On Monday, the City of Philadelphia announced it would donate $500,000 to the O.V. Catto Memorial Fund, a local non-profit whose sole mission is to erect a statue at City Hall honoring Octavius Catto, the passionate civil rights leader who was shot dead at 9th and South streets on Election Day 1871 while on his way to vote. It was a dark day in Philadelphia, with the city’s white Irish Democrats taking to the streets to harass, assault, and otherwise intimidate from voting black Republicans. Catto, a driving force behind the right-to-vote effort for African Americans, was shot three times. His killer was acquitted.
Catto was surely an honorable man, and a pivotal figure in our history, but should we be spending $500,000 of taxpayer money to memorialize him?
Whether the city wants to admit it or not, we are on a long and painful road that terminates in bankruptcy—unless we change direction. And in addition to the fat union benefits, unconscionable D.R.O.P. payments, and the huge contracts that go to political cronies and the good old boys, we need to look long and hard at all of these “small” expenses—no matter how feel-good they are or how many votes they guarantee—because they add up.
I don’t want to be the one to tell the thousands of inner-city kids who depend on the community pools for recreation, No, I’m sorry. No swimming this year. We decided to build a statue. In fact, the city is desperately searching for money to keep the pools open this summer, and that earmarked $500,000 would guarantee that 58 of the 70 pools in question would be filled with splashing kids for one more season.
My proposal: Sink that $500,000 into the pools (or any of the other cash-strapped programs that benefit our kids), and I’ll personally give each city library a copy of Inquirer reporter Daniel Biddle’s new book, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. That way, the children of Philadelphia can actually learn something about Catto. Assuming the libraries are still open, of course.
I’m not saying the statue shouldn’t be built. It should. But with a board of trustees that has included dozens of the city’s most connected (e.g. Michael Nutter, Jim Kenney, PNC Bank VP Carol Clark Lawrence, John Perzel, Jerry Sweeney, Charles Pizzi), there’s no reason that the O.V. Catto Memorial Fund should be dipping into the public coffers. Haven’t these people heard of Kickstarter?