POLS ON THE STREET: Both City Parties Will Be Reborn Next Week

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MAYOR JIM KENNEY announced that Vare Recreation Center will be the first Rebuild site. He was joined by, L-R, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis. Restoring the popular but dangerously dilapidated community icon will not come cheaply. Story P. 2. Photo by Eldon Graham.

This coming Monday, June 4, the people who will actually decide the grassroots presence of the Philadelphia Democratic and Republican Parties will meet and be elected.

Parties, by definition, are not clusters of ideas or policies; they are not their candidates; they are not their voters. Parties are organizations – and organizations that grow from the ground up. By State law, the local units of party structure are wards.

Within each ward, up to two committee people can be elected to its party committee from each division. Some divisions may have as many as five candidates vying for these two jobs but many more have only one, or none at all.

Most of the time, vacancies don’t matter; the ward leader can appoint people to fill them or simply ignore them. But every four years, committeeperson elections matter. Only elected committee people can vote for the next ward leader.

Being a good ward leader entails a lot of work for an unpaid job. In most of the city’s Democratic wards and virtually all its Republican wards, the new ward leader will be the same as the old ward leader, by acclamation.

But ward fights are underway in several wards where challengers are working to unseat incumbent leaders. If they succeed, the membership of the city committees will change – and with it, the policy-making and leadership of those bodies will evolve.

Ward fights are hard to report on, even by their generals. That’s because write-in winners, who often win with a single vote, may be unknown to all other activists, so who can predict for whom they will vote at the June 4 meeting – or if they will show up at all.

But observers have their eyes on some Democratic wards where known forces are contesting closely.

In the Far Northeast, the 58th Ward, centered on Somerton, a traditional bastion of the family of Lt. Gov. Mike Stack (his brother-in-law Jim Donnelly currently leads it), is being vigorously contested by allies of Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Phila.). Write-ins won’t be the deciding factor here; rather, old-school streetwork will call the shots. It’s anybody’s guess who wins.

In the same neck of the woods, the 66th Ward, dominated by Parkwood, is split into two Democratic organizations, A and B. Both are beset with simmering rivalries, which Ward Leaders Shawn Dillon and Mike McAleer are familiar with. Over the years, these gentlemen have nimbly navigated the waters of Northeast politics; but ward elections are like rapids: No one is ever sure if they’ll make it through unscathed.

In Lower North’s 47th Ward, west of Temple University, backers of aspiring leader Louise Bundy assert they have the votes to knock off incumbent George Brooks. In Brewerytown-Sharswood’s neighboring 29th Ward, insurgents are making a hard push as well but are not yet ready to claim victory.

In South Philadelphia, the 2nd Ward, which covers Queen Village and Bella Vista, is barely manageable by any leader, since its educated incomers vote at high rates – but tend not to learn local institutions. There are signs Ward Leader Ed Nesmith is vulnerable this year: His brother, along with his de facto prime minister Kevin Price, were both turfed out of their committee posts.

Congratulations, Bill Keller!

Biggest winner of all this election cycle was State Rep. Bill Keller (D-S. Phila.). He survived major heart surgery and is still walking this earth.

All Philadelphians, not just his constituents, owe this modest man a huge debt of gratitude for his tireless defense of the Port of Philadelphia over decades. His work is about to bear amazing fruit.

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