Carla Cain draws inspiration from Octavius Catto in her run for City Commissioner

When Carla Cain sees the statue of Octavius Catto outside City Hall, she sees a hero—and a calling. “He’s my hero because he died fighting for what he believed in,” she says.

Catto’s statue is the first of an African-American in Philadelphia. A distinguished scholar, he fought for the right of African-Americans to vote—in the mid-1800s, before the Civil War! He was killed outside a polling station on 700 South Street on Election Day, October 10, 1871. He was only 32 years old.

It took almost 100 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted guaranteeing the right to vote. In recent years, efforts at voter suppression in the country have been attempted: stripping of the Voting Rights Act, voter ID laws, purging of minorities from voter rolls. Cain felt the best way to honor her hero was to continue his work by running for one of the two Democratic nominations for City Commissioner in Philadelphia, the office that oversees elections, registration, certifies elections, and she feels, should do more to push turnout. She is the only African-American woman in the 13-Democratic field. For this race, she collected almost 4,100 signatures, the most of any City Commissioner candidate.

“Voting is one of the most important obligations we have in a democracy,” she says. “Too many people take it for granted. Blood was spilled to gain voting rights. On our website——we pay tribute to women suffragettes—we are approaching the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote--the marchers in Selma, people who crossed inter-racial and religious lines to work together to expand voting rights. Some died in the struggle. We can’t turn our backs on that history.”

As for those who say their vote doesn’t count, “In 2016, if 26 more Democrats had voted in each division in Philadelphia alone, Donald Trump would have lost Pennsylvania. In November, with better turnout we flipped the House. The city was ecstatic about 51% turnout. We shouldn’t be happy about 51%. Some divisions exceeded 70%, others had less than 50%. We need all divisions to strive for 70% and beyond. In the 2017 election, city turnout was only 17%. This inconsistency is unacceptable.”

Cain is a committeeperson in the 22nd Ward, 25th division, in Mt. Airy. She was elected to State Democratic Committee last year. Cain has travelled throughout the city to register over 2,700 voters. She favors same day registration, early voting or multiple voting days, anything that “makes the process of voter registration and voting easier and user friendly.”

“I didn’t wait for a special day to register voters,” Cain said. “I have held voter registration parties in my home.”

She has been involved in the political process for 30 years and holds two degrees in government and political science related to policy and working and navigating through the legislative process. She has worked on numerous campaigns as a field coordinator and consultant.  

The City Commissioners’ race is one of many offices on the May 21 primary ballot and with the multitude of names running for them, it creates problems for the voters to make informed choices. “I would educate the voters on the responsibilities of the specific offices on a ballot,” she said.

As for the selection of the new voting machines, Cain says, “The process of selecting the new voting machines was done too quickly and without enough public input and knowledge. A process that involves that large an expenditure and involves machinery to be used by so much of the public in such an important activity as voting, should have been more transparent. I would have held focus groups so the public could test the different options.”

(Michael Kleiner)