Philadelphia has the highest rates of murder, violence and poverty in the nation. Its school district, which spends over $17,000 per student annually, is a dismal failure, with a massive dropout rate and a $600 million deficit. Corruption is rampant. And, cumulatively, it is the most taxed city in the country.
Why? Because it is a one-party town. It’s that simple.
Democrats have been in control for sixty years. And before that, Republicans dominated the city for six decades.
When there is no competition — and in Philly’s case, there is no political counter-balance whatsoever — the tools necessary for an open and efficient government go out the window.
Accountability, transparency, reform? Foreign concepts, for there is absolutely no impetus for the Democrats to change. When your Party is guaranteed the Mayor’s office and City Council, why rock the boat? It’s nice to be King.
The resulting corruption — both criminal and institutional — eventually becomes so unbearable that the other Party finally topples the Old Guard with reformist leaders — exactly what happened to the GOP when Joe Clark and Richard Dilworth were swept in to cleanse the filth in the 1950’s.
So Philadelphia’s current malaise would undoubtedly indicate that it’s due for such a change, right?
To make Philadelphia a two-party town, you would actually need…a second Party. But there isn’t one.
The GOP Boss in the city is Michael Meehan, who, as a third-generation leader, has decided that holding onto the crumbs of political patronage is all the power he needs. Heading a political party is simply a means to keeping the status quo intact.
And that tells you everything you need to know about why Philadelphia isn’t changing for the better. When the leader of the opposition Party is in bed with the current regime, protecting Business as Usual rather than fighting it, you know you have problems.
From not waging credible campaigns to withdrawing GOP judicial candidates — who won the Republican primary but were replaced by Party bosses with Democrats in 2009 — the Philadelphia Republican Party is in shambles. It has given residents no reason to support it, since it advocates no ideas and possesses no vision.
Oh, and it merits noting that Freindly Fire’s column last year led to a criminal investigation into Meehan. It seems that Meehan was allegedly representing people trying to kick Republicans off the ballot. Eliminating your own Party members from the ballot is bad enough, but when over thirty of the petitioners claim that they never heard of Michael Meehan, and that the signature on the petition form wasn’t theirs, that’s a problem. And he is even listed as representing a dead person, which is pretty remarkable, even for Philadelphia.
But taking the cake is whom the GOP endorsed as a mayoral candidate for the May 17 primary election. Despite the early-established candidacy of tried-and-true Republican John Featherman, the Machine decided they would endorse a "better" candidate.
So they turned to Karen Brown, a former school teacher with a history of personal financial problems who, by the way, was a Democrat just weeks before the deadline to switch Party registration.
So in other words, the Philadelphia Republican Party, rather than stand behind one of their own who has long believed in GOP principles, instead chooses a recent Democrat to represent them in the primary, with the "hope" that she could topple the beleaguered Mayor Nutter.
One of two things seems painfully obvious. Either Meehan and Company are completely incompetent, or the "fix" is in, deliberately backing a candidate who won’t make waves and will roll over to Nutter. Hey, as long as the patronage jobs continue, life is good.
There are powerful upstarts, to be sure, who are trying to reverse decades of decline in their Party so that the city they love can finally get back on the right track. Featherman and City Commissioner candidate Al Schmidt embody the spirit of that movement, and without a doubt, are making inroads. And the chairman of the Republican State Committee has called for leadership change in the city GOP, but to no avail.
But meaningful — and quick — change to the Philadelphia Republican Party will only come with the aid of the state’s top GOP leaders. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is on the right track, having sided with the true Republicans on several occasions, a course of action which will pay dividends for the Party, and by extension himself, in future elections.
Governor Tom Corbett is a different story. As the person who, by far, holds the key to reforming the city GOP, and most important, could stop the half-million vote deficit that Philadelphia produces for every statewide Republican, he has done absolutely nothing. If fact, he continues to ally himself with the still-under-investigation Meehan, a puzzling move since Corbett describes himself as a law-and-order Governor (and is a former Attorney General).
This was a golden opportunity for the Governor to show leadership. He could have demanded that a real Republican be endorsed, and could have actively supported that candidate in the primary and general elections. Sure, with a 6-1 voter registration disadvantage, the odds are against a Republican winning in the fall. But if Corbett had weighed in when it counted, it would have symbolized that things were dramatically changing in Philadelphia — that the Republicans would not be rolling over anymore. The GOP would actually be fighting to win.
He could have sided with the state party chairman in calling for change to the city GOP leadership. And he could have laid the groundwork to stop the hemorrhaging of votes out of Philadelphia that the Republican presidential nominee will face in 2012, since the Democrats cannot win the White House without Pennsylvania.
But none of that has happened.
So John Featherman and his well-organized band of loyal opponents to the Meehan Machine are on their own.
But given the expected low-turnout, and a very volatile electorate, Featherman may yet beat the odds and emerge victorious.
And if that happens, expect the fireworks to begin, for not only will Featherman run against Nutter, but against the "other Democratic Party," led by Michael Meehan.
Just as a parent can’t keep a child in line by threatening to take away toys he doesn’t have,
Featherman isn’t beholden to the city GOP in any way.
And that’s the best thing that could happen — for ALL Philadelphians.
Don’t forget to vote!
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative
reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]