Inquirer Editorial: A bottomless patronage pit

Travelers at Philadelphia International Airport.
Travelers at Philadelphia International Airport. (AP)
Posted: February 10, 2013

Just two weeks ago, John D. McDaniel was a key operative to Philadelphia politicians and, not coincidentally, an assistant managing director for the city - a high-flying position he purportedly carried out at Philadelphia International Airport.

Since then, the city ethics board has implicated McDaniel and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown in misappropriations and misrepresentations of campaign contributions and expenditures; Mayor Nutter has unceremoniously fired McDaniel from his $87,000-a-year city job; and federal authorities have charged him with stealing from the councilwoman's campaign.

But if you think McDaniel had a bad week, consider all the travelers who were unlucky enough to land in Philadelphia since the airport's "Volunteer Information Program" was deprived of his leadership. The stated mission of the program McDaniel ran is to staff the airport with "gracious volunteers providing information ... as well as answering questions" - for example, where does one claim baggage or catch a train to Center City? And do all the signs reading "Baggage Claim" and "Trains to Central Philadelphia" have anything to do with the answer?

Beyond its dubious description, the most persuasive evidence that McDaniel's was a make-work job is that it did not exist before him and - judging by the comments of city officials - may not exist after him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the city's eternal and seemingly bottomless pit of patronage jobs.

Even if the city had a real job for him, McDaniel's resumé could not be described as top-of-the-pile material. In 2005, he was forced to resign from John Street's administration after he was accused of stealing from a nonprofit and violating the city's restrictions on political activity by employees. The Inquirer reported last week that he apparently broke that rule again by working for two political committees while employed at the airport.

Nutter demonstrated baseline political and ethical competence by firing McDaniel the day after the ethics board implicated him in numerous violations as the councilwoman's campaign treasurer. But the mayor, for whom McDaniel did political work in 2011, wouldn't have had to go to all that trouble if he hadn't found a dubious government job for a political operative with a checkered record in the first place.

Whatever murky political arts McDaniel practiced, it turns out he was richly rewarded for them not only by politicians, but also by taxpayers. And there are many more like him. Last year, for instance, the Daily News reported that 13 aides to departing City Council members were absorbed into the administration's payroll at virtually the same salaries - a total of more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

Unlike its now-leaderless corps of cheery airport greeters, the city's dreaded patronage army is not a volunteer force.

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