Democrats should heed Rendell's plea for reform

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Democratic leaders, beginning with chairman Bob Brady, should be motivated by corruption convictions.

The stench of corruption emanating from the Philadelphia Democratic Party is suffocating the city and turning the stomachs of droves of potential members of the political organization.

An endless parade of prosecutions most recently grabbed District Attorney Seth Williams, who was charged in March with selling his office for lavish vacations and gifts, including home repairs. In the two years prior to Williams' arrest, 15 Philadelphia Democrats were found guilty of corruption charges. The rogues' gallery ranged from a traffic court judge who fixed tickets for crab cakes and porn to a congressman who stole from charities.

But this isn't just a Democratic Party problem. Democrats control so much of the government - from City Hall and all three congressional seats to all but two state House seats - that their failures impact the entire city. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, which isn't likely to soon change because the city GOP is far better at whining than keeping the dominant party in check.

The situation is so dismal that even former Gov. Ed Rendell's recent call for reform, though barely heard, offers some hope. His tipping point was the disgraceful state House race in one of the city's poorest and most violent districts - the 197th. Not only did Democrats consecutively anoint two people to hold the seat who later wound up guilty of crimes, it let the second felon pick her successor, who didn't even live in the city.

Rendell's plea for reform didn't mention his letting the party fester when he was mayor. But the plea is welcome, and needed, nevertheless.

Instead of ward leaders secretly selecting candidates, Rendell suggests holding a convention of sorts in which committee people choose candidates. Ward leaders would no longer get first choice in deciding who runs for what office. Rendell said the party shouldn't endorse judicial candidates who can't earn a positive recommendation from the Philadelphia Bar Association. The party should at least thoroughly vet the candidates it recommends.

Since 2000, those snubbing both political parties or choosing an alternative almost doubled from 67,000 to 124,000, and the trend is on steroids. In just two years, the snubbers' ranks grew by 13,000. Far more important than the preservation of either political party is the squandered potential to improve a great city.

Philadelphia is moving forward, with more people and jobs than it has had in years. But the city can't shake the stigma that comes with being the poorest among the nation's 10 largest cities. Gun violence and the drug trade are a part of daily life in too many neighborhoods.

Democrats say they care about these issues, and many are working hard to improve the quality of life in the city, but they are beset by bottom feeders who see politics as a vehicle for scams.

Change won't come until other leading Democrats get on board, including Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic chairman; fellow congressmen Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle; Mayor Kenney; City Council; and the city's weak-kneed Harrisburg delegation. They all should stop pretending the party runs itself. Instead, it is ruining itself, and potentially plowing the city into the ground.