Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/11/2005 | Short on bucks, but long on blogs

Carrier Pigeon?

Speaking of that, my son, Grant, 7, has a neighborhood buddie bird -- named Mailman. He's a local pigeon who hops up on Grant's hand.
Philadelphia Inquirer | 05/11/2005 | Short on bucks, but long on blogs: "Though it seems modest, a national Democratic political consultant who specializes in Internet organizing sees the Philadelphia effort as a beginning. Bloggers in Pittsburgh have been talking up a candidate in the mayoral primary there.

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Posted on Wed, May. 11, 2005

Short on bucks, but long on blogs

By Thomas Fitzgerald

Inquirer Staff Writer

Insurgent district attorney candidate Seth Williams can't afford TV or radio ads, but at least he has Rowhouse Logic, Above Average Jane, and Young Philly Politics.

They are three of the local Internet Web logs (blogs) that have taken up Williams' cause in the May 17 Philadelphia Democratic primary with a vengeance, generating volunteers, money and buzz for his campaign.

While blog power has been well-celebrated in national politics - consider bloggers' role in former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's brief reign as a front-running Democratic presidential candidate last year - the Williams effort is considered one of the few attempts ever to unite electronic activists around a candidate for local office.

Williams strategists say they believe the bloggers provide at least a modest counterweight to District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham's power. She is a 14-year veteran who has plenty of campaign cash - but so far no bloggers - and the support of Democratic Party ward leaders.

"The bloggers tend to be leaders," said Ray Murphy, who runs Williams' Internet operation. "I think of them as carrier pigeons spreading the word."

Over the last month, about 70 people have signed up as volunteers on Williams' Web site, most of them encouraged by bloggers, Murphy said. They have joined supporters from several unions to run phone banks and canvass for votes, he said.

In addition, Williams says about 4 percent of the $77,141 he has raised since Jan. 1 has arrived by way of the Internet.

At least 10 Philadelphia-oriented blogs, with a daily readership that the campaign estimates at 3,000, have staged three coordinated "days of action" for Williams. They have urged readers to consider Williams' platform, to volunteer for him, and to file an electronic pledge to vote for him on the candidate's Web site, Some of the bloggers also have filed regular dispatches on the campaign.

Though it seems modest, a national Democratic political consultant who specializes in Internet organizing sees the Philadelphia effort as a beginning. Bloggers in Pittsburgh have been talking up a candidate in the mayoral primary there.

"A lot of national campaigns see the Internet as a glorified ATM machine," said Tim Tagaris, the consultant working to set up Chuck Pennacchio's 2006 U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania. "Regionalization is going to be the next wave," Tagaris said.

He also has written extensively about the Philadelphia phenomenon on his national blog, Swing State Project. Tagaris said that local blogs, with their small audiences, have the same organizing potential in cyberspace as the neighborhood networks that President Bush's reelection campaign put together to win support in small towns and rural areas.

"It's that same peer-to-peer strategy, but online," Tagaris said. "Millions of people have blogs, but they are read for the most part by neighbors, friends, coworkers and family. You are able to influence a few people at a time."

Blogs can have more power locally because those who write them tend to be influential, active and have extensive social networks in their communities, said Julie Barko Germany, deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University. "People are just starting to discover the possibilities," Barko Germany said.

Fairmount resident Daniel Urevick-Ackelsberg said he was searching for a reform candidate in the city's Democratic primary to continue his 2004 activism when he heard of Williams. He read up on the candidate, a former assistant prosecutor, then met him and hosted a house party to introduce him to neighbors.

Urevick-Ackelsberg - who runs the blog Young Philly Politics ( - liked Williams' emphasis on "community prosecution," reorganizing the District Attorney's Office on geographic lines to improve on the 50 percent rate of dismissal of felony arrests. He began pushing Williams to fellow bloggers.

"He's exactly the kind of candidate Philadelphia needed," said Urevick-Ackelsberg, a policy analyst for a nonprofit organization. "There's a strong desire for some kind of reform movement in a political culture that is so insular and refuses to change."

In coming days, the Williams campaign plans to include canvassing lists on its Web site for supporters to download, Murphy said. Campaign literature and window signs already are available there.

"We want to get Seth's name and ideas out to as many households as possible," Murphy said.
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or
What They're Saying

Excerpts from local blogs on the race for district attorney:

• "Reform. Reform. Reform. Everyone loves it. The question is, how do you put it into place? And are you willing to take actions to help make it happen? Are you willing to go to bat for a candidate who is putting himself on the line?"

Young Philly Politics, March 28

• "Not many people are expected to vote in the elections on May 17 - turnout is expected to be around 25%. But ... voters can send a message that the status quo isn't good enough."

- barkingmoose, May 5

"What can we all do before the election? We can all spread the word. Send an e-mail to your friends, co-workers and family. Leave a comment on someone's blog. Write on your own blog."

- dragonballyee, May 5