Is there really a difference between Democrats and Republicans in Philly?
It’s the perfect time for a political backlash in Philly. After the last several months of sheer incompetence on the backs of many city agencies and programs—PPA, PHA, BRT, DROP—you’d imagine there’d be a little more outrage, especially within City Hall’s opposition offices.
And yet, crickets. Hate to say it, but sometimes Republicans can serve a purpose. And the lack of any real Republican voice against the Democratically-led City government has been deafening, especially lately. So, where’s the Republican counter-punch now that we need it?
“If you can’t beat the opposition just based on what’s happened over the last two months, then you’re not going to beat them on anything,” says Adam Lang, 32, a Republican activist and computer network engineer from the Brewerytown-Sharswood area of North Philly. “[Councilmen Rizzo, O’Neill and Kelly] should have been in front of the Inquirer building screaming, holding press conferences, telling everyone, ‘This is why you need to kick these bums out.’ And yet they’re completely complicit.”
Councilmen Frank Rizzo Jr. and Jack Kelly, two of three Republicans on City Council, are enrolled in DROP and scheduled to receive a combined almost-half-million-dollar payout.
What should have been a Republican issue, says Lang, is now being led by Democrats in City Council, such as Councilman Bill Green, Curtis Jones Jr. and Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, who have introduced legislation that would bar elected officials from enrolling in the program.
“One of the biggest issues that’s pissed off—look, in Philadelphia it’s hard to piss off the voters—but DROP is one of those issues and two of our three guys are actually participating,” says Lang. “That’s a big problem with the Republican party in Philadelphia.”
The Philadelphia GOP’s long-running ‘can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ strategy of power-sharing deals allows the Republican party to control more city jobs than voters would otherwise allow.
Those 600 to 700 jobs, many of which are at the Philadelphia Parking Authority and under the leadership of Republican City Committee legal counsel Michael Meehan, means little to Lang. Because the very idea of power-sharing implies Republicans are playing nice in the face of Democratic incompetence within city limits.
Power sharing be damned, six out of seven voters in Philadelphia are Democrats and there’s nothing to say that’s going to change any time soon.
“You say to someone, ‘You should change your registration, because look at all these people in City Hall,’” he says, “and they say back, ‘Well, OK, but what are you doing about it?’” Lang believes most well-informed Philadelphia voters are rightly under the impression that it’s better to remain Democrat, vote in the primaries, and attempt to put a reform candidate in office that way.
That’s why Lang and others founded the Loyal Opposition, a group set on advancing Republican principles and alternative perspectives within Philadelphia. He left the group in April 2010 after, he says, many founders and members of the Opposition joined the Philadelphia Tea Party, which Lang says is more concerned with backlash against the federal government—and that’s not something in which he’s interested. “We’re a municipality,” he says, “and it’s about delivery of services and the efficient handling of money. If Republicans want to become relevant in Philadelphia, it has to be on these types of issues. Let everyone else fight on the social issues.”
The change of focus from local to national issues seems to have basically split the Philly GOP into three caucuses: The official party led by Michael Meehan and supported by elected office holders; the Loyal Opposition led by Kevin Kelly; and Reform League Philadelphia, a PAC since founded by Adam Lang. All factions, however, are unorganized.
Within the Reform League Philadelphia camp is Elmer Money, a Northeast Philly health-care worker looking to run for councilmember-at-large. Money, 45, believes there are processes the city could conduct in order to make matters simpler. In fact, the Abington Memorial Hospital worker believes those in power intentionally muck up the system in order to confuse the voters, creating a climate in which it’s easier for incumbents to stay in office.
Regarding last spring’s tussle over the garbage fee, sugary drink tax and, finally, property taxes, he takes the opinion that Republicans and Democrats secretly conducted a financial false flag operation. “Did [the Republicans on City Council] really fight against it or did they pretend to because they knew it wasn’t going to pass anyway?” he asks. “You have to look at the credibility because, to me, it seems like one big shell game.”
Money believes Council already had already made higher property taxes a goal and used a “backward strategy” (scaring voters over the drink and garbage fees) to get it done. “I hear the same thing every year,” he says—threats to close libraries, police stations, fire stations—and after the outrage, the city just gets higher taxes. “Nothing’s ever cut,” he says.
Last spring, both Rizzo and Kelly responded to the Loyal Opposition, suggesting they’d both come out against the soda and trash taxes/fees. Lang saw the letters from the councilmen, published at PhillyOpposition.com, as mere charades, not just because both were extremely vague, but because the Opposition had to go to them for statements, not the other way around. And what it comes down to for most active Republicans in the city is that their guys are as much the status-quo as the Democrats.
“‘We want you to write letters, make phone calls and tell them you’re against it,’ and blah, blah, blah,” says Lang, mockingly of the Republicans in Council who rarely actually repeat said statement. “Seriously though. You need to push that unified front when you’re a minority party. You need to pick the right stuff, especially when you’re on the right side of an issue. But nothing’s been done to push the agenda citywide—and that’s a problem.”