I’ll give some props to the @KJOvsOFE Twitter account…
What has this done? Well it has certainly hammed up publicity for the council district race far beyond Philadelphia’s borders. Say, to a blurb in the Houston Chronicle [chron.com]. Publicity is publicity.
But beyond that, most of the whining about the cybersquatting is from folks who already made up their minds long ago who they will be voting for in May. I’ll give you an example.
I am certain this cybersquatting was only discovered when someone decided that Councilman Johnson needs to run something more visible than your average sleepy City Council incumbency campaign consisting of e-mails and insider fundraisers and a who’s-who party picture revue in the Philly Record.
Remember that about 20 days ago I posted this:
On Saturday Kenyatta Johnson also received a huge safety-line boost from a conga-line of establishment old-schooler Philadelphia pols, and it was pretty long. [Citified]
Someone convinced Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to turn up and judging from the presser pictures she was having a bad wig day. Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. was there as well, and I could see the forehead of Councilwoman Cindy Bass. The most important appearance: the chief over the local political establishment, Democratic City Committee boss Bob Brady also turned up. So did Mayor Michael Nutter who called Ori a “little jerk”.Aside: I’m sure the Hizzoner is still pissed at Philadelinquency for the gas lien post about his house. That went into the news cycle for a solid four days, made it to the Drudge Report and spawned two pressers from the mayor to explain his forgetfulness. After that affair Nutter’s press secretary has been even more of a dick than ever before.
Kenyatta’s Website Doesn’t Matter
In all fairness, Feibush’s cybersquatting also looks like a dick move, doesn’t it? Someone who owns KenyattaJohnson.com should obviously be someone named Kenyatta Johnson. There’s quite a number of KJ’s on the planet who could have bought that domain. Certainly Johnson would have used it when he first ran for his state representative seat years ago.
But really, my take on the squatting is that it doesn’t matter. It’s a nice to see his campaign crying foul over it. It’s retribution for Kenyatta playing high-handed politics and picking favorites with over 300+ City-owned vacant and abandoned properties that he won’t release without the right kind of political and financial support in hand. [PhillyMag] I guess if Johnson really wanted the domain names, he can curry favor (and $$$), to get the Internet property everyone’s bloviating about.
But to belabor the point a bit more–campaign websites don’t really matter in Philadelphia. They’re nice-to-haves. Even if you get the slickest template put up as an homage to the Obama campaign (which used some of the best web designers giving away loads of free time), campaign websites are still one-way communication. Nobody but people who have already made up their minds who they’re going to vote for really visit them, and Philly incumbents really don’t need a website, they have the ward system.
And it’s the ward system that still picks and chooses who sits on City Council these days, even right now. That’s why most of this “outrage” is mostly fake or registers as a 0.5 on the Richter scale.
The Ward System
Millennials, newcomers to Philadelphia… prepare to be schooled.
You might recall last year when Ori Feibush financially backed a whole slate of alternative committeepeople candidates across the wards of Point Breeze. [CityPaper]
During the last election cycle–which hardly anybody showed up at the polls to vote–a significant amount of problems were found in Democratic nominating petitions in Point Breeze. A number of committeepeople who have run without opposition for years were booted off the ballot. Some nominating petitions had an entire page filled with signatures of registered Democrats where every signature looked exactly the same. The fight was quite intense. Ward leader and former 2nd District Councilwoman Ana Verna was given quite a scare. She was pale as a ghost when being interviewed by the Daily News.
Before this happened, nobody really thought much of Ori Feibush in the realm of “oh crap, Feibush is actually serious, he’s REALLY running for City Council. Shit!”. Most of the committeepeople-challengers were defeated but a few slipped in. It gave many Democrat party wonks a scare, but the defeat allowed everyone to put their blinders back on.
This is the lower level of city politics that few people except news junkies, local pols and political gadflies monitor. But this is the level of local politics that ultimately decides who is going to represent you on City Council.
Ever since party politics came about in Philly, the City has been broken up into weird little districts called wards. Here is a map from the official DCC website, which looks about as old as party incumbency in Philly itself (below). If you still have your voter registration card lying around, you’ll see “WARD DIV” on it.
The City is broken up into a series of wards and within each ward is another group of divisions. You can get the map of the divisions in your ward here.
The ward system is an interpersonal human network and it’s also how the City’s polling districts are organized. There is one (or more) polling stations for each division of a ward, or a combination polling station that serves multiple divisions within a ward.
The ward system historically served two functions for the benefit of a political party:
- Connect the party to as many city residents as possible by channeling constituent service requests through the party
- Use this “human network” to get out votes for the party
If you’re a committeeperson, the lowest rung of the political system, your job involves taking a day off a year to get the voting lists and materials out to your division and also to circulate petitions. Some committeepeople are more committed than that and also work as full-fledged campaign volunteers for a local pol (or even more than one pol).
Committeepeople meet and select one amongst their group to be the ward leader. As a voter, you never get to say who gets to be your ward leader. This is a job that’s within the political party–it’s not a public office. But historically, the ward leader was often the mechanism where Philadelphians used to get the City to pay attention to something–like a pothole. Funneling constituent service directly through the party allowed the party a deeper human bond with residents all across the city.
The telephone, e-mail/fax and now the City’s 311 system has mostly gotten rid of the need to call your ward leader when you need a pothole filled or someone to officiate your daughter’s wedding. But the political street organization is still alive and kicking, and it’s still the critical mechanism by which your City Council member sits in his or her chair right now. Given the historic way of campaigning for City Council and how hyperlocal it is, this direct method of reaching residents is a premium than a television blitzkrieg some statewide politician would do.
