My 10 Cents
Well, it's been four days since the polls closed and the votes were tallied and among the first lessons learned: Four days is an ample amount of time for a cooling-off period. In any event, still wanted to share a few thoughts from the campaign trail that I've just gotten off of. Yeah, in the initial post I laid the blame for John Dougherty's loss at the feet of the press and, still, I feel there's some merit to that argument despite those who say it's sour grapes. But make no mistake about it: there were a boatload of factors that played into this thing. Judging by the comments that started coming in before I even posted anything, many of you won't agree. Which is fine, as long as you give them the courtesy of a read before disagreeing.
1. This was the first non-journalism job of my life (unless you count hauling kegs off trucks at Canal's on Rte. 38), and what struck me most was how quickly a diverse group of people can gel together behind a common cause. I saw dozens of staffers and thousands of volunteers, many from non-union walks of life, rally behind a candidacy that, spin aside, promised to defend the rights of the little guys (and gals) across the commonwealth. We're talking seven-day-a-week dedication here. I'm sure when I look back, the first thought will be pride in having been part of such a hard-working team, not the disappointment in the outcome (which'll be a close second).
2. Despite people calling for John to take his gloves off once the opposition attacks started coming in heavier, he never wavered on his originial stance to run a positive campaign. I can't imagine there are too many people out there who'd have the same fortitude to keep it clean when they're being called every nasty thing imaginable. That took a lot of guts, something that First District residents will need from their new state senator, and something that I hope Larry stored away over the course of his victorious campaign. (If their parties' lowly, fourth-grade-level "Ding Dong Dock is Dead" exhibition - particularly coming from a purportedly grown-up city councilperson - is any indicator, there's still some work to do on that front. Say what you will about it, but John deserves respect for keeping it clean all the way through.)
3. Yes, I have beef with the media coverage:
a. For two months, the campaign found itself under daily assault from the papers. Don't get me wrong: That's all well and good. This was an election and the public's right to know should never be squelched. That said, it often felt like there was only one candidate in the race and when stories aren't being written about the others, any little turn of a word from a copy editor or headline-writer (who aren't out in the field) becomes fodder for a negative television ad. That's precisely what happened. Having spoken to many people since Tuesday, it became clear that that barrage was effective in turning voters away from John, particularly in Center City, where the massive Presidential-driven turnout proved to be a, if not the, deciding factor to Larry's benefit).
If you're going to look into one candidate, you should look into all the candidates with the same passion and fervor. I'm not sure that happened here. Instead, it seems like it became a referendum on John Dougherty, not a three-way campaign.
b. Like I said from day one when I took this gig, I'd hoped people would take some time to set the predisposed notions of John aside and get to know him before passing judgement. The John I got to know over the course of the past two/three months isn't a knuckle-dragging bully. Quite the opposite actually: He's a guy who tirelessly works to make life better for his family, community and, yes, union membership. Aside from the Inquirer's Joe Gambardello, I'm not sure many reporters even asked him to talk about who he really is and why he was the right guy for the job. No doubt there was a lot of backstory that needed parsing; I just wish it could've involved some forward-thinking angles as well.
c. Joe's columnist peer Monica Yant-Kinney came right out of the gate from John's launch party at the Edward O'Malley Rec Center, mocking those on hand as being straight from South Philly/Mummers central casting and was relentless throughout the campaign. It's one thing to be critical; it's another to be insulting. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, this may be an instance of pot calling the kettle black, considering I often got a wee bit insulting in my old column. So, take that one for what it's worth.)
d. The one story that I wish had been told earlier and more often was the fact that the press actually did have what it wanted all along: A Fumo/Dougherty showdown. Had the public known that Fumo was behind Farnese's candidacy, perhaps some of the scrutiny would have rightfully shifted away from John. Though we tried making that point for weeks early on, it was largely ignored until, seemingly out of nowhere from the public's perspective, state senators from western Pa. started pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into Farnese's warchest.
Would it have made a difference for the undeniable ties to have been reported in, say, early March? Possibly. But, you know what they say about hindsight.
(As an aside, why on earth wouldn't either of the dailies run the photo of Fumo holding Farnese's arm over his head at the victory party? I know the outgoing senator is no Burgess Meredith and the incoming senator no Balboa, but that was the one shot that summarizes the entire campaign.)
e. I wonder whether the Inquirer's editorial board ever wondered whether it'd made a major mistake when its endorsed candidate misrepresented its words in a television ad after telling them, point-blank, that he had no support from Fumo. (And how about that half-hearted nod after the fact that now he has to come out from the Fumo shadows and prove his independence? Wish I'd have read that one before April 22.)
f. I wonder whether the Committee of 70 overstepped its bounds when, on the eve of the election, it went public with the fact that it'll be putting more poll watchers on the streets to keep an eye on Dougherty backers. I mean, should a non-partisan organization really perpetuate such stories when, in retrospect, the only story to come out of the day was that not a single crazy thing happened despite thousands of volunteers out on the streets? (There is a history there between John and 70's head, Zack Stalberg, who I've long respected, but again, stories were created based on past perception not present reality.)
4. Oh yeah, my original thought: I still think that the First District made out worse than anybody else on Election Day. Having been with John day-in and day-out, I have zero doubt that he would've gone to Harrisburg and fought any fight necessary to get illegal guns off the streets and deliver Fumo-level monies back to the district. I'm not sure Larry has that same art-of-the-deal fire, though I hope he proves me wrong, big-time.
5. And finally, the biggest lesson from the campaign: I'm sure anybody who's ever been involved in politics already knows this, but you can "What if" yourself to the brink of insanity in the days after a loss. The world didn't end on Tuesday; a campaign did.
So many different variables are at play, even in a state senate race, that it's impossible to know how it's going to go until it's already went. What's important to remember is that Election Day is the voters' day, not the candidates'. John, Anne Dicker and Larry Farnese and their teams should all be congratulated for the heart and soul they poured into the past several months. Like John said after the results came in, they're all still Democrats and as such, everybody has to keep working together for the First District's benefit. Here's hoping Larry makes a great state senator.
The last thing I want anybody to think is that I'm sitting here whining. We fought and we lost. It's as simple as that. But, considering my dozen-year's journalism background, it would've been impossible for me not to offer some post-mortem commentary.
Of course my take's one-sided. I was on one side. But make no mistake about it: Being on the inside of a political campaign is an exhilirating experience that I couldn't even have imagined by watching from the outside in. Even though we lost, I'm proud of the campaign we ran. Just wish it'd turned out a few thousand votes differently. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see what's going on over at Canal's.