What a sight to see: Harrisburg helping Philadelphia. The State House this week has passed a bill yesterday that will effectively neuter the city’s hopelessly corrupt Traffic Court, 114-81. The three Traffic Court judge candidates elected in the May primary, if and when the bill is signed by Tom Corbett, will have their names removed from the November ballot. Municipal Court will take over its duties and it will become all but extinct. A separate measure to officially eliminate the existence of the court was also approved by both chambers, but must clear several hurdles, including a statewide ballot referendum, before the Constitution can be changed. [City Paper]
Wonkblog directs our attention to a recent paper that finds a correlation between public state-level corruption and the state capital’s proximity to the major population centers in the rest of the state. The farther one is from the action, the more likely it is that legislators are getting away with crime. Why? The media and hence, the public, just aren’t paying as much attention.
As the chart demonstrates PA (what’s up, Vince Fumo?) fits the bill. It’s true that in state capitals like Boston and Providence, to pick two notoriously malfeasant northeastern cities, the political class is far more focused on state government than city government. In Philly, we (ahem) obsess over city politics, which for all we know, is causing Harrisburg to run wild.
There’s an election next Tuesday, and The Committee of 70 wants you to participate. It’s supposed to feature some historically low turnout, on account of there only being one truly contentious race taking place–the three-way City Controller melee. So, our trusty watchdogs have provided a list of five reasons why we should head to the ballot box. Most of them are arguments for good civic behavior (“You can send a signal,” etc.). But one in particular actually makes a pretty compelling case that your vote is all but useless:
You can fill the last open seats on the embattled Philadelphia Traffic Court. It’s too late for the primary but the PA General Assembly is moving ahead on a bill that would remove the three open seats on the ticket-scandal-plagued Traffic Court from the November 2013 ballot. For May 21, since the Bar Associations don’t endorse Traffic Court candidates (because they aren’t lawyers), it’s a real crapshoot who among the 27 candidates–25 Democrats, two Republicans–will come out on top anyways. (Emphasis mine)
In other words: We should get rid of the whole court because it’s a horribly corrupt institution and actually we have no idea whom you should vote for because they’re all unqualified anyways. So…vote!
You know Tax Day is coming up when the IRS is knocking on your jail cell, asking for $2.9 million. But such is life for ex-State Sen. Vince Fumo, serving 61 months in Kentucky for fraud. Ralph Cipriano reports:
On March 21, Fumo got a visit in prison from an IRS agent bearing a notice from Guadalupe N. Ortiz, acting area director of the agency’s Philadelphia office. The IRS was formally notifying Fumo that he was being hit with an extremely rare “notice of jeopardy assessment and levy,” which, including tax, interest and penalties, amounts to a bill for a total of $2.9 million.
Said Fumo’s lawyer, of South Philly: “Where I come from, they call this piling on.” [BigTrial]
Another chapter begins in what is already a family affair worthy of a reality TV series. Or at least a made-for-TV special. Today, Joan Orie Melvin resigned from her seat on the State Supreme Court. She was found guilty last month of illegally using her staff (as well as the staff of a previously convicted sister, ex-state senator Jane) to run her political campaigns in ’03 and ’09. Her sister Janine was also found guilty of the same crime. Temporarily suspended from the bench, the departure of the Republican Orie had evened up the makeup of the bench, three Dems to three Republicans.
“It is with fervent hope that my service over the past three decades will not be tainted by the circumstances surrounding my departure,” she wrote in a letter of resignation to Tom Corbett.
A gal can dream. [Post-Gazette]
The worst part about getting indicted in a pay-to-play Turnpike Authority scandal? Getting your official portrait removed from the Capitol. Former Sen. Bob Mellow, a Democrat from the Scranton area, has already been convicted of a federal crime, so all this is just insult-to-injury gravy.
…The chamber’s presiding officer is reviewing whether his official portrait should continue to be displayed in a Capitol hallway. One of the senators who asked for the review, Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the review is warranted. “Portraits celebrate history,” said he said. “This type of issue is certainly worthy of review.”
Relatedly, two convicted Bonusgate Ex-House Speaker felons not indicted in a turnpike scandal, Bill DeWeese, and John Perzel, still have their portraits hanging proudly on the other end of the Capitol. [Patriot-News]
Harrisburg pols often like to take things away from Philadelphia, all in the name of reducing “waste,” “fraud,” and you know, “spending.” This time, they seem to have a point. Today, the state senate voted unanimously to flat-out eliminate the famously corrupt Philly traffic court. (Yesterday, two judges pleaded guilty to ticket-fixing; seven others still face federal charges filed two weeks ago.) Said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi: “There is no good reason for taxpayers to continue footing the bill for a court that is unnecessary and has become an embarrassment to the state’s judicial system.” If the house (and the governor) approves the bill, traffic incidents would go to Municipal Court instead. [Daily News]
Brushing aside allegations that she used campaign funds for personal reasons, as well as the federal charges being levied against her former campaign manager, Blondell Reynolds Brown says she’s not considering leaving office. “I’ve continued to be in quite a lot of contact with all of my colleagues and I’m encouraged by the level of support I’ve received and continue to receive,” she said. As to whether she’s still considering a mayoral run, perhaps it’s best to hold those questions for the time being. [Newsworks]
300 people showed up to traffic court yesterday to find basically nobody available to hear their cases. (You’ll remember that 9 judges were indicted yesterday for fixing tickets.) Two randos were pulled in form the burbs to judge, but the Inquirer reports that some ticketees had a hard time taking their authority figures seriously. Said one guy, “Do they fix tickets? Who do I talk to?” Courtroom personnel, meanwhile, weren’t amused: “They challenged the right of a reporter to observe or take notes, and threw out one man for laughing.” Someone’s a little touchy. [Inquirer]
One time, in 2004, U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah delivered an earmark so unquestionably questionable, the Environmental Protection Agency (under Bush!), nixed it. What was it exactly? A $750,000 grant for a company run by Blondell Reynold Brown’s husband that would have allowed him to give advice to golf courses trying to be more environmentally friendly. From the EPA: “There was nothing new or innovative being proposed by the program,” and “the applicant did not have sufficient expertise to perform the work.”
Relevant because: It was Chip Fattah, Chaka’s son, from whom Blondell borrowed the $3,000 that she illegally paid back using campaign funds. Which partly resulted, of course, in the mammoth ethics violation she was slapped with this week. Howard Brown, who’s been separated from Blondell for three years, says there’s no connection between the earmark and his wife, who used to work for Fattah. Mmhm. [Inquirer]