The swearing in of Rebecca Rhynhart as City Controller and Larry Krasner as District Attorney Tuesday was a mere formality. The more sweeping change happened when voters elected them in a firm rejection of stale and dirty politics. Voters clearly showed their growing desire to make government work for all of us as well as their disgust with supporting Philadelphia’s transactional political culture.
As District Attorney, Krasner promises to end mass incarceration and to treat opioid addicts as victims of a disorder instead of just locking them up. He wants to target the small number of criminals who commit a vast number of crimes. But his first job will be to inspire a staff that unfairly suffered under the reign of his predecessor, Seth Williams, now in federal prison for selling his office out for cash, furniture and lush vacations.
We will watch Krasner very closely to see if he ends the office’s counter-productive practice of plea bargaining away gun charges — because this city is awash in illegal guns and beset with gun violence. Last year saw 315 homicides, the largest number since 2012. Guns were used in more than 80 percent of those killings. Krasner should regularly report on the number of gun charges pressed and adjudicated.
His fellow Democrat, Rhynhart has a different task. She promises to peek into those dark corners of City Hall where some in the city spend money like nobody’s looking. A historical figure because she is the city’s first female to take over the office, she promises to use the controller’s enormous power not just to audit city agencies and save money but to force the government to be effective and efficient.
The first test of her abilities will be keeping a promise to audit the city’s $1 billion in annual mental health and drug treatment funds, disbursed by Community Behavioral Health. That money is spent by a quasi-government agency, not subject to the usual transparency of operating departments. As the opioiod crisis keeps its death grip on the region, there has to be extreme transparency to ensure the highest degree of effectiveness in treating it. As detailed in the New York Times’s investigation appropriately titled “Addiction Inc.” there are few national standards of opioid treatment, of treatment results or even how the money can be spent.
Rhynhart promises to also take on other secretive agencies like the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a patronage mill run by a board so arrogant, it let a sexual predator off with a slap on the wrist and ignored the agency’s failure to send promised funds to the city’s struggling schools.
Her goal to weigh in on policy issues is welcome, especially her plan to examine whether to end property tax abatements in neighborhoods where the tax incentives have already attracted new development. In some cases, the incentives have become a subsidy for the affluent at the expense of the city and public schools.
The era of Rhynhart and Krasner begins now … and so does the responsibility all of us have to hold them to their promises.