Bill Green’s No Good, Very Bad Week

The Councilman explains why he voted to preserve DROP and force businesses into paid sick leave

There is a degree of anonymity in being one of 17, even when the one in question is a future mayoral contender like Councilman Bill Green. Mayors are poked and prodded daily: by the press, by their opponents, and above all by the 17 City Council members they must wrangle to force their agendas through.

Council members are rarely subjected to the same sort of examination, which makes a seat on council the ideal spot from which to take shots at the mayor. For reference, see: Councilman Michael Nutter and Mayor John Street, and, now, Councilman Bill Green and Mayor Michael Nutter.

For the most part, that’s fine. It’s inevitable and proper that the mayor gets more scrutiny than anyone else. But it is worthwhile to zoom in on figures like Green from time to time. And last week was a telling one for the Councilman.

Green’s week began with a confrontation with the Board of Ethics, and not for the first time. It’s not that Green was being brought up on some violation. Rather, it was a case of the Councilman objecting to Too Much Ethics. He felt the board had overstepped its bounds with plans to enforce a new law closing a campaign finance loophole differently—and more rigorously—than Council had intended.

What makes his objection interesting is that Green was the chief beneficiary of the loophole, which allowed political action committees to funnel money through other PACs to favored candidates above and beyond the annual donation limit, which last year was $10,600. The workaround enabled Green to collect at least $40,000 from Local 98, the John Dougherty-run electricians union, as reported by the Inquirer‘s Bob Warner.

Days after his ethics board challenge, Green played a central role in destroying the fragile coalition Nutter had assembled to pass his tax on sugary drinks. To get that done, though, Green had to get a little dirty. He traded one vote for another, and ended up supporting a bill—one requiring Philadelphia businesses to offer paid sick leave—that he was already on the record opposing as bad for business.

To top his week off, Green joined with the big council majority in opting to revise the wildly unpopular DROP pension perk, instead of killing it off completely as Nutter had called for.

All in all, not a great week for a councilman and future mayoral candidate who has cultivated an image as a pro-business budget hawk with a passion for accountability.

And Green knows it.

“I knew when I was doing these things I was going to have to polish up my armor again,” Green told me.

Green defends his calls last week thusly:

He challenged the ethics board, he said, because it was encroaching on “council’s power and prerogative, which I’ve defended at every turn. We can’t have regulatory bodies making law through regulations. Council makes the law.”

He flip-flopped on the sick leave bill, he said, because it was the only way to prevent the tax on soda. “Leadership is occasionally doing things you don’t want to do to get the best result for taxpayers,” Green said, noting also that the Mayor may well veto the bill.

And he voted to preserve DROP—in a slimmed-down form—because he thought he had a better chance to shape the legislation (which had plenty of support on council) from the inside. “I could either help craft the legislation and try to influence it to make it cost neutral, or I could be outside the room jumping up and down like the Mayor was.”

Fair enough. But how much longer can Green get away with being considered a crusading outsider bent on shaking up City Hall when he’s trading votes, fighting the ethics board and defending DROP? That’s not exactly rage against the machine material. It’s more like council’s default behavior.