Councilman Rick Mariano wrote in a recent letter to the editor that he gets reelected because he knows what "rowhome Philadelphians" really want - in this case, to continue smoking in taverns and restaurants. That's the tradition, so why change?
Mariano undoubtedly does know what many in his working-class district are thinking. But leaders ought to do more than verify the public's pulse. They ought to see where progress is needed, and take action. The argument that "it's always been done this way" hurts the city in ways big and small. When that attitude is passed down from one generation to the next, it feeds a belief that average people can't buck or change the system.
Nowhere is that spelled out more clearly than in the story of John McFarlane Jr., a Philadelphia plumbing inspector. McFarlane blew the whistle in 2002 on payoffs to city inspectors - $10 and $20 "tips" from plumbers who expected, in return for the cash, that their work would be approved, no matter how shoddy it was.
It's a corrupt little tradition that goes back decades in the city. And when McFarlane stood up to the bribery, as an article in Sunday's Inquirer detailed, he was harassed and ostracized.
Plumbers and contractors said the "tips" were a harmless way of ensuring prompt service from the inspectors. They said substandard work was never approved. But hidden FBI cameras showed inspections often weren't done.
Politicians can boast all they want about understanding true Philadelphians. But what if some citizens adopt a cynical mentality that graft is the way of the world, and working stiffs are entitled to a share? The leader's job, then, is not to indulge such thinking, but to change it by example.
It's not really true, though, that rowhouse Philly wants a city government that doesn't care whether their homes are being built or repaired safely, that sells out their interests for a $20 bill slipped into a palm. Rowhouse Philly is based on the ideal of honest work for an honest price.
Rowhouse Philly wants elected officials who, far from excusing and taking part in petty corruption, are determined to stamp out such nonsense.
Council and Mayor Street need to keep working on a multitude of ethics reforms to convince the rowhomes that the poisonous system of favors and favoritism is no longer alive and well.