Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Election Day Madness Revisited

You all remember this.

At least one person had been passing out a look-alike slate card in support of Georgia Blotzer for City Council.

The card claimed that the "Real Democrats" this year had endorsed Ms. Blotzer for Council. Actually, the party committee endorsed incumbent Theresa Smith.

Judge Bubash issued an order directing sheriff's deputies to seize any of the fake slate cards from anyone who was distributing them. (P-G, Jim McKinnon)

Many of you know that I decided to volunteer for candidate Georgia Blotzer during the Primary. What will follow further down screen will be my own recollections and ruminations on that day.

But now, in my last act as campaign volunteer, I release to you a note that Georgia sent to the Comet for public distribution:

Most people have moved on from the Primary election. However for me, there is an election day issue that I should have addressed earlier. I will do that now.

It concerns the campaign literature distributed by my campaign during the primary election. I knew that slate cards, similar in design to the ones of endorsed candidates typically handed out by Democratic Committee members, were to be distributed by one of my volunteers at a polling place in Sheraden.

Upon being informed of the concerns expressed about the similarity of our slate and the "official" slate card, I immediately ordered that the cards be removed and destroyed. At that time, I was told the cards were also at another polling pleace ready for distribution. I ordered the removal of the cards from this second location also. I take full responsibility for the cards and sincerely apologize.

Worse -- when asked for a response by the media, I released a short statement asserting in part that "I don't believe I did anything wrong". For this personal error in judgement I also apologize. I ran in part based on a platform of good government, political reform and honest leadership. I write to apologize for failing to live up to those ideals.

I can only supplement that with what I witnessed.

Several days before the election, the campaign held a big poll-worker training session. Everyone received a bag with information and materials, including literature we would hand out at the polls -- this being a four-color palm card with Georgia's face on it. The meeting adjourned and people began to leave.

As it was breaking up, a staff member fetched and unsealed a small box and excitedly showed several of the stragglers -- myself included -- the "REAL DEMOCRAT" slate cards. We few had a hearty laugh over them; it was pretty well known by then our what our insurgent campaign's position was on what makes for "real" Democrats.

However, we quickly fixated on the fact that the City of Pittsburgh REAL DEMOCRATS had in almost every case endorsed the SAME DEMOCRATS as the Allegheny County Democratic Committee -- except of course in City Council District 2.

I clearly remember saying, "We're not actually using these, right?". And I clearly remember our candidate shaking her head and confirming decisively, loud enough for everyone to hear, "No, we're not gonna be using these."

The staffer who presented the cards didn't argue, but encouraged a few of us who would be attending an ACDC event later that evening to pocket some, and utilize them at least to goad and josh around with committee folk -- so it wouldn't be a total loss.


That was the last I thought of the cards until about 11:30 AM on Election Day, when sheriff's deputies came marching up to the polling station, asked, "Are there any slate cards on the premises?", then affixed a judge's order "upon the motion of James Burn" to the front door.

As luck would have it, Georgia arrived fifteen minutes later, bearing a sandwich and an apple for me, asking how I was holding up and if there was any news. So I gave her the news.

"Someone must have used them," I remember her saying in a very not-happy tone of voice.

Blotzer departed to figure out what happened. What followed was a flurry of Blackberry activity between multiple persons. It seemed as though exactly one volunteer had been handing out the bogus slate cards early that morning -- at the polling station that generated the initial complaint. There was a rumor at one point that sheriff's deputies searched another volunteer's bag and found a single bogus slate card -- taken as a souvenir, just like I did myself -- but no one else seemed to have been handing them out.

When we all saw that the Post-Gazette had picked up the story, and that that looked to be the only Election Day action news of the day, we knew we would have to respond -- and sure enough, Channel 11 started calling persistently. When the statement which was eventually released came across my Blackberry -- the one that included, "I don't believe I did anything wrong" -- I didn't voice any objection to it, nor did any others.

The feeling at the time was, the candidate wasn't personally to blame for the bad decision; staff was insisting the race was razor-close; the opposition would use the news to hammer us for hours in the media while polls were still open and votes were still being cast; and why make it easy on them by rolling over and exposing our bellies? Besides, who does the ACDC think they are, endorsing people, having slate cards that people read and trust?

