Ward Politics & Getting Out The Vote

The late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo

Frank Rizzo 1920-1991


As I stood at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections watching vans with voters being dropped off to vote early it was a throwback to my childhood in Philadelphia.  Not that early voting was ever an option there but delivering your vote in any way possible was.  


I thought to myself how it’s elections like this one that the late Frank Rizzo would get a kick out of watching.  That’s because it’s shaping up to be an election that could turn on the fundamentals of the ward politics and the get out the vote efforts which he and so many of that era mastered.


Frank Rizzo was a colorful character, loved by some, despised by others, who rose from high school dropout to beat cop to police chief to Mayor of Philadelphia.  He was a man who knew how to campaign and how to run a campaign.  


Among the different political jobs I’ve had in my life was working for Rizzo in his 1987 race for mayor.  I wore many hats but one was ward coordinator and in that role I got a firsthand lesson in the importance of the personal approach of driving out the vote.


Today’s campaigns & elections are run with a certain disconnect.  They’re television events, paid media, controlled messages that you hope resonate with voters who are in turn compelled enough to elect you into office.  In the old days that meant leaving too much to chance.


You relied on the ground game to deliver a victory.  That task fell to your ward leaders (usually people who had a nice government related job) and committee people.  The committeeperson was the one voters turned to when they needed a favor, a streetlight, a stop sign a nuisance issue.  They took care of you and when it came to Election Day they expected the favor returned.  


They canvassed leading up to election day reminding the voters of their deeds and while they pushed the party ticket you always knew the race they were most interested in.  They’d hand the voter the sample ballot and tell them “Just give me Joe Blow for Council” or something like that you  knew they had a lot riding on the outcome (very often their job.) 


As you voted  they crossed your name off a list and if you hadn’t voted by dinner time you could expect a knock on the door and the offer of a ride to the polls.  I worked against this system more often than not in my tilting at wind mill days and it was formidable.


The key for Democrats to winning Pennsylvania was always the margin of victory coming out of Philadelphia.   The same will hold true on November 4th in Ohio and Cuyahoga County.



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