Friday, April 11, 2008


PETER NICHOLAS, LOS ANGELES TIMES Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up. The dispute centers on the dispensing of "street money," a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city's Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote.

Flush with payments from well-funded campaigns, the ward leaders and Democratic Party bosses typically spread out the cash in the days before the election, handing $10, $20 and $50 bills to the foot soldiers and loyalists who make up the party's workforce. It is all legal -- but Obama's people are telling the local bosses he won't pay. . .

Obama's posture confounds neighborhood political leaders sympathetic to his cause. They caution that if the senator from Illinois withholds money that gubernatorial, mayoral and presidential candidates have willingly paid out for decades, there could be defections to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And the Clinton campaign, in contrast, will oblige in forking over the money, these ward leaders predict.

"We've heard directly from the Obama organizer who organizes our ward, and he told us it's an entirely volunteer organization and that I should not expect to see anything from the Obama campaign other than ads on TV and the support that volunteers are giving us," said Greg Paulmier, a ward leader in the northwest part of the city.

Neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign would say publicly whether it would comply with Philadelphia's street money customs. But an Obama aide said Thursday that it had never been the campaign's practice to make such payments. . .

Carol Ann Campbell, a ward leader and Democratic superdelegate who supports Obama, estimated that the amount of street money Obama would need to lay out for election day is $400,000 to $500,000. . .

Peter Wilson, a ward leader from West Philadelphia, said: "Most of the ward leaders, we live in a very poor area, and people look forward to election days. . . . People are astute. They know the Obama campaign has raised millions of dollars."

Street money is an enduring political practice in Philadelphia and cities including Chicago, Baltimore, Newark and Los Angeles. . .

A famous scene played out at a Democratic committee meeting during the 1980 presidential primary. Vice President Walter F. Mondale came to Philadelphia hoping to boost support for President Carter, then in a tough nomination fight with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Mondale made his pitch, touting Carter's record on human rights and the economy.

In an interview Thursday, Mondale picked up the story from there: "I finished my remarks, and the first person who stood up said: 'Where's the money?' And I think he was talking about street money."

Dryly, Mondale added: "That was not the subject of my talk."

Before the 2002 state elections, a reporter watched two practitioners of the street-money arts in action: Campbell and U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, a ward leader and chair of Philadelphia's Democratic committee.

Brady was sitting in his campaign office with two of his political lieutenants. He reached into a desk drawer at one point and pulled out a $50 bill -- street money. Brady tore it in two and gave each man a half. Then the men made a bet: Whoever pulled in the most Democratic votes that day from his precincts would get both halves.

The night before that vote, Campbell, sitting at a kitchen table in a retirement community in West Philadelphia, spent hours passing out street money to various Democratic committee people. She kept receipts, working with stacks of cash. Campbell would give $10 to local teenagers assigned to put leaflets in doorways. And she paid out $100 to each of the committee people in her jurisdiction. . .

Garry Williams, a ward leader based in north-central Philadelphia, said that he had not heard directly that the Obama campaign was withholding money. But he said payment would be needed. Workers who are in the field for Obama on April 22 will put in days stretching from 12 to 16 hours, he said.

"It's our tradition," Williams said. "You don't come to someone's house and change the rules of someone's house. That's just respect."


At April 11, 2008 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's rich, coming from a candidate who looked the other way at the Daley and Stroger family kleptocracies in Chicago as he worked his way up the system.


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