Inside Take: This Party (Still) Sucks

McCalla: How the GOP's incompetence invites corruption and undermines Philadelphia.


(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

Ok, Philadelphia. Its time for real talk. Like elderly parents with their 50-year-old son living in the basement, there’s a very serious dysfunction that needs addressing.

For us, that dysfunction is the Philadelphia Republican Party—the organization that dares not speak its name. They don’t suit-up. They don’t play. They don’t even practice. Puxatony Phil has a higher public profile.

In three months, we will choose our next mayor because Republican somnambulance has made the November general election irrelevant. Sleepwalking may exaggerate their condition in that it requires some animation.

While Democrats have candidates of every stripe, with folks coming and going, Republicans are still trying to find someone that at least a few people have heard of to venture forth as the party’s anointed nominee. Aiming admirably high, they sought out State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille but, like the offer of a kiss from someone with halitosis, the judge found it easy to turn down. Kelvin Jeremiah, Executive Director for Philadelphia Housing Authority, was approached by the party but, like so many before him, found the offer resistible. It may fall to Elmer Money to carry the neatly creased, rarely used Republican banner into the mayoral battle. Elmer seems to actually want the nod, despite the certain doom that comes with it.

Almost one year ago, Dana Spain – yes, the Dana Spain (sarcasm) – made a little news about possibly wanting to be their mayoral nominee. Ms. Spain was a registered Democrat at the time, but history shows that’s no impediment to getting the nod of Republican City Committee. In 2011, unknown Democratic Committeeperson, and optimist, Karen Brown carried the party banner in a campaign against incumbent Mayor Michael Nutter.

Team spirit may suffer from their 11.7% voter registration and the memory of Bernard Samuels, their last mayoral victor in 1947.

Since the election of Democrat Richardson Dilworth, in the early 1950’s, the Republican Party has politically survived off a “minority set aside” in the Home Rule Charter Provision 2-101 entitled The Election of Councilmen. The provision guarantees two Council at Large seats for the minority party. A similar provision is made for the “minority” amongst the City Commissioners. Without competing with Democrats, or even spending one thin bitcoin, Republicans are guaranteed a measure of perpetual power.

While they’ve long abandoned goals of real governance, they richly succeed as a business model. That is, they hold vast sway over the cushy job haven known, without affection, as the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Republicans control this opaque agency and its $250 million in annual revenue. Party members, from committee people to ward leaders to candidates, earn their livings there. Its board anoints law firms to handle its unusually high number of bond issues.

It may be telling that this party was “bossed” by a man named Billy Meehan, who passed away in 1994. He inherited it from his dad, Austin Meehan, who ran the party from 1940 until his death in 1961. Both men were ultimately succeeded by Michael Meehan, son of Billy. For almost 75 years, Philly’s Republican Party has been ruled by one single family.

The stifling effect on Republican politics is an argument too obvious to bother with, but the damage to our city is more subtle, more severe. Passively robbed of a sincere two party system, we are deprived of a full politically creative range, from ideas to people to options. Our schools have long ago crumbled, we’ve got a poverty rate of 26 percent, art and libraries are under-funded and our housing stock grows old.

Mismanagement has abounded at the Sheriff’s Office, and two recently defunct offices – Board of Revision of Taxes & Clerk of Quarter Sessions. The entire Traffic Court was sent packing due to entrenched corruption and criminal types like Lee Beloff, Vince Fumo, Rick Mariano, greedy state reps and a City Treasurer all cross our stage like doomed characters in a Greek Tragedy.

One could argue that mere power does not automatically corrupt. Absolute power, grown fetid, is another matter entirely.

So folks, we have an underperforming progeny living in our basement, eluding our scrutiny, probably stealing food from our refrigerator. As parents, we understand how he got there. But, for everybody’s sake, we’ve got to get him out.

Jay McCalla has served as a city deputy managing director, a director for the Redevelopment Authority and as chief of staff to Councilman Rick Mariano. He is now a consultant.