In the end, Seth Williams still didn't get it.
As he stood teary-eyed before a phalanx of reporters Friday and announced his decision not to seek a third term as Philadelphia district attorney, he fell back on old excuses.
He blamed others. The media. For asking questions. Questions about the $160,050 in unreported gifts from attorneys and campaign contributors, about the free roofs and tropical trips, the cash and gift cards. About the joint FBI-IRS probe into his personal and political finances. And about the girlfriend who slashed the tires of his city-owned vehicles and wasn't charged for months.
You know, little things.
As proof of the unfairness of it all, he pointed to a recent news conference on the overhaul of the office's conviction-review unit, where the first five questions from the media were on his gifts.
"Me receiving gifts," he repeated, his voice breaking.
Instead of crying for the embarrassment he brought on his office, our district attorney cried because people wouldn't stop asking him about it. That is how the end came.
At the lectern, he seemed shrunken by scandal. His decision was based on the best interests of his office, he said, so the work could go on without all the distraction.
As if there were a choice at all. He is an incumbent with few political friends and less money – and with federal investigators digging deeply through the morass of his finances and apparently close to determining whether crimes were committed. The decision was in the best interest of Seth. Step away, and hope it all goes away.
As he is wont to do, he talked at length of his accomplishments. And there are many. Early reforms that streamlined prosecutions and increased conviction rates. Diversionary programs that offered alternatives for lesser crimes and antiviolence initiatives that reduced shootings and strengthened police partnerships.
But his legacy will not be those things. The first heady years of his leadership – and the promise held within them – seemed far away Friday. His legacy now: the squandering of accomplishment and promise.
To Williams, it seems, the accomplishments should outweigh the bad. He spoke of his "embarrassment and shame" and apologized for his "regrettable mistakes." For the unnecessary shadow the mistakes cast on his office. But it was clear he didn't think they should have.
And that is what made his downfall inevitable.
Maybe Williams is just as many of his supporters and friends describe him in private: A guy in way over his head. A well-intentioned do-gooder who just can't look past a freebie – or live within his means.
He may never have offered any favors or special treatment for all those gifts. The feds will decide that, and likely very soon. But perception is everything. And our city's top law enforcement officer, of all people, should know that. Instead, he got a free roof.
At the lectern, he apologized to his prosecutors, who would have been fired long ago if they had accepted the perks their boss sought. But they were not in the room to hear him. They were in court doing their jobs, or just did not bother to come.
Instead, Williams was joined only by his circle of top lieutenants, most of whom he brought to his side in recent years as his scandals swirled — outsiders such as Tariq El-Shabazz and Kathleen Martin, who replaced veteran prosecutors, and whose jobs from the start seemed less about bettering the office than protecting Seth.
That ends now.
Williams told his story to the media: the improbable rise of an orphan and foster child, fueled by the love of his adoptive parents. He spoke of the pain of his young daughters, who endure attacks on their father's character. Of spending the rest of his term working to regain the public's trust. Of always wanting to leave the office better than it was when he began. Give credit where credit is due: In not seeking a third term, he made that a possibility.