Some do it with a fountain pen.
"Pretty Boy Floyd"
We hear a lot about what democracy is about in America. Some of it is true and some of it is the usual boilerplate crap. Whatever you hear about the Cheri Honkala Green Party campaign for Sheriff of Philadelphia -- and of course there's a lot of crap going around -- one thing is true, it's real democracy in action.
Honkala is a well-known poor people's activist in Philadelphia who, over the years, has organized large street demonstrations and even gotten herself arrested a good number of times occupying homes and doing other actions to call attention to the plight of the poor. Some say Honkala is out to destroy decency and good government. One writer in Philadelphia referred to her in his headline as an "outlaw" and in his lead as "Philly's most famous embodiment of grass-roots guerilla protestdom."
Robin Hood and Cheri Honkala by (unknown)
I prefer to use one of the most famous sheriff references in world literature. I see Cheri Honkala as Robin Hood. Instead of running around in green tights and using swords and arrows to engage the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham, she's using the ballot box to take the Sheriff of Nottingham's job.
The central plank of Honkala's campaign is a determination to stop the evictions of poor and middle-class homeowners whose mortgages have been foreclosed on by banks and lenders. There's no mystery or sleight of hand; anyone who votes for Honkala knows what he or she is voting for: A revamped Sheriff's Office with a new mission to counter the pirate-style economics of the moment.
Making the race even more interesting, one of her potential opponents -- John Kromer -- is running in the Democratic primary to eliminate the office. On his first day in office, he says he will begin the process of transferring all the Sheriff's Office tasks to the mayor's office and other city agencies. Those tasks include evictions and sheriff sales of foreclosed homes, as well as transport of inmates to and from court appearances and courthouse security.
When Kromer was the city's housing director under Mayor Ed Rendell, he actually had Honkala arrested a couple times for holding vigils outside his office. Mayor Rendell referred to Honkala as "a pebble in my shoe," a references that makes Honkala smile.
The other candidates in the Democratic and Republican primaries are campaigning to keep the office doing exactly what it has been doing. Efficiency and an end to corruption are major planks in everyone's campaign rhetoric -- including Honkala's -- given that the previous Sheriff, John Green, left office under a dark cloud that involved the mysterious disappearance of $53 million. The audits are still going on.
For the more establishment candidates, the city's collection of revenue is a key motivating issue. Issues like encouraging development and gentrification may mean more taxes but they may also damage communities in the process. So, it's an election with real choices. The primary is on May 17th and the main election Honkala will be running in is November 8th.
Democracy in action
One of the mantras about America is, if you see something wrong, you have the right to run for office. It's America 101. What motivates the Honkala campaign is the on-going, top-down economic crisis America is going through and the "trickle-down" effect that dumps much of the pain and cost of recovery on poor, low- and middle-income people -- especially in the area of mortgages and foreclosures.
We know the story: Wall Street bankers and financial-class speculators engaged in an unregulated orgy of the slicing-and-dicing of mortgages into ever-more-baroque financial instruments that often even they did not fully understand. The fuel was personal greed.