The Creepy Letter On My Doormat
by Chris Bowers, Sat May 12, 2007 at 05:16:34 PM EDT
Dear Committee PersonThis is a good example of the ugly side of Philadelphia machine politics laid bare. Creepy, anonymous whisper campaigns that somehow how up at your doorstep. Demands that members of city council use their influence to distribute jobs to people from certain neighborhoods. Expectations that the local Democratic Party structure should be used as a means of doling out career-advancing favors. A governmental system based on loyalty and identity, where decisions are to be made by ward leaders behind the scenes. Ugh. I don't know where this letter came from, but I wish I had never received it.
When politicians crew up, it is the committee person who hears about it.(...)
Besides Jim Kenney's involvement in the Citizen's Alliance fraud case, which makes us all look bad, there are other actions by Kenney that makes me wonder if he deserves our support.(...)
Although Kenney serves on the Blue Cross Blue Shield as Verna's $15K appointee, on the employment committee no less, he has never shared one of the 15-plus jobs he got with council colleagues or even anyone from South Philadelphia.
Kenney prefers to hire smug Ivy League types who are out of town imports usually recommended by lobbyists, not by ward leaders.
Who has Kenney taken in from the party structure and lifted up the way that Fumo lifted Kenney up? No one.
There isn't a single issue in the Philadelphia elections that is not heavily laced with discussions of race, ethnicity and identity. For example, over the past week, Chaka Fattah's campaign has focused almost exclusively on attacking one portion of Michael Nutter's anti-crime policy as racial profiling. Also, in a recent debate, Fattah even said to Nutter"I'm sorry the councilman has to remind himself that he's an African-American." Back and forth between Nutter and Fattah supporters over these issues has been virtually all that Young Philly Politics has discussed this week. None of this is particularly surprising, as racial divisions in Philadelphia have been the major political divisions here for decades. Why should 2007 be any different?
The thing is, I was hoping that 2007 would be different. For a while, there were signs that it would be. Much of Michael Nutter's early support in the election came from whites, making him probably the first mayoral candidate, like ever, to receive the majority of his support from members of a different race. That strikes me as a step forward for the city. Also, many people, myself included, are supporting Nutter because they feel he can open up city government, and put an end to the insider, loyalty-based, and neighborhood-based hiring practices described in the letter I posted above. This system of doling out jobs in city government based on loyalty and political favoritism has long lowered the quality of our city services in Philadelphia, and made many people feel as though they do not have a say in how the city is run. There is a sense, whether justified or not, that Michael Nutter can, at least to some degree, lessen the roles that identity and political favoritism play in how the city is run. For many, that seems like a positive step forward for Philadelphia.
But this isn't an easy thing. I think, for many people, when they hear about candidates supposedly "getting beyond race," what it really means to them is the ascendancy of upper-middle class white culture, and the subordination of everyone to that culture. Similarly, when we talk about ending the loyalty-based system of hiring in city government, or the failure of the ward system in the local Democratic Party, many people think we are talking about removing key mechanisms that people in lower-income groups have long relied upon for advancement. The thing is, these fears are certainly not unwarranted. Concepts like "getting beyond race" have often meant removing important, corrective structures designed to combat serious problems in what is most definitely not a color-blind world. Further, whatever their drawbacks, one of the purposes of many urban machines has long been to defend lower-income families and neighborhoods from excessively moneyed interests.
In a city where political power has long been based on keeping people apart, I don't necessarily know how to build a broadly-based coalition around progressive, "open left" principles such as governmental transparency and broad participation in government. I feel that electing Michael Nutter can help achieve the latter. However, where I see potential for progress in someone like Michael Nutter, many others see red flags of potentially worsening exclusion and / or oppression. This is also a problem in progressive grassroots politics on a national scale. Where I see the progressive netroots and blogosphere as important forces for open government and mass participation in politics created by progressives who for a long time have felt excluded from the political process and unrepresented in established media, many others see another exclusionary force populated mainly by well-educated, relatively wealthy, white guys. While it is not necessarily impossible that both perceptions are, at least to a certain extent, correct, I would hope that this mutual feeling of exclusion would be a point from which a broader coalition could be built. For one reason or another, that isn't happening particularly smoothly right now. Hopefully, that is something that will change down the road, and that by electing Michael Nutter on Tuesday, we in Philadelphia are taking a step in the right direction. The next 100 hours in this city will be very, very interesting...