Volume 19 • Issue 22 | October 13 - 19, 2006
Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel
Susan Birmingham, a Tribecan, started a Web site to help Democrats raise money for tight congressional races.
Tribecan Web master helping Dems take Congress
By Jefferson Siegel
All politics is local, and sometimes that’s a problem.
Representative democracy and its aggravations trickle down to the common citizen in unforeseen ways. Blue states say they are at the mercy and whims of red state politicians and their agendas. New York City recently got less Homeland Security funding so the precincts of Montana could receive an equitable portion of the pie. Any district can elect its strongest representation to the U.S. Congress, but once in Washington, democracy guarantees nothing more than deal making and compromise.
Blue staters safely ensconced in the Democratic fold, frustrated that they can’t do more to change the course of national politics, have a new tool to aid their search for worthy candidates and, of course, it involves the Internet.
In 2004, the political Web site MoveOn.Org gave Democrats nationwide a one-click solution to aid John Kerry’s presidential aspirations. Within the past month, Capturecongress.com, a new, more targeted Web site, went live with a local focus.
The site displays the most closely contested House and Senate races, providing Web surfers with a fast and easy solution to contribute directly to Democratic candidates in those contests.
“We were very excited to get our first $6,000 contributor, who actually split his contribution among all the races,” said Susan Birmingham, a Tribeca resident and consultant for nonprofit organizations, who, along with two Brooklynites, founded and runs Capturecongress.com.
“We’re trying to get a hold of people on both coasts who want to see the Congress move to the Dems,” Birmingham said. “You need the constituents in [districts with] safe seats who want to see their money go to the most targeted place possible,” she explained.
“It’s an opportunity for people who are not in the targeted districts to give to those races. All money goes to the candidates, rather than give to the Democratic Party and wait for them to dole out the money,” she added. Once a contributor clicks on the “Donate” button for a specific candidate, Birmingham said that campaign receives 100 percent of the contribution within 24 hours.
There are some blogs that point contributors to targeted candidates, but, “none of them are as sophisticated as this site,” Birmingham said. “Even a small contribution of $100 or $150 in these kinds of races just means that the dollar goes so much further than it would in a place like New York,” she said.
And after the November elections, “We’re going to keep it open,” Birmingham said of the Web site. “We think this is a prototype of small donor fundraising of the future.” In the years to come, she hopes blue states like New York will continue to fund smaller races in the hopes of creating and sustaining a Democratic majority. “We can do this for local races, for state legislative races as well as congressional races,” Birmingham said.
A turnabout of sorts took place last week in one of the nation’s hottest hotbeds of political discourse, Greenwich Village. Rather than volunteers commuting to an election battleground, the candidates themselves left their home turf. Two congressional Democratic hopefuls from Connecticut involved in tight races, Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy, traveled to a W. 13th St. townhouse for a private fundraiser.
Adding cachet and credibility to their pursuit of campaign financing was New York’s senator, Hillary Clinton. She told Downtown Express why she was there.
“Joe has a great record of accomplishment in Connecticut,” Clinton said of Courtney. “He has been a leader in a lot of issues I care about. And, he’s also done it by bringing people together, looking for common ground, staking it out and creating a good atmosphere for people to work together,” she added.
As the townhouse full of supporters waited to write checks ranging from $500 to $4,200, Clinton was just as generous in her assessment of Courtney’s accomplishments.
“He also has come forward in this campaign with a very strong set of positions that are in great contrast to his opponent,” she said. Courtney’s Web site offers his positions on a list of issues, topped by healthcare and Iraq. While his Republican challenger, Rob Simmons, supported the Bush administration’s war policy along with Clinton, Courtney sees the administration’s rush into the Iraq war as “the biggest foreign policy disaster in a generation.”
“I’m hoping that we will see a Democratic majority in the House,” Clinton said. “Some of our very best candidates are running. We’ve got a tremendous group of experienced candidates, like Joe, who are out there working hard. It’s going to be close because that’s the way our elections are these days,” Clinton said.
“I am very hopeful that Joe is going to be part of a new Democratic majority and that’s going to be good for the country,” she added.
A gain of 15 seats will give them the House; six wins and they control the Senate.
Senator Clinton also reiterated her active support of several other candidates in close races.
“We have one of Joe’s colleagues here tonight,” Clinton said last week, referring to Chris Murphy of Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District. “We’ll be going to Connecticut on Sunday for Diane Farrell, and I’ll be going to Ohio tomorrow for Sherrod Brown.”
Farrell is in a close race with longtime Republican incumbent Christopher Shays in Connecticut’s Fourth District. In Ohio, Brown is running neck and neck in his bid for the Senate against two-term incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. Bush has already been to Ohio twice to stump for DeWine.
“I know we’ll be outspent in the end; that’s one of our big problems, it always is,” Clinton told Downtown Express. “But, if we have enough so we can rebut their unfair and untrue attacks and give people a real chance to know what candidates like Joe stand for, I think we’ll win.”
Courtney said, “You have a wonderful congressional delegation in the state, but they are held back by the fact that they’re in the minority in a very tightly controlled, iron-fisted, one-party system in Washington. Electing me will help Jerry Nadler and will help Hillary Clinton and will help Chuck Schumer make sure that they are able to advance the goals that they believe in so deeply,” Courtney said, referring to Lower Manhattan’s congressional representative and New York’s other senator.
Courtney said House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign for not taking action against U.S. Rep. Foley, who sent sexually graphic e-mails to underage Congressional pages.
“Absolutely,” he said of Hastert’s need to resign. “That’s really what an accountable system of government should include: People accepting responsibility for the fact that they failed in a very fundamental way to live up to their public office.” In Connecticut, Courtney noted that, had a school teacher, a therapist or a counselor ignored a similar situation, he or she would be arrested.
“This guy [Hastert] had a duty, as the leader of the institution that was supervising these young people at Capitol Hill, to take real action rather than just sweep it under the rug for their own political convenience,” Courtney said.
Does he think this November’s election is the most important in a generation?
“Politicians always like to talk about their upcoming ballot as the election of a lifetime,” Courtney said. “I really, truly believe that we are in a critical moment in our country’s history. If we don’t take away George Bush’s one-party control of Washington, I think the damage that’s going to be done to the structural balance of our country’s constitutional framework, to the public’s finances, to our foreign policy, will take generations to clean up.”