At one point, it could be said that the mayoral election was the Super Bowl of Philadelphia politics. The mayor‘s race was the big game and everyone in town paid attention. Coverage dominated the local media on television, in print, and on the radio and real Philadelphians offered strong opinions about candidates. But, today, the mayor’s race is more like a high-school soccer match—a low-turnout affair engaging insiders and covered by a handful of reporters. We deserve better.
Local government has the most profound impact on our lives but most Americans spend very little time thinking about the local politics that sets our government in motion. Philadelphia neighborhoods are overwhelmed with trash, city streets are pockmarked with potholes, and the murder rate is climbing to unacceptable highs. But, anymore, when it comes to electoral politics, Philadelphians are less concerned with the sorry state of the city and more consumed with outrage about the Trump Administration. Local residents chatter about the Mueller report but are unmoved by the local headlines detailing shady deals and dirty deeds. Neighbors mutter about funding for Trump’s wall, but barely notice that in the proposed budget, city spending will have increased by about 25 percent during the mayor’s term.
We may never enjoy a mayoral election the way we enjoyed Super Bowl LII, but I’m going to be rooting just as hard as I did for the Eagles for us to raise our civic game for the May 21st primary election,
Philadelphians may not have strong opinions about local politics, but so many have strong feelings about local sports. While the fate of the future city could be reshaped by the upcoming primary election, Philadelphians are worried more about the Sixers’ playoff push and the Phillies’ pennant hopes than they are about any mayor debates. Folks who won’t delve into the nuances of urban policy will eagerly debate an Eagles quarterback controversy. Neighbors who will shrug when asked to name a few of City Council’s at-large members will quickly tick off a list of free agents the Phillies should pursue.
I wonder what would happen if we covered local politics like local sports. Would a Philadelphia with two radio stations dedicated to round-the-clock local-politics-and-government talk engage folks in a discussion about what we want for our city’s future? Would a dedicated local-politics-and-government newspaper section filled with recap stories by beat reporters and analysis by columnists inform folks in a way that would motivate them to follow local political developments on a daily basis? Would mandatory daily “post-game” mayoral press conferences allow reporters to pose the tough questions to establish a measure of accountability that is sorely lacking right now?
While the mood of the city is undoubtedly influenced by the performance of our sports teams, the future of the city will be determined in large part by the performance of our local elected officials. Whether you “trust the process” or think “you gotta believe,” our city would be better served if Philadelphians invested the same mental energy in the local political process that it invests in local sports. Similarly, if Philadelphia media devoted as much coverage to local politics and government as it does to our local sports ballers, Philadelphians would certainly be better informed about our city.
Local government has the most profound impact on our lives but most Americans spend very little time thinking about the local politics that sets our government in motion.
We may never enjoy a mayoral election the way we enjoyed Super Bowl LII, but I’m going to be rooting just as hard as I did for the Eagles for us to raise our civic game for the May 21st primary election.
Brett Mandel is former executive director of Philadelphia Forward, a nonprofit that encourages civic engagement and advocates for smarter uses of public money. He ran for City Controller in 2013.