It was last October when Philadelphia was labeled America’s “Next Great City” by National Geographic Travel. This was terribly exciting. City politicians called it long overdue, local media proudly brought the distinction to agreeing Philadelphians.
I wrote that paragraph during the frustrating 45 minutes I was on the telephone with several individuals employed by the “Next Great City.”
After I spent the better half of 40 minutes searching the city’s Web site trying to find the salary of one of Philadelphia’s 17 council persons, I decided I would test Philadelphia the best way I knew.
I dialed 10 digits and spent my lunchtime being transferred from department to department.
No one working with Personnel, Records, the City Treasurer or even the City Council seemed to know the salaries of those on the Council. I chatted with a kind old lady in the Mayor’s office and a less-than-interested woman with the Revenue Department twice. By some mistake, the last department I was patched through to was the Prison System office.
As I hung up nearly an hour later, I thought to myself that that department might have more information on some Philadelphia leaders than I care to know.
Already, primary election debates, scheduled for next November, are growing. That should be no surprise, considering nominations for mayor and all 17 Council seats are open. It’s no small matter that November could also bring in a new governor.
Where huge power changes happen from time to time in all cities, the political corruption for which Philadelphia is developing a reputation does not.
City Councilman Richard T. Mariano faces federal charges for receiving $30,000 in bribes in exchange for legislative favoritism.
Mariano, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer reported is a union electrician, allegedly borrowed $6,000 from electricians’ union leader John Dougherty to pay a debt. According to FBI reports acquired by the Inquirer, in return, Dougherty chose the staff for Mariano’s office. In addition, Dougherty received briefings on Mariano’s legislative strategy and action, according to the same FBI information.
Perhaps the defining Philadelphia politician is Michael Stack, Jr. In March, Stack and his son, Michael Stack III, failed to mention their relationship with two businesses that were sold land from the state. He was facing forgery and election fraud charges before a Dec. 22 ruling dismissed the case because Stack’s trial wasn’t “speedy” enough.
Save your shock. As the son of a congressman, husband of a judge, father of a state senator, and a mainstay as the Democratic leader of the 58th Ward, Stack has a lot of friends.
Remember that pay raise issue? State legislators voted to increase their salaries and 158 lawmakers – 57 from Philadelphia – chose to take the raise immediately through expense accounts, a maneuver some claimed unconstitutional.
One state representative and three state senators from Philadelphia, including Michael Stack III, voted against the raise but then took the pay increase anyway. Fifteen Democratic house members were demoted from their committee leadership positions after they maintained their opposition to the pay increases.
What I can’t seem to decide is if National Geographic got it right. Maybe November’s elections and these recent political scandals will be the last gasp of an age of ethical lethargy in Philadelphia.
It’s as if Philadelphia is circling City Hall. But it’s tough to decide if we’re making that turn onto North Broad going up, or if we are destined to continue around JFK Boulevard and head back down south to the corruption of the past.
Most Philadelphians aren’t too convinced of the city’s renaissance, which can only be fully recognized if credible leadership is established first. Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer in a staff editorial called city politics “inbred.” That’s an unusually nasty assault on leadership. How long does it take to undo that?
“The Next Great City?” I’ll believe it when I get off hold.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at email@example.com.