by Pete Mazzaccaro
Regardless of party affiliation, age, socioeconomic status or neighborhood, one thing all Philadelphians have in common is a healthy disregard for city government.
Find nearly anyone in the city who doesn’t work for the city and ask her how she feels about city government. Chances are the opinion isn’t rosy. Public opinion polling by Pew has often found everyday concerns – public safety, jobs and education – more worrisome to average Philadelphians than government corruption. But government corruption and incompetence is often a factor for why those facets of life in Philadelphia underperform expectations.
While many Philadelphians love the city they live in, they’re not satisfied with the status quo. They expect more. They have a chance to make an impact on May 16 when Democrats – who enjoy a huge registration advantage in this city – will go to the polls for a primary election with significant implications.
Local readers have received a pretty good primer on their two biggest choices, with this paper having hosted neighborhood forums for candidates running for both District Attorney and City Controller. Both events were comprehensive looks at how all 11 people running for those offices – eight for DA and three for Controller – see the city and the jobs for which they are running.
What’s more is that both offices are remarkably important. The District Attorney is responsible for pursuing criminal complaints in the city. The DA will set priorities for what crimes get more attention and which ones get less. They will seek different sentencing outcomes and set the future of the city’s asset forfeiture program, which has been called the worst in the country,
Similarly, the City Controller is the most important agent of anti-corruption in the city. It is up to the Controller to audit spending across the city, to look not only for waste and fraud but even at systems. The City Controller’s Office has in recent years identified significant problems in the Sheriff’s Office, the school district and most recently in the office of Mayor Michael Nutter.
Yet, despite the import of these offices, many residents of the city will likely sit out the May 16 primary. In 2013, Democratic turnout for the same races was a miserable 7 percent. In a city with approximately 800,000 registered Democrats, current City Controller Alan Butkovitz needed only 38,733 votes to win his seat in 2013. In 2009, he won with only 36,610 votes.
This is not to suggest that Butkovitz has done a bad job or that he’s unqualified for office. On the contrary, he seems to be a committed public servant who takes his job seriously. It’s hard to blame him, or any other candidate, for low voter turnout. That’s on voters.
You can stay home if you can’t be bothered to cast a vote for one of the candidates running for office. But if you do, you have no right, really, to complain about the outcome. Nothing supports the status quo more than a non-vote. So vote on May 16.