by Jay A. McCalla
I honestly don’t know what it takes to become a pariah in Philadelphia politics.
The late State Sen. Buddy Cianfrani did prison time for official corruption and reemerged to become a powerful and respected political “advisor.”
City Commissioner Anthony Clark is notorious for not showing up to work. He consistently has the support of the Democratic Party and will have the job as long as he wants it.
Former Councilperson Marian Tasco notoriously faked her own retirement in order to grab a $500k DROP payment to which she wasn’t entitled. She remains an estimable power in politics and a key Kenney ally.
Labor Boss John Dougherty and his trusty sidekick, Councilperson Bobby Henon, have been raided, searched and wiretapped as part of an intense, prolonged and highly conspicuous FBI probe. Yet, these two men wield sufficient power with Council to alter the City Charter and create a $200 Mil (approx.) payday for members of Doc’s beloved Building Trades via Rebuild.
Mayor John Street governed as an unethical homophobe whose administration and personal behavior was under FBI investigation. His Treasurer went to prison and the feds literally placed a listening device in his office. Today, Street is regarded as a benign elder statesman.
It is our sheriff – Jewell Williams – that prompts me to consider the fluorocarbon polymer with slippery, non-stick properties (Teflon) that protects even our most odious political actors.
You see, Jewell – as he is known in political circles – has two women on his payroll who have accused him of “sexual misconduct,” here in the red hot era of #metoo. And, in 2011, a member of his staff when he was a State Representative filed a “sexual misconduct” complaint and received a settlement of $30,000.
It appears to me that Sheriff Jewell Williams is a serial sexual offender of women who work for him. I suppose it’s fair to note he “categorically, and in the strongest possible fashion, denies each one” of the allegations. While that intense denial is duly noted, I’m well aware politicians rarely admit any sort of wrongdoing. It would be weird if Jewell were the first to offer the truth in such a situation.
The reactions “around town” have included two appropriate calls for the Sheriff to step aside — one from Mayor Kenney and the other from the local chapter of NOW. But, there are far fewer pols and organizations willing to pillory Jewell than Judge Roy Moore of Alabama. Conspicuously, Kenney and NOW are the only ones.
No member of City Council – black, white, male or female – has bothered to say “diddly-squat” on the matter. None of Jewell’s fellow Row Office holders, such as Register of Wills Ron Donatucci or any of the City Commiss – seem to give a hoot.
This is a bit more than the old Philly Shrug. This, I think, is different.
Jewell Williams is one of 66 special people who determine all political endorsements coming out of Philly’s Democratic Party — he’s a ward leader. Additionally, as ward leader in North Philadelphia, he can be decisive in providing or denying votes to political candidates in his area and others.
The job of ward leader is sufficiently powerful that Mayors James Tate and Michael Nutter refused to relinquish their wards even though they simultaneously commanded the city from the 2nd Floor of City Hall.
As Sheriff, Williams has a large payroll, where he can hire and fire at will, thus making him a valued “friend” to other pols who need a job for their wife’s cousin. As long as he employs the “cousins” of this city, he will have strong allies.
Another Sheriff superpower is the placement of pages and pages of sheriff’s sale notices that get placed in whichever newspapers the Sheriff fancies and favors. A sheriff’s sale may require the purchase of 10-15 full pages from several local papers (several times per year), which is a very juicy windfall to a small operation. I sincerely doubt any of the beneficiaries (PGN and Philadelphia Tribune, among others) will even come close to biting the hand that feeds them so very handsomely.
It’s worth mentioning that two years ago, Williams was convincingly accused in The Philadelphia Inquirer of trading overtime for campaign donations with his employees. The response from the political and civic community was the same then as now: virtual silence.
If you will permit me to be smug – well, more smug than usual – I predict our precious Jewell will be Sheriff for as long as he wants. He has made few enemies and is at peace with the party. In this case, that’s all that matters.