Philadelphia is a city with a long and storied history of driving Democratic victories in Pennsylvania, from electing presidents to governors and senators. In recent years, however, many voters have become disillusioned with their leaders, some of whom have been entrenched in city or state politics for decades. The city's neighborhood system, which has been the foundation of these leaders' success, has not been able to generate votes as it once did. When the mayoral primary took place this year, many residents expressed pessimism that voting would lead to change.
The 78-year-old chairman of the Democratic Party, Bob Brady, was on the phone with former Pennsylvania Governor and Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell to get updated information on voter participation. Some blame the low turnout on Brady and the Democratic political machine that used to make people go to the polls but no longer works with the same power and efficiency. The city is divided into 66 districts, each of which elects two Democratic and two Republican representatives known as committee members.
These committee members are responsible for educating voters and getting them to vote. They were also known for helping to fill potholes or for speaking well of someone applying for a job in the city. Young liberal activists who have moved to gentrified neighborhoods in the city cite a lack of vision and coordination across the city to mobilize voters. Others have argued that low voter turnout actually allows party leaders to remain in power and have sought to challenge the traditional system in favor of a more open and democratic system for managing neighborhood activities.
In one neighborhood, some committee members accused the former neighborhood leader of excluding them from meetings and not sharing information with them. The group filed a lawsuit and a judge ordered the leader to collaborate with all neighborhood officials. Critics say that an aging population and changing neighborhood demographics have sunk once-stable voting blocks and the activism that long boosted voter participation. Bob Brady recognized some of the party's problems such as the slow pace to adapt to the Internet and social media, and said he has hired young people to help him. He said he didn't know why voters didn't go to the polls. Lauren Cristella, interim president and chief operating officer of the Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit organization that advocates for citizen participation and government reform, believes that many Philadelphians share a deep-seated perception that elections don't make a difference in people's daily lives.
Naomi Swint, 95, remembers when her Northwest neighborhood used to be bustling with activity during election season as neighbors volunteered in the neighborhood to walk the streets and educate each other about the candidates while working to get more black politicians elected to the city government. In the 1960s, people saw neighborhood leaders in his party as sources they could turn to in the middle of the night to solve neighborhood problems. However, about 20 years ago Swint realized that many of those pre-election activities had fizzled out due to a decrease in intensity of activism, level of participation, and energy to get out the vote. Michella Crosby, 70, and Ava Browning, 65, complained that committee members were no longer taking their duties seriously while sitting at a table registering voters at Divinity Hall community center where several divisions had voting centers. Former Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell said that Philadelphia's Democratic Party is not alone in struggling to adapt to demographic and cultural changes in urban areas.
He believes that political news is available 24 hours a day now so people don't need committee members to tell them what the issues are. The aftermath of Trump's victory made people engaged and involved according to David Saval who joined a neighborhood organization but considered the party's ruling class dilapidated as it focused more on rewarding loyalty than on voter participation. However, these insurgent Democrats fell short in an unusually close race for Philadelphia's 100th mayor which had nine candidates. Bob Brady touted the victory of Councilwoman Cherelle Parker who is black and could become Philadelphia's first female mayor as well as being the establishment's favorite in the primary while criticizing critics who saw his party as “a relic of the past”.In conclusion, recent elections have had an immense impact on Philadelphia politics by causing many voters to lose faith in their leaders due to an aging population and changing neighborhood demographics sinking once-stable voting blocks as well as an inability for political machines to generate votes as they once did. Furthermore, young liberal activists have sought to challenge traditional systems while Bob Brady has hired young people to help him adapt his party's slow pace towards adapting new technologies. The impact of recent elections on Philadelphia politics is clear: an aging population combined with changing demographics has caused many voters to lose faith in their leaders while young activists seek new ways of engaging citizens in politics.
Bob Brady has taken steps towards adapting his party's slow pace towards adapting new technologies but it remains unclear if these efforts will be enough for his party's success.