Editorial: Have voters had enough?

Pennsylvania State Rep. Michelle Brownlee sits outside the courtroom at the Dauphin County courthouse on June 8, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. ( Philadelphia Inquirer / Bradley C Bower )
Pennsylvania State Rep. Michelle Brownlee sits outside the courtroom at the Dauphin County courthouse on June 8, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. ( Philadelphia Inquirer / Bradley C Bower )

With a fourth politician pleading guilty to corruption charges in the infamous sting investigation, it's clear that Philadelphia's dominant political party has let it down. Independent political movements are the most likely remedy.

City Democrats have had many chances to clean up their mess since March 2014, when The Inquirer revealed Attorney General Kathleen Kane's mishandling of the sting investigation. Only District Attorney Seth Williams took action by taking on the case. It's dispiriting that most of the defendants - all Philadelphia Democrats - are getting off lightly, serving no time and probably keeping their pensions. But Kane's undermining of the case made Williams' job harder.

Still, there was enough evidence to secure the latest guilty plea from former State Rep. Michelle Brownlee, who took $2,000 in cash wrapped in a napkin from an informant. Two other ex-legislators and a former traffic judge have pleaded guilty, while two more lawmakers await adjudication.

In other recent cases against Philadelphia Democrats, a state senator, two powerful political aides, and six other judges have admitted or been convicted of violating the public trust.

Swimming against this tide may seem hopeless, but Philadelphians have beaten the odds before. Few of the city's politicians of merit sprang from the halls of hackery. At least early in their careers, they had independent streaks and bucked the machine.

There are new tools for grassroots movements today, including Crowdpac, which is bringing Kickstarter-style crowdfunding to political campaigns; it's currently targeting U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah by helping voters donate to potential opponents. A similar approach could make the difference in a state representative primary for which only about 5,000 voters show up. The disgraced legislators represented a wide variety of neighborhoods with strong community leaders and potential candidates.

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney, who comes from the fossilized Democratic machine but seems to have evolved beyond it, should play a major role. The next mayor will need a lot of help from Harrisburg, and that won't happen if the city's delegation, with a few exceptions, remains a laughingstock.

Above all, voters must not dismiss corruption as politics as usual, or that is what it will continue to be.