Welcome, Ms. Interim: Here's what not to do

Kelley Hodge walks to give her pitch for interim district attorney in City Hall July 19, 2017.

Congratulations, Kelley Hodge, for being appointed interim district attorney, becoming an instant footnote in Philadelphia history.

You’d have to have some reason to lust for a job that lasts just 5½ months, but Hodge was among 14 citizens who hung their names out there. She joins another footnote, Lynne Abraham, who was also a candidate for the interim job.

Abraham is a double footnote: First, she was Philadelphia’s first female DA (and she appointed Hodge a Municipal Court supervisor). Second, as a judge in 1991 she was appointed by fellow judges to run the office when DA Ron Castille resigned to run for mayor. In a 39-37 vote, she edged out fellow Common Pleas Judge Russell Nigro, who was elected to the state Supreme Court four years later. (Earlier in her career, Abraham had been an assistant district attorney.)

I don’t know how Hodge will run the office, but the last thing we need filling out the term of disgraced DA Seth Williams is an activist. No disrupters need apply.

We have one of those in the White House, and the reviews have not been good.

I imagine working in the DA’s Office in recent months must have been like being in Mosul, with daily airstrikes, artillery bombardments, and booby traps. The sanctity of the office was shattered by the indictment, trial, and sudden confession of the boss.

Morale melted like water ice, but the office hobbled forward. If there was any collapse of mission inside the offices at 3 South Penn Square, it didn’t make its way into the media. And it would have.

The traumatized people there hunkered down, focused on the important work in front of them, and behaved like professionals.

Ernest Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure. That defines professionalism, too.

Although maybe not a stampede out of the DA’s Office, a record 43 assistant district attorneys departed in 2015, the year rumors about Williams broke into print. So far this year, 26 have walked.

“You try not to let it affect you at all, you plow forward,” I was told by a former prosecutor with friends in the office. “Most of that office, in my view, had long since checked out on Seth.”

Mostly, he said, staffers feel embarrassment.

As interim DA, Hodge will have to shred the curtain of embarrassment lowered on the office by Williams. Calm and stability should be the ingredients for dealing with the 306 prosecutors. Some hand-holding, back-patting, and hair-smoothing may be required.

I’m not kidding. The attorneys are not children, but some certainly feel tainted by shame.

Hodge should see herself as a caretaker, not a rule-maker. She is a bridge.

“Wholesale changes, they take a lot of thought and a lot of implementation,” I was told by Abraham a few days before the appointment was made, a decision she said she would support no matter who got the job.

Her former rival, Nigro, agrees. “They’re not going to be able to set policy because they’re not going to have enough time,” he told my colleague Chris Brennan the other day.

In November, a new boss will be chosen by the voters. Implementing policies now that might be reversed by a new DA in January would add to the turmoil.

Hodge is the new boss by default of the felonious old boss.

We’ve had the storm in the DA’s Office. Now is the time for calm.