Searching for Richardson Dilworth

He was the aristocrat who found his voice as a populist. The cerebral lawyer who fought in two World Wars. The cocktail-shaker dilettante who became the greatest reformer in the history of the city. Here’s why, more than ever, we need a mayor like Dick Dilworth

HE LOVED THE city when it took an act of profound imagination to love it, when it was grimy, when it stank, when you could walk along a row of trinities and see a line of desperate people sharing a single cold-water faucet and a single toilet, when the city’s public officials were so corrupt they were committing suicide rather than answer questions about where the money had gone, when the dumps along the river burned morning noon and night, when banana-boat captains were afraid to bring their vessels into the city’s port because its polluted river would turn their beautiful white hulls to gray. This wasn’t the 19th century. This was 1947. But Richardson Dilworth was an optimist. He loved the failed and failing city. He believed he could fix it. He was a former U.S. Marine, a war hero twice over, a slick libel lawyer (See Footnote 1), a tough district attorney who had taken on the Mob; these experiences had whittled his tolerance for bullshit down to zero, unless the bullshit was his own. He drove into the neighborhoods of the city’s enemies and stood atop a panel truck and screamed into a microphone that if they dared debate him, if they dared emerge from their hiding places, he would destroy them.
 
“Yes, I am an emotional man, but I am a fighter,” he once shouted at an opponent who had questioned whether he was “emotionally and psychiatrically fit to be mayor.” Dilworth continued, “Where would the cities of this country be if it were not for men like me who fought for them? ”
 
So he fought. He took on the corrupt and contented Republicans who had ruled the city since 1871 — and beat them. He became the mayor, our mayor. He governed for one and a half terms, from 1956 to 1962. In that short time, he penciled in the outlines of our modern city: Society Hill, Independence Mall, SEPTA, the recreation centers, the trash-collection regime, the park system, public housing. Then he resigned and left the city in the hands of a string of unbearable hacks.
 
This time, Democratic hacks.
 
Which is why today, 50 years after his ascension and more than 30 years after his death — today, with a new reform-minded mayor in City Hall, re-fighting the same battles that he once fought — we’re still struggling with the legacy of Richardson Dilworth. Back then, he was a passionate, flawed, buffoonish man. Now he’s the gold standard, our pivotal civic ghost. We’re still trying to figure out how his love transformed the city, and how he could have stood to love it better. Against our better judgment, we’re still wondering: What Would Dilworth Do?

1. One of Dilworth’s favorite clients was Moses Annenberg, the gangster, tax cheat, and onetime owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dilworth was in court with the old man on the day of his sentencing for tax evasion; when the judge asked Annenberg if he had anything to say, Annenberg told the judge, “I will live to piss on your grave.” Dilworth loved to tell this story. He admitted that Annenberg was “crude and rough and vicious, and he would double-cross anybody,” but said that at his heart, “There was very little hypocrisy about the old man.”

THE FACE: WARM, kind, heavy-lidded and big-eyed, sensitive lips above a dimpled chin. Movie-star handsome, or so people always said. Gray hair in a perfect part. He was tall. He wore Stetson hats and semi-bowed to women in a Victorian manner. He spoke fluent French even though you could never persuade him the French weren’t a dirty people. His voice was a true upper-class honk, a little flatter than the New York honk described by Tom Wolfe — “one achieved it by forcing all words out through the nostrils rather than the mouth.” Dilworth’s was a Pittsburgh honk, the honk of his place of birth. He was a patrician, an aristocrat. Every day he rode a taxi back from City Hall and entered his home at 2217 St. James Street that was full of 18th-century English furniture and walked up the staircase, past the framed Tiepolo drawings, to his bedroom, where he took off his clothes, his armature of a fine double-breasted pinstriped suit, and ate a dinner cooked by the family’s longtime black maid, Hattie Wilson. He ate alone, in bed — he usually came home late, after his second wife, Ann Hill(2), had already eaten — and would relax and read the Sunday Times Book Review or watch TV. Then he’d dress and head back out to a political meeting or a rally. Then, before bed, he’d arrange the next day’s wardrobe on a silent valet: jacket, shoes, shirt with soft-pointed cuffs, “fairly wide” silk tie “but not the extreme width that one sees so much today,” as he once put it in a letter to his tie-maker in Miami Beach: all of it ready to go in the morning.
 
