With social media, local politicians skeptical
BY ANDREW STAUB (STAFF WRITER)–Wilkes Barre Citizens Voice
Published: March 21, 2010
U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski doesn’t actually use Twitter yet – staffers update the social networking Web site for him – but his campaign spokesman, Ed Mitchell, said it won’t be long before he does.
“We’ll get to that point,” Mitchell said. “He will. Everybody will.”
Mitchell believes social media such as Twitter and Facebook represent easy and cheap tools to supplement political campaigns, but he fears Pennsylvania politicians might be behind the times when it comes to using technology to their advantage, something he recently lamented on his Twitter account.
“PA politicos need to get modern communication down or risk speaking down a dark black hole,” Mitchell tweeted. “Wish my clients listen.”
In Luzerne County, few candidates or politicians have employed Twitter extensively, though many have Facebook profiles and Web sites set up. Many candidates running for or already holding higher office, such as Republican U.S. Congress candidate David Madeira and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter post often on their Twitter accounts, while those pursuing state House and Senate offices around Luzerne County haven’t embraced the social media network as extensively.
One, Republican state House candidate Bill Goldsworthy, believes Twitter is a “fad.”
Some, such as Goldsworthy’s opponent, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, plan to eventually use Twitter as campaign season heats up.
And others, such as Republican state representative candidate Rick Arnold, say they would consider it in the future but prefer more traditional campaign strategies for now.
“Even though I think this technology is terrific, to me there is no substitute for good old-fashioned handshaking, baby kissing and talking one-on-one,” Arnold said.
Sticking to traditional campaign tactics – such as direct mail, television ads and debates – can be attractive to candidates because that strategy has worked before even though it might be outdated now, said Julie Germany, director for the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
“It’s a new way of thinking about running a campaign that makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” Germany said of using social networking tools.
But, Germany said, tools such as Twitter and Facebook are simply “surrogates” for handshaking, Goldsworthy’s tactic of choice.
“Instead of Twittering, I will be attending a lot of dinners and a lot of bazaars,” Goldsworthy said. “That is what I’ll be doing – shaking hands and talking to people.”
Tarah Toohil, a candidate for state representative, believes Twitter can actually make politicians more accessible to their constituents. She recently started a Twitter account, posting about health care late last week.
“It just breeds more accountability because people come to expect that you’re accessible and you’re reporting on what you’re doing,” Toohil said.
Toohil’s opponent, state Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, posts to his Twitter account in bursts. His four tweets on Tuesday were the first in more than a month.
Twitter has embedded itself in other campaigns, too.
Kanjorski has used it as the Democrat seeks re-election in the 11th U.S. Congressional District. So has one of Kanjorski’s primary opponents, Corey O’Brien, as well as a potential November foe, Republican Lou Barletta.
Though some might not embrace the service because it represents something new and unfamiliar, Mundy said her biggest concern with using Twitter is fitting it into her schedule as a state representative.
“For me, it’s more an issue of time than anything else,” she said.
But with a tough campaign expected against Goldsworthy, Mundy said she’ll be using all the social networking tools available to her. She’s hired a consultant to help her connect with voters online.
As social networking becomes more prevalent, Germany sees it as a campaign tool that could work on the city council or school board level. A smaller voter base, she said, could help candidates more specifically target their message.
Bob Morgan, a Democrat vying for the state House seat being vacated by Rep. John Yudichak, thinks a combination of personal and online politics will work.
“All politics is local,” he said, adding that candidates must produce solid efforts technologically, while continuing to meet voters face-to-face.
Mitchell believes that campaigns have become multimedia events and said nobody can meet enough people going door-to-door these days to win office. So he continues to advocate social networking to his clients, sending them articles and examples of how tools such as Twitter work.
“You just have to keep hammering it home and hope they respect your opinion,” he said.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton, one of Mitchell’s clients and a state Senate candidate, has heeded the advice. He signed up for Twitter recently, and though he has yet to post, Mitchell said he’s eager to start.
In the world of Twitter, candidates for higher offices such as Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Senate tend to Twitter more than candidates running for state House and Senate spots from Luzerne County.
Out of those that do, Julie Germany, director of Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, says those that do it best don’t simply “push” press releases out, but send interesting and inspiring tweets.
Here’s what some candidates and politicians have had to say on Twitter recently:
• David Madeira, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress (@DavidJMadeira). 160 tweets, 53 followers.
“Call even more & express your displeasure. Carney has failed to listen to his voters & the Constitution.”
• Corey O’Brien, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate (@CoreyDOBrien). 43 tweets, 185 followers.
“The Hill has pronounced Corey O’Brien as the most competitive Democratic primary challenger in the country.”
• Richard Shermanski, Democratic candidate for state representative (@RichShermanski). Four tweets, 12 followers.
“You know you’re doing something right when your campaign starts to get ‘Haters.’”
• Joe Sestak, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate (@Sestak2010). 563 tweets, 2,600 followers
“@ToomeyForSenate Almost done cleaning up your and @SenArlenSpecter’s mess. Job growth on the way.”
• Dan Onorato, Democratic candidate for governor (@dan_onorato). 41 tweets, 513 followers.
“Very excited to have the endorsement of the Johnstown Building and Construction Trades Council and their members. Thanks for your support!”
• Lou Barletta, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress (@loubarletta). 18 tweets, 187 followers
“In Scranton for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
In an editorial Wednesday, a local newspaper fumed over the recent flap about the Luzerne County Homestead Tax Exemption. It laid most of the blame at the feet of Commissioners’ Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla.
