It's Time To Retire Bob Brady's Political Circus Act

(July 2017)

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I direct your attention to the center ring for our next act of Philadelphia political derring-do.  Congressman and Democratic Party boss Bob Brady, seemingly accused of bribing a political opponent, will attempt to walk the tightrope that is the gray area between right and wrong in Philadelphia's political circus.  Cue the calliope music and get your popcorn because this act -- performed with no net -- may be playing for the final time.

It has been reported that a political aide for a rival candidate has admitted participating in a scheme in which Congressman Brady’s campaign paid $90,000 to a Primary Election opponent to get him to agree to abandon his electoral challenge.  While Congressman Brady has not yet been accused of a crime, the facts presented pull back the curtain to show how the ringmaster of Philadelphia's political circus keeps the show going after so many years of stale performances.

Brady's political-death-defying acts have drawn cheers from fans for years.  In the recent past, Brady avoided legal repercussions when he was connected to ticket-fixing scandals at Philadelphia Traffic Court and when he was connected to improper spending of state economic-development funds.  Despite a clown-car full of Democratic elected officials who have followed a big-top parade to prison, Brady has remained in the spotlight.


That ability to endure is Brady's most incredible feat of all.  Brady has been the Philadelphia Democratic Party Chair for three decades.  In a city of political families and fiefdoms, Brady has avoided the backstabbing and conniving that ended so many political careers.  In a city of conflicting interests and intentions, Brady has kept relative party peace over time.  In a city consumed with race relations and racial math, Brady has endured as the white elected Congressman of a majority-minority district without a true electoral challenge.

This latest revelation helps pull back the curtain to show how the circus trick is performed.

In political-circus terms, Brady has mastered the art of managing the disparate wants and differing ambitions and keeping the high-flying acrobats, tumblers, freaks, and clowns that comprise the local political scene all under the Democratic Party Big Top.  By conscientiously working to ensure that everyone is heard, that everyone is offered something (even if that something is just an assurance that they may receive some future consideration), and that, even if they don't get what they want, everyone believes they will have another chance in the future, Brady has kept his party inside the circus tent -- pissing out and not outside the tent pissing in.

The act that Brady performs best is that of the plate spinner.  He mounts the plates one after another, keeping things moving as the discs teeter on their poles.  Racing among the plates, he attends to those that wobble, adding more and more as the crowd cheers.

As long as he can keep those plates spinning, they will stay on the poles.  When a plate slows and needs to be spun (say a Ward Leader needs to find a job for a Committee Person's daughter), Brady reacts to keep the act going.  When a pole is added without a plate (say a new identity group demands a judgeship for a member), Brady spins a new plate quickly to expand the breadth of the act.  When it looks like someone everything may come to a crashing halt (say when a well-regarded judge steps up to as a Primary Election challenger), he apparently finds a way to make him an offer he can't refuse to get out of the race.

The thing about the plate-spinner act is, we all know how it ends.  No matter the plate spinner's skill, speed, or stamina, eventually too many plates will be spinning on too many poles.  It will be impossible to attend to all the teetering tableware.  A few will fall from their poles and shatter and the plate spinner will recover to set them all in motion again.  But, eventually, the sheer number of plates and poles overwhelms the plate spinner, simple physics wins, and all the plates come crashing to the center-ring floor.

Ringmaster Brady's act will certainly come to an end -- perhaps not after this latest tightrope walk, but undoubtedly sooner rather than later.  Just as the elephant acts are no longer common to more and more circus performances; this donkey act has become an anachronism as well.


In a city that lags other large American cities in population and economic growth and leads other cities in crime and poverty rates, the Philadelphia Democratic Party Chair cannot be considered successful for simply holding his position for decades.  He must bear responsibility for failing to produce leadership to make Philadelphia the city it should be.  

After so many Democratic elected officials have gone to jail, the Philadelphia Democratic Party Chair cannot be considered successful for simply beating the woefully outnumbered Republican Party.  He must bear responsibility for failing to produce a cadre of candidates with the ethical and moral backbone to be public servants instead of self servants. 

As the political party leader of the largest city in a state with a Democratic Party registration edge and a recent history of consistently supporting Democratic candidates for President, the Philadelphia Democratic Party cannot be considered successful for simply winning the city for statewide candidates.  He must bear responsibility for failing to improve turnout and engage voters resulting in too many important statewide electoral losses including the 2016 presidential and senatorial elections.

It is not enough to dominate local elections, to maintain intra-party peace, and to fend off Congressional challengers.  If our Democratic Party Chairman were doing a better job, our city would have better leaders.  Those leaders would be making policy decisions that would improve our lives instead of political decisions that are benefiting the hackocracy.  The improved city would be dynamic and growing and successful -- and not such an easy target for Pennsylvania critics in the opposition party to drive the electoral success that has the Democratic Party far underrepresented in Congress and the General Assembly despite the Democratic Party registration advantage. 

After the plate-spinner act is over, and we pick up the pieces of the mess left behind, let us be sure to avoid following up with a clown act.  Instead, let's look for a leader of the Philadelphia Democratic Party who will end the circus and build a modern political party centered on policy goals and a vision for our city and its future.  

It's past time that we put aside fantasies of running away to join the circus and put forward a plan to make Philadelphia politics work for Philadelphia's future.