Welcome to Philadelphia, where just reading through a newspaper requires a dose of Prozac for anyone with a sense of morals and decency. Unfortunately, what goes on behind the scenes in this city is much, much worse. “Philadelphia is a city run by 500 people, for the benefit of those same 500 people,” political consultant Neil Oxman once said. It’s true: Politicians exist to rob the taxpayer, and they get away with it here with brazen impunity. We see the consequences on our bloody streets and in our empty pocketbooks, yet the most we ask for from our leaders is that they aren’t engaged in any specific current scandal.
And hey, if they are, we elect them to office anyway.
Of course, we’re not all maggots and cock-a-roaches these days. In some ways, things appear to be on the up. Philadelphia is somehow considered a hip place to live nowadays, which is absolutely shocking for those of us who grew up here in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Very cool things are happening downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods. The population actually grew for the first time in 50 years. But our growth and vitality are threatened by leaders grown fat and lazy on the taxpayer tit, who refuse to confront the fundamental challenges plaguing the city and threatening its very future.
Taxes remain repressively high, stifling innovation and driving people and businesses away. The city’s finances have been one step from disaster for four years now and counting, with annual tax raises enacted just to barely scrape by. Meanwhile, we put off and fail to account for inevitable future expenses like union contracts and a blob-like pension liability poised to swallow any extra revenue or surplus we could ever hope to gain in more flush times.
The consequences of corruption and mismanagement are far worse than bungled accounting books and angry commentators shouting from the sideline. Philadelphia is by-and-large poor, hungry, illiterate, drug addicted, armed and deadly. Our school system is a national disgrace and our biggest celebrities are stranglers and cop killers. Frankly, we will never achieve the capability or the will or the resources to address endemic poverty and violence while our leadership contingent is engaged in a giant game of circle jerk.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a veritable murderers’ row of the most disgusting of our so-called public servants retired, incarcerated or ridden out of town on a rail: Marge Tartaglione, Joe Duda, John Green, Vivian Miller, John Perzel, Vince Fumo, Frank “Spot Zoning” DiCiccio, Donna Reed “Germantown Settlement” Miller, Carl Greene and Arlene Ackerman, to name a few. (It’s beyond me to total up the sum taxpayer dollars these leeches consumed over their careers but it easily reaches eight figures. Sickening.) But plenty of dead wood and worse remains, and a new generation moves in to take the place of the departed. We’ll be watching.
Former School Reform Chair chair Robert Archie, who resigned last year over an influence peddling scandal, said it best: “Philadelphia does not operate by the usual rules.” Ah, there’s no place like home.