by Jay A. McCalla
With this column, I’d like to inaugurate my first annual Slick Willie Sutton Award, given to politicians who have most distinguished themselves in consistent self-service, thievery and lack of shame.
Had I given this award four years ago, it surely would have gone to retired Councilperson Marian Tasco for her fraudulent retirement which enabled the connivance of a $500,000 DROP lump sum pension payment. She “retired” on a Friday and returned on Monday collecting her ongoing $100,000 annual pension plus her $120,000 council salary. The conditions and qualifications for the Slick Willie Sutton Award would have been more than amply fulfilled, there.
Of course, that award would have been shared with the late Councilperson Joan Krajewski who pioneered the piracy of the pension fund, which Tasco merely mimicked.
This year’s first-ever award goes to four-term Councilperson Blondell Reynolds-Brown for her sustained commitment to violating campaign finance and disclosure laws. Just weeks ago, she negotiated the most recent in a multi-year series of “settlement agreements” with the Ethics Board for illegally establishing a separate, secret campaign fund. For this, she and her campaign are being fined $10,000.
Remember, the conditions and qualifications are “consistent self-service, thievery and lack of shame.”
In further support of Councilperson Reynolds’ suitability for this award, I cite her $50,000 fine in 2013 for sweeping financial irregularities (including the use of campaign funds to pay the mortgage at Reynolds-Brown’s personal residence) in money handling. She failed to report all the money she collected. She took more than the legal limits. She used campaign funds to repay a personal loan to the very crooked Mr.Chaka Fattah Jr. She failed to deposit all collected cash. She accepted prohibited gifts. Her failure to file proper financial disclosure forms dates back to 2010 – hence, she has been plainly “consistent.”
Some campaign contributions went straight into her personal bank account.
The first in a series of “settlement agreements” between the Ethics Board and Friends of Blondell Reynolds-Brown was in 2011, with another to follow where she admits to more than170 “material omissions or misstatements” in her disclosure documents.
This year offered numerous contenders for the Slick Willie Sutton Award, and I hardly knew where to begin. Four grimy state reps were filmed taking envelopes full of cash. The entirety of Traffic Court was shut down while every single judge was on trial. Our former Sheriff was recently hit with multi-count federal indictment. A famed, local congressman heads to court with 39 counts brought by the U.S. Attorney.
What separates Blondell from the rest of the greedy grifters is that she continues to thrive despite her uniquely fetid record on campaign finance hygiene. When she was forced to pay the largest ethics fine in Philly history, Council President Darrell Clarke declared she would keep her post in the formal leadership of City Council, and she’s just been reelected to her fifth term.
This is all very unfortunate because the office she occupies is one of trust, influence and power. Reynolds-Brown recently used some of that influence to demand the resignation of three “Porngate” lawyers from the DA’s Office, asserting the illusion of moral authority.
On the whole, the juicy number of pols that got nailed in 2015 is encouraging and might even bring a smile to the face of Lincoln Steffens. While we may still be “corrupt and content,” the price for corruption and self-dealing went up.
But, what do we do with our “award winning” Blondell, who has admitted to “sticky fingers” and dishonest accounting? What do we do about a public figure with a proven a commitment to squalid ethics and who keeps getting reelected? As long as Blondell has powerful backers who can deliver cash and votes, the rest of us must bide our time and wait for some new face that promises some new things and vote for them. Politics often combines the worst elements of a crooked raffle and a slow-boat to China, but somehow we survive.
As long as our representatives come from the general population, they will have maladies and shortcomings that dispose them towards “consistent self-service, thievery and lack of shame”. Our role is to then figure out what to do about it. For my part, I’m happy to invent awards.