Karen Heller: At Phila. airport, finding the right job for the man

Arrivals Hall at Philadelphia International Airport. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to attract a part of the business from an expected jump in international travel.
Arrivals Hall at Philadelphia International Airport. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to attract a part of the business from an expected jump in international travel.
Posted: February 04, 2013

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Folks, why are we slaving in industries that adjusted for the economy and downsized, slashed jobs, and reduced salaries and benefits? We could be working in city government, which appears to be doing none of those things.

Consider political operative and habitual ethics violator John McDaniel. Until last week, when his busy hands got slapped again, McDaniel made $87,125 as an assistant managing director in the Nutter administration.

And what a life he had. In January of last year, after working on Nutter's reelection campaign, McDaniel landed a dream job at the airport training unpaid workers to assist travelers.

Let's digest this. The following is not my purple prose but from the airport website.

W hile traveling by plane and visiting an unfamiliar Airport can be an exciting venture, it can also be stressful and confusing. That is where a Philadelphia International Airport volunteer becomes a VIP.

There are plenty of people to help stressed and confused travelers. They're called airline employees.

Also, if the city wants to be truly helpful, how about moving luggage from planes to baggage claim within, say, less time than it took to fly?

I asked an airport spokeswoman what exactly McDaniel did in the job before the city Ethics Board disciplined him last week for playing three-card monte with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown's campaign fund.

This would be the same McDaniel who was forced to resign in 2005 from the Street administration for working on a campaign in violation of the City Charter. At that time, he also attracted the scrutiny of the city inspector general and faced allegations that he stole $13,000 missing from a nonprofit. McDaniel repaid the money in a settlement agreement.

Anyway, the airport spokeswoman bounced the question to the mayor's press office in about the time you dream your luggage would appear. Then the question bounced back to the airport, in much the same manner I imagine McDaniel landed his job.

"During Mr. McDaniel's tenure as manager of the airport volunteer program," the spokeswoman wrote, "the number of volunteers grew from 16 to 38 through outreach and focused recruitment efforts."

For those doing the math, that works out to $3,960.22 per new volunteer.

Imagine arriving in the Airport and not knowing your gate location, where to pick up your baggage or get something to eat.

So this is basically a program for preschoolers and other travelers who cannot read.

You'll be shocked to learn that McDaniel's excellent position did not exist before his appointment. The job was "a partial responsibility of various members of the airport public affairs team."

Philip Goldsmith, John Street's managing director, had McDaniel take off the last time. Goldsmith was "shocked" that McDaniel had landed in such a lush job. "It's the underbelly of the system," he told me, "sort of like Traffic Court, which erodes confidence in the effectiveness of government."

The airport has long been a concourse of shady deals and questionable politics for folks like T. Milton Street Sr. and the late Ron White. Instead of On the Waterfront, we have At PHL. And Nutter wants to expand the place?

Nutter ran on being Mr. Clean, promising to clear out the kudzu of patronage and backroom deals. How did McDaniel, with a wobbly resumé, land such a cushy job with splendid benefits? I wondered whether he had photos somewhere of the health-nut mayor downing a Big Gulp.

Or perhaps it's because McDaniel is friendly with the right people. There are 108 assistant managing directors, many of them talented, hardworking, and paid far less, but, still, it makes you wonder whether there are other McDaniels in the system.

Frankly, I was interested in applying for the position to run what sounds like basically a museum docent program. Volunteers must wear a golf-style shirt and name tag, comfortable shoes, and "a welcoming smile."

Hey, I've got a welcoming smile. Alas, the spokeswoman told me, "The airport is evaluating the best way to manage the volunteer program going forward."

Which sounds like the $87K patronage job has already gone off the radar.

Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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