Philadelphia Metropolis


A Roll of the Dice

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crap shoot.jpgFirst , let me offer my congratulations to Warren Bloom, Christine Solomon, Marvin Williams and Sean Kennedy on their victories in the primary election.

You say we haven't had the election?  That it is on May 17th, which is nearly two weeks away?

I say that is a mere formality.  For the most part, the primary is not an election, it is a crap shoot, whose outcome was likely decided a month ago, when the candidates gathered around a coffee tin at the Election Bureau and drew numbers for ballot position.

Bloom drew No. 1 for the Democratic nomination for City Commissioner.  He is running against seven other Democrats for one of two positions, including the incumbent Marge "Everlasting" Tartaglione.

No matter that Bloom was convicted on a morals charge in 1992 and currently owes in excess of $15,000 in city real estate and business taxes.  He is No. 1.

Ditto for Solomon, who pretty much disappeared from the campaign trail (or so the other candidates say) after she drew the No. 1 ballot position for the one vacancy on Traffic Court.  She is one of 11 candidates for that job.

Sean Kennedy is one of 37 (count 'em) 37 lawyers running for 10 vacancies on Common Pleas Court.  Kennedy is recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans.  It's being No. 1 that counts.  Congratulations Judge!

Marvin Williams has the No. 1 position on the ballot among the seven Democratic  candidates running for one vacancy on Municipal Court.

One of the qualities a good judge needs is consistency and Williams has it.  He has consistently failed to pay his real estate taxes for the last four years. 

Maybe once he gets on the bench and begins collecting his $160,793 yearly salary, he'll take care of those $6,211 in back taxes. Then again, maybe he won't. It makes no difference.  He is, after all. No. 1.

Voters who do vote on May 17th will be confronted with a War-and-Peace-sized ballot, with up to 150 names on it, depending on your Council district.

The reality is there is no way even the most assiduous citizen can figure out the merits or demerits of most candidates, especially the ones for the never-heard-of offices such as City Commissioner or Register of Wills. Or is it Commissioner of Wills and City Register? I forget.

As to the judges, unless you are personal friends of a candidate, no one has a clue who you are.

Which leads to the old question: Why are we still electing judges? And when will we change the current system?

The answer to the second question is: not anytime soon.  Unless we wake up one day and discover we have elected a truly whacko candidate -- because he drew ballot spot No. 1.

Removing judgeships from the ranks of elected officials won't remove the politics. Most of the proposals advanced call for the governor to nominate and the state Senate to confirm nominees.  Those are political arenas.

Another, easier idea to implement would be to rotate ballot position.  So that the guy who is No. 1 in one ward, moves down in the next.  There are 66 Republican and 69 Democratic wards in Philadelphia.  You could devise a system -- a mathematical, not a political system -- that could rotate positions.

It would give the folks at the Election Bureau palpitations, and it will certainly cost more to print rotating ballots, but it can be done.

In fact, it currently is being done in various states and local governments around the country, including Ohio and Illinois, two states not unlike ours.

I would argue that rotating ballot position on a high-profile job, such as mayor of council member, would make only marginal difference.  Most folks know who is running or at least who they want to vote for. Among the low- no-visibility jobs it would not change the fact that the election is a crap shoot, but it would just give everyone a chance at good ballot position.

And if we are going to have elections that are really games of chance why not even the odds?


-- Tom Ferrick




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