Town Democrats demand answers from top campaign advisors!

Brookline | Election 2004 | Accountability
The election is over, and good Democrats coast-to-coast (and perhaps in between) are scratching their heads and asking: What went wrong? What can we fix?

“When will the chief players feel compelled to answer and be genuinely held accountable for the decisions they made on behalf of so many others? They can run, but they can’t hide,” asked Micah Sifry, Executive Editor of the Personal Democracy Forum website, after summarizing some of the post-election wrap-up. I suggested to Micah that he come up to Brookline for our Democratic Town Committee meeting. Being so close to the Hub, we in Brookline were fortunate to have some of Kerr’s campaign advisors on hand: Jack Corrigan, the convention liaision and then the head of the 3,600 voting rights att , David Friedman, the head of the legal team in Florida, and Cameron Kerry, brother of the Presidential candidate. (Micah and I were able to ask more specific questions at the Berkman Center conference on the Internet & Politics this past weekend).

About a hundred people packed into the Devotion School library, about double from the last meeting I went to, in May. Perhaps about ten were people under 30. The panel was ably moderated by Brookline DTC chair Cindy Rowe. I took some notes on my old-new Palm Pilot keyboard, and this is roughly what I got. The Globe, the TAB, and the Bulletin were there; it was not quite a secret strategy session (such as the State Committee Convention where bloggers got kicked out; luckily I’m not a blogger). The coverage I’ll give it may be a bit out-of-proportion to its importance in the grand scheme. The best picture of the campaign was perhaps delievered Newsweek‘s 50,000-word analysis a month ago. But just as important was a chance, as many had begged for, to demonstrate the utility of a political organization.


Jack Corrigan focused on some of the positives: The organization and fundraising were unparalleled in recent Democratic party history. The DNC outraised the RNC by 13 million in 2004. So many people volunteered that people were “People were willing to do things that they wouldn’t have done in earlier campaigns– and put up the aggravation of doing so.” Jack also cited one of Matt Bai’s articles in the NY Times magazine. The Republicans had precinct captains in Ohio. went door-to-door. ACT did not lose in Ohio– they started too late. “What we couldn’t do is build a precinct organization. Can we do this at this stage? … We can control the organization and fundraising. Now we have time to organize.”

As Jack wrapped up, Cam Kerry slipped into the room, and Cindy deadpanned: “Tell us who you are and how you got interested in the campaign.” Cam started off by noting how he was “struck and awed by all of the experience. Just to see 17,000 people go out to battleground states to protect the right to vote. It made a difference in the campaign.” Why did we lose? “They got more votes.” And once again, another Matt Bai article in the New York Times Magazine was cited, but they kind of blend together. Bai had Ususally Democrats don’t go into the field until after the Democratic Convention. “We had people out in May.” Cam also said that he spent a lot of time interacting doing community outreach with the Jewish community, and recounted some of his experiences. “At the end of the day, it came down to security issues, Bin Laden, and we didn’t quite close the gap enough on national security.”

David Friedman discussed his time in Florida. “The swift boat attack ads worked – even though they lied.” He met lawyers who were veterans in Florida, and basically turned against Kerry after seeing that ad. Beyond the base of South Florida, it was really difficult to find Democratic lawyers. (So much for being the party of trial lawyers, I muttered sotto voce to Charles Glick) While the party has its traditional ethnic and special interest appeal– “Jews for Kerry, Latinos for Kerry, Teachers for Kerry, there was no broad universal appeal of Floridians for Kerry.” (I have to point out here that during my time n Florida, the “Jews for Kerry” campaign stickers had univeral appeal among people going to Kerry-Edwards rallies). Friedman continued: “Even the press team was beaten. Republicans had a daily conference call with reporters. Democrats didn’t respond with conference calls.”


Cindy saw that the gathered crowd was itching to get a word in, so she asked people to yell out where they had been for the campaign, and these were the answers shouted out: New Hampshire; Florida, with State Rep Ruth Balser and Charles Glick; Ohio; Colorado; South Dakota.

And what did everybody do? Some answers:

  • letter writing campaign to single women.
  • managed the phone bank.
  • voter protection.
  • data entry of the canvassing.
  • early voter efforts in Florida.
  • responding to email.
  • ran the Claremont field office.
  • fanned the Internet flames of the Bush bulge scandal.

(Ok, the last one came from me; I just wanted to be original. I did a little bit of everything, but mostly a lot of writing about those things: meetups, fundraising, partying, booth-manning phone banking, volunteering unsolicited advice to the Kerry-Edwards Internet team transcribing administration statements philosophizing, convention-slogging, and ended up canvassing election day weekend in Florida. My reputation exceeds me.)


On to the questions. What are the immediate plans?

Cam: Building the community.
David: Focus on the Supreme Court nominee.
Jack: Prepare for the gubernatorial primary.

