Only 10 days into the new year, and already we have a political sin worthy of the 2012 championship. New Jersey U.S. Senator Robert Menendez has exposed himself as a breathtakingly vindictive pol who has no qualms about messing around with the country's judicial system in what looks to a lot of people like an attempt to settle a personal feud.
I'm pretty sure Mayor Nutter was trying to strike a note of grim determination in yesterday's inaugural address, but mostly what I took away was the grim. The contrast between the buoyant new mayor of four years ago and the battered and cautious (but determined!) figure we saw yesterday was pretty profound.
Here, Philadelphia's five most notable political stories of 2011.
1. The Mayoral Race That Wasn't
The biggest Philadelphia political story of the year was the non-story of Mayor Nutter's re-election. Two years ago, remember, Nutter looked so vulnerable that a few actually thought he might be the first incumbent Philadelphia mayor to lose a re-election bid in the city's modern era. The city's seemingly endless budget crisis—and the service cuts and tax hikes those budget deficits led to—had sucked the air out of Nutter's first term in a hurry. His support was weak in the black community, and plenty of his allies were talking privately about how big a disappointment he'd turned out to be. But then the budget stabilized, Nutter patched up his relationships with some key players, and his critics lost their courage and decided to play it safe and not openly challenge an incumbent. You could say that Nutter skated because his would-be opponents and their backers were gutless (and you'd be partly right). But Nutter's pass was also due to some good behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the Mayor's part. He showed a deft political touch before the primary that had been lacking for too much of his first term. And so instead of a real campaign, we got the farce of Milton Street and Karen Brown.
Most people cite Bonusgate—the bipartisan political corruption prosecution—when asked to name Tom Corbett's chief accomplishment as state attorney general. But not his wife. In an interview with Philadelphia magazine this summer, first lady Susan Corbett named an altogether different initiative as Corbett's proudest and most meaningful achievement as AG: the creation of the Child Predator Unit, a specially trained unit of investigators and prosecutors, who are tasked with putting child sexual abusers in prison, and educating children and parents about child predators and their tactics.
"That would probably be the thing he thinks of as his legacy: his starting that department and the success of that department and the number of children that have probably been saved because it’s been hugely successful," Susan Corbett told me.
Barring some sort of last-minute breakdown, City Council members tomorrow will do the unthinkable, and actually vote to significantly reduce their own power. This sort of thing happens pretty much never. Not in Philadelphia, not in Harrisburg, and not in Washington D.C. But tomorrow, City Council is primed to pass, in overwhelming fashion, a new zoning code for the City of Philadelphia, a code that, if it works as planned, will mean that developers and other property owners will no longer have to routinely go hat in hand to their district council member just to build on their own property.
Conservative tort reform crusaders have a new target in their sights, and it is none other than the Philadelphia Lawyer and the courts and juries he practices before. Hostilities were officially declared this weekend, the articles of war delivered from the hardened one-percenter redoubt of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, in an op-ed headlined "The City of Brotherly Torts."
Pity the politicians who woo fickle anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, architect of the famous (or infamous, depending on your politics) "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which commits its executive signees to "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."
One of the least heralded but most consequential decisions Philadelphia voters made in this month's balloting was the selection of City Council president. True, the contest wasn't explicitly on the ballot, but as far Mayor Nutter, John Dougherty and a lot of other powerful people were concerned, it was the race that mattered most.
City Council selects its own president, which means that to win possession of the preposterously large ceremonial chair in council chambers, you have to win over a majority of your fellows. In recent years, the seat hasn't turned over much at all. The retiring Anna Verna has...
The increasingly tense standoff between Occupy Philly and city government is turning into a touchy political test for Mayor Nutter. Evict the Occupiers, and it might get messy (a la Oakland). Let them stay, and thus delay a huge and worthy public works project, and he risks looking weak just as his second term begins.