He was strict with his kids — six of them, from two marriages. “He was not a warm and cuddly person,” says his daughter Deborah Bishop. He didn’t know how to put a child on his lap and coo and play. But it was still “perfectly obvious to all his children that he loved them.”(3) And the way he loved them was to expose them to how the world really worked: to give them stacks of pamphlets to hand out at his rallies, these charged rallies where sometimes people would take the pamphlets (“Had Enough, Philadelphia? Then vote for Richardson Dilworth”) and sometimes they’d throw them in your face and spit at you, spit at a little kid. Or he’d take them to the theater on Sundays to see plays like Cat On a Hot Tin Roof — his kids, ages 10 and 11, slack-jawed in the seats next to him, absorbing the thoroughly adult melodrama, and Dilworth there with his legs crossed demurely, wool pant leg over wool pant leg, calmly transfixed.

2.  Hill was an aristocrat, too.

3.  It was a noisy home. In addition to the six kids, there were 12 miniature toy poodles that belonged to Dilworth’s wife, among them Boom Boom, Zsa Zsa, Cotton, Andrea, Doria and de Gaulle. Dilworth “wasn’t in love with them,” says his daughter, Deborah Bishop. Later, the family gave away the toy poodles and got a big black-haired standard poodle by the name of Puca, and this was the dog that Dilworth loved, because “it was a tough dog, it was a working dog.”

 

It was a hell of a life. And if it’s easy now, maybe too easy, to see the Dilworth administration as our own Camelot, an enchanted and elevated time and place — a paradise gained, then lost — it’s because Dilworth was such a supersaturated presence. He never pretended he was a regular guy, because nobody would have believed him. But he didn’t exactly take pride in his lineage. He was Jay Gatsby in reverse: a man who started out as a legitimate upper-class Wasp, then spent his life trying to live that circumstance down. Perhaps because he had seen up close how the rich behaved, he could never take seriously the idea that wealth was a virtue and not an accident of birth. His father was the scion of a huge grocery outfit and believed that Theodore Roosevelt was a “dangerous radical.” Dilworth’s mother was a good friend of the Mellons and helped to found Southampton as a summer playground for the robber-baron class.(4) During the FDR administration, she wrote a letter to the White House suggesting that FDR had syphilis of the brain, that it seemed like only the good presidents ever got assassinated, and that somebody ought to assassinate a bum president for a change.(5)

 
Dilworth spent his childhood under the oppressive eye of this “domineering” woman; it took the war to finally “liberate me,” he said. As a student at Yale, he was so caught up in the patriotic fervor of the time, and so in thrall to Woodrow Wilson’s idealism, that he accompanied several fellow Yalies into the Marines. At the desperate battle of Belleau Wood, outside Paris, a high-explosive shell shattered his left arm, and he came home full of bone fragments, with a Purple Heart, “which is really no decoration if you’re dumb enough to get hit.” One night after he got back, he went out drinking with the very few buddies who had survived the war. When he stumbled home to his mother’s house, drunk, in a coonskin coat, she grabbed an umbrella and began to beat him over the head. “I said to Mother, ‘Mother, for Christ’s sake, you should know enough not to antagonize a jag [i.e., a drunk],’ and that would make her doubly furious and then she’d pound me over the head with the umbrella twice as hard as before.”
 

HE MOVED TO Philadelphia to make his bones as a lawyer, and did. Eventually he got bored with practicing law, and re-enlisted in the Marines.
 
He was no kid anymore. He was 43 years old. This was unheard of. But he went ahead and shipped out to World War II. Guadalcanal. Tens of thousands died. Not him. He came back with a new medal, sat on a beach, and drank and drank. “I guess it was almost sort of a male change of life or something. And I just figured that all the exciting end of life probably vanished.”
 
Here is what the “exciting end of life” had entailed, besides the war: Sex. Sin. Adultery. Dilworth had run off with somebody else’s wife to Havana, Cuba. He later married her — this was Ann Hill — but still. Parties in New York with author John O’Hara and literary critic Dorothy Parker. Drinking and drinking and drinking. Two things saved him. The first was Ann Hill, who sent him to a neurologist, who then sent him to a hospital for 10 days to dry out. The second was politics.

4. Once, at a party in Southampton, Dilworth got drunk and threw up all over the dress of Andrew Mellon’s daughter, Ailsa.

5. This and other Dilworth anecdotes and quotes come from a series of six expansive interviews that Dilworth granted to reporter Peter Binzen in 1972, when Binzen was with the Bulletin. Binzen is working on a book about Dilworth and provided the transcripts to Philadelphia magazine.

