet somehow a maverick named Pete Flaherty would easily win the Democratic Party nomination in 1969 and then again in 1973. For lots of reason we could discuss, bucking the party apparatus must have been a much harder thing to do back then compared to now. Remarkably he would not even get the ACDC endorsement as a popular incumbent 4 years later, yet win nomination and re-election. Think about that for a minute. Irrelevant ancient history? Mayor Caliguiri would not seek the Democratic endorsement in 1977 yet would easily beat Tom Foerester. And then in the first race after Mayor Caliguiri passed away, the ACDC endorsed candidate in one Tom Flaherty came in last.. LAST. (actually I should make sure he was last, but suffice it to say it didn't help him an iota, possibly worked against him...). And the endorsement for Tom Murphy would not pre-empt what were extremely tight races against Bob O'Connor that could easily have gone either way. I bet if one were to dissect city council elections over the last couple decades, more than a few people have been elected without the party endorsement when they first ran for office. Does it mean endorsements are unimportant, certainly not. But to say they themselves decide elections is unsupportable. If you objectively look at trends over the last decade or two in terms of influence of ACDC endorsements, is it up or down? I would go so far as to say the endorsements are more reflective of support from a certain constituency as much as they are determinative in themselves. Thus the ubiquitous folly of assuming causality from correlation.

So where is this idea coming from that everything is driven by party endorsements? A rhetorical question I know, but still. Whether one agrees with the logic or not, I really think voters are a lot more complicated then people are making them out to be. I mentioned before the idea that some voters were apt to vote for the challengers in some cases and the incumbents in others or otherwise vote in different ways that seem to confound people. A certain older female supervoter I know in the city with absolutely no ties to the ACDC has always been a near perfect barometer of political sentiments in town and beyond. I will tell you that for this election the unsolicited comment on this election was that she was proud that all of her (the emphasis is hers) candidates won... who were they: Dowd, Lamb and Ravenstahl, thus a combination of unendorsed, endorsed and unopposed. Just one datapoint I know, but the numbers this cycle show there must be a lot like her who voted similarly.

What does this mean? I dunno. I just think that a lot of this talk about upsetting the 'machine' for what it is worth tends to diminish the accomplishments of all those who won. This cycle it seems each race was so different from each other in circumstance and personality of candidates that it is unreasonable to try and tie them together as many are wont to do.

Just think... in two years minus a week we do this all again. With a Presidential race in between no less.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

One reason that the myth of the importance of endorsements is so widely pushed, I have to imagine, is to inflate the importance of the committee and its leadership. Unless an environment of fear and awe is spread among the general politicians, it will not prevail amongst politicians ... who scrape and bow to the committee members. Strip away that illusion, and the whole machine stops working -- and next thing you know, any old street can get paved instead of your own.

The committee is so exercised right now because that very illusion is faltering. The "reforms" being seriously debated are rumored to intended to keep altruistic committepeople on the reservation.

You would not believe the fear the committee inspires in its apparatus, and the lengths it has gone to stifle dissent -- it's truly cultish.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 1:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, Bram - I don't believe the committee inspires fear, or goes to great lengths to stifle dissent. There is no machine, and their hasn't been one for 40 years. Favors are doled out by public officials, not parties or party chairs. They know damn well what the worth of endorsements are - not much.

Most of the prominent politicians in this town (Onorato, Wagner, O'Connor, Murphy, Masloff, Wecht, Doyle, Foerster, Milko, the list goes on and on) have run without the endorsement, won without it, and then found themselves embraced by the same committee people who rejected them in previous years. Elected officials routinely support unendorsed candidates for other offices, and the committee is powerless to stop it. If you believe that running without the endorsement hurts one's political career, you just don't know your history.

If you live in the city, and you want your street repaired, do you call your party chair, or your city councilman? The latter - they have something to offer, while the committee does not.

I have to laugh and all the hub-ub regarding street paving and the committee people - you guys do realize there are plenty of non-committee people that live on those same streets? Some of those non-committee people consider themselves "progressive", while still more reject the label progressive because it's stupid and call themselves "liberal"?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

The committee endorsement does carry a lot of resources, such as funds (I think) and manpower. It also has the hard to define sign of official Democratic approval in a one party town, with lots of life long democrats. That’s why, all things being equal, the endorsed candidate is a safe bet. But all things are rarely equal and different candidates have always run different campaigns.

For challengers who define themselves as reformers or (to a lesser extent) progressives, it is almost a badge of honor not to get the endorsement. The Dowd campaign handing out brooms at the endorsement function was kind of a slap in the committee’s face. I’m not saying that Dr. Dowd didn’t want or would have rejected the endorsement, just that like the candidates you mentioned, not having the endorsement is worked into the image or story the candidate is trying to sell to voters. I think part of the story with the Dowd campaign was that they then went negative in a progressive, reformer sort of way; asking (insistently) for debates and asking (without initial accusations) for the incumbent’s financial records. Would the Dowd campaign have had to go as negative as it did if it had won the endorsement instead of the incumbent? Hard to say, and probably irrelevant since the Dowd campaign was unlikely to win the endorsement this time.

I want to believe that Dr. Dowd and the campaign still would have knocked on all those doors, if it had had the endorsement. But since they didn’t, having a “we’re number two and so we are trying harder” image probably helped. I don’t know what happened in those hundreds or thousands of living rooms and porches, whether voters came away excited because of meeting a candidate, because of an issue they embraced, or whether voters came away bored or annoyed. And given the similarity between the results of this race and the results of the 2003 race (including the 6000 person turnout), there is the serious possibility of an anti-Bodack sentiment as a factor (Mr Bodack’s victory in ’03 was a narrow plurality in a three way race). I doubt, in any case, that there was a big anti-ACDC sentiment in this race.

I don’t think any candidate this time was running as an anti-committee candidate per se, but parts of the Burghosphere seemed to be running an anti-committee campaign, and tried to project that on to their favorite candidates. Which is mostly repeating what you said.

The strangest thing, then, is the candidate that seemed to care the most about the endorsement was the candidate self consciously describing himself as a reformer; Bill Peduto. I can’t believe he expected to get the endorsement given Mayor Ravenstahl’s national popularity. But then you would think that he would embrace part or all of the “reformer” label, and go “technical”, describing all that he would do to address various city deficiencies. Actually, Mr. Peduto described himself as experienced/policy wonk/reformer, but then ran a reactive campaign instead of a proactive one. I don’t know what image would have worked for Mr. Peduto, but evidently this wasn’t it. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

EdHeath said...
"The committee endorsement does carry a lot of resources, such as funds (I think)" Actually the Committee as a whole charges a candidate a fee for seeking the endorsement and then each individual Ward typically charges a speaking fee of between $30-$100 to address their commitee people. As Gloria F. put it, it's a case of "Democrats eating their young".
This amounts to thousands of dollars.

Thursday, May 24, 2007 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

their are a lot of great people who want to run but these jack--off committee people don't endorse them because they did;nt give them a bingo dobber.

Friday, May 25, 2007 7:12:00 PM  

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