Philadelphia Republic Party: This Party Sucks

For half a century, the Republican Party has been a joke in Philadelphia. But now a few upstarts have a radical idea: Let’s try to get Republican candidates elected!

Kelly intended to start his own business. (He’s the entrepreneurial brains behind Dakota Blu, a soon-to-be-opened “medical aesthetic center” in Old City that will offer, among other treatments, “smart lipo” — “You come in on a Monday, Tuesday you’re back in the gym.”) He also wanted to further “the competition of ideas” in the city regarding “civic stuff,” and this desire led him to the Republican Party. He met with the party’s leaders, including Michael Meehan, and told them how he thought things stood: “‘Look, I understand we’re a seven-to-one underdog, but we need to revitalize things, so there’s competition. What’s the plan?’ And they looked at me like I had six heads. That’s the status quo. ‘We’re never going to win again. And that’s it. That’s the plan.’ I said, ‘Look, you can believe that’s the plan. But you don’t get to be in charge if that’s the plan.’”

Pilots tend to develop “a pathological aversion to dysfunction,” Kelly says. They wake up worrying about every switch, gear, cable and gauge on their planes; the tiniest malfunction can mean death. And here was a machine that wasn’t really a machine — not because it had eroded, but because it had never been built in the first place. It was a scrap yard of mangled parts and missing gears, good for one thing only: patronage. The Philly Republicans couldn’t wrangle votes to save their lives — only one ward went for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election — but hey, they could get somebody’s daughter a job at the Parking Authority. The GOP controls about 500 jobs at the Authority, another 15 to 20 at the Board of Revision of Taxes (this according to the Inquirer — by contrast, Bob Brady and the Democrats control about 60 jobs there), plus another dozen or so at the Board of Elections and several more in the courts and on City Council. One Republican insider estimates that Republicans control 600 to 700, max, of all city jobs — about three percent — and close to 10 percent of the jobs that are filled by patronage. It’s not dominance by any means, but it’s not nothing, either; thanks to tacit power-sharing agreements with the Democrats, today’s GOP controls more jobs than are justified by the party’s electoral performance, and more jobs than the Democrats enjoyed back when Republicans used to run the city and controlled damn near everything.

But Kevin Kelly isn’t impressed. “It’s all bullshit,” he says at lunch. “How many votes does that get me?” Kelly didn’t want to haggle over scraps. He wanted to take on the Democrats directly, by going after the “low-hanging fruit” that voters care about: crime, potholes, the schools. “We’re for the kid in North Philly who’s got to walk to school in the middle of gunfire,” he says.

In 2006, Kelly had a Jerry Maguire moment. In the heat of frustration and inspiration, he wrote a 36-page manifesto called “Rebuilding a Majority: Painting a Successful Future Picture for the Philadelphia GOP.” It read more like a war plan than a political memo, full of military lingo and quotes from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. (A representative sentence: “Concepts such as Objectives, Offensive, Simplicity, Unity of Command, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Surprise, and Security are principles most common to the idea of Strategy.”) But for all its strangeness, the manifesto’s main insights were remarkably clear-eyed. The centerpiece was a bullet-pointed “debrief” of the party’s past failures. For the first time in 60 years, someone dared to lay out the GOP’s dysfunction in writing. “In a manner of speaking,” Kelly wrote, “Politics is Combat. [bold in original] We either learn from our past mistakes and fix them, or we fail.”