Commentary Magazine


Topic: Philadelphia City Commission

Why the GOP Doesn’t Trust Philly Dems

One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

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One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

It should be stipulated that what Singer did is not illegal according to city law. She is herself a former Democratic ward leader who was elected to the post she now holds by defeating another longtime member of the party machine. As the Inquirer explains, her partisanship is not supposed to influence matters because in addition to the chair, the City Commission has both a Republican and a Democratic member. But such a scheme could only breed confidence in the system if a non-partisan chair supervised the two partisans. But since the system allows the majority party to be able to control the leadership of the commission, the result is 2-1 Democrat hegemony. It is hardly surprising that Republicans don’t feel the system guarantees fairness.

Singer has posed as a good-government type but even Zach Stolberg, a liberal and the former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News who heads the city’s election watchdog group, the Committee of Seventy, was dismayed by her action. Stolberg told the Inquirer, “It seems inappropriate for the person who runs elections in Philadelphia to have such a partisan message so close to the election.” That is the understatement of the year.

According to Singer’s email, the top issue facing the country is free birth control:

As a woman, and as a Jew, I am horrified at the prospect of Republican control of government. If you are glad to see me doing the work I am doing, please consider this: it would have been much harder to dedicate myself to work through my entire adult life to date if I had to either prepare for the prospect of unplanned motherhood or forego that natural, healthy source of joy and comfort, sex. Republican policies would keep women down by denying them affordable, safe birth control. This is bad for America.

While I’m sure everyone is very happy to know that Singer has not been deprived of the joy and comfort she sought, the issue she references has nothing to do with access to contraception. Rather it is the ObamaCare mandate that requires religious institutions and believers to pay for practices that their faith proscribes. The question there is not birth control, which may be obtained at any doctor’s office or drug store, but protecting the religious freedom of many Americans who have different views about sex than Ms. Singer.

As the Inquirer notes, she went on with more generalized arguments about the election and the two parties saying,

Her Jewish faith emphasized the “obligation to repair the world around us.” In contrast, she said, “Republicans deny responsibility — they like to use the phrase ‘personal responsibility,’ which means, ‘if a person fails it is that person’s fault.’ Republicans excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on individuals.”

The mind boggles at such simple-minded theology and political theory but suffice to say that while Jews can be liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, if Judaism is anything, it is a faith that promotes personal responsibility. One can just as easily argue that the welfare state liberals constructed has done as much if not more harm to individuals, and that Democrats like Singer excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on those who have become dependent on the system they created and the devastation it has wrought, especially in a city like Philadelphia where poverty remains endemic. The difference between the parties is not whether they want to help people, but how best to do so. On that, reasonable persons may differ, but the infusion of bowdlerized religion into the equation does nothing to promote understanding of the issues let alone civility.

It is bad enough for a garden-variety politician to indulge in this sort of low political discourse and partisan invective. But it is nothing short of a scandal for the person entrusted with the responsibility to ensure honest elections in the city to do so.

Throughout the past year, liberals have expressed incredulity at the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s charges that Philadelphia’s elections are crooked. Stephanie Singer has just given the lie to their claims of innocence.

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