Green in Council


Karen Heller: Bill Green's raucous arrival

By Karen Heller

Inquirer Columnist

The current incarnation of City Council, birthed with the 1951 Home Rule Charter, has its own entrenched traditions. The place can appear old, too. Some members and staff look as if they're auditioning for the road company of Guys and Dolls.

There are rules, and certain ways of doing things. Freshmen members, for example, are supposed to be quiet, observant, respectful.

Bill Green doesn't play that game.

His father, the former mayor, said last year of his son, "He's going to make a mark so fast and so strong that they'll be stunned." True, that.

When the son talks - which is often; rare is the microphone he fails to court - eyeballs roll. Heads shake. Blood pressures spike.

"I'm not here to make friends," Green says. Good, because there isn't a lot of love in the room.

"I don't understand this constant need for attention," says Council veteran James Kenney. When Green speaks, Kenney's face approximates the severe ranking on the homeland security chart. "It's extremely important to have collegial experiences. You need friends, and to be open enough to their experience to learn from what others know. And you need nine votes to get legislation passed."

This summer, Frank DiCicco accused Green of "attempting to grandstand and gain public notoriety." He continued "to marvel at your inexperience, your political naivete, and your inability to see an issue for what it truly is." Furthermore, "I have reached the end of my rope."

All in six months!

And they say it takes ages to accomplish anything in Council.

A man with a plan

Pols are in the popularity business. Being liked is essential to getting elected, getting stuff done. So there's something curious, admirable even, about Green's not going along. He doesn't seem to care. His was the lone vote opposing privatizing the biosolids plant, one of two against the Fairmount Park and rec department merger.

Sitting in his dinky, dreary office, Green, 43, gives the impression he isn't planning to grow mold, like some peers. Council, after all, is a sinecure, where members die in office. Joan Krajewski retired for a day - but what a day! - so she could legally collect almost $300,000 in retirement benefits.

"I'm still innocent enough to believe I can make a difference," Green says. "We're a policy-oriented office. Most people on City Council work harder at constituent service." Frustrating? "The disappointing thing to me is that people make decisions based on personality." Council, he admits, can be a "lot like high school."

Although he's formed an alliance with fellow freshmen Curtis Jones Jr. and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Green is not about to be voted prom king any time soon.

Having moved back to Philadelphia from Atlanta four years ago, Green strikes observers as a middle-aged man in a hurry, possibly eyeing a bigger job. In his office, he has a large whiteboard listing a weekly "to-do list," an ambitious new proposal every week. It's going to drive his colleagues bonkers.

Can't we get along?

Some wags argue that every fight in this city boils down to one: Vince Fumo vs. John Dougherty. Still. This, even though Fumo is standing trial in federal court - facing time in the big house much bigger than his Fairmount manse - while Johnny Doc can get elected only by electricians.

Kenney and DiCicco are Fumocrats. Green is pals with Doc. Within seconds, each will disparage the other's association.

In defense, Green says, "John Dougherty hasn't called my office and asked me for anything." And Kenney says, "Am I here because of Fumo? Sure. But I think, after 18 years, I'm my own person."

So let's put that in the past, the rearview mirror of politics. Time to move on, broker peace. I'm willing to do what I can. Drinks are on me.