The proceedings got off to an auspicious start. The first question that came up… was not really a question, it was a litany of familiar observations on the campaign. The main effect was to inspire the 2-minute rule. We did not have the benefit of flashing light. And then twenty hands shot in the air.

“I have one thing to say!” came a voice from the back. “It’ll be quick, I have to go soon, I have a date waiting on me!” This was George Chapman, who was in South Dakota with with Daschle campaign. He wanted to report that we needed more field organization.

Another man in the back demanded to know why the Democrats hadn’t been more active in the recount push in Ohio. Jack took this one. He had, after all, just been in Ohio where he handed the Kerry campaign’s response to Jesse Jackson. Jack repeated the line he’s been telling the press: they do not think the outcome of the election will change. They do want to see the recount done completely, if done; no county could abstain. And don’t forget, there were victories before election day, such as stopping the Republican challengers. “Does that answer your question?” The man said no, and Jack said he’d be happy to spend time afterwards going into more details.

Another woman continued on the election fraud track. “How many machines in certain districts? Why didn’t they have enough? What about the votes that were thrown out?”

Jack patiently explained that each county has an election board made of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. If there were not enough election machines (as lower turnout was expected in urban areas). these election officials were at fault. As for the thrown-out ballots? No evidence.

I have in my notes “Room to vote in Brookline.” but I can’t recall what it meant.

Cindy then suggested that people simply state what they have to say in 20 seconds, and questions would be addressed at the end. Had I not been so techniclly-awestruck, I would have just scribbled these down on a piece of paper, and scored, Viewpoints-style, as many points were repeated. Here’s what I have:

“talk radio” — to use it, or counter it, I don’t remember
“reach out to the disenfranchised”
“he was too far left”
State Representative Frank Smizik added: “There was no clear message.”
“Stop being republican lite!”
“Bush has been a disaster on National Security!,” said a man who explained that he works in the field. He got increasingly agitated as he started listing Bush’s transgressions.

I was called on, and, looking back, I can’t imagine how I squeezed this all into twenty seconds. I said that I regret not being as passionate as some of the others. I pointed out that this was very much like an Internet forum: a lot of people expressing their own opinions. I then revealed that I was in touch with a number of the Internet activists from the Dean and Clark campaigns, and a number of them seemed to express the concern that the campaign didn’t listen to them enough. As evidence I paraphrased Micah Sifry’s lament above. So what did they make of the third Matt Bai article, the one which famously stated that the party would be “outsourced” to 527’s and Internet communities?

“I am a strong Democrat,” bellowed a man with the voice. “But this time I couldn’t pull the lever this time.” WHAT? everybody shouted. “I heard alot on this campaign about helping the middle class. But they abandoned the poor!” And he was shouted down.

“We need to to rethink our relationship with voter machines,” suggested a woman.”We need audit each of them in every election.” That relationship may be a bit to needy. But ballot box auditing remains a serious concern.

“clarify redistricting in the state house.” I whispered to Charles that I seemed to remember a Federal Judge striking this down; as part of the fallout, Speaker Finneran resigned.

“We have not had the organization.”
“Does the Democratic Party have a large database?” (I think it’s called the DataMart) “We need the organized religious left!” No explanation of how to do that.
“The Ohio Travelers was a great program. We need to match ourselves with a red county in Ohio!” My Dad had come upon a similar idea back in May. So did the Guardian of UK, hatching a plan for Brits to adopt Clark County in October. This ended up generating sufficient backlash, and as Slate reported, Kerry won every Gore county except Clark.

“The only house seats the Republicans picked up were in Texas — due to redistricting.”
“We need vision of the role of government on a state and national level.”
“We need a candidate to bring the troops home.” Well, they still may be there in four years.

Debbie Goldberg, the former chair of the town Selectman: “Beat Mitt Romney down. Move back the primary. Get going now. Play off of our strength.” The primary, it was explained, was just two months before the general election, which left too much time for the Democratic candidates to beat each other up.

“Clone Karl Rove.”
“Some of us taking it for granted that we didn’t have to participate.”
“We have different moral values. how will democratic party compete?”
“We needed anti-swifties.”
“We have good ideas. We need fresh blood from new Americans and new immigrants.”

The experts nodded their acknowledgement of most of the concerns.

David: “It’s alright to talk about the poor and the homeless, but we need more to reach out to issues that are of concern to suburban voters: education, health care. The Legislature will put forward progressive, reformist bills.” (Friedman is also State Senate President Robert Travaglini’s Chief Policy Advisor) Will get out things in the email. get out the message.

Cam recognized my comment: The online efforts will be the future.

And the future is now– the end of the meeting, to be precise. A man asked Cindy, and then Cam, whether the email address that he had submitted to the campaign would be in the hands of the local committee, for contacting people about events like this. Nobody knew. So that’s my one action item to figure out– especially since I had originally made such a proposal, back in May.