The Philadelphia mayor's race is starting to a) scare me and b) remind me of what Yogi Berra supposedly said once about California, that it gets late early out there. It may be just 2014 on the calendar, yet for voters hoping for a more dynamic choice to lead Philly beyond the Michael Nutter era the clock is already ticking rapidly.
This week actually brought good news and bad news to the incipient stages of the contest to replace Nutter. The good news is that three candidates declared, or semi-declared, in recent days and none of them look like the 98 (!) mayors who've come before them: A white man or a black man. The expected candidacies of Terry Gillen, Ken Trujillo and Lynne Abraham are a sign that Philadelphia is more diverse and open-minded than any time in our long history, and that's saying something.
Of the three, Gillen -- a former ward leader and Nutter aide -- is the most promising from the progressive standpoint. But in terms of name ID and abilities to raise funds, Gillen's bid to become the city's first female mayor (seriously, the first?...get with the program, Philly!) could be eclipsed by Abraham, who made headlines not just here but nationally as our first female district attorney, aggressively promoted as "one tough cookie" on crime.
I worry that some will dismiss Abraham's candidacy because of her age. Don't. That's agism, and in an era when 73 is the new 53 (for most folks...for me it seemed to work the other way around), there's no reason to doubt that she's be as sharp and almost certainly sharper than more than a few of the dudes I've seen vie to lead City Hall over the years.
No, the problem with Lynne Abraham isn't that she was born in the first half of the 20th Century.
The problem is her ideas, most of which were born in the late 16th Century.
Let's talk about war and death, shall we?
Death. During her nearly 20-year reign as DA, nothing seemed to invoke more pride than her nickname as "America's Deadliest DA." In 1995, Abraham told the New York Times, "When it comes to the death penalty, I am passionate. I truly believe it is manifestly correct." Abraham's passion, among other things, wasted millions of your tax dollars and mine; as the Times noted, it cost 3 times as much -- $3 million in 1995 dollars -- to pursue a death penalty case than it would havecost to put a dangerous felon away for life.
And here's the thing: None of the people that Abraham's office sent to Death Row -- at an added cost of millions of dollars -- was ever executed. Not one. Yet Abraham continued to pursue her aggressively over-the-top passion for the death penalty even as times changed and as society -- even those who (unlike me) don't object the death penalty on purely moral grounds -- came to realize that death sentences were disproportionally meted out to non-whites, and as DNA evidence was showing that, nationally, dozens of folks had been sent to death row for crimes they did not commit.
Then there's war -- the so-called "war on drugs." Lynne Abraham is still fighting this, zealously, despite evidence showing that -- shockingly, just like the death penalty -- blacks are disproportionately busted for pot and other drug crimes and that mass incarceration, often for non-violent drugs crimes, is ripping apart neighborhoods in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
"My view remains unchanged with regard to drug abuse," Abraham, 70, said from her office at the Archer & Greiner law firm, where the bulldoggish ex-prosecutor is now a partner.
Her view is that people who smoke marijuana - by far the most widely used illicit drug in the United States - are violent deviants, roaming Philly's streets with deadly weapons, killing witnesses and committing "untold numbers of crimes" to support their habit.
Those are just two of the myriad problems with Abraham's tenure as DA. Also, the so-called "One Tough Cookie" seemed to crumble when it came to prosecuting corrupt politicians or rogue cops, two areas where Philadelphia seemingly led the nation, both on the day that Abraham took office and the day that she left.
I'm sure that somewhere up there, Frank Rizzo is smiling at the idea of his former acolyte from the 1970s making a run for his old job. But Philadelphia can't afford to be dragged, kicking and screaming, four decades backwards into our dim past... not in 2015, no way.