by Jay A. McCalla
It is frustrating to watch Donald Trump – instead of draining the swamp, deepen it and add new, exotic species. From a fast-food billionaire to a pro-wrestling maven to a slow-talking ex brain surgeon. The swamp has become a metaphor for the usual suspects doing their usual self-serving deals at the expense of the usually unsuspecting public – as usual. It’s a malodorous place full of lobbyists, donors, goniffs and grinning gargoyles, as willing to pick your pocket as shake your hand.
In truth, the swamp is actually the Winners’ Circle. It’s the VIP room into which the successful pol invites those he or she owes. It is one’s cozy presence in the swamp that insures donations and fundraisers will be repaid. It is those very donations, fundraisers and other efforts to ingratiate that make Swampdom a permanent part of how we’re governed. Politicians will always need money hence, there will always be a swamp.
The rules that govern our local swamp are fairly clear. Give money to a councilperson and you are likely to get highly favorable consideration in seeking city-owned properties. A ward leader who helped elect a councilperson, mayor or other citywide official, is likely to get to place a friend or ally on the payroll of that official.
For example, a casual review of the rosters at the Sheriff’s Office, Mayor’s Office of Community Service, Register of Wills and City Controller will undoubtedly reveal more than a few grateful creatures from the swamp.
If a ward leader can claim jobs in various city offices in exchange for political support, a chill runs up my spine when I consider what labor leader John Dougherty – a one man swamp – may be getting from Mayor Kenney in exchange for the millions of dollars and critical political muscle he provided.
Kenney was an undistinguished, 25-year veteran of City Council when Doc’s mayoral candidate (Ken Trujillo) got out of the race. Once it became clear Council President Darrell Clarke had no interest in running, Doc turned to Kenney and made him a star. For that, there is a debt.
Recent news stories that Kenney’s phone conversations with his benefactor were captured by the FBI, which is on Doc like “white on rice,” reminded me of their problematic relationship, its negative effect on public confidence and the “debt”.
It’s plain that Johnny Doc and his City Council sidekick Bobby Henon (Council’s Majority Leader who remains on the union payroll) are having an extraordinary effect on our city and how business is transacted.
Reasonable people have speculated that the infamous beverage tax was the brainchild of the powerful labor leader – not the mayor.
News reports describe the meeting between Kenney, Dougherty and soda mogul Harold Honickman, back in May of 2016, when the tax was first presented. Since then, Dougherty conspicuously provided the political muscle needed to pass the tax, in the face of Council having twice rejected it in the past.
Despite the Kenney/Doc sales pitch about pre-K, the lion’s share of the proceeds go to support massive infrastructure spending that enormously benefits Dougherty’s union members.
There was the short-lived, sordid disaster of Kenney appointing Johnny Doc’s chiropractor and paid union “consultant,” James Moylan, as chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, a perch from which nonunion developers could be punished. He voluntarily resigned weeks after it became clear the FBI was investigating him for extortion.
Speaking of investigations, it was last August that Kenney campaign finance records were subpoenaed by the feds. That subpoena was issued shortly after massive FBI raids we’ve carried out against Doc and Henon.
(Editor’s Note: In June, Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said prosecutors had not subpoenaed the city seeking any correspondence between the Mayor’s Office and Local 98.
“The Mayor is not the target or the subject of the investigation,” she told The Philadelphia Inquirer.)
I’m worried because Henon just engineered a change to the City Charter that opens the door to political influence in the award of all city contracts. I’m worried because Henon introduced a bill to radically overhaul our election system minutes before Council adjourned for the summer.
I’m worried that Kenney is too politically and financially dependent upon Doc to resist him on those occasions when a mayor must resist.
In a town where the DA is in jail, a congressman just left for prison, all our Traffic Court judges were under indictment (etc., etc., etc), it’s reasonable to be suspicious when a politician – particularly a mayor – is very heavily dependent upon a character the U.S. Department of Justice believes to be a crook.
Kenney owes the people of this town a discernible and sincere separation from both Dougherty and Henon given their gathering odor. The longer he seems to keep his head in the sand, the more he resembles Trump pretending there was no Russian interference.
Jay A. McCalla is a former deputy managing director and chief of staff for Philadelphia City Council. He does political commentary on WURD900AM and contributes to Philadelphia Magazine. He can be followed and reached on Twitter @jayamccalla1.