The Philadelphia Rebound: Philly Politicians Don’t Stay Down Long

Don't worry, Chaka. Pols here tend to bounce back from scandals just fine.

Former state Sen. Vincent Fumo leaves the James A. Byrne US Courthouse in Philadelphia, secure in the knowledge that he’ll rise again. (AP | Matt Rourke)

Update, June 21st, 2016: Chaka Fattah was found guilty on all counts in his federal corruption trial.

In May 1903, as part of a series about American cities, muckraking New York reporter Lincoln Steffans wrote in McClure’s that Philadelphia was regarded as the most corrupt city at that time. Other corrupt cities eagerly pointed the finger at Philadelphia, he noted, “as worse — ‘the worst-governed city in the country.'” Steffans himself acknowledged Philadelphia’s corruption, but felt what distinguished it was that it took place in a city that had access to and experience with reform. Other cities were just as corrupt, but their citizens might not know any better, while Philadelphians seemed to be making a choice. He wrote:

“The people” seem to prefer to be ruled by a known thief than an ambitious reformer. They will make you convict their Tweeds, Mc-Maneses, Butlers, and Shepherds, and even then they may forgive them and talk of monuments to their precious memory…

Some traditions die hard.

Steffans’ words prove as true today as they were more than a hundred years ago. We enthusiastically pillory our disgraced politicians, but just as enthusiastically welcome them back into the fold after they’ve showed sufficient remorse — or sometimes insufficient remorse, but hey, it’ll do.

Whether or not the indictment of Chaka Fattah ends with prison time, he won’t stay down for long. Below, a few classically Philly-style rebounds.

Buddy Cianfrani

Office: PA state senator
Crime: Racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice, tax evasion
Time: Sentenced to five years in federal prison
Redemption: Won his old South Philadelphia ward seat back and became influential in politics again. Cianfrani Park is named for his mother.

Lee Beloff

Office: PA state representative/Philadelphia City Councilman
Crime: Extortion of developer Willard Rouse; election fraud
Time: Sentenced to 10 years in federal prison
Redemption: Elected Democratic ward chairman after his release from prison

Jimmy Tayoun

Office: PA state representative/Philadelphia City Councilman
Crime: Tax evasion, mail fraud, racketeering, obstruction of justice
Time: Sentenced to three to five years in federal prison
Redemption: Wrote a book about prison time, now publishes two political newspapers — The Public Record and its sister publication, The South Philadelphia Public Record

Vince Fumo

Office: Vince of Darkness, PA state Senate
Crime: Mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, filing false tax return
Time: Sentenced to 55 months in federal prison
Redemption: Has a consulting business, is writing op-eds for the Inquirer, shows up looking dapper at social events, was featured in Philly Mag’s selfie issue

Harry Jannotti

Office: Philadelphia City Councilman
Crime: Conspiracy to extort
Time: Four and a half months in federal prison
Redemption: Elected Democratic ward leader several years after his release, extolled as “champion of his constituents” in obit

Milton Street

Office: PA state senator
Crime: Tax evasion
Time: Sentenced to 30 months in federal prison
Redemption: Prominent activist, perpetual mayoral candidate

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