Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting some perspective...

I've spent much of the last week in Seattle, visiting my mother for her 70th Birthday.  My mother, who was living in Los Angeles in the same year that an earthquake, crime spree, and riot occurred was one of the many Californians who moved to the Emerald City in the exodus of 1992.  Since then, I've been to Seattle over a dozen times and have cultivated lifelong friendships within the ranks of the Seattle Police Department.  

Throughout the years, I have grown a healthy respect for the city of Seattle.  After working in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia; I grew a healthy cynicism toward the ability for municipal government to operate efficiently and without corruption.  Since I've been in a position to know the difference, Seattle has been the only example that I can point to of good municipal government.  You see, for a city of 608,660 nestled in a metropolitan area of 3.4 million, Seattle had only 25 homicides last year, and roughly four for the year thus far.  Compare that with the 103 year to date homicides here in Philadelphia and you can clearly see the difference.  Of course these differences are not just in the realm of crime.  The Seattle Housing authority has created public-private partnerships with the Pike Place Market District to provide a network of subsidized housing, some of which is in exclusive areas of the city; which guarantees that a homeless person requesting help is found temporary housing within 24 hours, and a low-income apartment within six weeks. Older residents of Seattle are guaranteed housing based on their fixed (pension or SSI) income.  In other words, the state and city work together to serve their constituents; if not out of a pure desire to be in public service, then out of fear that they would be grilled in the media for doing a poor job (as was the case with Mayor Paul Schell)

Seattle is not a one-trick pony when it comes to their economy. In the previous generation, the city grew by leaps and bounds when the blue-collar staples of logging and fishing were joined by the industrial workforce of aircraft engineers at Boeing.  When the airline industry replaced greed with pride and started buying cheaper Airbus and Embraer equipment instead of higher quality Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed airplanes; Seattle could have ended up going down the path that Detroit took...but it didn't.  It's citizens improvised, overcame, and adapted...and tax breaks were given to new endeavors in technology, giving the opportunity for folks like Bill Gates and Paul Allen to grow businesses and  an entire computer industry in Seattle.

So for someone entrenched in the Cirque du Freak that exists within the world of Philadelphia politics, I found  my trip a refreshing view into what we as citizens are capable of if we stood up and said ENOUGH to the graft,  patronage, race-bating and machine politics we've been dealing with here for the last sixty years.  The ironic thing I noticed was just how many complaints (many of which were baseless) permeated conversations of Seattle residents.  My friends from within the Police Department were facing scrutiny over uses of force (to include the shooting of an intoxicated Eskimo woodworker who, on video, was told by police to drop the knife he was holding no less than 3 times), a voluntary consent decree with the US Department of Justice, and intensive city reactions to citizen complaints.  Of course I'm thinking, as I type a blog about getting perspective that a citizenry that gives their police that hard a time when they have one of the lowest per capita crime rates in America (a week in Camden would do these Seattle folks some good) , what does that say about us...who gratefully kiss up to a Commissioner who reportedly manipulates numbers to drop property crime statistics while offering us no solution to the violence that plagues our streets and schools (as was the case during his prior tenure in D.C.); to the point where we give him an unscheduled $60,000 raise as a consolation prize to his failed contract negotiations with the Emmanuel administration in Chicago.

What's it say about us that we have a totally corrupt and racially-biased school district and housing authority? How do our elected representatives in city council reflect on us when three of them are the offspring of former mayors and six of them participated in a retirement program that A) most Philadelphians cannot participate in and B) intend on taking their retirement payment and returning to the same job (in a new term) the following week?

In other words...Seattle is not a better city because it's citizens are better than ours are (their propensity for conspiracy theories, recreational drug use, and personal hygiene absolutely gets to you after the first two days); nor is it better because their politicians are better than ours (which may be true, but one must NEVER trust a politician in any city).  Seattle is a better run city because it's voters are 1) vocal, 2) informed, and 3) take an active part in the success and survival of their city. 

This is possible here, too...and it starts by making the right, informed choices in this year's municipal elections; which include:
  • Not voting for ANY candidates who are connected to the existing political machine here (specifically any Democrats backed by Congressman Brady's Democratic City Committee or the Canuso/Meehan Republican City Committee, as there are great candidates on both sides of the aisle who are not beholden to patronage and corruption)
  • Informing yourself on what the row offices do, what they're supposed to do, and which candidate actually understands what they are supposed to do if elected, and have plans to reform their offices if elected (while it's currently popular to demand the abolition of row offices, very few have a detailed plan on who can efficiently carry on the duties of these row offices if they are abolished and, more importantly, can rise to the challenge of reforming these offices so that they can serve the city).  This is extremely vital to the elections of our City Commissioners, who have been ineffective in deterring and combating sweeping election fraud as well as the Sheriff, whose "loss" of $53M and failure to conduct seizure, auction, and collection of revenue has contributed to a budget gap resulting in firehouse, library, and recreation center closures.
  • Staying politically open-minded.  If the city has been run by one political party for sixty years, and the city has steadily declined since then....maybe we should be taking candidates from the minority party more seriously (all I'm saying, folks, is listen to what folks like Al Schmidt, John Featherman, Elmer Money, Joe McColgan, and David Oh have to say.  Traditionally liberal members of the media, such as the Weekly, Daily News, WHYY and the CityPaper have and have written some very hopeful things about these candidates who only currently represent 12.9% of the city's voters
What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion at our Meetup and Facebook causes pages at:

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