When the Philadelphia Democratic Party's faithful gathered for their pre-election fundraiser last night, conversation among many anxious ward leaders kept coming back to the same question: Would Barack Obama come up with street money?
In the April primary, the presidential candidate spurned the Philadelphia tradition of distributing cash to ward leaders for Election Day operations, saying his campaign doesn't "pay for votes or pay for turnout."
Street money, typically between $100 and $300 per voting division, is used to pay expenses such as meals and transportation and sometimes pay election workers for their day's work.
Many thought Obama had changed his mind and would provide street money for the general election, but ward leaders said last night that they still hadn't heard of a commitment from the campaign.
"Honestly, they'd be crazy not to do it," said Lou Agre, leader of the 21st Ward in Roxborough and Manayunk. "We're the ones who can get those last five, six hundred people [in a ward] who haven't voted, and that's a big difference for the campaign."
City Democratic chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said he's confident the Obama campaign will come up with the money.
But several ward leaders said Brady had told them he'd gotten no commitment from the Obama campaign, and Gov. Rendell said he didn't know what to expect.
"Who knows?" Rendell said when asked by a reporter. "I've recommended and Bob's recommended it, but we have no word, no word."
When he rose to address the crowd of several hundred at the sheet-metal workers union hall, Rendell led them in a bit of lobbying for the benefit of Obama's Pennsylvania political director, Kevin Washo, who was in attendance.
"The single most important thing you can do to get elected is to have street money!" Rendell shouted, adding, "There are people from the Obama campaign here, so let's all say it again. The most important thing you can do to get elected is have street money!"
Washo declined to address the subject when asked. Campaign spokesman Sean Smith declined to answer the question directly, saying only that Obama would "work to maximize turnout." *