When Dilworth first arrived in Philly, he sought out people who were like him, Democrats who hated Prohibition and moralism and thought a man should be able to get a legal drink in America. They formed a club called the Warriors. This was fateful, because one of the Warriors happened to be a guy named Joe Clark.
 
Clark was a monied aristocrat, like Dilworth. A war veteran, a fellow white knight. Summered in Southampton. Not as good-looking as Dilworth: something hunted in his eyes, something coiled. But a hell of a mind, and hellaciously ambitious.
 
Clark and Dilworth began to fool around with politics in the early ’30s, running for small offices like City Council and the State Senate — one year Dilworth would run Clark’s campaign, then they’d switch the next year. They were so shocked by the corruption of ward leaders that by the late ’40s they decided to get serious and began to raise money, build an organization, agitate, identify fat targets. The fattest — literally — was county sheriff Austin Meehan. Meehan was a teetotaler, an Irish Catholic, a powerful Republican ward leader in the Northeast. Dilworth was convinced the sheriff was letting crooks use his office to run numbers rackets. He and Clark nicknamed Meehan “The Fat Mahatma” and “The Fat Sultan.” In 1949, Dilworth went to Meehan’s ward and stood across from his house and shouted into his sound truck’s microphone, “For every dollar the sheriff hands out, he’s robbing somebody of five. It would be interesting to hear from the sheriff himself how much he shakes down from the Philadelphia Electric, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia Gas Works.”
 
That year, 1949, the Democratic slate crushed the GOP (although the sheriff survived to pass the reins of the Philadelphia GOP to his son, Billy, who passed it to his son, Michael, who still rules the diminished city GOP today). Dilworth was elected city treasurer, and Clark city controller. By now they were hardly alone; they were supported by a local chapter of a nationwide organization called Americans for Democratic Action — FDR’s New Deal shock troops. The Republicans called the ADA folks Commies and pinkos — Dilworth’s “own pet hothouse of Reds.” But they weren’t pinkos, just dreamers — a bizarre coalition of down-and-dirty union guys mixing with rich liberal housewives from Chestnut Hill and funded by old money. Strange times. This was the era of the city planner as Big Man — not a bloodless technocrat, but a romantic hero and a swinging dick. There were parties every weekend, old-fashioned cocktail parties in the city, with 50 or 60 people, the women in dresses and the men in suits. Someone would mix up a pitcher of martinis and a pitcher of manhattans, and the kids of the house would carry around Ritz crackers with anchovies on little trays, and on every table there were little glasses filled with cigarettes.

“What I remember is the intensity of the conversation,” says Frank Hoeber, whose parents hosted several of these parties. “Noisy, jovial, on the one hand, and on the other, tremendously serious. These were people dreaming up visions of the way things ought to be.”

By 1951, when Joe Clark was elected mayor and Richardson Dilworth was elected D.A., the reformers could no longer content themselves with mere dreams.
 
Clark left after one term. Being mayor didn’t really suit his crusader’s temperament; at heart, he was a misanthrope, an ideologue, and a purist. “He was a hell of a good mayor,” Dilworth said, “a really good mayor, but I don’t think he ever really enjoyed it.” Clark’s real ambition was the U.S. Congress. In 1956, he ran and won. Dilworth replaced him as mayor, beating his opponent, Thacher Longstreth, by some 130,000 votes.
 
Dilworth got to work. Unlike Clark, he made it a point to answer as many letters from city residents as possible: letters about the noise of a jackhammer resurfacing Walnut Street in the middle of the night (“We are carrying out the work as humanely as possible,” Dilworth replied), complaints about Dilworth’s habit of taking winter vacations in Florida (“I work very hard at my job … I have found that in order to perform my task with vim and enthusiasm it is important to take an occasional vacation”), naked pleas to do something about the reign of hoodlumism represented by teen muggers armed with knives. Dilworth wasn’t above telling cranks they were cranks; he once wrote to a grumpy property owner, “From the tone of your letter I am inclined to believe that you are the kind of person who makes it very difficult to properly govern a city,” and he advised his press aide, Clifford Brenner, to respond to crackpot requests with brisk efficiency: “Cliff, I would suggest a constructively evasive reply such as ‘Drop dead, schmuck.’” But more often, Dilworth really did try to reason with people, and he responded with a poignant sincerity, especially to the letters about the skyrocketing crime rate that used code to pin the problem on poor blacks. He wrote back to racists and tried to explain the root causes of urban violence. “They are too often exploited,” he wrote of poor African-Americans, “and they are the last hired and first fired … the results of all this are bound to be explosive.” He was so earnest(6), it was damn near tragic. In 1961, he attended a community meeting in South Philly to quietly explain why a $40-a-year parking tax was good for the neighborhood: It would free up the car-choked streets so that trash trucks and fire engines could weave their way through. Furious residents pelted him with vegetables and garbage. He lashed out, calling them “greasers,” and regretted it to his dying day.