Commissioner Petrilla that day released a statement accepting responsibility for much of the “mix-up”, and said she corrected the problem. She also said she would work to see something like this didn’t happen again.
Maryanne Petrilla has stood out as an island of honesty and integrity at the courthouse since she assumed the chair of the commissioners. Her former colleague, Greg Skrepenak, has resigned in shame. Several other county officials have been implicated in the scandals that have hit the county in the past year and a half. She has literally had the Herculean task of figuratively trying to clean up the Aegean stable that the courthouse had become.
Yet she has worked diligently and hard to do so. And the statement she released (referenced above) mentions the many other accomplishments she’s had.
Having to work with a new, inexperienced, rookie commissioner on the mess of a deficit she inherited to create a balanced budget, as well as navigating the ways of ever-mercurial minority commissioner, Mr. Urban, has not been easy. But she’s done it all as best she could, never whining along the way. She just feels its part of her job.
The taxpayers are justifiably angry over their government. The onslaught of convictions and indictments here would cause the bravest of souls to lose faith. But, while not minimizing it, the number of offenders are a few dozen.
It seems to me that we have to give some breathing room to the other thousands of public officials at all levels that are working hard everyday — and do — get things done in county and local government. We can’t tar everyone with the same brush we would reserve for those who have tarnished things the worst.
And we can’t judge what good people are trying to do by one incident, or mistake. Nobody is perfect. Just because somebody screws up shouldn’t be grounds for being thrown out of office or seemingly endless ridicule on talk radio and in the press.
If we do this, we’ll never get anyone to run for public office. The thing I hear most often from people I work with in my business is the disproportionate grief they often get over the smallest of things doesn’t make their jobs worthwhile anymore.
Maybe a little more tolerance and patience is needed toward those who are trying best to do their jobs and haven’t violated the public trust.
If Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O’Brien fails in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for Congress over U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, PA-11, perhaps he could become a political pundit.
Though judging from his first foray into that arena, he might not have any better chance at becoming an analyst than he does at becoming a congressman.
O’Brien told Politico, the online political news site, on Wednesday that Kanjorski had “zero” chance of beating Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta in the fall election.
He made some vague and unsubstantiated references to polling numbers to support his claim. Hey Corey, the first rule of political punditry is “Put up or shut up.”
If O’Brien has a poll to prove his point, he should release it to the media and the public. And I don’t mean only release choice tidbits. Release the whole poll — every question — and include the crosstabs and the sampling method.
He should also include the results of the head-to-head contest in the primary between Kanjorski and O’Brien.
I doubt if Mr. O’Brien wants to talk about his chances against Kanjorski, let alone against Barletta.
In 2008, almost every legitimate newspaper analyst in Washington and Pennsylvania didn’t give Congressman Kanjorski a chance to win reelection. The only voices who did were the people who voted to reelect him.
Before we count Kanjorski out again, let’s at least have the campaign and the elections in May and November.
Just about everybody in politics has an opinion of what happened in the Massachusetts special election for US Senate yesterday. Here’s mine.
Two bedrock principles of political campaigning are in play here.
The first fundamental is “Never take an opponent or a campaign for granted.” Martha Coakley and her campaign operatives in Washington and Boston took Sen-elect Scott Brown for granted.
She let up after her primary election win, sat on a lead, and evidently, didn’t adequately poll to catch the shift in the race. Basically, she was caught flatfooted. Thus, the outcome.
But what does this mean for the mid-term elections in November? That’s where the other political principle comes in play.
That theory goes: “A week is a lifetime in politics.” Anybody who tells you today they know what this portends for the 2010 election is merely speculating, or probably, guessing.
Nobody was predicting a mere month ago that Brown would win.
There are many weeks, or lifetimes, in the 10 months before the general election. Many things will change. That’s all I predict today. I wouldn’t pretend to know now how things will play out.
The 2009 Luzerne County election results were a mixed bag.
It seems that the corruption news permeating the county recently had an impact.
It affected results in several races. It also contributed to the low voter turnout.
If you were in anyway associated with the principals named in the scandal so far, you suffered at the polls.
Whether it portends Republican Party resurgence and Democratic Party demise is less clear.
The photo that put Judge Olszewski, Jr. socializing in the living room of the Florida condo owned by ex-judges Conahan and Ciavarella clearly hurt his retention chances.
Carolee Olenginski was helped in that the Prothonotary’s office she sought was recently held by Jill Moran was law partner to “kids for cash’ juvenile detention center owner Robert Powell. It also didn’t hurt that Carolee’s opponent was married to a man who was also was implicated in the county corruption scandal.
Dottie Stankovic’s vote totals were reduced from her usual high levels seemingly because of questions about work habits unique to her, not all incumbents.
Republicans might take glee in the results, but the two Democrats running for Controller got more votes together than winner Republican Walter Griffith. Independent (Democrat) Wil Toole’s candidacy was a spoiler. Stankovic in the end did hold on. And Democrats won the two open judgeships despite a very well publicized push by the Republicans to “bullet-vote” for their candidate, Richard Hughes. Democrat Amesbury had no newspaper or radio talk-show endorsements and won. GOP star Lou Barletta made automated phone calls for some candidates and he didn’t seem to have coattails.
Despite the toxic atmosphere among county voters, Democratic efforts weren’t crushed. They had some bright spots yesterday. There was no Republican sweep despite their aggressive attempt to re-brand their party in the county and cast all Democrats as crooks.