From the Editor: March 2007
Back during the 1996 presidential campaign, when he wasn’t speaking about himself in the third person, Senator Bob Dole wondered aloud: “Where’s the outrage?” He was referring to his opponent’s, uh, family values, but I’m reminded of Dole’s plaintive cry today, in this town, as so many of us go about our business oblivious to the corpses turning up on our streets. Oh, we see evidence of our murder epidemic through the media filter; the body bags show up on the evening news, and recently none other than Rush Limbaugh — with his 20 million listeners — weighed in on the issue when he took a caller from Philly and congratulated her for not having been murdered yet that day.
But there’s hardly any urgency when we talk about murder in this city, and that’s why I’m addressing it again in this space. What’s still lacking is leadership: I firmly believe that when it comes to pressing public issues, urgency trickles down from the top. As senior writer Rich Rys makes clear in “Not in My Town, Scumbag!” (page 74), there’s no such lack of energy to take on crime in Upper Darby, because the police chief there, legendary ex-Philly detective Mike Chitwood Sr., would have it no other way. He’s on the streets, making busts, calling criminals what they are: “scumbags” and “shitheads.” As Rys reports, at times in Chitwood’s career there have been allegations that he’s gone too far in his rabid one-man war on crime. But that’s what you want in a top cop — not a lawbreaker, of course, but someone who will really push the envelope to combat crime. Let others, like the all-important ACLU lawyers, serve as checks on those who might overstep their bounds.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia has a top cop who sounds like an ACLU lawyer. Sylvester Johnson opposes the type of legal “stop and frisk” programs that have worked elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong: I am a civil libertarian. I just don’t want my police commissioner to be one. In fact, after reading Rys’s terrific piece, I want Michael Chitwood to be the city’s new police commissioner. Turns out Chitwood is walking around with an outline of all the things he’d do if he got the gig. Few believe the next mayor will appoint a white commissioner, but I think black people want bad people put away — period. For John Street and/or whoever succeeds him, the point is this: Bring down the murder rate and you’ll get political credit. All it will take is a sense of urgency and leadership, like they have in Upper Darby.
I love the mix of stories in this issue — from the stunning fashion spread on page 108 to Andy Putz’s dissection of mayoral front-runner Chaka Fattah to Amy Donohue Korman’s report from the front lines of our Divorce Industrial Complex. But the story I read with a smile on my face from start to finish is John Marchese’s “Office Party” (page 104), which tells how NBC’s wildly successful sitcom The Office has changed the town of Scranton.
Marchese, author of the book The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop, due out next month, is a former Philly Mag senior writer who continues to write often for us. Last month, he brought us the story of the last global-warming naysayer, Penn’s Bob Giegengack. Marchese writes with a unique combination of affection and ironic detachment. When he introduces us to the “four morons” in the Office story, he’s not making fun of these college kids who all have a song from the show as their cell phone ringtones. As a reader, I find myself not just liking the morons, but — given they’re at the point in life when irony and fun rule — wishing I could be them. Only a writer as skillful and subtle as John Marchese could make me aspire to be a moron.