Anti-Fracking Leaders Win Pennsylvania Municipal Races 

November 7, 2019
 Climate

People-Powered Campaign Shows a Movement is Rising to Protect Allegheny County from Fracking

SEWICKLEY, PA – On Tuesday, three community leaders running on a platform of protecting their community of Franklin Park Borough from fracking won seats on the borough council.

Democrats Susan Striz, Brian Malkin, and Dr. Jiang Li each won their races, while a fourth candidate, Matt Ferriolo, came up just a few dozen votes short.

“This victory shows Franklin Park residents are opposed to fracking,” said Sam Bernhardt, Deputy Political Director for Food & Water Action. “Voters have delivered a mandate to their local government that they want to be protected from this dangerous process. Elected officials at all levels of government—municipal, state, or federal—should take note: prioritize the polluting fracking industry over your constituents puts you at risk of losing your next election.”

The saga in Franklin Park started in mid-2018. A borough survey of residents showed strong opposition to a plan to lease Linbrook Park for fracking. But the Borough Council proceeded to take up the item at their December 2018 meeting. Food & Water Watch mobilized hundreds of residents to this meeting, forcing the council to put off deliberation on the proposal.

In the weeks that followed, hundreds of community members continued to show up to council meetings to voice their opposition to the proposed lease, which was eventually voted down, with Laura Coombs (Ward 1) casting the sole vote in support of it.

The fracking issue didn’t go away for the councilmembers, who proceeded to pass an oil and gas zoning ordinance that would allow fracking in residential parts of Franklin Park, ignoring community leaders’ calls to restrict fracking into the M3 zone.

These candidates—Ferriolo, Li, Striz, and Malkin— decided to run against incumbent borough council members because they recognized the council was coming up short on this issue.

Food & Water Action and Food & Water Action PAC played a significant role in recruiting and training these candidates, and deployed significant resources to mobilize voters in support of them. The two organizations, which operated under an internal firewall to ensure no coordination between their operations, deployed a combination of tactics including canvassing, mail, phonebanking, peer-to-peer texting and digital advertising to educate voters about the candidates.

###

Food & Water Action mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

How A Grassroots Coalition Stopped A Corporate Water Grab In New Jersey

September 19, 2019
 Democracy Water

Suez and a Wall Street firm teamed up to win a huge contract in Edison. What stood in their way? The people of Edison.

When water giant Suez and Wall Street partner KKR made their move to win a $811 million, 40-year water and sewer privatization deal in New Jersey, they had enough money to buy ads on TV and Facebook, and deliver round after round of fear-mongering junk mail to residents’ mailboxes.

On our side, we had a kind of power that money can’t buy: Volunteers and interns going door-to-door, and fired up residents who demanded a voice in their town’s future. We had people power.

Edison NJ residents banded together to take control of their water systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suez never stood a chance. 

In a stunning win for public water, voters in Edison, New Jersey voted 84 percent to 16 percent in favor of bringing their sewer system and part of their drinking water system under public control. This makes the town—the fifth largest in New Jersey—the third municipality in the country to effectively ban water privatization, and the first to do so via citizen-initiated referendum.

How on Earth did a small, determined group of residents go to battle with a giant multinational corporation and a Wall Street investment firm… and win in a landslide?!

CHIP IN FOR WINS LIKE THIS!

Back in February, Edison Mayor Tom Lankey unveiled the proposal that was apparently in the works for months: The township would sign off on a 40-year, $811 million contract. Initial reports stressed that the upfront payment would help pay for new facilities, including a $40 million community center. But those are exactly the kinds of promises water privatizers like to make; residents are left to find out the hard way that’s not the way it works out. 

There was instant community opposition to the proposal. Residents packed public meetings demanding to know when the deal had been negotiated, why they weren’t informed about the process, and why in the world anyone would take these companies at their word. Just a few miles north, the city of Bayonne has been saddled with a nightmarish long-term contract with the same two companies. 

We knew there was a way to give the public a voice. Thanks to a state law, residents in some New Jersey towns can gather petitions that require their elected officials to consider a new ordinance; either the town council passes the ordinance outright, or it goes to the voters to decide in an election. Our initiative posed a simple question: Should Edison control its own water and sewer system?

We hit the streets to collect enough names to put the issue on the political agenda for the town. Within a month, our organizers, volunteers, interns and community members collected over 5,000 signatures. 

Then, Edison residents started hearing about a mysterious group that was going around calling themselves the Edison Utility Improvement Program. That official-sounding name was a ruse, though; we filed a public records request and discovered that this was a campaign paid for by Suez to sow confusion and mistrust in the community. 

It backfired spectacularly. Even Mayor Lankey, a champion of the Suez deal, came out and forcefully denounced the bogus campaign. 

Nonetheless, in July Edison’s Township Council decided, in a 4-3 vote, to not adopt the ordinance immediately. That put this question to the voters on a special election ballot. And that’s when the next phase began. 

Who’s Knocking?

The key to this election was turnout. We already knew that the more voters learned about the deal, the more they were likely to oppose it. We needed them to know that voting ‘yes’ for public control would preempt the privatization effort, and we had to do the hard work to get them to vote by mail or show up in person on election day — phone banks, text campaigns, and good ol’ fashioned knocking on doors. 

By the time election day rolled around, homemade VOTE YES signs were popping on lawns and intersections all over town. Suez made one last push, sending VOTE NO advertising trucks all over town, dozens of door-knockers, and even Suez employees. In the end, the companies spent a staggering $119,000 to swing votes their way– that adds up to about $73 per vote. By comparison, Food & Water Action spent about $2,000 encouraging Edison to vote “yes.”

Edison residents banded together to stop the Suez corporation from taking over their water and sewage.

The Big Picture

Edison is just the third municipality in the country to outright ban water privatization, bringing their water and sewer systems under public control. Until now, only Baltimore, Maryland and Northampton, Massachusetts have taken this step. 

But this win is bigger than that. Edison is the first community in the country with privatized water to go to the ballot to change the law to require public control. The community is re-municipalizing its water system by popular referendum. This is democracy in action. 

And better yet—voter turnout was remarkably high for a special election in September. Over 10,000 votes were cast, for a turnout of about 18 percent. As one state politics site pointed out, that was almost as many voters who turned out for a special election in 2013 for a U.S. Senate seat. It turns out that water can be a winner at the ballot box. 

Of course, we must think big when it comes to improving access to safe, clean and affordable public water. That’s why we’re pushing elected officials to support the WATER Act, which would provide the federal funding to help other communities bring their water into public hands, replace lead service lines, repair outdated infrastructure and create a truly 21st century water system across the country. 

Will you celebrate Edison’s win with us by telling your congressperson to co-sponsor the WATER Act?

TELL YOUR CONGRESSPERSON!