Time to end slush fund

The underperforming, city-run Philadelphia Marathon fuels a slush fund controlled by the mayor.

Philadelphia spent $1.7 million last year to keep Forbes' "Under 30 Summit" in the city, according to WHYY, or upward of $1,000 for each of the callow go-getters who attended the October gathering of young entrepreneurs. Was it worth it? Former Mayor Michael Nutter, who tirelessly pursued buzzy events to burnish the city's image, obviously thought so. Mayor Kenney, on the other hand, has expressed mild reservations.

While he's weighing the city's substantial investment in the festival, he might also consider its source. A city-controlled nonprofit known blandly as the Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia, it subsidizes a variety of causes chosen by the mayor, largely with revenue from the Philadelphia Marathon.

Unlike most other major races nationwide, the marathon is directed by a City Hall political appointee. This unusual arrangement hasn't been particularly good for the marathon, which by most measures - participation, purse, revenue, impact - is an underperformer. In fact, the tacit rationale for maintaining city control of the marathon appears to be that it makes this mayoral slush fund possible.

The payment to Forbes - part of which was billed as a marathon sponsorship of the summit, according to WHYY - was greater than the marathon's net income in 2014, a particularly profitable year for the race. Philly.com has reported that the fund's other beneficiaries include social-service agencies, development projects, university programs, neighborhood sports, small businesses, and churches.

While most marathons are run by nonprofits, Philadelphia's is managed by the Office of the City Representative, a political appointee who handles an array of marketing and ceremonial duties and events, from the city's Fourth of July celebration to its Christmas tree lighting. That means, among other things, that the change in administrations has ushered in yet another marathon director after only three years. Besides the natural tendency toward turnover in such a political office, Nutter's city representative, Desiree Peterkin-Bell, may have ensured her exit by tussling publicly with Kenney.

In contrast with the marathon, the city's much more successful Broad Street Run has had the same race director - within, more appropriately, the Parks and Recreation Department - for 18 years. In 2014, Broad Street was the sixth-largest timed race in the nation, with more than 35,000 finishers, according to Running USA. The Philadelphia Marathon, with fewer than 13,000, barely broke the top 50.

Given the rapidly rising popularity of running, the marathon could do more for the city with professional and dedicated - if not private - management. As it stands, the race's financial winners are determined by political whims.

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