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Primary shows ineffectiveness of Philly's Democratic organization

Victories by district attorney candidate Larry Krasner and city controller candidate Rebecca Rhynhart show how impotent the local Democratic Party was in this primary.

A GROUP of political activists is seeking to reform the city's Democratic Party from the bottom up by running for party committeemen and committeewomen.

After looking at the results of Tuesday's primary, we are inclined to advise them not to bother — because they will be boarding a sinking ship.

Never has the city's Democratic organization looked so ineffectual, powerless and clueless as in this week's primary. The organization is supposed to deliver the vote. Now, we have to wonder whether it could deliver a baloney sandwich.

The post-election story line is that the city's liberals dominated the day by backing ultra-progressive Larry Krasner, who easily defeated his six rivals for the Democratic nomination for district attorney. The progressives did turn out to vote on Tuesday. Citywide, voter turnout was 19 percent. In the city's 11 liberal wards — Center City, Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, etc. — it averaged a shade under 30 percent.

That's a formidable showing that many attribute to the pent-up energy, born of frustration, over the results of the November election.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the party chairman, would argue that his organization didn't have a horse in the DA's race. It did not endorse any candidate for that position. So, the results mean nothing.

But how can Brady explain the victory of Rebecca Rhynhart over incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz? Butkovitz had the record (12 years in the office), the name recognition, lots more money, and the endorsement of Democratic City Committee. (Not a surprise because Butkovitz is leader of Somerton's 54th Ward.)

Also, Rhynhart did not have 1.4 million political action committee created by billionaire George Soros that Krasner benefited from.

Still, she beat Butkovitz by nearly 17 percentage points, a thumping of the highest magnitude. Butkovitz said she rode the progressive wave, and that's true as far as it goes. But Rhynhart's win extended beyond liberal wards. She won 48 of the city's 66 wards, including several in the Northeast, Butkovitz's home turf.

The incumbent did win his home ward, the 54th, but only by 655 votes. And turnout was miserable — just 9 percent. In fact, the Northeast in general was missing in action on Election Day, with anemic voter turnout that averaged six points below the citywide average. Butkovitz won the 18 wards that constitute that area of the city by fewer than 1,000 votes.

All losers have to take some blame for the results, but Butkovitz was neither a bad politician nor a bad public servant. His fatal flaw appears to be his close attachment to the party organization.

Everyone knows the party machine can't control the vote in high-visibility elections. People will vote their own minds for president, governor and mayor. But the organization is supposed to deliver in the low-visibility races, such as judges. Brady takes it as a point of pride that he can deliver for endorsed candidates for these jobs. Not this time. Four of the nine would-be judges who had the party's endorsement for Common Pleas Court lost Tuesday — one of the highest loss ratios in recent years.

If you can't get people out to vote and you can't get your candidates elected, what are you good for? You suck up resources, money and manpower — and offer nothing in return.

There's a name for creatures like that. Zombies.