Word on the street: No election $

Posted: April 15, 2008

DEMOCRATIC candidates and political celebrities Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton greeted the foot soldiers of Philadelphia's Democratic Party last night with praise and inspiration - but no money.

Neither campaign will be making traditional payments, known as "street money," to ward leaders willing to support them on election day, and some are unhappy about it.

One ward leader said that Obama is even charging him for buttons and lawn signs.

"We're not going to pay for votes or pay for turnout," Obama told the Daily News yesterday before speaking to hundreds of ward leaders and committeepeople at the party's pre-election day fundraiser.

Clinton wasn't available to reporters to discuss her campaign's decision to stiff the party faithful, but her chief Pennsylvania booster, Gov. Rendell was.

"Senator Clinton has no street money," Rendell said. "We barely have enough to communicate on basic media. Senator Obama has money to burn."

Ward leaders use street money to pay party committeepeople to work their voting divisions on election day and sometimes for other expenses, including meals, transportation or for hiring extra workers.

Many party veterans say the lack of street cash won't matter in a highly visible and hotly contested presidential primary, since voters are already energized and won't be persuaded by a committeeperson's recommendation.

But that doesn't mean it won't bruise some feelings.

"It's a grave concern to a lot of ward leaders in poorer sections of the city," said West Philadelphia ward leader Carol Campbell. "Not everyone who is a committeeperson has a patronage job. Many have menial positions, and they have to take the day off to work election day."

Northeast Philadelphia ward leader and city controller Alan Butkovitz said that presidential candidates don't need ward leaders to get the turnout.

"This strikes me as much ado about nothing," Butkovitz said. "I can't remember when a presidential candidate came in and gave money. . . . I'm sure on election day they'll have all kinds of union support, telephone banks and field operations going."

Several African-American ward leaders who support Obama said last night that they aren't bothered by the lack of street money, and that their troops are truly inspired by his campaign.

It also helps that the party itself will come up with some cash.

The Democratic City Committee raises money for election day street operations from candidates for state legislature and other offices, and from the pre-election fundraiser.

The party used the star power of Obama and Clinton to make last night's event especially lucrative. In addition to drawing robust attendance at the $150-a-ticket dinner, a special VIP reception was arranged for those willing to give $1,000 or more.

On Friday it's expected that the party will give ward leaders cash at a rate of $200 or more per voting division, a respectable sum.

Still, Germantown Philadelphia ward leader Greg Paulmier said his commmitteepeople need some help to help their candidate.

"My ward's going to be an Obama ward," Paulmier said. "We've had to buy all our literature, buy all our street signs, and we haven't bought as much of it because we can't afford to. . . . We've raised $1,500 to buy yard signs and literature to canvass our community."

What does the Obama campaign charge him for street signs?

"They're seven dollars apiece, including shipping," Paulmier said. "So without those street dollars, we're going to have a hard time producing the turnout we'd like to produce in this election."

Former city councilman and ward leader Ed Schwartz said that street money doesn't deserve the seedy connotation it has among political reformers. He said it funds something valuable for the party and communities in the city.

He recalled working hard and getting a 90 percent turnout in his voting division for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

"They weren't voting for Jimmy Carter, they were voting for themselves and me," Schwartz said, "because I would tell them, 'Your vote determines your value to the political system.' "Asked if committee people had to be paid to work for a candidate they believe in, Schwartz said, "People feel if a candidate is willing to pay millions of dollars for a TV ad, they ought to be willing to pay a hundred dollars for somebody really trying to get the vote out. It's a dignity thing." *

Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this story.

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