Let's begin with some good news for a change: Philadelphia government is reasonably well run and generally efficient. Trash is picked up on time almost all the time. The city has some acclaimed programs that are imitated in other cities: Its aid to the homeless effort is one example. It has tried innovations in governance that others have emulated, such as the five-year budget plan begun in the Rendell era. Its Web site wins awards.
The study Michael Masch did on the Philadelphia School District's finances is grim reading, but then most autopsy reports are. Masch, Gov. Rendell's budget secretary and a former member of the School Reform Commission, was brought in to examine the books this year after the district suddenly and unexpectedly developed a large deficit.
I call them magic-wand moments. They often came during interviews with the five Democratic candidates for mayor this spring. Presented with a vexing, hellacious problem the solution of which has eluded the last five mayors, some of the candidates some of the time couldn't resist the impulse:
Imagine a city where citizens are recruited by government to help spot problems, enforce code, and locate potholes needing repair. Armed with handheld computers, they patrol the streets in teams, tapping in precise information on conditions in their neighborhoods, information shared with city agencies.
Forget these five other guys running for mayor. Let's pretend for a moment that you decide to run. In throwing your hat into the ring, you avoid the expansionist "We'll Solve Every Problem" platforms of the other candidates. Instead, you go for frugality.
Tom Ferrick Jr. is a former Inquirer columnist. He now writes for the Next Mayor project.
A Philadelphia native, Ferrick spent decades as a reporter, specializing in government, politics and other human foibles.