Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Scranton Mayoral Election, Part II

So, why did Gary DiBileo, a truly nice guy, not win the Scranton Mayoral Primary against incumbent Chris Doherty?

After all, Gary had several things going for him, including:
  • A "throw the bums out" mood among the electorate
  • City Democratic Party endorsement
  • Seemingly high negatives against the incumbent (especially among uniformed city employees)
  • The ability to piggy-back with a popular city council candidate, namely Janet Evans
But yet there was no victory, and in fact it appears that Gary actually lost this election by a wider margin than he did when he last ran against Mayor Doherty.

As is the case for a lot of things in life, I suspect that the reasons for this outcome are more complex than most of us realize. Also, don't buy the "he was outspent by Doherty" rhetoric you will see on various sundry message boards; outside of actually buying votes, spending money on campaigns doesn't guarantee success. What's more, while Gary lacked the Mayor's ability to spend money on media, he (Gary) had something that helped to even the playing field: the hour long anti-Doherty commercial known as "Citizens participation during Scranton City Council meetings", which is something that was running long before Gary even announced and which didn't cost him a red cent.

No, I think the chief reason why Gary lost was pretty simple: voters (outside of uniformed city employees who are being harmed economically by the Mayor) didn't have a compelling reason to vote for him. There are couple of sub-facets to this:
  • Taxes - Sure, Gary touted "no more 25% tax hikes", but if you are a city taxpayer (as I am), it's difficult to perceive how my taxes actually went up by 25%. Yes, a few years ago my wage tax went up a little bit, but hell, so did my state tax.
  • New Kind of Political (but with an Old Kind of Political Approach) - It's tough to run as the outsider when you carry your city party endorsement. I don't know who is responsible for the endorsements coming out of the city Democratic Party, but I strongly suspect that it's very much "smokey back room" kind of stuff. Pardon me, but that screams "Politics as usual" to me, not "new kind of politician". I think the Mayor's failure to win an endorsement actually helped his campaign by blunting some of the "throw the bums out" sentiment.
  • Things Are Bad? - Gary was trying to paint a picture of stormy weather approaching when most people are already in the middle of an economic hurricane. Case in point - The bonus I received in February was 52% less than the year before; that's my economic issue, not the fact that the police haven't had a raise in umpteen years.
  • Checks and Balances - By voting in a new majority into City Council (under Ms Evans leadership), I think many voters felt that the excesses of the Mayor could be curbed while maintaining the positives. If that's the case, why throw the Mayor out?
  • The Respect Card - Gary tried to paint the Mayor as being disrespectful of city residents. The problem is that most Scranton residents knew the "city residents" he was referring to were frequent City Council speakers. Now I have no beef with anyone who wants to engage their local government on important issues, but come on, let's be serious for a moment - you see the same faces week after week at Council meetings, and it's clear that this small group is on a perpetual Doherty "seek and destroy" mission. Yes, those individuals may have legitimate issues to argue, but it's hard to paint a picture of them being representative of all city residents. In point of fact, they are not representative of anyone other than themselves. Also, while these individuals regularly berate the Mayor week after week, I've never actually seen or heard the Mayor be disrespectful to these same individuals (that's not true of certain City Council members); in fact, the Mayor seems pretty good at respectfully ignoring people who criticize him. All this adds up to the fact that, in my opinion, Gary's "respect card" carried zero weight. He was raising an issue that simply didn't exist in most people's minds.

Hey, all of this is just my dopey opinion, so take it for what it is worth. In the final analysis, the political process is a lot like making hotdogs: it's not pretty. So I wish Gary DiBileo well in all of his future endeavors; he's a good guy who definitely shouldn't finish last. As for Mayor Doherty, well let's all hope that this election provided the incentive for him to work with the new City Council majority for a better Scranton.

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