Chatter: Pain! Cynicism! Alabama Mummers!

Last month, local filmmaker Tigre Hill finally released Shame of a City, about the brutal 2003 mayoral contest between Sam Katz and John Street. It’s not exactly subtle or objective: The Street campaign comes off as a gang of cynical gasbags. (Other than that, though, they look great!) Katz, meanwhile, comes off as a nice guy but an insipid candidate. Because the movie business is as efficient as SEPTA, anybody who missed the Shame screenings at the Philadelphia Film Festival won’t be able to see it for at least another four months, when Hill hopes to have a theatrical release. Since you can’t actually, well, watch the movie, we thought we’d let four political insiders go all Ebert on it—so you can, in the meantime, at least sound like you’ve seen it. —

Sam Katz
Former mayoral candidate

Critique: “Painful to watch. I invested 15 months of my life in something that was incredibly unsuccessful, and the reason it was unsuccessful was a product of a political conspiracy and a lie. It suggests I wasted a lot of my time.”

Most telling scene: “In the stairwell, before the ‘Green is the color of greed’ speech. I’d woken up that morning with that phrase on my tongue, and was the one who decided we were going to say that on that day. Technically and dramatically, the best scene in the movie.”

What it says about Philly: “Everybody loves to quote Lincoln Steffens calling Philadelphia ‘corrupt and contented,’ with emphasis on ‘corrupt.’ I think that we should put the emphasis on the word ‘contented.’”

Dave Davies
Political reporter, Daily News

Critique: “It captured a lot of the feel and intensity of the campaign, but I thought it was missing a chapter on the reform efforts that followed the investigation. After the campaign, City Council passed groundbreaking reform legislation. They did it reluctantly, but enough people gave a shit to put pressure on them. The film leaves an excessively cynical view of Philadelphia.”

Most telling scene: “The Bright Hope Baptist Church rally. It showed the Democrats completely getting swept away in their spin and rhetoric.”

What it says about Philly: “That this is still a city where voting is based on racial identification, and that, like everywhere else, this is an age where politics is increasingly cynical.”

Jerry Mondesire
President, Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP

Critique: “A revealing view of politics as practiced in Philadelphia. It was a little one-sided, because the Street campaign didn’t cooperate and give the same sort of access [as Katz], so there was clearly a pro-Katz bent to it.”

Most telling scene: “Where John Street pushed my good friend [former television reporter] Tyree Johnson.”

What it says about Philly: “That there’s a very seedy underside to politics, and that people interested in winning campaigns will do almost anything short of homicide. And I wouldn’t necessarily preclude that as a possibility.” (Mondesire, it should be noted, laughed when he said this.) Also: “I’ve never seen an Alabama Mummer before. Carl Singley—from Alabama—he does a mean Mummers strut.”

Bruce Crawley
Chairman, African-American Chamber of Commerce

Critique: “It looked like a commercial for Sam Katz, though it was three years late. There was interesting footage, but if you wanted to do something that was worthy and talk about what happened, you really didn’t have the perspective of both campaigns.”

Most telling scene: “The one of [Katz] walking through the campaign office. All the people sitting at terminals, and it was virtually devoid of anybody of color—that impacted me.”

What it says about Philly: “People are waging campaigns and thinking it’s possible to win without going after core components of the city’s electorate. If you looked at the movie, it didn’t look like [Katz] tried to appeal to a broad cross section of the electorate. That’s sad.”