How many political perp walks does it take for elected leaders to respond to stories of corruption with anything but “There but for the grace of God go I” relief?
by Larry Platt
You know what would have been nice? If our elected officials, upon last week’s announcement that U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah had been indicted on 29 counts of public corruption, had read the indictment, which laid out in graphic detail the extent of the Congressman’s alleged criminal enterprise, and then…stood in front of microphones to say, in no uncertain terms, that the sale of public office for private or political gain no longer has any place in Philadelphia.
Instead we got more of the same. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Democratic City Committee chair, said he was “saddened” by the news and that Fattah stepping down from the House Appropriations Committee was a “major loss to the city.” Mayor-in-waiting Jim Kenney, asked whether Fattah should resign, said, “That’s a personal decision he can make on his own. He doesn’t need my advice.” Mayor Nutter called Fattah a “longtime champion for Philadelphia” who has “probably helped more children go to college than any other member of the U.S. Congress.” (Nutter’s kind words were interesting, given that it was Fattah who, during a 2007 mayoral debate, shamefully said that Nutter “has to remind himself he’s an African-American.”)
Maybe, if we were really serious about taking on our corrosive political culture, we’d reach out to Transparency International, a global coalition that fights corruption. They’ve published a “Local Integrity System Assessment Toolkit” that explains in great detail how they work with local governments and civic partners to identify and reform weak spots in governmental integrity.
Given the rush of fond testimonials, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the guy had died, rather than been indicted. Yes, Fattah is presumed innocent in a court of law. But the ho-hum tone of these reactions—sadness for him, rather than outrage over what appears to be yet another example of a corrupt culture run amok—are way off. Kenney had a chance to show some moral leadership. When he was asked if the Congressman should resign, he wasn’t being asked to offer Fattah advice. He was being asked to pronounce upon the health of the body politic, to consider these allegations in terms of the common good. It was an invitation to be high-minded, and to put us and our fate above politics. He punted. Continue reading