by Jay A. McCalla
In the days since the reelection of Anthony Clark, chair of the City Commissioners, Philadelphians have been treated to a cheesy remake of the classic Humphrey Bogart film “Casablanca.”
Let me fully and freely acknowledge that which is understood broadly across our city – Anthony Clark is a bum. He rarely shows up to his City Hall office, infrequently votes in public elections (though, he’s responsible to supervise them), practices nepotism, been cited for multiple ethics violations, favors ward leaders in the distribution of election-related jobs and has connived his way into a $500,000 cash payout upon retirement, plus a fat monthly pension based on his $135,000 salary.
Just as with Rick’s Cafe and its iniquitous reputation for gambling, EVERYBODY inside government and politics has known about Anthony Clark. He’s a political lummox who controls jobs and might be useful in a closely contested election. As a ward leader, he was embraced by every aspirant – judges, Council people-at-large, mayoral candidates – who sought citywide office.
Our government is littered with ward leaders who parlayed their ability to “steer the vote” into elective office. The ranks of ward leaders have provided our Sheriff, Register of Wills, City Commissioners, Council people, state representatives and senators and, over the years, at least two mayors. Not quite a secret society, they have infiltrated the payroll of City Council, City Controller and anywhere qualifications are fungible.
Clark was an embarrassing “trade secret” who acquired a public stench with the disclosure that he would soon retire, receiving his weight in gold. When the media reacted with a predictable outrage, our political class seamlessly transitioned into neat rows of Captain Renault’s and in unison declared, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” Of course, their protests are just as laughable as our Moroccan Captain’s.
In recent weeks, Clark has become a pariah. Condemned by Mayors Nutter and Kenney, the Committee of 70, traditional and social media, Clark trudges along, from home, counting his money and biding his time.
Despite Clark’s proper reputation as greedy and “do nothing,” he still enjoyed the longtime support of Party Boss Bob Brady. Brady has a policy of backing ALL incumbents for reelection, regardless of fitness. And so it was as a friend that Brady proposed Clark step aside as chair so a less controversial commissioner – newbie Lisa Deeley – could ascend to the post. According to Brady, Clark agreed. The day the new chair was chosen, however, Clark renewed his alliance with the Republican commissioner to remain chair and screwed Brady.
One can be an ethically challenged slug who contemptuously milks the taxpayers, but DON’T lie to Brady.
With Clark’s betrayal, Brady denounces him as “an absolute disgrace” and a “piece of work.” This is the exact opposite view Boss Brady had last year when he engineered Clark’s promotion to chair.
Just as Brady pulled the rug out from under former Commission Chair Stephanie Singer, he remained involved and brokered a deal whereby Clark would step down, which was witnessed by Sonny Campbell, head of Black Ward Leaders. They shook hands, as written agreements are insulting in a world where your word is your bond.
So, now Clark is a renegade. Dissing the party chair, making deals with lone Republican Commissioner Al Schmidt and jeopardizing the slim advantage City Commissioners might provide a Democrat in a very close election. I’m reminded of another classic – “Apocalypse Now” – where a general had gone mad and the Army had to dispatch someone to “take him out”. A lean, young Martin Sheen was dispatched to go up river and assassinate Brando. But, in the Clark/Brady scenario, there is no Martin Sheen – presumably.
While there is very little redeeming about Clark, he was duly elected and has broken no laws. That isn’t much to put on a tombstone, but it does put him beyond the political reach of those who want him gone. He is safe and on track to retire with a sack of cash to which he’s not entitled.
While the “Big Democratic Lever” offers the delightful convenience of Amazon’s “1-click Ordering,” the public gets far more than the blow-dried smoothie at the top of the ticket. We get the whole gang of petty grifters who – like barnacles – glom on to any ship going anywhere.
The truth is that we have a resilience and momentum that defies the weight of those barnacles. Popes and conventions still come. Lovers still marry and start families here. So, when the politics frustrate, just take a walk through Fairmount Park or along our Schuylkill River and remember the things that truly define us.