Chris Freind’s Best (and Worst) of Philly
Who makes the best Bloody Mary in the city? Where is the best brunch? Freindly Fire has no idea. Thankfully, though, there are much smarter folks who know the best things in and around the nation’s fourth-largest market. For those gems, see the Best of Philly awards in this month’s Philadelphia magazine. There are, however, some Best and Worst awards that I’d like to bestow on some very deserving winners … and losers. Here’s my list.
***Best of Philly***
Best Snowfall Removal: Anywhere but Philadelphia. The streets were absolutely deplorable last winter, with significant snow and ice on major city roads days after the storms, not to mention that many side streets were simply impassable. How did city residents react? Almost 80 percent voted for Mayor Nutter in the May primary. In comparison, Chicagoans kicked out their Mayor for similar incompetence in 1979. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow … just don’t complain when you can’t get to work. He’s your Mayor.
Best Political Comeback: IBEW 98 boss John Dougherty. After losing a bid for the state senate and coming up short in clashes with Democratic party powerbroker Bob Brady, Doc came roaring back. He garnered huge headlines by trying to reform the DRPA, but most significantly, orchestrated big wins in City Council races. More than anyone, Johnny Doc has positioned himself to be kingmaker in deciding who the next Mayor of Philadelphia will be.
Best “It’s All About Me” Moment: City Council’s refusal to abolish the DROP retirement program for city employees—you know, the one that makes elected officials rich when they “retire” for a day after being re-elected. So while the folks who actually foot the bill are struggling just to survive, city lawmakers keep cashing in at the public trough. Often forgotten in the criticism, though, is Council’s stellar stewardship of Philadelphia. Its leadership has produced the highest rates of taxes, murder, violence and poverty in the nation, an education system that, by all accounts, is a colossal failure, and a city that is perpetually ranked as one of the dirtiest. But give ’em a break. We’re not Detroit. Yet.
Best “I Don’t Recall” Moment: No, it wasn’t a political corruption trial, but the just-revealed grand jury testimony of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua as he weaved his way around prosecutors’ pointed questioning regarding the ever-widening Church sex-scandal. The Cardinal’s memory lapse was an oh-so-convenient backdoor for covering his own derriere and evading discussion about his role in the cover-up, leading the grand jury to label him as “untruthful” and “not forthright.” Church officials need to be reminded that sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission, and that ignoring the 8th Commandment is not a prudent way to go through life. So much for always standing behind the kids.
Best Sports Move: Bringing Cliff Lee back. The Phils have been transformed from an organization that made the playoffs only three times in 26 years (and that’s with the wild card), to being perennial contenders. But being “very good” wasn’t good enough, so they brought back Lee. With him rounding out one of the best rotations in baseball history, the Fightin’s are fully expected to win the World Series, and that has them hanging out in hallowed Yankees territory, at least for the present. Like the Bronx Bombers, the Phillies are now in the elite world where a season that culminates in anything less than total victory will be viewed as a failure. Tough as it will be to swallow if the Phils aren’t World Champions again, that expectation of perfection is rarely seen in any sport, and was nonexistent in Philly. Tip of the hat to the best—and only—sports braintrust in the city that has shown the resolve to do whatever it takes to win.
Best Thing About Philadelphia: Its people. It’s a blue-collar town, through and through, and that makes it as real as it gets. People wear their emotions on their sleeves, and it’s rare to not know where someone stands. Politics? Rough and tumble—sometimes literally. Sports fans? The most dedicated, if not always educated, in the country. Run out every play, and you’ll be a Philly Hall of Famer, but cop a ‘tude, pout, dog it (no Vick pun intended) or just plain suck, and you’ll be run out of town on a rail. Everyday people? Not nearly as rude as we like to think we are. That salt-of-the-Earth, you-know-what-you’re-getting character is innately Philly, and, while maddening at times, is beyond refreshing in an increasingly shallow world. Yo Philly, don’t ever change.
***Worst Of Philly***
Worst Way to Earn a Living: Dealing with the dead. Not funeral directors, coroners, and grave diggers (although all have been quite busy with skyrocketing murders). They all earn an honest living. We’re talking about Michael Meehan, the city GOP boss and lawyer extraordinaire who gives the famous movie line “I see dead people” some real-life meaning. Seems that a dearly-departed soul—a year after dying—retained Meehan as legal counsel to challenge the petitions of people running for Committee posts—in his own party. Meehan didn’t fare much better with the living, as many of his other “clients” signed affadavits stating that they never met or heard of Meehan, and that the signatures in Meehan’s possession were not theirs. The Philly GOP led by Meehan may be dead, but the criminal investigation into the matter by the District Attorney isn’t. And who said lawyers couldn’t get any lower?
Worst Sports Move: Yes, it was last year’s move, but it’s been so devastating that it bears repeating. Getting rid of Donovan McNabb. Life is now so boring without Number 5 around. Just look at all there is to miss: throwing up in the huddle during the Super Bowl, laughing jovially when his team was losing, not knowing the rules of overtime, making racially charged comments where they had no place, and always connecting with his favorite receiver—the turf—when the game was on the line. Sports in Philly just aren’t the same anymore, especially with Michael Vick being so dog-gone … normal. Without McNabb’s drama queen theatrics over which to obsess, Philadelphia is on the verge of becoming, dare we say it, a civilized sports city. Bring him back!
Worst Empty Promise: Philly’s pension will be OK. Anytime a politician admits that something is bad, it’s always worse. So when the Mayor says the city’s pension fund is 45 percent funded (less than 50 percent is considered somewhat catastrophic), you know there just won’t be a happy ending. With no more state or federal money to bail out the virtually insolvent pension, and no possible way Nutter can keep his promise to write an $800 million check to the pension (to make up for several years of deferred payments), look for retirees to start getting pennies on the dollar in just a few short years. Think it can’t happen in America? Given the fact that the nation came within hours of default—despite its magical power to print money out of thin air—can anyone seriously believe that?
Worst Thing About Philly: Its people. Or more accurately, the people’s complacency. What can you say about residents who, despite the knowledge that things are going the wrong way, time and again reelect the very same people who created the mess? Philadelphia has the potential to be a world-class city, with not one but two major rivers (neither developed). It is ideally situated within a day’s drive of more than half the country. As a major gateway for overseas travelers, it should unquestionably be a destination rather than a layover stop. And with major ports, railroads, airports and interstates, it should be a no-brainer for companies to locate their operations in Philadelphia. Philly’s stagnant position stems from a lack of leadership. It’s time for Philadelphians to wake up and demand that their city take its rightful place as one of very best. But that mantle simply can’t be claimed until the people show the will to make a change. Given Mayor Nutter’s virtually guaranteed reelection, though, that may have to wait another four years. How ’bout them Phils?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all 50 states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller Catastrophe. Freind also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.