Helen Ubinas: Philly, stop sweeping change under the shrug

Blondell Reynolds Brown
Blondell Reynolds Brown
Posted: February 06, 2013

YO, PHILLY, your shoulders must be tired.

I call it "The Philly Shrug," a maddening "whadya-gonna-do?" attitude that all but ensures that nothing that needs changing in this city gets changed.

Litter? Disgraceful! But - shrug - whadya-gonna-do? (I'm not making this up . . . lots of people have actually said this to me.)

Schools? The worst! But - shrug - they've been a mess forever. (Ditto.)

Crime. Shrug - and duck.

Seriously, I would think you were all shrugged out. But not even close.

In case you missed the awesome work of my Daily News colleagues last week, here are the highlights:

* The city's third-highest-ranking City Council member, Blondell Reynolds Brown, was fined for lying about using campaign funds to pay off a personal loan from a congressman's son - whose office was raided by the FBI last year. She needed the money to keep her house from going into foreclosure. (A city full of constituents could use a similiar bankroll, but too bad for them.)

* Another in a long line of veteran Philadelphia narcotics officers - this time the governor's son-in-law - was accused of using drug homes as his personal piggy bank and clothing outlet. Apparently he "lit up like a Christmas tree" with bait money that investigators treated with a special chemical.

* And then there were those Traffic Court jokers, a/k/a judges, indicted for allegedly ticket-fixing. The story went national. Closer to home, crickets.

From fellow regional-rail commuters and the older gentlemen I chatted up at The Gallery to online commenters and tweeters, there were three typical reactions to headlines that should have had Philly residents calling for a citywide overhaul:

"You must be new around here."

"Welcome to Philadelphia."

"Meh."

Seriously, that's it? Where's your outrage, Philly?

I know you pride yourselves on seen-it-all cynicism; I'm a big fan of the sentiment myself. But cynicism doesn't give you a pass on civic responsibility.

"It's an issue of low standards," said Zack Stalberg, president and chief executive of government watchdog Committee of Seventy. "I think we like the image of Philadelphia as being tough, and being a place where we speak our minds. But it's really a place where people are very careful about what they say."

Awww, geez, say it ain't so, Philly. All bark, no bite. That's just embarrassing.

After the indictments of the Traffic Court judges, Lynn Marks, from Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, issued a news release saying that it was a cause for outrage. Hell yeah.

She got some. But it was quickly followed by sentiments that things are never going to change.

Seriously, Philly, you're killing me. If you don't demand more, if you don't realize you deserve more, of course nothing's going to change. (And, no, demanding more doesn't mean wanting preferential treatment, too.)

What part of the city's long, twisted - if colorful - history of corruption makes you think that Philly politicians are suddenly going to check themselves?

And let's not just pick on Philly. People in power need to know that they're being held accountable, that if they aren't doing what they should be doing, they're going to have to answer for it. I know we're all busy with work, kids and trying to make ends meet - especially now that there's less money in the coffers, thanks to ticket-fixing.

How about pushing the Council's Ethics Committee - that's not a joke, there actually is one - to review this whole Brown mess.

It hasn't done much of anything in more than 30 years. Now that's a joke - on us.

How about voting in more than just the big elections? Or not throwing your votes away by voting for dead people just to keep your party in power?

How about being outraged at being taken for a ride by people you elected or trusted?

Here's the deal: Kick-ass reporters can continue to uncover all kinds of bad behavior. The feds can indict. But you - yeah, you, Philly - have to do your part. And right now, you're complicit.

So, man up, Philly, and stop with the shrugging.

If you've been outraged at something and have turned that outrage into change, let me know. I'll share the best stories about how you refused to stand for business as usual, and got something done. There has to be one of you out there, right?


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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