Political scandals linger as Philly readies for convention
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The streets are freshly swept, the hotel rooms are pristine, the party invitations have gone out and extra police patrols are assigned.
Philadelphia is ready for the Democratic National Convention.
Tougher to clean up and shine, however, is the state’s political image, tarnished by recent political corruption cases that have implicated many Democrats across the state.
—In June, a longtime Philadelphia congressman, Chaka Fattah, was convicted of laundering federal grants and nonprofit funds to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan and help family and friends.
—Last year, former state Treasurer Rob McCord left office and pleaded guilty to attempted extortion in a campaign fundraising scandal.
—Attorney General Kathleen Kane is awaiting trial on charges that she unlawfully leaked secret grand jury material to a newspaper and then lied about it under oath.
And those are just the high profile cases.
The former sheriff of Philadelphia has been charged with conspiracy; traffic judges have been convicted of ticket-fixing; state lawmakers have admitted taking bribes.
Jeff Jubelirer, a communications consultant who has worked on Republican campaigns, said these cases send a message about this overwhelmingly Democratic city, which could provide grist for presidential nominee Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans as the general election draws near.
“From a messaging standpoint, it lines up well for the Trump forces to say crooked Hillary and crooked Philadelphia,” Jubelirer said. “I think we will absolutely see that as we head into the fall.”
Democrats can’t afford a diminished turnout in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania is shaping up as highly competitive in the race between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who will need a sizable vote in greater Philadelphia to put her over the top.
After the convention concludes, Clinton is planning a rally on Independence Mall, seeking to excite voters as she shifts to the general election.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., said he wasn’t worried about the scandals. “We had corruption in 2012 and Barack Obama carried the city by 468,000 votes,” Rendell said.
He said some of this was what you get in “big city politics,” adding that the one-party dominance in Philadelphia can breed corruption.
Philadelphia is no stranger to political malfeasance.
It’s where congressmen and other elected officials were caught taking illicit cash payments in the Abscam sting operation in the 1970s. During that investigation, then-Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers was caught on tape, saying: “Money talks in this business and bull---- walks.”
A state where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were produced is now so rife with political scandal that it scored an F grade in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation.
Over the past decade, former state Sen. Vince Fumo, a Democrat, went to prison for defrauding the state Senate, a South Philadelphia nonprofit and a seaport museum of millions of dollars. Former City Councilman Rick Mariano got prison time for taking bribes.
Jubelier said that it may seem like political infractions are on the rise, but that’s only because “everyone’s a journalist. All the coverage and the videos and the bloggers.” Still, he added, “when you have someone as high up as Chaka Fattah, that levels a boom.”
To be sure, the city is cracking down.
Michael Nutter made city government ethics a priority when he was mayor, installing a “chief integrity officer” in an office near to his. Mayor Jim Kenney has continued the practice.
“We try to and insist on the most ethical and transparent government we can do,” Kenney said, expressing confidence that these issues will not overshadow the convention.
“Democracy was started here,” Kenney said. “The first fire department, library, the first woman president is going to be nominated and elected from Philadelphia.”
At the end of the day, David Thornburgh, president of the nonpartisan good government group Committee of Seventy, said there was simply a certain amount of acceptance of corruption in Philadelphia.
“It’s not like we were moving along at one level and all at once there was a huge spike (in corruption),” Thornburgh said. “Partly because of the one party dominance there’s a tolerance. Somebody called it the Philly shrug. ‘Eh, it’s Philly.’”