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THE POLITICAL TRAIL

Local players boost 'scorecard' bid

With all political eyes cast north to New Hampshire, little notice was paid to the political caucuses held last weekend right here in the Bay State. For the most part, it was with good reason.

 

Democratic city and ward committees convened last Saturday to elect delegates to the party's issues convention, which will take place this spring in Amherst. With no statewide contests on the November ballot, and party pooh-bahs preoccupied with gearing up for the Democratic National Convention in July, the May 8 gathering at UMass is destined, by and large, to be a snoozer. Indeed, some local caucuses last weekend had trouble drawing enough willing party foot soldiers to fill their allotment of delegate seats.

But for a band of liberal activists, the caucuses were the next step in a bid to boost the ''Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," to borrow from the presidential candidate favored by many of the local insurgents.

Building on the new blood that fueled Robert Reich's run for governor two years ago, several new political groups, led by the Progressive Democrats of Somerville, succeeded in adding a plank to the party platform at last year's state convention that calls for creation of a legislative ''scorecard" that ranks Democratic officeholders on their fealty to official party positions.

''We're trying to bring about progressive change in the Democratic Party, to bring it back to its roots, so it stands for people," says Rebekah Gewirtz, chairwoman of the Somerville group.

In October, the activists rankled party leaders and lawmakers when word leaked that they had launched a test version of a website scoring state legislators. With some Republicans registering higher marks than Democrats on the try-out, Democratic legislators quickly voiced their displeasure at the scorecard, and the organizers agreed to pull the numbers from the site. But they did not agree to give up their fight.

Leaders of the effort are now working with the party's public policy committee to try to reach agreement on a way to implement the platform directive.

''They're not crazy about the idea, but they realize it passed last year, and we have to do something about it," says Cambridge activist Jesse Gordon, a leader of the scorecard campaign, who was named to the public policy committee.

Gordon says scorecard backers hope to be able to ''work through the party." But if a solution can't be arrived at, supporters are prepared to ratchet up the effort in May, this time by pushing to mandate the scorecard scheme as part of the state party charter, a step beyond the platform plank they won last year. To gird for that potential battle, scorecard activists worked to recruit supporters to last Saturday's caucuses.

Gordon was elected to a delegate slot in a competitive caucus in Ward 11 in North Cambridge, and he says about a dozen others won delegate seats in Cambridge as a concerted part of the scorecard effort. Gewirtz won a seat in a competitive contest for delegate slots in Somerville's Ward 6, though scorecard backers failed to win seats in several other Somerville wards. Still, Gordon estimates that ''a couple of hundred" scorecard-supporting delegates were elected statewide, and he's hopeful they could muster the 400 votes needed to bring a charter change to the convention floor.

Though the scorecard campaign is clearly aimed at boosting candidates who hew closer to the party's liberal-leaning platform, Gordon, a coordinator of the grass-roots statewide group supporting Howard Dean's presidential bid, says the effort is equally part of a broader, nonpartisan movement to open up government to greater public scrutiny.

A fervent believer in the power of the Internet to change the dynamics of political engagement, Gordon says Massachusetts is way behind the curve, for example, in making legislative voting records accessible on the official state website. Gordon, who served as technology director for Reich's gubernatorial campaign, says a website he helps maintain that tracks positions of officeholders nationwide, www.ontheissues.org, gets 30,000 visits a day.

''That's really my strategy -- getting information out via the Internet," he says. ''I think the Massachusetts Democratic Party doesn't get that."

Michael Jonas can be reached at jonas@globe.com.

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