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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stage One:The Sleepy 2011 Mayoral Primary in Philadelphia (From The Star)

The other night I got a phone call from a public opinion pollster. Initially I thought it was a national opinion poll about the demise of Bin Laden, so I was ready to talk. My spirits deflated somewhat when the pollster asked if I was voting in the city primary on May 17th.

The question got me thinking about the “sleepiest primary” in the city’s history where T. Milton Street, ex-con, ex-state senator, ex-truck driver and ex- hot dog vendor is running for mayor. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a truck driver or a hot dog vendor, but Milton Street? I remember Mr. Street when he was throwing punches with his brother, the former mayor, during his vendor days in the 1970s. The best thing I think you can say about him then was that he lacked polish. He really was like one of those ruffians you observe while waiting for a bus in a seedy section of town. Today, of course, he’s all buttoned up and beautiful-- despite his just getting out of prison last year.

You have to button up somewhat when you run for mayor, but is this enough?
Mayor Nutter will win this primary hands down, despite the almost total absence of an official campaign. There have been no TV ads, no mayoral debates, no rallies or roving vans with bullhorns. It must be a rare, singular experience indeed to be able to claim an election victory while sleepwalking. Not many of us will get to experience this in life.

When the pollster asked me if I was voting, I almost replied, “When both candidates leave you cold, what’s a voter to do?”

“We only want to know if you are going to vote,” she said.

“I will not be voting,” I replied, instantly recalling all the hoopla Michael Nutter created the first time he ran for office. That mania was like a tailwind from a Lady Gaga concert. It was a time when even apolitical people became Nutter acolytes, when an affluent friend of mine, a Republican, organized a wine fundraiser for Nutter in her Center City digs. The Nutter-support camp was like Jonestown without the Kool-Aid. Here was a politician, after all, who could outtalk a Harvard professor despite a personality trait that I found to be calculatingly cold and “surgical.” Call it a tricky element that would disappoint the people who once hailed him as savior. Political friends brushed me off. “Try to get past his personality. He may not be warm and fuzzy, he’ll get things done.”

I don’t think the city is succeeding with Nutter. Look at the mayor’s record: a 10% temporary property tax hike; a proposed soda, blogger, cigar and trash tax. Some of these ideas materialized and some didn’t. Additionally, there was the firehouse and library-closing fiasco, not to mention that Philly still has the second highest wage tax in the nation, and-- as columnist Chris Friend pointed out—“an educational system on a par with third-world nations.”

Immediately after the pollster’s call I received a campaign email from DA Seth Williams campaigning for City Council candidate, Andy Toy.

“Andy represents not just a voice for change, but rather he will be a much needed catalyst for change in City government. His passion for reform and dedication to improving our City is unshakeable. No other candidate has a record of creating jobs and improving neighborhoods like Andy Toy, and when he is elected to Council there is no doubt he will work hard to move our City forward,” the message said in part. Haven’t I read these words before? Isn’t this just copy and paste political rhetoric, the same promises “re-gifted” campaign after campaign, no matter the politician’s name, when somebody new wants to work in City Hall?

I’m beginning to think that politicians should not talk about change at all.

‘Change’ is becoming a dirty word. It’s become an empty mantra, something that sounds good but has come to have little substance or believability. Can it be that the politicians who would really change things would never talk about change?
I will vote on May 17, but I’m half tempted to bring in a special envelope with a different name on it, and hand it to one of the poll watchers.

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