Psychologist Abraham Maslow was no politician, but his theory of a “hierarchy of needs” is a companion corollary to Tip’s “All politics is local.”
As I traveled around the city, I could see Maslow’s entire hierarchy right before my eyes. I remember meeting in Rittenhouse Square one day with residents who were clamoring to have some trees pruned. I was then called to a crack house on the 5600 block of Beaumont Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, where a mother of two young children had a propane gas heater hooked up to the oven to provide warmth and a wading pool in the living room as the family’s toilet.
Same city, same day.
In Maslow’s theory, the family in Southwest Philadelphia represented the base of the hierarchy — basic physiological needs — and the Rittenhouse Square group that wanted the trees pruned was the hierarchy’s apex of self-actualization. A managing director and mayor need to accommodate the two extremes of Maslow’s hierarchy.
It’s a grueling, pressure-packed job. While I got to the office at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and left 12 hours later, that didn’t define the workday. My BlackBerry would go off incessantly, with e-mails from the Mayor, commissioners and citizens. I received an e-mail alert every time a major crime occurred — including suicides (more than 125 a year).
When I walked down the street, I saw litter to pick up, potholes to fill, illegal signs to remove, street lights to repair. One night, my wife and I were dining outside at Brasserie Perrier on Walnut Street when I saw a city car parked illegally. I walked across the street to track down a Parking Authority officer. Twenty minutes later, when I returned, my food was cold and my wife was hot.