As Philadelphia’s 2015 elections approach, I’ve been familiarizing myself with some of the political geography of recent elections using David Diano’s excellent VoterWeb application.
And one interesting point that stuck out for me in the 2014 ward election results is how vulnerable City Controller and rumored Mayoral candidate Alan Butkovitz is as 54th ward leader.
Before we get to Butkovitz though, here’s a quick recap of what a ward leader is:
The city Democratic Party organization – the Democratic City Committee – divides Philadelphia into 66 wards, each with typically about two or three dozen divisions. Each division is supposed to be represented by two Democratic committeepeople. Ward leaders aren’t directly elected in the voting booth. They are elected by the ward’s committeepeople, who are directly elected by the Democratic primary voters in each division.
The committeepeople are a political resource for their neighborhoods, and are responsible for getting out the vote for the ward’s endorsed candidates in primary and general elections. Those responsibilities come with a lot of power, but the most powerful is the vote for ward leader.
The name of the game for ward leaders, then, is to make sure a majority of committee seats are held by their allies. And Alan Butkovitz is not doing a very good job at this.
The 54th ward has 22 divisions, so there should be 44 committeepeople. But after the 2014 ward elections, there are still 10 open committeeperson seats – almost a quarter!
Perhaps more interestingly, 21 of the 44 committeepeople – over half the people now seated – won with fewer than 30 votes. Nine of them won with fewer than 20 votes:
Not being an expert on the local politics of Oxford Circle or Castor, I can’t say for sure which of the newly-elected people are Butkovitz allies, but it seems clear that the Controller has a fairly weak hold on what should be his base.
In the chart above, on the left side you can see the total number of active registered Democratic voters in each division, the number of votes incumbent committeepeople won, and the percentage of registered voters they won.
A Butkovitz challenger need only find about 30 to 40 votes in each of the blue highlighted divisions, pick up 2 or 3 of the open seats, and they’ll have the 23 votes they need to topple Butkovitz.
It’s possible that a challenger could even do this with a minimum of 500 voters in the whole ward (getting one more vote than all the blue committeepeople, and winning the open seats with single-vote write-ins), even assuming that no one on this board is open to supporting a ward leader other than Butkovitz.
For Alan Butkovitz to have any shot at the Mayor’s office, he’s got to run strong in Northeast Philadelphia, but this seems like an incredibly weak base to start with.