Our local pols have never known anything but this system to connect with Philadelphians. For the rest of us, we moved from TV ads direct to hypermedia political campaigns with websites and robodialing. That’s why it took so long for Camp Kenyatta to ascertain that the easiest DNS name had been scooped. They’re only running a real campaign now because the mission is to save Kenyatta, and also preserve the political machine.
Ori Feibush’s cybersquatting ultimately matters little. Long-time Philadelphians are more used to the ward system than they are to some slick WordPress template that has its font kerning just-right. They’re far more accustomed to direct mail, block fundraisers, candidates appearing at civic association meetings and aren’t really that responsive to robo-dialing and websites. Facebook is for Candy Crush, not to hunt down the policies of your local incumbent pol.
This archaic system doesn’t make sense to a lot of millennials or newcomers into Philadelphia. The ward system is a terrible incubator that has made patronage a permanent feature of City government. Children of ward leaders are often committeepeople. The ward system was also a way to distribute City jobs before words like ‘merit-based hiring’ came along.
Whole departments of the City were nothing but hires suggested from Ward leaders. Today, the Philadelphia International Airport happens to hold the title of the City’s patronage potty. Before that, it was the Bureau for the Revision of Taxes who set your property assessments. Some hires at the old BRT couldn’t figure their way around an adding machine, much less a computer.
And of course, nepotism and corruption go hand in hand. Corruption is so woven into Philadelphia’s political fabric like it is because of the ward system. Having more Republicans around would add some competition in Philadelphia, but that doesn’t deal with the ward system. Republicans also have committeepeople and ward leaders, and before Mayor Tate also had many long decades of Republican control rife with nepotism and corruption. We’ve had a political machine in Philadelphia since before the Civil War, and that machine’s bedrock is within the ward system.
The ward system is very resilient against outsider influence or even money. It’s only proven weakness has been mass disgust that overgrows party interest. Corrupt Republicans lost control over Philadelphia in the 1950s. The breath of fresh air was literally a quick gasp, one mayoral term, when Joe Clark became Philadelphia’s first Democratic mayor. Philadelphia also got a new city charter during the same political earthquake, which is the same one we live under today.
The virus that infected corrupt Republicans quickly spread to Democrats with the help of the ward system as everyone reshuffled positions under a new regime.
We’ve been under this regime ever since.
The virus even has its own mechanism to hand off its genes to new Philadelphians — at least most of the ones who are born here. You have to remember, the ward system encouraged nepotism so within many of the City’s wards lie family relationships, not just colloquial ones. This networking at a citywide scale is how the political machine survives from one generation to the next.
When you threaten the ward system, the response is visceral and it’s fierce. The city’s political machine must survive at all costs or else it won’t be able to nurture wanna-be pols much less support the slate Philadelphia sends to Harrisburg and ultimately to Congress. A lot of old incumbent careers rest upon the city’s ward system. And I’m just talking about the world within the local Democratic party.
KenyattaJohnson.com is more than just some “little jerk” having some fun. That it took over a year for anyone to really notice or that Johnson never grabbed the domains himself to maintain an Internet reputation just exemplifies what’s really important about a City Council campaign.
If you look at the broader picture, the reason why so many incumbents ran to Kenyatta Johnson’s campaign launch in solidarity says more about how the establishment is frightened at the ward system being broken than it does about anything else.
Kenyatta doesn’t have a message, other than “re-elect me and I’ll represent you.”
Earlier on this website I had asked people to put together a list of what Kenyatta Johnson himself has accomplished with his legislative pulpit in City Council. After four years, here’s the list*:
- The hot/cold dog law (author)
- 3D gun ban (author)
- Homestead exemption (co-author)
- Homestead application deadline delay (primary author)
- Demolish Little Pete’s for a hotel (author, he’s since crawled back from it)
That’s not much of a legislation resumé for four years occupying the 2nd District council seat. This would mean if there was anything resembling a town-hall political debate it would probably quickly devolve down to hype, wish-lists and identity politics real fast, if not more time spent on hearing about Johnson’s hot/cold dog law, as one Point Breeze resident described “that he doesn’t shut up about.”
He could talk about his co-sponsorship of the Homestead Exemption, but in Point Breeze that would rapidly turn into a more spirited discussion about the wisdom of the Actual Value Initiative, a sore subject in the ‘Breeze, which will ultimately lead to the downward spiral anti-development speechifying of a typical drama-packed Point Breeze zoning meeting. Johnson likes to stay away from those.
And since we’re on the topic of controlling your message…
Johnson probably should also look at cleaning his poor Google Juice. When I google his name, the No. 2 search result that comes up the embarrassing news story about the tax status of his Peace Not Guns charitable organization, since disbanded, where Johnson could not recall what kind of amount it received in donations. The website has also disappeared from the Internet.
Perhaps those who are quick to channel their Internet outrage of Feibush’s cybersquatting might want to sit down with their ward leaders and school them on how important it is to support candidates that New Philadelphians can identify with, and not just depend on their blinket liberalism to select their chosen slate of nobodies who know how to network within the old ward system.
Wannabe Mayoral Candidate Jim Kenney certainly gets the picture: [h/t Brian Hickey, Newsworks]
Hipsters? Those guys on bikes? Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Kenney wants to be your friend. And your mayor. He’s hanging up his Council-At-Large hat on Thursday and wants your vote.
* I’m not including the eminent domain land grab bill, as that was in the works before Johnson took over from former Councilwoman Ana Verna who used to occupy his seat.Tags: Councilman Kenyatta Johnson | Old School Philly | Ori Feibush | Peace Not Guns | Cybersquatting | @KJOvsOFE | Jim Kenney for Mayor | Newsworks | Public Record | Citypaper | Ward leaders | URGENT ALERT