Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Philadelphia Politics
Originally, politics had to do with the Proprietors, then the immigrants, then the King of England, then the establishment of the nation. Philadelphia first perfected the big-city political machine, which centers on bulk payments from utilities to the boss politician rather than small graft payments to individual office holders. More efficient that way.

Local Elections

Thatcher Longstreth's

Philadelphia will have local elections in early November, 2003, electing a mayor and city council. No doubt we can anticipate the Inquirer will have an editorial one or two days earlier, stating the preferences of that newspaper in the election. Between now and then, there might be a few articles in the news section describing some antics of one candidate or the other, desperately trying to get some news attention. If the candidates are particularly desperate, there may be a lawsuit filed about something or other, which will quietly disappear from sight a few days after the election. But the public is smart and will ignore any lurid stories in the month before an election. The day after the election there will be a headline telling the world who won and in which districts. After that, business as usual. Perhaps the whole thing is business as usual.

So, it is of some interest for us politically non-involved people to overhear how a real insider politician recently described this election. For all I know, there isn't a word of truth to it, but at least we all can momentarily share in the corridor gossip of the courthouse gang. Nobody said that corridor gossip had to be true. My pol friend rattled on like this:

You may think this is an election between a Democrat and a Republican. Well, it's really an election between three Democrats. One of them isn't even on the ballot, and there is even an argument about which of several people is the third man. The City Charter contains complicated rules which have the effect of electing five Democrats and two Republicans to City Council. The Democrats are split into two factions, three to two, so the real control potentially falls in the hands of the two Republicans, who thus have the power to swing things one way or the other. Therefore, it is possible to say the exciting election this November is not between the two candidates for Mayor, but rather among the several Republican candidates for Thatcher Longstreth's vacated seat in"Chestnut Hill. The two Democrat factions are silently struggling to elect the particular Republican whom they think they can influence to come over to their side. Now, the Republican candidates are not likely to tell you which Democratic faction they are bargaining with, but you will eventually be able to tell. The Council, once elected, will then elect the President of City Council, and by the identity of who gets chosen President of the Council, it should become obvious even to outsiders what deals the Republican made. That is, you will be able to tell if you just know which faction the successful City Council President himself belongs to. If Street becomes Mayor and his enemies control City Council, things will be interesting indeed.

Mayor John Street

But that's only one way to read the election. A second way is to watch what Bill Gray has to say. Bill Gray, the former congressman, who represents the upwardly mobile, better educated, the portion of the black community. In the cruel language of bar-room politics, Gray leads the house slaves, while Mayor Street leads the field slaves. (I'm only just quoting, to give you the flavor of cynical

Originally published: Monday, June 26, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 23, 2019