Editor's note: This was submitted by Patricia DeCarlo, Marjorie Dugan, Germaine Ingram, Karen Spencer Kelly, Georgette A. Miller, Marilyn Monaco, Bethann R. Naples, Liz Werthan and Marsha Zibalese-Crawford. They are educators, lawyers, community leaders and advocates from all sections of the city.
AS CONCERNED citizens, we believe that the recent developments in this primary election call for a thorough and comprehensive review.
Some of the very initiatives and institutions established to reform the election process and ensure an open and fair election have in effect altered and manipulated the process, resulting in an election that continues to disappoint concerned citizens and voters.
Philadelphians passed campaign-finance laws that targeted pay-to-play. The goal was well-intentioned - but, in actuality, these laws have not adequately addressed all situations. Even those who most strongly encouraged passage of campaign-finance laws have been questioning the impact these laws have had on the current campaign.
Recently, we've learned from reading the Inquirer that there is considerable concern about the new laws. Even Zack Stalberg, head of the Committee of Seventy and longtime editor of the Daily News is worried - enough to publicly ask the millionaire candidate to curtail his spending.
He recognizes, as do we, that when one candidate is able to personally underwrite his campaign, while others must operate under campaign-finance constraints, the playing field is far from level. And campaign-finance laws have spawned the new "527" groups, which are able to operate by much-less-stringent rules, and typically function to attack candidates rather than issues.
Some Philadelphians had concerns about these same laws long before this election. The questions raised noted that inequities would occur if one candidate was able to avoid the fundraising limits by paying the tab with his own resources - a reality that's playing out in this election - and no one wants those without great wealth to be excluded from public service - this questions the very definition of democracy. But anyone questioning the proposed campaign-finance laws was accused of being against good government and election reform (much as those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq were made to feel un-American and unpatriotic).
We support campaign-finance laws and election reform in general, but Philadelphia's laws are rigid and fail to adjust for the power of the independently wealthy. Illinois has introduced campaign finance laws with funding limits that increase as a candidate of personal wealth changes the funding base - and thus the playing field.
But we don't believe that rigid campaign-finance laws are the only aspect of the election process that requires review. We believe that the media, especially but not exclusively the print media, continue to try to subvert the voice and role of citizens by acts of commission and omission.
Over the last decade, there has been increasing pressure on the national media to delay calling a decision in an election until everyone has voted. Philadelphia should consider demanding the same of our local media. Soon after their own endorsements, the print media, the Inquirer and Daily News in particular, in essence declared the election over.
THE PAPERS indicated to readers that there were only two candidates who could win. The majority of citizens could not imagine that there could be subtle manipulation by the media - some people in the media are not even aware, sometimes, of the biases they project - cutting off a speaker prematurely, omitting some of the facts in a "news" story, facts that would tell a very different story.
We can only wonder why this was done weeks ahead of the actual election, especially in this particular election. Most polls continue to indicate that there is a significant group of undecided voters, maybe as much as 25 percent. Yet the Inquirer rushed to endorse a candidate on April 29, more than two weeks before the election, in effect dismissing three viable candidates from consideration - and subtly suggesting to voters that it would be a wasted vote to support anyone other than their two "finalists."
If a number of those undecideds vote for one of the candidates, he could very easily be the next mayor. What a tragedy if the top choice of the electorate were to be defeated because voters thought the race had already been decided!
It is vital that Philadelphians have an opportunity to choose from among ALL the candidates on Election Day - not merely the candidates the media "suggest" are the only ones who count.
Our plea is not about promoting one candidate or another. This alert is a call to all Philadelphians to demand that a comprehensive, thorough, and open review of the current election process be undertaken immediately after this election. Real election reform - and democracy - depend on it. *