Frank Rizzo and Wilson Goode lost Tuesday night. OK, that's literally true, in that at-large city councilman Wilson Goode Jr. and ex-councilman Frank Rizzo, son of the late mayor and police commissioner, both were defeated in the Democratic primary. But it's even more profoundly true in the metaphorical sense: That the 20th-Century politics embodied by their fathers, iconic Philadelphia mayors of 1970s and 1980s, has finally gone the way of pay phones, 8-tracks and rabbit-ear antennas.
For forty-plus years, Philly politics has slalomed between the slippery poles of knee-jerk law-and-order and rigid racial-identity politics. That created a city that remained firmly Democratic -- yet was rarely progressive. And you don't have to go back to the era when MTV showed music videos -- just remember where City Hall was at just a couple of years ago.
It was the city's current chief executive, Mayor Nutter, who ran on a platform of stopping-and-frisking young men in urban neighborhoods, who vetoed -- after heavy lobbying by Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce -- mandatory sick leave for city workers, and who resisted calls for a higher living wage in city contracting. Up at 440 Broad Street, the School Reform Commission was working stealthily with a large philanthropy to draft plans that would close traditional neighborhood schools and speed the advance of charter schools.
The city's liberal community couldn't help but look toward other large American cities like Seattle, see Democrats take action on a living wage and other items in a truly progressive agenda, and feel like they weren't 3,000 miles away, but the other side of the universe.
Then, something truly remarkable happened. It wasn't one person or one crystallizing event. Instead, it was many people, in many places.
It was the Philadelphia school kids who -- defying every wrong-headed stereotype -- packed every SRC meeting and clogged Broad Street with their signs of protest, demanding that Harrisburg, City Hall...somebody...fund their classrooms, open their libraries, bring back their nurses.
It was the fast-food workers from McDonald's, from KFC. from Jimmy John's and the airport workers who risked their jobs and, in some cases, got arrested to demand a higher minimum wage, and it was the educators and the parents who screamed bloody murder when the SRC held a rushed, no-notice meeting to kill its contract with unionized teachers.
It was the hundreds who snaked their way through the streets of Philadelphia on a cold December night. crashing a Christmas tree lighting, chanting "I can't breathe" in memory of police-choking victim Eric Garner and carrying signs with their simple yet profound message, that "#BlackLivesMatter."
It was regular citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights in the city that produced the 1st Amendment -- and other people listened. Over the last year, Philadelphia enacted that sick-leave bill that Nutter had once rejected, moved to raise the living wage for city subcontractors, and retreated from the most frivolous front in the so-called "war on drugs" by decriminalizing recreational pot.
And that was all before Tuesday's election. Ex-councilman Jim Kenney ran on the most progressive platform of a major Philadelphia mayoral candidate in our lifetimes -- promising to end stop-and-frisk and push for a $15 minimum wage and full school funding -- and he didn't just win; he gained nearly 60 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race, drawing votes from every neighborhood in a once-Balkanized city. In doing so, the electorate also rejected the chosen candidate of the charter-school movement, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, and his wealthy Main Line backers who spent nearly $7 million on their libertarian agenda.
Helen Gym -- who'd been one of the leaders of protests against the SRC, and who successfully exposed some of its school-closing manipulations -- is on track to join the City Council next January. And voters overwhelming approved a non-binding vote seeking to win back local control of the school district.
But this week's victories were won a long time ago. It was won when people who didn't like the prevailing conventional wisdom about schools and about the economy finally stood up and changed the conversation. There's a lot of work left -- reactionary forces in Harrisburg and elsewhere will do anything to thwart Philadelphia's agenda -- but a change has come. It was eight years ago that Nutter promised the city "a new day, a new way."