Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ups and Downs of My Ward Committee

It been a see-saw couple of weeks for Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee, which I am a member of.

Just this past week, I attended a great event hosted by Ward 5-- a fundraiser headlined by Massachusetts Lt. Governor Tim Murray (I am pictured with him on this blog at the DNC last August in Denver, by the way).

The room at Lir Restaurant in the Back Bay was crowded with candidates. Three out of the four candidates running for Mayor attended, as well as numerous individuals vying for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council.

It was a good event, and it stood as a contrast to a couple of weeks that have been not so hot for the Ward 5 Committee.

Just a few weeks ago, it surfaced that one of our own committee members, herself an elected official, passed on questions for a planned candidates' forum to one of the forum's participants. The only problem being that she only sent the questions to one candidate-- the candidate she was supporting in the election-- and the questions were sent before the forum took place.

We're not talking a major offense here. However, it doesn't smell good. And from a PR perspective (an industry I hope I know well), it looks pretty bad for the committee. The group is supposed to be a bunch of enthusiastic (one would hope innocent) democrats that want to encourage party members to run for office. Instead, with the recent controversy, we could seem to some as just a part of the old Boston political machine.

My friend and fellow Ward 5 Committee member Josh Dawson (who happens to be an elected member of the Mass. Democratic State Committee) has a good post over on his blog on this matter.

For what it's worth, I sent my own recommendations to the Chairman of the committee, Rob Whitney, and I hope they are considered promptly. They are pretty simple recommendations and involve clearly stating and following candidate forum rules and procedures (especially regarding the handling of questions). I would hate to have this issue discourage potential participants in future Ward 5 candidates forums. I am sure Rob and other members of the Ward 5 Executive Committee will rectify the situation.


On a related topic, I have been thinking a lot about the role of the Ward Democratic Committee in general. I joined the committee well over a year ago now, and I must say I have enjoyed the experience far more than I was expecting. I think most of the reason is the people. Committee members are pretty eclectic.

Mr. Dawson and I liken the committee meeting experience to the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina scene from Star Wars. Imagine your walking into the bar in the excerpt below, except it's actually a Ward Committee meeting and you are one of the characters (I must admit we've never had a band at our meetings):

I admire the fact that on the committee, we are all committed Democrats, and I truly believe we all have the best interests of our communities in our minds as we act (and I still believe that despite the recent incident regarding the candidates' forum).

At the same time, though, does the committee really matter? We endorse candidates, and we raise money as a committee, but do we really matter? Looking at the numbers of recent Committee actions since I joined, our record from an endorsement perspective is clearly mixed.

As a group, we endorsed incumbent Senator Dianne Wilkerson last summer, and she went on to lose the state primary to Sonia Chang-Diaz -- more importantly she got trounced in Ward 5. Personally, I ended up not supporting the candidate the Ward endorsed in that race. More recently, the Ward endorsed Aaron Michlewitz in his race to the be the State Rep for the Mass. House 3rd Suffolk seat, and Aaron went on to win.

Endorsements aside, there's no question that the Ward committee members themselves are among the only people who care, non-stop, about politics. So I guess if you are an aspiring politician, they are vital. And if you are just starting your campaign, Ward committee members are a lifeline. Who else would listen to you several months ahead of an actual vote; more importantly, who else would remember you when you come back? I have come to the conclusion that for this and many other reasons, the Ward Committee clearly does matter, though we tend to put way too much emphasis on the endorsement votes. However, the endorsement votes have become a tactic for the committee to attract candidates and get them to speak, collectively, to the group.

My best reason? Ward 5 paid for and organized three bus trips to Manchester, New Hampshire last year to help Barack Obama win that state. A bus load is 60-70 people. I can tell you, as someone who had to organize those trips-- that's a lot of people. So much so that my boss in the organizing game told me at one point, "We need to do those bus trips every week." To which I responded, "Whoo hoo, Ward 5!"

Yes, whoo hoo Ward 5! Let's put in place procedures regarding our forums so we don't end up with egg on our face again like a few weeks ago. And then let's continue our mission and serve our important role in the political process.

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