Monday, March 23, 2009

Plainfield Political Power

Sorry for the delay in posting the answers to my quiz. Let me say up front - Old Doc got it right! 100%

1. Which position has the most power in Plainfield? The answer is "d" - none of the above. The real power in Plainfield is in the position of Plainfield Democratic City Committee chairperson. "No way" you say, it has to be the Mayor. Guess again. In the last 20 years, no Mayor has been elected to a full four year term more than once except Al McWilliams. That list includes Sharon Robinson Briggs, Mark Fury, Harold Mitchell, Rick Taylor and Everitt Lattimore. On the other hand, Jerry Green has been the Plainfield City Committee chairman for almost all of these Mayors combined years in office. The exception, once again, was the 2 year period that Al McWilliams served as City Committee chair. Whenever the Mayor builds a constituency and starts to flex some muscle, he (she?) gets taken out.

How can that happen, you ask? If you accept the reality that Democrats will get elected to every city council seat and to the mayoralty for many years to come, then the second question becomes all important.

2. Which election is most important in shaping local political power? The answer is "a", the primary election. Whoever wins the primary for the Dems wins the November general election. The only place with an outside chance of a Dem loss is for the 2nd Ward Council seat. The 2nd Ward has a high percentage of independent voters, not affiliated with a political party, but who may choose to vote in a primary election. That is my seat by the way. That's why I wore out my shoes going door to door when I ran for election and re-election. Another way to look at this is to understand that, with a few notable exceptions, you can coast to victory as the local Democratic Party candidate.

So the Plainfield Democratic candidate chosen to get the party line on the ballot will have a huge advantage over all challengers - in ballot position and campaign financing and, if elected, in the power of incumbency. A self perpetuating system, similar to the U.S Congress, with the added advantage in Plainfield of having an essentially one party system.

You might be wondering how the first two questions tie together. It's all about how local Democratic candidates are given the party line in the primary election. That brings us to

3. How many local elected positions are on your ballot for the June primary election? This applies to Democratic voters for 2009. The answer is "b" or "c", three or four positions. Everyone gets to vote for a Mayoral candidate. Everyone gets to vote for two city committee candidates. And in the 4th ward, you can vote for a council candidate.

So we are back to this mysterious entity called the Plainfield Democratic City Committee. It's this committee, 68 people from 34 voting districts, a male and female from each district, elected to a two year term every other June primary, that decides who gets the party line in the upcoming primary elections.

To make matters more interesting, this committee re-organizes the Monday after its election and chooses a chairperson by majority vote. The committee by-laws invest great power in the chairperson. The current and longstanding chair, Jerry Green, has used his power to shape city government. If you want to run for Mayor or Council on the party line, you have to go to Mr Green. The chairman can ask the whole committee to participate in selecting local talent for elected office. Or the chairman can change the selection process to meet his needs. I have been on both sides of this process, both willingly and not, in order to get my two cents in about Mayoral and Council candidates.

Our primary election is June 3. On the party line, you will see Governor Corzine, Assemblyman Green and Assemblywoman Stender, Mayor Robinson Briggs and two city committee members from your voting district. They will be in one column. In a contested local primary, you might see another column with other Democratic candidates competing with the local party line candidates. This is good. This is the purpose of a primary election - to give you some choice in who represents you from your political party. This June you might see some competition among Democrats. It is exactly that primary election competition that gave Obama the opportunity to beat Hilary Clinton as the Democrat for President. That's what will be happening in Plainfield come June. I'm for that.

And pay attention to the bottom of the ballot. That's where you will find the city committee candidates. Think hard on your choices here. It very well may determine who holds the political power in Plainfield.


Anonymous said...

Wish you would have mentioned the by-laws that govern the city committee. In the short time that Al was chair there could have been safe guards put in place (i.e changes to the by-laws) to protect power from being consolidated in the chair. Simple things like ballot voting that protects committee members and empowering the committee to work as a stronger majority.

Anonymous said...

Cory....... you are , with the utmost respect, the true essence of the word, imbecile