The new year of 2008 has offered a glimmer of hope for a city long on its knees. Michael Nutter, the 92nd mayor of our fine city, was sworn in Jan. 8, and with him came the promise of long-deferred reform for a metropolis mired in corruption
A deli to the board
The most important move of Nutter’s young administration was accepting the resignation of David Auspitz, the former head of the Zoning Board of Adjustments. Auspitz was a one-time proprietor of the Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, a political bullpen for the Democratic leadership where he became very well connected with icons of the Philadelphia party machine.
Knowing the right people got him far in the Democratic Party’s ranks, and his reputation as a cooperative standard bearer got him a place as a board member of the ZBA under then-mayor Gov. Ed Rendell, rising to chairman under outgoing Mayor John F. Street. The ZBA issues permits authorizing construction for the majority of building projects throughout the city, making the chairman spot a very powerful seat to hold.
As one might have predicted, a deli owner with no architectural or planning experience made for a poor arbiter of development.
His decision-making was influenced as much by his mood on a given day as whether or not he had a personal or financial relationship with a developer. Because almost every building project had to go through Auspitz, he was a big wheel in the pay-to-play machine, ensuring a difficult
road for developers not in the favor of the party, and smoothing the way for big contributors.
First Step Just First
I can’t give Nutter total credit for firing this party hack, as Auspitz had enough sense to fall on his own sword and resign,
sparing us a likely embarrassing public dismissal.
However, that in and of itself says something about which way the wind is blowing in Philadelphia these days. Nutter’s very presence in room 215 of City Hall has scared some very old gears in the party machine, and some have already turned tail and ran. Auspitz was an obvious first priority if only because he was so clearly
unqualified for his job, and foolish enough to broadcast his ineptitude by grandstanding at ZBA hearings.
Unfortunately, the deadwood in this city goes much deeper than that, and many of the true leeches on the belly of City Hall will not give up as easily as the former chairman.I had the extreme pleasure to work inside the walls of City Hall in the past with some of the most intelligent and driven men and women I have ever met. Yet, they would grumble about their difficulties in working with other branches of the city staffed with the likes of David Auspitz:
political friends and relatives of powerbrokers. It is critical that Nutter enforces his message that the standard of ineffectuality in the municipal has been broken.
Ryan Briggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.