6. Dilworth’s achievements in civil rights were grounded in personal interactions. As D.A., he hired black lawyers and gave them major cases. When a racist Common Pleas judge complained about having to hear arguments from blacks, Dilworth made sure to pack that judge’s courtroom with his best black assistant district attorneys. His private law firm was the first major firm in the city to have a Jewish partner. And he hired the brilliant black lawyer William T. Coleman, who had clerked for two Supreme Court justices but couldn’t land an interview at any other Philly firm. As Coleman later recalled, Dilworth would call him up on the phone when he wanted to talk to him, saying, “Is it all right if I come down, Bill?” Then he’d come down and stand outside Coleman’s office with exaggerated formality and politeness, and knock oh-so-respectfully and say, “Is it all right if I come in now?,” when of course he could have just barged in.

At the same time, Dilworth was no purist. He believed in Getting Things Done.(7) He believed, as he told Thacher Longstreth at a breakfast meeting the day after he kicked the crap out of the poor guy in the mayor’s race, “Politics is war, and in war you have to do what you have to do to win.”(8) Both in his campaigns and in City Hall, he made his accommodation with the machine. Almost as soon as Dilworth was sworn in as mayor, he scheduled a series of lunches with the old-school ethnic pols on Council (a shrewd move, as it turned out, and one that Clark never could have pulled off [9]), tried to amend the Home Rule Charter to give some civil-service jobs to the party (an act seen as blasphemy by the city’s liberals, who accused him of “charter ripping”), and looked the other way at the long-standing practice of requiring developers to grease their zoning permits through Council by ponying up $2,500 for tickets to party fund-raising dinners.(10) His solution to the zoning dilemma, according to an article in this magazine, “was to appoint to key positions men in whose integrity he had absolute trust, like Ed Bacon in City Planning … if some bills were still going to get paid for, at least they were going to be good bills.”

And lo, Things Got Done: In the reform decade, the city created a planning department, a housing department and the Redevelopment Authority, and became the first major city in the nation to fluoridate its water in an era when fluoridation was thought to be a Communist plot. It massively expanded the airport and tore down the “Chinese wall” of elevated train tracks west of City Hall, clearing the way for the SEPTA lines of today. Some of these new monuments would later devolve into patronage dens (like the RDA) or incubators of hopelessness and crime (high-rise public housing), but Clark and Dilworth didn’t know it at the time. Dilworth continued to pump money and energy into projects begun by Clark while launching new ones, while creating a police review board, while completing the move of  the rat-infested food distribution center by the waterfront to a better spot in South Philly, and while moving himself, his family, in the mid ’50s, to a new home in the heart of the phoenix-like Society Hill, hoping to set an example that the city’s middle-class whites would follow. But even more than the bricks and the mortar, Dilworth rebuilt the city’s psyche: its image of itself, its sense of the possible. Under the dapper aristocrat, says journalist Peter Binzen, “People began to believe in the city.”

7. Prefiguring guys like Vince Fumo, whose motto is “W.G.S.D.”: “We Get Shit Done.”
 
8. Including lying. Longstreth once told Dilworth that he admired how Dilworth, during a debate, could always spout any fact or figure at a moment’s notice. Longstreth asked, “How do you do that?” Dilworth said, “I make them up.” Dilworth’s son, Dick Dilworth Jr., tells a similar story: It’s 1950, and Dilworth’s running for governor. He asks one of his staffers to look up where Pennsylvania stands on education relative to the other 49 states — hoping the number comes back low so that he can campaign as a savior of the schools. The staffer informs Dilworth that Pennsylvania is 24th in the nation in education. And Dilworth thinks for a second and says, “Make it 48th.”
 
9. It’s worth noting here that Dilworth wasn’t an effective administrator because he was naturally charming. He had to work at it. He saw himself as a shy person. That’s how he explained the fact that he could never stay sober for very long. “I still enjoy [alcohol], unfortunately,” he told Binzen in 1972. “It has a great releasing effect on me. I’m terribly uncomfortable around people I don’t know.”
 
