From Christopher Boardman:
After I filed as a candidate for the Harford County president, someone remarked that I would run for any position and for any party because the only thing I was interested in was getting elected to something. As a lifelong Democrat, I did indeed accept the Harford County Republicans’ invitation to run as their District A candidate in 1986. I have worked in many campaigns and organizations in other states inn previous years and frankly after I moved to Harford County in the 1970s, I was disappointed in the Democratic Party in Harford County and with some of the aspects of the party in the state. Republicans such as Barry Glassman complain that they are shut out of most processes in Annapolis, which is true. Overall the Democratic Party is a benign oligarchy that continues to reward the same people over and over again. Just look at the congressional districts in this state and you will see classic examples of gerrymandering. Just in the last election Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett was gerrymandered out of a seat he held for 20 years in western Maryland. Maybe it was time for him to retire anyway, but as a congressional candidate myself I could see have crazily arranged the districts are.
The Harford County Republicans knew I was more liberal than most of them, but when they recruited me they were trying to remake the county and were looking for new candidates. At the time Helen Bentley was aggressively campaigning and shaking up the establishment. While there were some things I could never agree with her about, I did admire her efforts to re-do local politics. As a Republican candidate I saw the Republicans actively supported one another, canvassed neighborhoods and worked hard together. They steadily increased voter registrations and eventually signed up more Republican voters than Democrats. For years the Democrats held big registration edges over the Republicans and before the Republican surge there were Democrats elected to legislative offices in the northern part of the county, what is District 35.
Democrats never took the hints and reformed their procedures. Little to nothing has changed about the Democratic Party in Harford County during the last 30 to 40 years, even though they have lost their majorities and many if not most of the elections. No Democrat except Sheriff Jesse Bane has been elected countywide for years, since Eileen Rehrmann was county executive. Yet Sheriff Bane is testimony that a Democrat can still be elected in Harford County, if the candidate does the right things. There is only a registration difference of a few thousand voters between Republicans and Democrats., and a good campaign by a Democratic candidate can attract enough votes to win.
I have worked in a lot of political campaigns, when I grew up in Wisconsin and also lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia I worked on a number of campaigns in ward organizations. There I learned a lot about effective politics.
The main difference between Philadelphia and Maryland Democrats is that Maryland Democrats don’t have effective ward organizations. In Harford County the power of the Democrats derives from the fact that their strength came from their connections to Annapolis. While I give credit to perennial candidates such as Art Helton for organizing door-to-door canvasses on behalf of himself or someone he is supporting, he and others in the old guard of the party have been resistant to suggestions that they model county and statewide politics more closely to what they do in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania. They should be doing something differently but they won’t change anything about what they are doing. Democratic politics in Harford are stale.
In Maryland there are election precincts but there are no precinct organizations. In Philadelphia there are two committee persons elected in each precinct for each political party. The committee people elected then become part of the ward organization. Each ward then elects its own leadership, and the leaders of the wards form the city committee or it could be a county committee in another part of the state. The advantages to this kind of organization are that voter registration and constituent service are taken care of by the committee persons. And on election day the committee persons work on ensuring a good turnout, by encouraging and helping voters get to the polls. In a large city such as Philadelphia with two million persons this is a good way run political affairs, and another example of an effective political machine is Chicago. In Harford County even in Districts such as 34 the turnout of Democrats is often so pathetic that Republicans do better at generating the votes than Democrats, and the Democrats lose the elections even though they hold the edge in registration.
With precinct committee elections, challengers can gain a foothold in the political system by running. This also includes registering voters in their neighborhoods and making phone calls to increase turnout. The precinct elections themselves help to get the other work in the precincts done such as registration and turnout, which benefits the party generally.
I have tried to reason with the slow learners in the party how to fix this problem, by establishing precinct organizations, but they continue to be resistant, both in the county and statewide. About two or three years ago I had a discussion with Jim Thornton, who at the time was president of the Helton-dominated New Harford Democratic Club. I told him that the club needed to work on these problems, and he asked me to prepare some materials on how to have the club pursue these goals. What eventually needs to happen is that the Maryland legislature has to pass a law authorizing precinct elections for committee persons from the political parties, but in the interim it was something the New (Old) Democratic Club could work on. Much to my disappointment, Jim received my materials but he never acknowledged receiving them and apparently on the orders of the Heltons, the idea was killed. It’s pretty much that unless the idea was theirs to begin with, they wouldn’t favor it. The old concept of “rule or ruin.”
This is an unfortunate situation because not only is Democratic turnout in elections diminished; there are a number of precincts that aren’t even getting voters registered. For a candidate such as Jim Thornton who is an African American running in the primary election as my opponent for the Democratic nomination for county council president, he would benefit greatly from increased registration and turnout in predominantly black precincts, but he is not going to get a lot of that support. He is in effect relying on the old Democratic organization which may or may not be adequate. In a close contest Democrats won’t be able to pull out the additional votes to win the race.
As a candidate myself, I hope to have some influence in getting the system changed to where it can be more effective. I am an outsider to both political parties but I have worked with citizens from both parties (and third parties) and will continue to do so.