For District Attorney...

(April 2017)

The winner of the Democratic Primary for District Attorney will face Republican Donald Trump in the November General Election -- or at least that is how it sounds if you listen to the campaign rhetoric of the Democrats running for the office.  Candidate after candidate after candidate after candidate (there are so many of them) declares an intention to resist Trump or fight Trump or protect us from Trump.  

In a city full of Democrats who are opposed to the president and his policies, this appeal is probably a sound political tactic.  But, in a city full of Democratic political leaders who continue to be paraded off to jail, the next District Attorney needs to care a lot less about what is happening in the White House and a lot more about what is happening under Billy Penn's nose.

The "look over there/made you look" gag is one of the oldest in the book, but we Philadelphia Democrats fall for it every time.  Despite decades of evidence that we are the cause of Philadelphia's problems, we continue allow ourselves to be focused on fighting sinister forces from the other party.  The most notable recent example of the gambit was played during the 2003 Mayoral race.  After an FBI listening device was found in the mayor's office, Democratic officials spun the investigation into troubling City Hall corruption as a Republican plot to keep Democrats out of the White House.  Instead of confronting the wrongdoings by the city's ruling cabal -- and demanding political change -- Philadelphia's political establishment banded together to stop George W. Bush from cutting our Wage Tax, or whatever it was they convinced us was his nefarious intent.

In recent years dozens of Philadelphia Democratic elected officials have been convicted of corruption-related crimes.  So many others have been investigated but never faced charges and nearly everyone involved in political leadership has turned a blind eye to some wrongdoing by refusing to condemn the convicted or denying there is even a cause for concern.  

To be sure, the crimes themselves and the betrayals by the criminals are not the true cost of a corrupt political culture.  We, the citizens, pay the true cost in high taxes needed to fund an inefficient and ineffective government.  Residents pay the true cost in accepting a city that provides underperforming schools, trash-strewn neighborhoods, and rutted playing fields.  Too many pay the ultimate cost in the lives that are lost when government fails us completely -- when children die under the care of the Department of Human Services, when residents perish in a preventable building collapse, and when our first responders are not adequately supported in emergencies.

With the current District Attorney facing federal corruption charges and (almost certainly) just months away from prison, it should be crystal clear that the candidates to succeed him must be focused on reforming Philadelphia's corrupt political culture.  But, in a low-turnout Primary Election where many voters will, themselves be connected to Philadelphia's political leaders, the full-on frontal assault on the city's ruling cabal might be, well, impolitic.

Like so many Philadelphians, I'm counting the days until the end of Trump's presidency, but I know we have to think nationally, but act locally.  We need to elect a District Attorney who will help make Philadelphia politics about policies that will improve the lives of Philadelphians and not schemes that will improve the fortunes of Philadelphia politicians.  Doing so could help change Philadelphia's political culture, which could inspire higher turnout among cynical citizens -- and maybe even help win some of those statewide and national elections.

I want to hear more from candidates for District Attorney about going after the criminal element in Philadelphia politics.  Surely, we would much rather have a good, progressive Democratic District Attorney doing that job and not Donald Trump's justice department.

The candidate for District Attorney who will do so will have my vote and will deserve your support.