10. Nothing ever changes; John Street funded his campaigns via pay-for-play checks from developers.

Although not everyone. Dilworth maintained a folder labeled “Hate Mail”:
 
I am a white citizen of what used to be Philadelphia but is now Niggerdelphia.
 
What could one expect from a Nigger Loving Skunk like you?
 
Why in the hell don’t you stop betraying your own people? We’re sick of the Jews and the Niggers and the way you cater to them. There are a hell of a lot of Democratic voters looking for a white man and you are a Mulatto.
 
Of course, those Democratic voters eventually found their white man.
 
Dilworth resigned in 1962, halfway through his second term, to run for governor. He had already run for governor in 1950 and lost. This was his last chance. He passed the crown to an old-school City Council president named Jim Tate.
 
It might have been easier for Dilworth to deal with what happened next — with the regression of the party under Tate, and then later under Frank Rizzo, the great nemesis of Dilworth’s career, a guy he despised and who despised him back(11) — if he had had any luck with his post-mayoral career. But by his own admission, he screwed it up. During the Cold War, a group of Democratic Ladies asked him a question about Red China, and he spontaneously blurted out that he believed Red China should be a part of the United Nations, why the heck not.(12) And that was it. He lost the 1962 governor’s race to Bill Scranton,(13) and with it, his outsider’s shot at picking up the Democratic nomination for president.(14) In 1965, he took the thankless job of heading up the school board(15), despite the fact that by now, Jim Tate wouldn’t give him the time of day. Later, he could never shake the suspicion that Rizzo was having him followed.

11. Rizzo used to claim that Dilworth owed him big-time for all the nights Rizzo’s cops had to carry him home, dead drunk, to Ann and Hattie; he once quipped that “everything Dilworth has been with has gone down, even the Andrea Doria.” The Doria sank in 1956, and Dilworth and Ann were among its passengers; when the boat started taking on water, Dilworth leaped into action and helped his fellow passengers to safety. So you could argue, contra Rizzo, that this story is evidence not of Dilworth’s bad luck, but of his incredible good luck: surviving two wars, surviving the Cuba Affair, being elected to City Hall at the height of the postwar economic boom, etc., etc.
 
12. “Just plain stupid,” Dilworth later told Peter Binzen. “I think to succeed in elective politics, pretty nearly everything you do has to be somewhat calculated. I never had the ability to do that.” Which of course is not exactly true.
 
13. Despite describing Scranton as “Little Lord Fauntleroy” — an “effeminate” man whose campaign posters featured “a ‘come kiss me’ smile.”
 
14. According to David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, John F. Kennedy saw Dilworth as one of his two main rivals — a man who could carry “the intellectuals and the liberals,” and whose Protestant bona fides “might serve the purpose of his [JFK’s] enemies, many of whom were uneasy about his Catholicism.”

15. Joe Clark, later in life, speaking to Binzen about Dilworth: “I think he’s the unsung hero of Philadelphia today. I really think this job that he’s tried to do with the school board and unfortunately failed, it is a Greek tragedy, and he deserves the most enormous amount of credit because he didn’t ask for it, he’s not getting paid for it, he must have known when he took it that it was going to be hell, he did it anyway because he loves the City of Philadelphia.”

So the reform movement died. About the only vestige was the Americans for Democratic Action, which was invigorated in the years after Dilworth’s death, thanks to Rizzo and the other white ethnic pols who were still anointing Democratic candidates behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms. They were great targets. The ADA became a sophisticated and modern force for liberalism and insurgent politics. Every election season, it would lend out its director to run the most promising liberal campaigns. Many of these turned out to be in the northwest of the city, where a wave of anti-establishment fervor had gripped bright young black leaders like Dwight Evans and John White Jr. and Marian Tasco, and particularly a dapper young lawyer named John C. Anderson, who had taken on his own party to win a coveted at-large Council seat, and who was now, in 1983, sprinting around the city for 20 hours a day in the passenger seat of an old Toyota, battling to get reelected.
 
And here in this same Toyota, hands gripping the steering wheel, gunning it from fund-raiser to community meeting as part of his first job in politics — struggling to make a good impression on the councilman, who would later become his political rabbi, his saint, his surrogate father — was a 25-year-old Wharton School graduate named Michael Nutter.

