Saturday, April 23, 2005

A juror speaks

My friend called early this morning, during that moment between sleep and awake. Or maybe it was my imagination.

We had not spoken for several years, not out of any animus, it was just the way life works sometimes.

Angie was on a jury in the Federal corruption case that has dogged the administration of Philadelphia Mayor John Street. Angie, a normally mild-mannered professional woman, was beside herself. Her voice was shaking.

I am going to hang this jury all by myself if I have to, she began. This is Philadelphia. This is an issue of civic pride. We don’t convict people for petty corruption, it is just a matter of basic fairness.

It was early, and I was not up to speed on the case or what had set her off.

Philadelphia City Hall was the most expensive public project in the country at the time it was built. It fed families from Allentown to Johnstown. Gus Baxter had 69 people on the payroll when he was on the school board. Frank Rizzo scoffed at the notion that he should not channel money to his friends. ‘What? He would ask in boffo wonder, you want me to give those jobs to my enemies??

Now they want me to put Corey Kemp in jail because Commerce Bank approved his loan, and he got a free weekend down shore? Why should I do that? For who? For what? [Commerce Bank CEO] Vernon Hill gets a pass and Kemp goes down? Kemp is the littlest of fish in all of this.

Angie was really going now, and she still had not told me why she had called.

Vince Fumo got $17 million for his little non-profit in exchange for supporting a PECO rate hike. And he is proud of it! A few cents on each bill he calls it, but that $17 million is his! Non-profit my ass. And what does the FBI do? You want corruption, there’s your corruption. No free weekends down shore for Vince, he will take a 35-room house, thank you very much. PECO even hid the payment from their Board.

But is Fumo indicted? Is PECO management prosecuted? Not a word. Rendell’s person said it was great. About time PECO gave money to help a non-profit that was for the little people. You know, instead of the Orchestra, the Zoo, some theatre. You know, the elites. $17 million for Vince Fumo, Little Person.

What do the Republicans do when they see what Fumo is getting away with? Do they bring down the holy wrath of God and the FBI? How about the SEC, the IRS? Nah, [Republican Speaker of the House] Perzell, the Head Republican in Charge does what any God-fearing Pennsylvania politician would do in this circumstance. He hired a lawyer and created his own non-profit.

This is Pennsylvania, we don’t do petty corruption, and if this is the best they [the FBI and the US Attorney] can do, they oughta go back to New Jersey. If we send Kemp away for this it will set us back 50 years.

And the judge told us we need to send a message. To who? The state legislature got into casino gambling in a big way. But as an act of good government, they limited each legislator to having no more than 1% ownership of any casino licensed by the State. It took people a while to realize that with more than 200 legislators, there still was not enough to go around. You want corruption, we will show you corruption!

So Corey Kemp is going to take the fall. He will spend time in prison while Mayor Street will take his lumps by being labeled one of the five worst mayors by Time magazine. Ron White, his Ray McClendon, his Bob Haldeman, his gatekeeper-pit bull died just in time, so he will do OK. We are left with a few bankers who were just following the time-honored rules of public finance in Pennsylvania.

Corey Kemp. A weekend down shore and a few points off his mortgage, and he is the one who is going down. He is the best the FBI can do.

Not if I have anything to do with it.

1 comment:

guile said...

interesting entry..