You probably wouldn’t need to check IDs to confirm that most of those in attendance at Monday night’s Common Cause Pennsylvania 40th anniversary celebration were alive for the progressive citizen lobbying group’s debut in 1970.
The eighty, mostly gray-haired, people in attendance at the Center City Radisson at 17th and Locust streets saw another small piece of the nonprofit’s history. Though headlined by a women’s issues advocate and featuring a host of political candidates from elections past, for the first time in 10 years of giving out the award, a software engineer was honored with the Common Cause PA Public Service Achievement Award.
“Robert Cheetham uses data for good,” said Chris Satullo of WHYY, who introduced the co-founder of Callowhill GIS software development company Azavea.
Cheetham was credited for the company’s role in various politically orientated applications and projects, most notably its Redistricting the Nation project, but notwithstanding its political contributions tracking website built in conjunction with Common Cause PA.
“A hundred years from now, people will look back on the kinds of things Azavea is doing as the next step in the civil rights movement—giving people the tools to watchdog and fight a government that ignores the public interest,” James Browning, the Associate Director for Development in the Mid-Atlantic Region for Common Cause, told Technically Philly. “On issues like redistricting reform, which can cause eyes to glaze, Redistricting the Nation makes the issue clear and compelling.”
Past Common Cause Public Service Achievement Award Winners — Robert Cheetham is the first with a technology background.
- Wyonna Coleman — PA Sierra Club
- Dr. Maurice Goddard — Pa. Dept. of Environmental Resources
- ‘The Pay Raise Four’ — Harrisburg activists
- Pennsylvania Economy League — Issues PA website
- Anne Schink — League of Women Voters of PA
- Robert Surrick — Attorney, judicial discipline activist
- Henry Messinger — former Majority Leader of the PA Senate
- Kurt Solmessen — Good government activist
- Barbara Smith — Philadelphia Jobs for Peace
- Eugene Shirk — Reading Mayor
- David Steil — Co-chair of state Speaker’s Commission on Legislative reform
“I started Azavea a little over 10 years ago to work on software tools that would enable us to use geographic and other data to ask interesting questions,” Cheetham told the crowd in his speech, which you can see in the dark video above. “I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of people on those questions.”
The first remarks were made by Bob Edgar, the President and CEO of Common Cause, who served from 1975 to 1987 as a Democratic U.S. Congressman from Delaware County. Director of Drexel University’s College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership Lynn Yeakel, who lost a 1992 U.S. Senate bid, was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
Midge Rendell, a federal judge and Gov. Ed Rendell’s wife, and Joe Sestak, who lost to Pat Toomey in November’s Senate election, were also in attendance.
Nearly the only ones in the room who weren’t alive in 1970 when John Gardner founded the organization, were the handful of staff members Cheetham brought along.