DEB BRADY HAS COOKED ENOUGH FOOD to feed the entire 34th ward of Philadelphia. The spread covers the island in her kitchen: jalapeño poppers, taquitos, spring rolls, four kinds of dip, a cheese ball and a cheese log, the shrimp salsa that Janet brought — Janet who used to babysit for Deb when she was a kid on Atwood Road, barely a mile from where she lives now, in Overbrook. Deb’s daughter-in-law, Maria, made lemon cookies, to add to the two fruit tortes still in their boxes. And, of course, there is wine.
The six women — Deb and her best girlfriends — will never eat all this food. In fact, they’ve barely dipped a cracker before getting down to business — their monthly game of dominoes — sitting around Deb’s dining room table, which could seat twice as many (and does, every Sunday, when Deb feeds her family an Italian feast, simmering her grandmother’s gravy recipe all day long), all white wood in her white dining room decorated with portraits of the four grandkids, next to her white living room with the white lacquered baby grand in the picture window.
“Bob will eat some,” she assures in her soft-spoken, calming way, as the rest of the ladies crow about one’s jerky ex, and one’s 13-year-old who knows what a “ho” is, and the limo they took to Tavern on the Green four years ago for Deb’s 50th, and the poor girl with the giant forehead on “The Bachelor,” which is playing on the kitchen TV.
Soon enough, Congressman Bob Brady — the city’s all-powerful Democratic machine boss — comes home, his driver dropping him off after the daily two-and-a-half-hour commute from Washington. Bob passes the Bradys’ fluffy black Pekingese named Tian Shao Minzhu (“my sweet little Democrat”) who’s sleeping in the mudroom, then steps into the kitchen looking rather un-congressmanlike in his navy blue velour sweater, carry-ing the mail.
“Hello, ladies,” he says, even more soft-spoken than his wife. He walks around the table, greeting every guest with a kiss on the cheek.
“Aren’t you going to kiss your wife?” someone asks.
“If I gave her a kiss when I came home, she’d think I was having an affair or something,” he says, and then disappears down the hall.
For the Bradys, it’s always been the other way around — Bob in the middle of the action and Deb in the background, watching C-SPAN to figure out the House’s schedule so she knows when to start dinner.
But, last summer, the tables turned.
In August, news broke about the scandal at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Every day, it seemed, the papers uncovered yet another, more damning allegation against then-executive director Carl Greene — sexual harassment, misused taxpayer dollars, general megalomania. Columnists wondered: How didn’t the board know? How didn’t anyone know? And in every article, a name that had rarely been in the press was now getting lots of it — PHA board member Deb Brady.