Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The horrible, dismal, awful prospects for Philadelphia's mayor's office just got worse, if that's possible

Sorry I couldn't think of a particularly clever or snarky or brief way to write that headline, but I'm having a hard time finding the snarky humor in the fact that it's just about nine months or so until the Democratic primary that -- barring a surprise -- will all but pick the next Philadelphia mayor...and the field is shaping up as the most dismal and most difficult choice since the Yankees played the Braves in the World Series.

The horrible, dismal, awful prospects for Philadelphia's mayor's office just got worse, if that's possible

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AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Clarke has said he uses prerogative to pave the way for affordable housing opportunities.
AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Clarke has said he uses prerogative to pave the way for affordable housing opportunities.

Sorry I couldn't think of a particularly clever or snarky or brief way to write that headline, but I'm having a hard time finding the snarky humor in the fact that it's just about nine months or so until the Democratic primary that -- barring a surprise -- will all but pick the next Philadelphia mayor...and the field is shaping up as the most dismal and most difficult choice since the Yankees played the Braves in the World Series.

Many of the power brokers seem to be lining up between two likely candidates: State Sen. Anthony Williams, and City Council President Darrell Clarke. There are significant differences between the two men (and why is it so hard for a woman to get elected mayor of Philadelphia?...but I digress) but at the end of the day both are playing the same old tired machine-politics insider game that simply is not going to cut it in the 21st Century.

Longtime readers (that's an insider joke: I don't actually have any of those) know I have a hard-and-fast policy of not endorsing political candidates, and the mayoral election in 2015 will not be an exception. But I'm not shy about saying when a field of candidates simply isn't up to snuff, and that's the situation we face today. It's time to discuss this now, because the March filing deadline for candidates will be too late.

I've already written previously that Williams simply can't be taken seriously by anyone with a progressive, forward-looking vision for Philadelphia. Over the last four years, Pennsylvanians have seen public education destroyed in Philadelphia (and harmed elsewhere) in favor of the charter school lobby, while the oil-and-gas lobby has used its influence to avoid paying a severance tax to bail out these struggling schools. And yet Williams' recent political rise has been funded almost exclusively by the charter school lobby, while he maintains close ties to the fracking industry as well. If there were enough time (you have to live in Philly for three years to run for mayor), we could just import Tom Corbett and elect him mayor instead of Williams...it would be pretty much the same thing.

Clarke is better on some of the issues facing the city, particularly the education crisis. In terms of realpolitick, the council president could probably hope that support from the teachers union and angry parents could overcome Williams' edge with wealthy insiders. But having better ideas isn't worth mentioning if your tactics are highly questionable.

In today's Daily News, my colleague Sean Collins Walsh raises some disturbing questions about how Clarke conducts his political business:

MANY real-estate developers privately fume about City Council President Darrell Clarke, saying he obstructs projects in his district and goes out of his way for only a handful of favored builders.

But this apparent antagonism hasn't prevented developers and those connected to the business from providing an immense amount of support to Clarke's campaigns over the years.

In 2011, his last re-election year, at least 42 percent of the money Clarke raised came from the development community, according to a Daily News analysis.

"People know that if you want to do business in that district, you have to show up at fundraisers and write big checks," one developer said. "You have to be seen as a supporter."

A lobbyist who represents developers said: "I have heard from people around Clarke that 'you really should organize a fundraiser for him.' Most of the people already know that."

Clarke learned his political skills while seated at the right hand of former mayor and his former boss John Street, so none of this should be too surprising. Yet it's also profoundly depressing. With Washington hopelessly lost in political gridlock, City Halls from Manhattan to Seattle have emerged as hot houses of political innovations, not monuments to the 19th Century tactics of Boss Tweed. Once again, Philadelphia is on the brink of getting jobbed.

Ironically, the city's brightest light, politically, has been the city's lame duck mayor Michael Nutter. Apparently not needing a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, Nutter has taken a surprising left turn in the homestretch of his mayoralty, reversing himself and getting behind higher minimum pay for city subcontractors and paid sick leave for workers. Maybe he's just thinking about his political future and seeing what it takes to win a Democratic primary in the 2010s, or maybe he just has a fresh perspective on things. Either way, I'd love to see more of this in his last 18 months.

Because after January 2016, we may be up the Delaware without a paddle.

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About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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