Netting votes via the Web
Some question the effectiveness of Web sites.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- While there are millions of stops along the information highway, only two of the seven Democratic mayoral candidates operate Web sites.
"It gives people a chance to see my platform, and it gives them an opportunity to know more about me," said former council President John Swierz. "It's a way for people to take a look at elected officials. Any time you can connect with people, it's a good thing."
Swierz -- www.swierz.com -- and state Sen. Robert F. Hagan -- www.hagan4mayor.com or www.haganformayor.com -- have Web sites.
Council President James Fortune Sr., another Democratic mayoral candidate, said Web sites for candidates can be beneficial if enough people know it's there and have access to computers.
Fortune, who admits he's not very computer literate, is mulling the possibility of having his campaign create a Web site, but wonders how many people in Youngstown would see it.
State Rep. Sylvester D. Patton Jr., running in the mayoral primary, questions how effective a Web site is in this campaign because so few people in Youngstown own computers.
Political campaign Web sites were virtually nonexistent 10 years ago, and will be a part of almost every campaign 10 years from now, said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
"Web sites are reaching down further to local campaigns," he said. "It's a pattern we're seeing in other Midwest states. What you're seeing in Youngstown is pretty typical."
A key to politicians using Web sites today is integrating it into their campaign by including the address on campaign materials and advertisements, Green said.
"It's a huge benefit for candidates because they can control the material on the site," he said. "On the whole, it's a positive, but people have to know it's there. It's not clear how much it helps. If a candidate wants to do it, they should do it. But don't base your entire campaign on it."
Unless voters are very interested in a particular race, they aren't going to go out of their way looking for a candidate's Web site, said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University.
"Having a Web site makes you seem savvy even though it's very cheap to operate one," he said. "But I would be amazed if having a Web site got you votes. It's the wave of the future, but I don't think it impacts local campaigns now."
A check on Google, one of the most widely used Internet search engines, shows that Swierz's campaign Web site is among the first 10 listings if a person types in the key words, John, Swierz, Youngstown, and mayor.
The same holds true for Hagan if you type in Bob, Hagan, Youngstown and mayor. But Web users would have a tough time finding Hagan's site if they used Robert instead of Bob.
Besides controlling the message about a candidate's position on issues and providing background information, Web sites can be used to raise money, Sracic said. Also, having a blog -- a term for a Web log -- can keep a candidate more in touch with his supporters, Sracic said.
Hagan's Web site includes a link to PayPal, a business that takes credit card orders from Web users for a nominal fee. Hagan's campaign raised about $1,000 through PayPal.
A person interested in contributing money to Hagan's campaign has to fill out a form on the candidate's Web site, and then be linked to the PayPal site.
If contributors aren't PayPal members, they have to complete a similar form with various information on that company's Web site. Depending on a person's computer and connection, the process can take a few minutes or be quite lengthy.
Hagan's site doesn't have a blog, but Swierz's site does. Most of the blog entries are from Swierz about a variety of issues, with little to no responses from other people. Those who want to participate in Swierz's blog have to fill out a registration form.
"I've gotten some responses, but not a whole lot," he said. "But the blog and the Web site are effective tools."
Councilman Michael Rapovy, another Democratic mayoral candidate, said he has no plans to create a Web site.
"My computer is a toy," he said. "It's pure recreation. I would view a Web site as a luxury. I don't view it as important."
Police Chief Robert Bush, also running in the May Democratic mayoral primary, said he'd rather talk to people face-to-face about issues than put them on a Web site.
"It's a nicety, not a necessity," he said. "I've considered it, but I don't see it as much of a plus."
Mayoral candidate William Flickinger said Web sites will have little to no impact on this race.