We can certainly understand if Philadelphians see Willie Singletary as an emblem of Philadelphia politics: part embarrassment, part entertainment.
But what if the scandal-prone former Traffic Court judge, who recently decided the logical follow-up to a 20-month federal prison term is a run for the U.S. House, could instead galvanize voters and potential candidates to send a signal that this is the kind of politician we no longer want on the ballot?
At a time when many people with no previous political involvement are starting to consider public office as a way to make positive change and get things done, Singletary could be the poster child for the opposite.
Consider the man’s resumé.
Seeking office in 2007, the West Philly pastor was caught on video promising bikers at a motorcycle rally a “hookup” in Traffic Court if they donated to his campaign.
After winning that election, it emerged that Singletary, a Democrat, had $11,500 in unpaid traffic tickets and was $19,000 behind in child support payments.
Then came his resignation in 2012, after a Traffic Court employee complained that Singletary had shown her a picture of his genitals, taken with his phone.
Singletary was indicted on corruption charges in 2013 and acquitted a year later on some counts but convicted on two felonies for lying to the FBI. Off to prison he went.
Now he’s back with a new campaign message that glosses over past mistakes. Sound familiar?
Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, ran for reelection in 2016 while under federal indictment. He lost, was convicted and is now in federal prison.
Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, another Democrat, initially sought reelection in 2017 while under federal investigation. He reluctantly withdrew from the race and pleaded guilty during his trial in June to bribery, and is now in federal prison.
Now comes Singletary, seeking the First District seat held by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who is also chairman of the Democratic City Committee.
Brady appears in the clear of a federal investigation that saw two of his top political aides indicted in October, accused of using their businesses to shield a $90,000 payment to a 2012 Democratic primary challenger to Brady, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, to retire his campaign debt. Moore and his former campaign manager pleaded guilty in 2017 to filing false campaign reports. One of Brady’s aides, Don “D.A.” Jones, pleaded guilty in December to charges of lying to federal investigators, while the other, Ken Smukler, is fighting the charges.
Can Singletary inspire voters in the May primary election?
If voters can rally around a candidate, why not have them rally around the reasons for rejecting a candidate? In fact, we could take it even further. Let’s have voters rally for exactly the kind of candidates they want on the ballot and in office.
Willie from West Philly, as Singletary’s defense attorney refers to him, could finally serve his city, not as a member of Congress but as a rallying call that says, “Enough is enough.”