What Will It Take for New Philadelphians to Clean Up City Hall?

As the city's population grows, our corridors of power remain the same.

Frank DiCicco is an old Philadelphian who is still trying to figure out what, exactly, the new ones want. For 16 years, DiCicco represented the First Council District, which eats up a big chunk of Center City and the Delaware waterfront, neighborhoods where new Philadelphians have flocked.

DiCicco still lives within a block of his childhood home at 11th and Federal, but his grip on this neighborhood is all but gone. And he knows it. In his earlier days, DiCicco could personally guarantee candidates as many as 150 of the 500 or so votes in his division. “And that was just friends and family,” he says. Today, he doesn’t think he can deliver more than 30 votes at best. “When I started in this business, people wanted help with parking tickets, with moving violations, they wanted a job for their kids.”

Not anymore. “These people, most of them don’t even drive,” DiCicco says of the new Philadelphians. “And if they get tickets, they just pay them.” He finds this incomprehensible. The amazing thing is, DiCicco was more sensitive to the priorities of new Philadelphians than perhaps anyone else in City Council. He proposed the 10-year property tax abatement, which helped enable the condo boom. He resisted the casinos. And still, he doesn’t seem to get them.

That’s because what new Philadelphians want from their city government is entirely alien to the long-established powers that pull the strings. They want a government that doesn’t do favors, one that operates entirely in the open, one that responds not to the plugged-in but to the public at large. And, critically, they want a government that knows when to get out of the way, so the new Philadelphians can do their thing.

Of course, the best way to ensure they get all of that is to elect a few Frank DiCiccos of their own.