Experts: Web Still Minor Factor in Local Politics

Article excerpt

During his run for president, Barack Obama's campaign relied on the Internet to organize millions of volunteers and secure contributions.

The campaign used Web sites, text-messaging, YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook to get out his message.

But at least one local politician, a political blogger and a political expert doubt the Internet can play such a large part in local politics, where face-to-face contact is vital.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said the rise of the Internet's role in politics and campaigning has been "meteoric" during the past 10 years.

"The Internet is a way to engage folks in the campaign process who might otherwise not be reached or be a consideration," he said.

While Madonna said use of the Internet in political campaigns continues to grow "exponentially," its use in school board and municipal races is unclear.

"It's not uncommon, but I don't think at the local level most officials have Web sites," he said.

David Regoli, an attorney and Lower Burrell councilman, set up a Web site when he first ran for council in 1998.

"It was just more a way to tell more about myself, who I am, and my family," he said.

Regoli has been involved in political campaigns most of his life, dating back to the Westmoreland County commissioner and state Senate races of his father, John Regoli.

David Regoli worked on the Obama and John Kerry presidential campaigns and was deeply involved in those of former state Rep. Terry Van Horne and judicial candidates, including Westmoreland judge hopeful Chris Scherer of Lower Burrell.

"I think the Internet is probably going to be more important in local elections as time goes on," Regoli said.

A handful of political sites and blogs focusing on local politics and government around the Kiski Valley have developed, but Regoli characterized them as "attack sites" that focus more on criticizing opponents than fostering a lively debate on issues.

Souring the debate

Two sites seek to influence the election of supervisors in Harmar Township, Allegheny County, and Parks Township, Armstrong County.

"Parks Township Good Old Boys" is a Web site operated by self- described "concerned citizens" whose names are not listed. The site says it is not township-affiliated. Most of the postings are anonymous.

One posting, titled "The Upcoming Election -- What It Takes To Serve," questions a candidate's ability to take office based on a lawsuit he filed alleging he was disabled in an accident.

The Harmar site is sponsored by supervisor candidates Bob Seibert and Jim DiPalma, who did not respond to calls seeking comment. …