Philly news “scooped” as LA Times reports that Obama not playing the “street money” game


Atrios points out that Obama continues to break all of the “rules” on campaigning. According to LA Times writer Peter Nicholas, Barack Obama won’t be giving street money to the ward leaders in Philadelphia who have pledged their support to him:

Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up.

The dispute centers on the dispensing of “street money,” a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city’s Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote.

If you’re new to Philly, here’s how it usually works.

I’ve explained before what a ward is and who the ward leaders are. Those folks make a decision about which candidate they want to support. That decision can be based on a whole number of factors. Sometimes, as is often the case with lower profile candidates like judges or state reps, it’s a matter of personal relationships or agreements on “street money.”

The candidate pledges to give a ward leader x amount of dollars so that ward leader can distribute it to all of the committee people in his or her ward. The committee people can in turn distribute it to volunteers or buy lunch for poll workers. As Atrios says, it is essentially a way for people who give up their day to volunteer at an election a way to get paid for it. It’s never that much, usually just 50 or 100 bucks.

Of course, sometimes it gets messy – like when a ward leader or committee person fails to, ahem, distribute the money or shakes down a candidate for an obscene amount.

In the case of high profile elections, like a presidential race, it’s unlikely that the candidate establishes a personal connection with the ward leaders so they often make their initial decision just like you and I do – Whom do they think is the better candidate? Whom do they like as a person? Whose policies do they appreciate? What do their friends (and fellow ward leaders) think?

The only difference is that after they decide to support a candidate and throw the weight of their influence (whatever that may be) behind that candidate, they still expect to get paid. Again, the money usually goes towards election day expenses.

Now it appears that Obama is confident enough in the ability of his own “machine” of volunteers that he doesn’t need to pay the ward leaders or the paid volunteers whom the ward leaders recruit. Essentially, Obama’s volunteers are in it for the love so they get paid simply by basking in the warm glow of their candidate’s television commercials and YouTube videos.

These leaves the ward leaders with little choice but to go to a candidate who, while they don’t think she may be the right choice, may actually pay them:

Obama’s posture confounds neighborhood political leaders sympathetic to his cause. They caution that if the senator from Illinois withholds money that gubernatorial, mayoral and presidential candidates have willingly paid out for decades, there could be defections to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And the Clinton campaign, in contrast, will oblige in forking over the money, these ward leaders predict.

“We’ve heard directly from the Obama organizer who organizes our ward, and he told us it’s an entirely volunteer organization and that I should not expect to see anything from the Obama campaign other than ads on TV and the support that volunteers are giving us,” said Greg Paulmier, a ward leader in the northwest part of the city.

Apparently, the Obama campaign hasn’t made any such street money payments to any big city machines and, well, that’s just not how it’s done in Philly. Right, Carol Campbell?

Carol Ann Campbell, a ward leader and Democratic superdelegate who supports Obama, estimated that the amount of street money Obama would need to lay out for election day is $400,000 to $500,000.

“This is a machine city, and ward leaders have to pay their committee people,” Campbell said. “Barack Obama’s campaign doesn’t pay workers, and I guarantee you if they don’t put up some money for those street workers, those leaders will most likely take Clinton money. It won’t stop him from winning Philadelphia, but he won’t come out with the numbers that he needs” to win the state.

So Obama wants to “stick it to the machine.”

Will this hurt him?

If he does indeed have the army of volunteers that his campaign claims he does, he may not need the extra ground workers that the ward leaders would bring him. And consider the 2007 mayoral primary – the last high-profile election in which the machine had a chance to bring home victory for their candidate. That candidate, Congressman Bob Brady, came in third while the candidate with no ward leader support… is now the mayor.

Oh and one last question… why did the LA Times have this story first? Don’t we have newspapers here?


One Response to “Philly news “scooped” as LA Times reports that Obama not playing the “street money” game”

  1. Barack Obama clashes with Philly-style machine politics « Philadelphia Partisan Politics Says:

    […] a story missed by Philadelphia media, Sen. Barack Obama is clashing with Philadelphia’s old style politics, as first reported by […]

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