Temple University College Republicans support the Loyal Opposition.
The Republican party in Philadelphia has been struggling to deal with an identity crisis after the Tea Party split from the conventional GOP.
Although many Tea Partiers tout themselves as strict conservatives on the far right of the political spectrum, a younger, more ambitious group of local republicans have also decided to try to take the republican party in a new direction.
“Republicans ran the city in the ‘50s and the early parts of the ‘60s. Then suddenly, something changed,” said Temple University College of Republicans President Erik Jacobs. “And now, those people who currently run the party, they’re happier to keep their little kingdom and they’ll give their patronage jobs and will put up a joke candidate for a position instead of actually trying to run to win.”
Jacobs said that some of the republican elected officials currently in office are too content with the status quo and make very little effort to compete with Philadelphia’s powerful democratic party.
“We’re actually trying to win elections,” Jacobs said. “I know a lot of democrats who want to have a strong republican party in the city, that way we’d have real elections and it’s not just the primaries that really matter.”
That’s partly why Jacobs and his group are specifically backing other candidates in the Loyal Opposition rather than the general Philadelphia GOP.
For instance, Jacobs said his group supports Al Schmidt for City Commissioner–an elected position that runs the city’s elections–instead of incumbent Joseph Duda.
“Duda has been involved in the system for 16 years. He’s really not doing the job he should be doing…he hasn’t been really doing the proper job of running the office, he hasn’t really been working hard to get more republican registrants and he hasn’t really been cracking down on voter registration fraud,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said there’s a distinct difference between the conventional GOP in Philadelphia compared to the Loyal Opposition, which Schmidt demonstrated through a campaign promise when he said that he would voluntarily take a 10 percent pay cut and would not take a city car if elected.
Meanwhile, according to a report by Philadelphia Weekly, Duda cost taxpayers $2,860 when he used approximately 1,350 gallons of gas in 2009, which is 20 times more than Commissioner Marge Tartaglione used, the only other commissioner of the three-person office who uses a city car.
“I hope the new government brings more accountability into City Hall. I want it to show there is a growing movement of republicans in the city,” Jacobs said.
Both Jacobs and TUCR Vice President Darin Bartholomew said they encourage younger people to vote.
“It’s important for officials to see that we vote and we care, and as college students, that would show that they have to care about us,” Bartholomew said.
But the lack of a unified central leadership within Philadelphia’s republican party has created confusion that could ultimately hurt the party more than help it. When asked which mayoral candidate they backed, both declined to name any candidate but did note that they do not back Republican Mayoral Candidate Karen Brown.
“To be the mayor of Philadelphia, you need prior governmental experience,” Bartholomew said. Brown serves as a commiteewoman in the first ward.
Neither Bartholomew nor Jacobs said they would support Brown or incumbent Mayor Michael Nutter. They said, however, they supported John Featherman in the primaries back in May.
Although Featherman lost in the primaries, the group said they are looking at it as an important first step of change within City Hall, but said the change has to begin on the college level.
“A lot of people involved in this movement are younger. We’re trying to expand the republican message, and I think there are a lot of people who you can pick at the margins and sway their opinions,” said Jacobs, who is also a committeeman in the 20th ward. “I like having the opportunity to really engage people and challenge the way people think.”
Local elections should be more important to voters than national elections, Jacobs said.
“These local elections are the most important elections,” he said. “You can hold these people more directly accountable because of the area you live in.”
Matthew Petrillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.