When I returned to my car and reviewed the souvenir card I had taken for myself, a distinctly sinking feeling began to settle in. Upon further review, this didn't look anything like some rival organization's endorsements -- these were lies on paper.

When I saw the statement on the screen on Channel 11, the feeling got worse. As the night's results began to trickle in and PCNC began airing our story every half hour or so for ... what was it, about 500 hours? ... it got to be downright nauseating.

At the results-watching party, Georgia came over to me and my laptop on occasion ostensibly to check in on results, but it became apparent quickly that the race was anything but close. Most conversations at that time meandered back to, "What are we going to do about that awful statement that made a bad situation impossible."


As it turned out, we did very little immediately. Draft statements and letters to the editor were discussed, but I think Georgia opted to handle things on an interpersonal level for a while. The whole idea of "preparing statements" was what got us into this mess, after all. However, perhaps because we had the media's sympathy and/or pity, nothing further was ever mentioned -- which itself sat poorly. I know that Georgia never fully got past the sordid debacle and for that matter neither did I.

I clearly remember that feeling that with the race "so close", and with "so much on the line", I allowed myself to believe that the campaign's confounding initial statement of non-attrition was okay. As the candidate points out above, it was not okay. If anyone was under any impression that certain political beliefs are good indicators of personal infallibility, consider yourselves disabused.

The Comet will endeavor as always to be righteous. If however in the future you should notice it being far less self-righteous, arrogant and judgmental than it has been in the past, you now know one big reason why.


  1. -
    Obviously, Pittsburgh politics is a dirty game.
    - Coghill's claim of BMA membership
    - Smith's literature that made it appear that she was the PG endorsed democrat.
    - Reilly's campaign sending out literature that made it appear that he was endorsed by Ravenstahl
    - Wagner's mysterious babushka lady
    - The Ravenstahl campaign comparing Pat Ford's hush money to the school board removal of John Thompson
    - Motznik vs. Diven

    I could go on. You get the idea.

    What you described in this post is....um, "unfortunate". Thanks for being honest.

  2. Ditto..Truth.


  3. Just for clarification:

    Was the "sordid debacle" the decision to print/distribute the misleading slate cards or defense of that decision?

    And which was the worse "error in judgment:" producing those cards or rather off-handedly defending them?

  4. Chris -- The debacle encompassed everything having to do with it, but I think the consensus is the worse error was to try to defend everything on Election Day.

  5. I suspect this experience will make you a better electronic journalist and a more valued consultant to campaigns.

  6. "Coghill's claim of BMA membership"

    Coghill was once in this organization.

  7. Yes, he once was. And he was not in the organization, for about 2 years, at election time. Of course you are an accomplice to this. But thanks for telling us what we already knew.

    And why was the Sheriff searching bags? That's not cool. Or legal without permission.

  8. "BMA membership"

    Bass Masters Association? Boys to Men Addicts? Barely Mentioned Acronyms?

  9. No, no and no ... Bahama Mama Acolytes.

  10. So a private party prints a flyer announcing who they have endorsed. Someone else prints a very similar flyer, but with a minor change. And this is a crime worthy of a visit from sheriff's deputies?

    I recognize the impracticality of third parties in our current situation, but I really hate to be reminded that the private decisions of two small groups of people (the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties) are enforceable by law.

    I think next election I am going to pass out flyers misrepresenting the endorsed slate of Constitution Party candidates, then loudly demand to be arrested for my crime.

  11. Jerry - On Election Day itself, for activity occurring immediately outside of polling places, YES ... I think the law enforcement response was appropriate (outside of the rumored bag search, which after all was only a rumor and besides which consent may have been readily granted). I very much like the idea of an athletic and alert law and order department on Election Day.

  12. But what law are they enforcing, Bram? Nobody was being prevented from voting. Nobody was disenfranchised. The only thing those deputies were protecting was the ACDC's ability to tell people who to vote for.

    Why is that more sacrosanct than someone else's ability to tell people who to vote for?