Southside Politics–Do It Yourself!

The losing candidates in the 4th Common Council District are trying to develop a political organization that they hope will increase the influence of Southside residents in city elections. According to the Post-Standard: “The candidates, Steven Coker and Khalid Bey, said Thursday they are forming the group to convince South Side residents there is power in their votes, to organize them as a force that can influence elections, and to hold community leaders accountable.”

Older residents of the Southside already understand the power of their votes and their ability to influence elections. They flexed their muscles by electing Tom Seals twice–over the objections of the local Democratic machine. Older folks express their discontent by voting, young folks by dropping out. A larger percentage of senior citizens are registered and vote than do young working families. Older Southside residents respect and identify with Tom Seals–not with a rather aloof lawyer moonlighting as a contractor or an aspiring rapper.

Bey and Coker now understand that they have to run long-term registration campaign, THEN get out their vote.

Why did Tom Seals get 71% of the vote this election? Coker and Bey point to the machine politics of the Working Families party and the disproportionate impact of the more affluent eastside neighborhoods on total voter turnout. While both of these factors played a part, there were other equally important factors:

1) You can’t beat a somebody with a nobody. Tom Seals is well-known and well-liked in the community. He was one of the first African-Americans on the police force and retired after a long career. His son Ray played in the N.F.L. He is the incumbent in the district. He is active in the American Legion and worked after his retirement in the school district.
Neither of his opponents have that kind of profile in the community.

2) You can’t rely on the local Democratic Party to win your election. The party can barely get enough signatures for its candidates, much less withstand an intense door-to-door campaign like Seals’. The party is resting on its laurels, its 3 to 1 enrollment edge over the Republicans.

3) Stand for something. Seals campaigned on his record of supporting living wage legislation and fighting for more state funding for education. People need to identify you with an issue or two, as well as believe that you can deliver on your promises. Coker and Bey never created a clear message, never giving voters a reason to support their candidacies.

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