Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader brought his low-overhead campaign to Philadelphia last night in the hope of stirring his supporters to get him onto Pennsylvania's ballot in November - and to take shots at the state authorities who kicked him off it four years ago for a want of valid signatures.
He told about 80 people, who paid from $5 to $10 to attend a rally at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square, that blocking him and other third-party candidates from spots on the ballot "can only be called Jim Crow-ism against candidates."
Nader also urged the audience to picket the Pittsburgh law firm of Reed Smith "anywhere you see them" for waging a successful Democratic effort to have him removed from the 2004 ballot, with the help, he said, of "this little crooked judge in Philadelphia."
So went the presidential campaign appearance by Nader, who focused on his many grievances and did not, during an hour-long speech, include any promises of what he would do if elected.
The grudges ranged from the personal - he is still fighting a court battle to avoid paying Reed Smith $61,000 in court costs and has frozen assets - to the political. He condemned President Bush and Vice President Cheney as "the most impeachable regime in American history," blasted Democrats for not pursuing impeachment efforts, and called the American system "a two-party elected dictatorship" fixated on rewarding its contributors. "Every government department and agency is now controlled by corporations," Nader said.
It was, he said in an interview beforehand, his standard stump speech, aimed here mainly at motivating his Philadelphia-area supporters to raise money and signatures to keep his voice in the national political debate by getting him onto ballots. He said none of the three remaining major presidential candidates is acceptable - all too corporate - but spoke admiringly of Ron Paul, whose fund-raising successes and stances at odds with the Republican line on foreign policy Nader said he appreciated as a fellow diehard.
"I think it's a contribution to deepening and widening the dialogue," Nader said.
Nader is in the middle of an East Coast swing that is to carry him to New Jersey today.
He said he wanted to raise $10 million for his national effort, which he described to the crowd with optimism, of a sort. The latest poll numbers, he said, had him close to 5 percent nationally.
"It's not bad without much coverage," Nader said.
After he concluded his speech, campaign staffers clutching red plastic buckets began asking for donations for the campaign. As they did, Kevin Patrick Kelly and his father slipped out - to find an ATM.
"A lot of things he's talking about, such as impeaching the president, I'd taken off the table," said Kevin Kelly, who turns 18 in September and said he planned to vote for Nader. "He's . . . inspired me to think about a lot of stuff."
Nader needs 24,666 valid signatures to win a place on the Pennsylvania ballot in November. In 2004, he was tossed off the ballot after Commonwealth Court found that only 37 percent of his 51,273 signatures were valid.