The Committee of Seventy: a century-old political watchdog

Tomorrow I am interviewing Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director for the Committee of Seventy, and it occurred to me that it is worth posting just on the organization.

Seventy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit political group, has been a self-proclaimed political watchdog for Philadelphia since 1904. For every election, the group trains and organizes hundreds of volunteers to inspect voting machines and patrol polling places, acting as mediators in thousands of disputes.

I should know. I worked as a policy intern there for nearly a year and have worked with each of their election campaigns since the November 2004 general election. Perhaps the excitement of Pennsylvania’s swing-state status in a battle between eventual Presidential victor George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry got me hooked.

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Interview: Michael Meehan, Republican City Committee general counsel

This afternoon I got the chance to slide into a seat in the office of Michael Meehan. He’s still unpacking.

The general counsel of Philadelphia’s Republican City Committee left the Philadelphia offices of Reed Smith for Wolf Block back in January 2006, as reported by the Legal Intelligencer.

This was perhaps the interview to which I most looked forward.

So many of many of the other people to whom I’ve spoken have pointed to Meehan for answers as to why the city’s Republican Party continues to shrivel and die. He has big shoes to fill.

His grandfather, Austin Meehan, first took control of the city’s powerful Republican machine in the first half of the 20th-century. Meehan first brought about the city’s Republican Northeast focus, beating out other Republican machinists, guys like the Vere Brothers in South Philadelphia and the Hawthorne brothers in Roxborough, as I discussed after my interview with former Committee of Seventy CEO Fred Voigt.

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Interview: John Street, former Philadelphia mayor

John Street

Early this morning I interviewed former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, now an adjunct professor of political science at Temple University. I was speaking to him for my honors thesis, which is focusing on the viability of the Republican Party in urban America, particularly Philadelphia.

Not surprisingly, Street said a number of interesting things regarding his two high profile elections against Republican businessman Sam Katz.

In many respects Sam Katz was more liberal than I am… I have no proof of this, but I think if Sam had won in 1999, by 2003 he would have run as a Democrat.”

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Interview: Joe Egan, Republican mayoral candidate

Apparently I had an interview with former Republican mayoral candidate Joseph M. Egan, Jr., but I didn’t remember.

Joe Egan

I got a voice mail from Egan, who seemed agitated, and understandably so. I called him back and sent him an e-mail, but no answer, yet. For that, I apologize. I was interested in speaking to him.

In 1991, Egan lost handily to now Governor Ed Rendell, nearly 282,000 to 130,000.

To be honest, missing the interview was just the start of my confusion. See, I simply couldn’t get straight Joe Egan from John Egan, who lost W. Wilson Goode in the 1983 election, losing 396,000 to 264,000.

Now, Joe Egan has lots to differentiate himself, he uses his middle initial and tacks on the “junior” moniker. What’s more, unlike the other Egan, Joe came to be the 1991 Republican candidate by the most unusual circumstances.

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What patronage means

State Rep. JOHN PERZEL is an integral figure to understanding Philadelphia’s Republican Party.

He is a power player in the city’s politics, even if he does his work in Harrisburg. Perzel still works with the Republican City Committee and its general counsel and de facto leader, Michael Meehan.

One doesn’t need Meehan’s permission to run, of course. But this state’s elections, like those in much of the country, expect it. The blessing of the Republican committee comes with the promise of making the ballot and much less competition than in the Democratic Party. In the small pond of the Republican Party, Meehan holds influence to divvy available jobs, which keeps some Philadelphians registered with the party. Thus, in deciding that the party will support a particular candidate, ward leaders and committeemen rarely deviate from Meehan’s choices.

This is machine politics in historic viability.

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Matt Taubenberger the replacement for George Kenney

It didn’t work out for his father, Republican Mayoral candidate Al Taubenberger.

But, Matt Taubenberger, the failed candidate’s only son, will run unopposed in April’s Republican primary for the chance to do something his father has never done: win public office. Republican Matt Taubenberger is hoping to succeeed Rep. George Kenney in his 170 State Legislative House district, encompassing parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Taubenberger, who has previously worked for Kenney’s legislative staff, was chosen by GOP general counsel Michael Meehan at Café Michelangelo, in the Somerton neighborhood of the Northeast, at 11901 Bustleton Ave. south of Byeberry Road, as reported by the Northeast Times.

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The Temple News: College Democrats and Republicans debate


Last week, Temple University’s College Republicans and College Democrats debated their respective national party’s platforms, as reported by The Temple News.

It interests me how young people – indeed, perhaps all people – are more interested in the celebrity-type status of national politics, rather than the local politics of municipalities, counties, even state government.

The interplay of national and local politicking and government is something on which I’ve posted here before.

Because younger people tend to be more liberal and most people seem to be less interested in local elections, it seems then that the Republican Party anywhere would have more difficulty finding young talent, particularly in an urban setting like Philadelphia.

Hear College Republican President Ryan McCool speak on the War in Iraq, taking notes from the national GOP.

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Interview: Phil Goldsmith, Philadelphia former managing director

Phil Goldsmith

Today I interviewed Phil Goldsmith.

Photo of Phil Goldsmith at right and Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson at a meeting about Cresheim Valley Drive in March 2005, courtesy of Chestnut Hill Local, a community paper serving northwest Philadelphia.

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Philly super delegate endorses Obama

bill-clinton-carol-ann-campbell.jpgCarol Ann Campbell, one of Philadelphia’s super delegates and a city Democratic committee cog, has endorsed Barack Obama after a conversation with the candidate’s wife, the Associated Press is reporting.

Campbell is as involved in partisan politics and the Democratic machine in Philadelphia as anyone.

Previously, the former City Councilwoman had said she wouldn’t endorse either candidate before it came time to cast her vote (assuming it will be necessary) in order that she not burn bridges. Her mind was changed by a 90-minute conversation with Michelle Obama, Barack’s wife who is just about charming everyone in sight.

Indeed, it was generally considered that Campbell was a Clinton supporter before the conversation, according to the LA Times.

As posted elsewhere, the tide is surely turning on the Democratic side of this presidential election.

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Interview: Brett Mandel, Philadelphia Forward executive director

Brett Mandel Philadelphia Forward

Today, I also interviewed Brett Mandel, the executive director of Philadelphia Forward,

Photo of Brett Mandel, presenting during a real estate taxation conference held at Temple University on Feb. 23, 2007. He was using a model to show that in Philadelphia similar properties pay different real estate tax bills. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Forward.

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