Change Is Coming To Philadelphia Politics

(September 2016)

In Physics, we are taught that nature abhors a vacuum.  Voids fill and emptiness cannot endure.  In Philadelphia politics, a power vacuum is as abhorrent as an FBI probe or a firing for cause.

But, big changes are looming in local politics.  The primal forces of Philadelphia's political nature have been shaken and in the next few years, some of the most powerful and influential figures will be gone from the local political scene.  The toll of age and time -- prison time -- will create a power vacuum.  How that vacuum is filled will move Philadelphia forward or hold us back.  

Of course, innocents remain so until they are proven guilty and even the city's eldest elder statesmen still have fight left in them, but the Feds hate to lose and mortality is undefeated.  As the surest sign that change is imminent, Philadelphia's political world is suddenly filled with actors who are talking tough and asserting independence.  Sentiments once whispered are now being openly discussed and power, formerly assumed, is now being questioned.  Some are boldly declaring they are no longer taking marching orders and others say they are tired of waiting for a "next election" to deliver oft-promised parity.

The More Things Stay The Same

Philadelphia political history over the years of the past quarter-century has been generally peaceful.  Democrats have consolidated power; rendering competing parties all but irrelevant on the local scene.  A general intraparty peace has endured under a long-serving chairman even as one labor-led faction has used its money and muscle to dominate local elections.  Deals and accommodations have held off insurgencies, but have also thwarted major changes that might improve life in our big city.

The cabal that rules Philadelphia has been quite successful in making a few individuals rich, elevating some to elected office, and completing a handful of development projects.  But, under its dominance, Philadelphia endures the highest poverty rate and worst crime rates of America's largest cities.  We tolerate high costs in city taxes and city-owned utility charges while we endure underperforming schools, often-shoddy municipal services, and lackluster economic growth.  We recoil as scandal after scandal taints official after official.  We see our city delegation in Harrisburg known for its ability to unanimously vote for pay raises for elected officials but unable to use its power to secure education and infrastructure funding.

A better class of political leadership could move Philadelphia forward in so many ways.  Just imagine if recent headlines about Philadelphia politicians were not embarrassing revelations of sordid personal vices, but praise-laden reviews of splendid policy victories.

That will not happen if we only talk about politics.  Change will only come if we engage in politics -- if we get into the business of winning elections and wielding power.

The More Things Change

In the business of politics, votes -- and the money required to fund campaigns to secure them – are what matters.  Anyone who wants to lead, exercise authority, or achieve political power should be thinking today about how to raise the money and generate the votes to fill Philadelphia's coming political vacuum.

What is needed?  Commitment.  Those who win elections in Philadelphia are those committed to the work of winning elections and toil year-round at the effort.  Those who complain about election results are those who dabble in elections as an occasional hobby.

Winning requires money and organization.  

A staffed political entity could organize a movement, support promising candidates, and turnout votes.  Independent expenditures by a well-funded Political Action Committee could support a well-conceived push for change.  For a few dollars and some sweat equity, Philadelphia reformers could fill the city's political vacuum and transform the city itself.

We could remake Philadelphia as a city where scarce public funds are spent to promote the civic good, where economic opportunity extends to each and every neighborhood and community, and where public service is about improving the public welfare and not lining the pockets of public servants.

The flood is coming -- and it will certainly take longer than 40 days and 40 nights before the devastation is complete -- but we can start laying the foundation to rebuild political Philadelphia today.

A vacuum will not exist for long in Philadelphia politics.  We must abhor our city's unsatisfying status quo and the insipid, incestuous, and infected political class that supports it as much as nature abhors a vacuum if we are to make positive political change for the future.

If we don't fill the coming void with something positive, surely something less-than-positive and more abhorrent certainly will.