Letter: Open the 22nd Ward, open all wards

by Michael R. Swayze, Democratic committee person in the 22nd Ward and is a Co-chair of the 22nd Ward Open Caucus.
Posted 5/4/22

The 22nd Ward — led by ward leader Cindy Bass, who is also a sitting member of City Council — is a troubling example of the ward system gone wrong.

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Letter: Open the 22nd Ward, open all wards

Posted

The city’s ward system is a microcosm of democracy on a hyper-local level. Every four years, Democratic and Republican voters elect committee people to represent them — to hear from candidates, and to vote on who they think would best represent their constituents and deserve an endorsement. 

Then, the committee people energetically disseminate their endorsements and, more importantly, drive voter turnout among their neighbors. That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway.

Unfortunately, many wards in the city do not operate this way. The majority of wards are “closed,” in which ward leaders collect money from candidates, and unilaterally make endorsements on behalf of the ward without any input from elected committee people. 

The 22nd Ward — led by ward leader Cindy Bass, who is also a sitting member of City Council — is a troubling example of the ward system gone wrong. Ms. Bass not only runs a closed ward, but has gone so far as to exclude any committee people who advocate for open wards principles that guarantee committee people are empowered to represent their constituents in a ward that is transparent, inclusive, and democratic in its operations and endorsement process. 

Beyond being shut out of ward meetings and endorsements, these committee people have been denied poll watcher certificates to safeguard the voting process, and materials to inform voters on election day. Their requests for full transparency of ward finances and to use Robert’s Rules of Order, a basic practice of any democratic body, have been denied. 

Not to be dissuaded from the roles they were elected to play, these committee people, members of the 22nd Ward Open Caucus, have continued to volunteer vigorously for their neighbors, knocking on doors, printing newsletters, organizing voter registration drives, GOTV campaigns, and voter education events before and throughout the pandemic. 

Councilmember Bass’ justification for excluding select committee people is that their dissenting views on how the ward business should be conducted constitutes “unacceptable behavior” that disrupts the ward’s operations. 

Shutting duly-elected committee people out of the ward disenfranchises both them and their constituents.

This sort of “leadership” is unacceptable on any level of democratic government. Elected committee people have every right to participate in ward activities, and ward leaders should not shut them out simply because they have a disagreement with them. 

If wards cannot operate in an open manner where dissenting viewpoints foster robust, healthy debate on issues, they no longer embody the democratic process, but something else entirely where power is maintained by suppression and disenfranchisement.

The 22nd Ward Open Caucus stands for the principles that wards should be rooted in democracy and committee people ought to be empowered in their efforts to support and represent their constituents, not suppressed. Open Wards Philly was created and exists to foster and encourage these principles in wards across the city, including the 22nd Ward.

In the upcoming May 17 primary election, voters in the 22nd Ward have the opportunity to elect neighbors to represent them in the Ward Committee. These elected committee people will, in turn, attend a meeting on June 6 to elect a ward leader for the next four-year term. If the current ward leader, Cindy Bass, continues to suppress the participation and votes of elected committee people, she will likely guarantee herself re-election. But will it be legitimate?

We think not, and we call on Ms. Bass to immediately restore full participation of all committee people. It’s time for true democracy in the Democratic 22nd Ward.

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