OUR OPINION: Endorsing Ward Leaders

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All political parties can make poor choices when they endorse candidates. But political parties that are big enough to have a leadership as well as footsoldiers and simple adherents typically endorse a slate of candidates in primary elections.

That’s a good thing. Most people who identify as Democrats or Republicans don’t have the time or the appetite to stay up nights studying the qualifications of every candidate for judge or state representative; even those who do, don’t have access to much of the information this task calls for. There is a reason why parties have organizations: to organize.

The 197th Legislative Dist. in North Philadelphia has seen more than its share of poor choices, as leading Democrats have admitted. Former Mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell kicked up some dust when he called to change the way his party makes endorsements in such local races.

As it stands, ward leaders pick the endorsee, casting votes proportional to the number of divisions each has in the district in question. Rendell would return to a system whereby each committee person casts a direct vote.

Sounds good in theory. In practice, rounding up committee people for this vote has been a frustrating nightmare. Their turnout can be low. And it is as hard for them to learn about the candidates as it is for many an ordinary voter.

For better or for worse, ward leaders wind up as sources of information for their committees. They are the people who hear intelligence from their city committees and who regularly talk to all their ward committee members as well.

Ward leaders are democratically elected every four years by their committees. They are elected to represent them – to do the work the average committee person cannot do. When ward leaders make poor calls, they can be and have been voted out of office.

Leadership of a ward is a humble, often thankless role in administering the nuts and bolts of urban democracy. But we have not yet heard of a better way to get the job done, than for wards to have leaders and for leaders to make judgement calls.

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