by Edwin Lopez
01/10/2018 - 11:56
A New Hope for Philadelphia
An air of reform is blowing in Philadelphia since the Inaugural Ceremony of the new City Controller and the District Attorney
“This is the beginning of a new political era in Philadelphia,” said Vincent Thompson, the seasoned journalist of Wurd Radio, during the Inaugural Ceremony held on January 2 at the Kimmel Center, in which 21 judges of the Municipal and Common Pleas courts were sworn in, along with the new City Controller and Philadelphia’s new District Attorney.
Thompson, who knows this city like the back of his hand, knew exactly what he was referring to: the swearing in of Rebecca Rhynhart and Larry Krasner signifies an inflection in the history of Philadelphia; a political turn that’s a manifestation of Philadelphians tired of choosing people unable to change the course of a city with the highest rates of poverty and mass incarceration in the country.
Like him, many believe that the arrival of Rhynhart and Krasner marks the end of an era in which the entities of fiscal control and criminal justice were the booty that the partisan machines ferried and that, consequently, ended up serving particular interests.
Those attending the traditional Inaugural Ceremony were not only witnesses to the oath of the elected officials by popular vote, they were also witnesses to an event that essentially guarded a gigantic irony.
City Council, state representatives, senators, judges, the mayor and leaders of the Democratic Party (in other words, the establishment of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania) gathered to welcome a couple of 'outsiders' who won their posts after having surprised everyone.
The 'newcomers' that promise to overturn the status quo and put an end to that old and bolted local political class.
Both received standing ovations right in front of the astonished glances of those who still refuse to believe that Philadelphia is changing.
On the one hand, there is Rebecca Rhynhart, a young progressive technocrat who, since joining the public administration at the hands of former Mayor Michael Nutter in 2008, has demonstrated that knowledge, efficiency and ethics in the management of public money are essential keys to develop a government that benefits the majority of people.
About her, Reverend and President of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Jay Broadnax said that "she comes to us with years of experience, both corporate and public, in making large entities work with integrity, innovation and efficiency.”
Rhynhart was Treasurer and Budget Director of Nutter’s Administration during the recession. As Budget Director, she led the city's biggest financial recovery in the past 30 years.
As Chief Administrative Officer of the Kenney Administration - a position created by the mayor - she managed the payrolls of 11 departments and more than a thousand public employees of the city.
That experience, together with a solid professional education, helped her to know the inner workings of the government and to identify the gaps through which the public treasury drips and becomes millions of dollars lost every year without anyone saying anything.
Mayor Kenney said that “a high performance government such as Philadelphia requires the scrupulous oversight of a high performance individual (...). As chief guardian of the city of Philadelphia finances Rebecca brings her proven capacity and insight to the position.”
On the other hand is Larry Krasner, a lawyer with more than 30 years of experience as a defender of civil rights, representing hundreds of African-Americans, immigrants, women, the poor and victims of a criminal justice system designed to punish the most vulnerable.
Krasner arrives to the District Attorney’s Office at the worst moment of this entity, turned into a discredited office and into a place where personal favors are paid in exchange of expensive gifts.
In a tone that one doesn’t know if it’s of a man who humbly recognizes the support he received from thousands or of a caudillo who identifies himself as the voice of the people, Krasner affirmed that "a movement was sworn in" that day..
The District Attorney was talking about an independent vote that came from social sectors historically hit by the criminal justice system: the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dreamers, the Latino, the LGBT communities...
For Mayor Kenney, “Larry Krasner’s background in civil rights, his services as public defender, and his history of defending the rights of political activist, make Larry the right man for this job at the right time for the City of Philadelphia.”
It is actually true. He and Rhynhart are the right people at this moment.
When they announced their intention to aspire to the positions they hold today, the establishment received them with disbelief. However, as Philadelphia started listening to what became their progressive proposals, their campaigns started gaining support.
In the end, Rhynhart became the first woman to hold the charge as City Controller after being the most voted candidate in the November elections with 161,273 votes.
Meanwhile, Krasner, came to the DA’s Office with the momentum of social movements and billionaire George Soros’ help, who put $1.45 million into his campaign. In the end, the DA was elected with 150,330 votes.
Once Rebecca Rhynhart made her oath, she made it clear that her main goal is to restore trust in our institutions.
For this, the City Controller assured that “I’m gonna take the responsibility and the authority that people have given me by electing me City Controller to find millions of dollars that are being wasted so we can put that towards things that matter to people.”
Rhynhart will focus on key aspects such as transparency in the management of public money by auditing each of the 11 departments of the Administration and the publication of periodical reports.
Other changes that will be sought by the City Controller will be the modernization and implementation of better administrative practices in the city taking a deep look into the investments and the contractual processes held by the public administration.
In addition, she promised that her office will no longer be an isolated entity but one more piece of the governmental puzzle. The articulation with other entities of control will be key in avoiding cases like the Parking Authority.
Rhynhart also announced the creation of a criteria in the audits that will evaluate the level of inclusion and diversity in the city’s workforce with the goal of ensuring that the Government of Philadelphia faithfully represents its population.
For his part, Larry Krasner won several ovations in a speech that sounded more like a politician still in campaign. Anyway, he made clear the progressive turn that one of the most discredited and feared entities in the city will have in the coming days.
“Today we start the long road towards trading jails and death row for schools; division between police and the community they serve, for unity and reconciliation; jail cells occupied by people suffering by addiction for treatment… Today we trade fear for sanctuary.”
Judging by his first three days as head of the country's largest prosecutor's office - with a budget of $36 million and 600 officials investigating more than 50,000 cases a year - the DA was not kidding.
Last Friday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the dismissal of 31 officials of different operational levels in the DA’s Office, a purge that, although it took many by surprise, was seen coming.
Controversial or not, the truth is that the air of reform that blows in the City Controller and DA’s Office since January 2nd marks the beginning of a necessary change in the way of doing politics, in the way resources are managed in a city with 25.7 percent of its population living in poverty, and especially in the way that crimes are investigated and processed when we still have the highest rate of mass incarceration in the country.
A new era has begun, and we hope the promised changes become tangible sooner than later.