THE STORY OF Philadelphia is often told as a tale of two cities: the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, the powerful and the marginalized.
Now, the Delaware waterfront is providing another example of our split personality: between greed and politics vs. a respect for the public - and for democracy.
The former is represented by the city's sole waterfront casino. We single out SugarHouse not for the business per se or the company running it, but because it sits on the Delaware thanks in part to a process that a new grand jury report describes as rushed, politicized, and deeply flawed.
And less than a mile away, the higher achievement of public intent and democratic principles is embodied by the new Race St. Pier. The newest city park - a wide pier in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge - opened earlier this month, and immediately transports visitors from city street to the water. The pier was the result of a process that involved the public from the beginning, as part of the civic input sessions on the Central Delaware led by Penn Praxis. It's one of a string of parks intended to draw people back to the water, and begin to turn around the dominance of this asset by big-box stores and looming condo towers.
The pier is well worth a visit - its textural, layered design is inviting to strollers, sitters, sunbathers, even anglers. We can suggest the perfect reading material for your first visit: the grand jury investigation into the creation and operations of the state's Gaming Control board.
Established in 2008 following the gaming act, the board was supposed to protect the public's interest. The report paints a board so obsessed with starting to generate revenue as quickly as possible, that it quickly began favoring gaming license applicants over the public's interest.
The grand jury found that the staffing of the gaming control board, which was supposed to be the public's last defense against gaming, was driven by political favors and patronage rather than qualifications. The result: shoddy processes and often whitewashed investigations into politically connected licensing applicants that gave the board incomplete pictures of troublesome applicants. In some cases, licenses were issued before investigations were complete, and shortcuts to ensure a positive outcome for some gaming license applicants were routine.
If the original gambling law was a machine built for making money, the gaming board was the mechanic building the machine as fast as possible - instead of the quality-control inspector it should have been.
The current head of the gaming board, Gregory Fajt, dismissed the concerns of the grand jury as "old news" and claimed the board had been an unmitigated success. His proof: the state's casinos rank highest among states in tax revenue, and we'll soon be the second-largest gaming market in gross revenue in the U.S.
That's exactly the problem: revenues should be only one measure of gaming success.
Then again, the current head of the gaming board used to head the state's Department of Revenue. When the Legislature holds hearings on this report in the summer, it ought to address whether that's the right priority for running an agency that should be a watchdog, not a lapdog. *