 

NUTTER’S FACE: ROUNDISH, bearded, bald on top, baby-smooth skin, sensitive lips. Short man, bright, with a nasal voice — but not like Dilworth’s nasal honk. Nasal like a computer nerd. Not passionate. Dispassionate. Nutter is Dilworthian to the extent that the dominant Machine has always held him at arm’s length, and vice versa, despite the fact that he has been a vital part of its machinery — a ward leader. He is our own Mr. Ethics, and his brand, like Dilworth’s, is Reform. He has been in office a year now, and in that year, he has done some bold things and some not-so-bold things. He has mainly sought consensus. He created a “task force” to examine ethics reform in city government, and struck a compromise with the largest municipal union, holding the line on health-care contributions but giving away $1,100 signing bonuses in a tanking economy. He wrote a lovey-dovey op-ed to Bob Brady, his vanquished opponent in the mayoral primary and a guy who embodies the corpulent Democratic Party. So far, Nutter hasn’t styled himself a hard-ass, which means that with every passing day, he separates himself from the virtues we associate with Richardson Dilworth, who, we’d like to think, would have told Brady and the unions to bite his ballsack. In the office of Committee of Seventy president Zack Stalberg, there’s a framed copy of the Dilworth quote about how he is “an emotional man” and “a fighter.” Says Stalberg, “Genuine reform takes a personality of that size. And somebody who’s willing to not just try to make people happy, try to harness good feelings, but somebody who’s willing to step out and really be a leader. Which means pissing them off. Pissing some people off … This is a guy who could attempt genuine reform, because he didn’t give a fuck.”

Does Michael Nutter give a fuck? Is this even a fair question? Does it take an outsized personality to achieve reform? Does it take somebody willing to clean up his own party, his own house?(16)
 
“No, no,” says Terry Gillen, head of the Redevelopment Authority and a key adviser to Nutter; she was there with him in the early, long-shot days of the campaign, and first got to know him back in the ’80s, when they were both active in the ADA. “I think reform can come in all sizes and shapes. … Dilworth was a guy who understood that in order to govern, you have to make compromises. And I think it’s a myth that you can just, quote, ‘Let it rip,’ and govern like that for eight years. So that’s the challenge for any reformer. But anybody who thinks you can just be angry and successful should look at John McCain. It’s really not what people want. I understand why newspapers want it, by the way. … I think people sometimes, lots of times, people, um, can be too idealistic. And can get upset anytime a leader makes any kind of a compromise. And that’s just naive.”
 
Gillen’s hero is Clark, not Dilworth. Not because Clark was an idealist. Because he was an organizer. Gillen, see, has this theory: “I think Philadelphia suffers from a syndrome of wanting the mayor to fix all the problems. It’s what I call the Daddy syndrome. Okay, Daddy’s home. Now none of us have to do any work, because Daddy’s going to fix all the problems. What I worry about is now people will go back to watching movies, because now Daddy’s going to fix the city.”
 

IF DILWORTH STILL has a constituency 30 years after his death, it’s not because anyone really believes that Michael Nutter can transform himself into a Dilworthian presence, or even that a single person can save the city from its enemies. (Dilworth himself made this mistake, as did Clark.) No. It’s because people are more fearful for the future of the city than they’ve ever been. This is a scary moment in the American experiment. The country could go either way. Philly could go either way. And the Zack Stalbergs of the world are understandably nostalgic for a time when there was a man who embodied the heroic efforts it takes to keep the American city alive, who explicitly acknowledged the terrifying fragility of the American city, who was willing to accept that for all the energy of the city, all the dynamism and creativity, all the wailing, striving, bursting, yearning drama of the city, there is nothing inevitable about it. The city is complex, the city is arbitrary, the city is a project of fallible men and women, the city is a creation of government, the city is a function of progressive policy. There is some fluttery thing at the heart of the city that needs to be nurtured, lest it be lost forever.

16. Gillen, asked if there are any ongoing efforts to reform the Democratic Party beyond just ethics reform in City Council, sighs. “Right now, there’s nothing that I know of. And all of that is a conversation that the Mayor will have to have.” In short: Are you fucking kidding?

Dilworth was right about that. The city needs its fighters. And when we see them, when they burst onto the scene, when we get a good look at them and take their measure, we should hope that what we see staring back at us is not the face of Richardson Dilworth but the faces of leaders just as original and humane and complexly flawed. Leaders who love the city, and who can convince us that for them to succeed, for them to love the city like it needs to be loved, they need to be kept honest. By us. A city full of fighters.