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Ethical Dilemma

This story was published on April 6th, 2005 in the Philadelphia Weekly
www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=9285

With City Hall in the throes of an FBI probe and Philadelphia's reputation in the dumps, will support for ethics reforms get trashed too?

by Gwen Shaffer

The first time Richardson Dilworth vied for mayor of Philadelphia in 1947, he rattled the status quo with sensational accusations of Republican ties to illegal gambling and prostitution. The Democratic newcomer was fearless. Dilworth stood before a hostile crowd in the 39th Ward-the home turf of Republican Mayor Barney Samuel-and ticked off a list of names, places and sums of cash allegedly involved in City Hall corruption.

By the time Dilworth ended his tirade, he'd accused 128 officials, ward leaders and judges of accepting graft and shakedown money, and had infuriated the Republican leadership. Dilworth lost his bid for the mayor's office. Still, he managed to steal a remarkable 44 percent of the vote against a deeply entrenched Republican machine.

Dating back to the early 1900s, various factions of an astonishingly powerful Republican Party dominated Philadelphia's government.

Members of the GOP dictated who would be elected, who would be hired and to whom lucrative city contracts would be awarded. As one observer noted, Philadelphia was "a city of petty crimes, small-time gamblers and five-and-dime shakedowns, where too often a person's first protection [was] not the law, the courts or the police, but his ward leader."

Dilworth's stock skyrocketed several months after the 1947 election, when many of his claims proved to be true. Even more significantly, he had pushed Mayor Samuel into a corner. It was the first critical step in a long journey to reform corrupt Philadelphia politics.

The Republican machine finally died when voters elected Democrat Joseph Clark mayor in 1951. It was under his administration that Philadelphia lawmakers approved the Home Rule Charter. They embraced this strong-mayor government structure, intending it to be more efficient and nearly corruption-proof.

The political climate in Philadelphia is cleaner today than it was six decades ago. By and large, elected officials enter the public arena to improve quality of life for their constituents rather than to line their own pockets.

Nevertheless, federal investigators have churned up evidence that some local politicians and businessmen have dirt on their hands. Taped phone conversations reveal that administration insiders engaged in pay-to-play politics, accepting favors and gifts from businesspeople in exchange for no-bid contract work.

Given the incriminating FBI tapes and witness testimony, many observers are confounded that City Council has yet to amend the Home Rule Charter to include a strong ethics code for city employees.

The timing to push through such legislation would appear ideal. Mayor Street is serving his second and final term, and he hopes to leave behind a legacy as a reformer. A national government ethics movement is building, as cities across the country establish contract reforms and campaign finance limits.

In December the Pennsylvania Economy League polled residents, asking them to evaluate the performance of their local government. While 57 percent of those outside Philadelphia rated their municipal government as excellent or good, only 16 percent of Philadelphians said they're pleased with the performance of city government.

"The confluence of these events is like the perfect storm," says Ned Dunham, chairman of the Committee of Seventy, a political watchdog organization. "It's difficult to imagine a better political climate for enacting tough new ethics rules."

Philadelphians may love to grumble about the lack of integrity in City Hall while downing beers at their local pub. But they certainly aren't bombarding Council members with letters or phone calls on the issue. Fewer than 10 residents bothered to attend either of two public hearings on the ethics bills held about a month ago.

"From time to time a constituent questions me about the probe," says Councilman Darrell Clarke. "But I'm rarely asked about ethics bills."

And many Council members, even those considered progressive, are wary of increased scrutiny.

"For some members, the idea of an ethics commission is a problem," says a Council staffer whose boss opposes dramatic reforms. "How do you prevent the power from becoming part of the system? How do you control it?"

Council members are guarding the status quo, Dunham asserts. "People don't fight to protect a system unless it's benefiting them."

The influence-peddling now exposed on the FBI tapes-which are both disturbing and perversely entertaining-is hardly new.

"This stuff has been going on forever," Clarke says. "This just happens to be the first time people could listen in ... Ron White did a lot of business with the Rendell administration too."

Others agree. But the apparent quid pro quo deals now under a federal microscope "are an order of magnitude worse than what occurred during the Rendell administration," says attorney Greg Harvey, who served on the city's Ethics Board from 1982 to 1990. "And that was an order of magnitude worse than what occurred during the Goode administration."

The feds pegged White, a successful bond lawyer, as the lead defendant in their anticorruption case. White, who died of cancer in November, was a key fundraiser and confidant to Mayor Street.

Prosecutors also contend that former city treasurer Corey Kemp accepted a trip by private jet to the 2003 Super Bowl, construction of a deck on his home and various gifts from bankers and business owners in exchange for city contracts.

Kemp is one of five defendants now on trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Commerce Bank executives Glenn Holck and Stephen Umbrell stand accused of approving a home mortgage for Kemp, in spite of his poor credit rating, in return for bond work. Detroit businessman La-Van Hawkins is also charged with fraud and conspiracy for corrupting Kemp. Lastly, White's former girlfriend Janice Knight is accused of getting city contracts for her printing business and then performing little or no work.

Harvey characterizes White as the "symbol and cause" of this current wave of political corruption. Even if Street himself stayed above the fray, "the mayor tolerated White," says Harvey, part of a committee that proposed ethics policies for Mayor Street last year.

Members of the public aren't banging on the doors of City Hall and demanding accountability. But the alleged corruption detailed in news reports is taking a toll in subtle ways, good government advocates insist.

"The perception that you have to play graft games to do business here costs the city business," Dunham says. "It costs the hospitality industry. And there's an enormous psychic cost to the people who live here."

Councilman Michael Nutter, who's leading the ethics reform effort in City Council, speculates that few Philadelphians are mobilizing around the issue because it's complicated.

"People are willing to deal with only so much when they have other things going on," he says.

City residents are in denial if they believe the political culture doesn't touch their lives, says David Thornburgh, executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"Pay-to-play is a tax because it adds cost without making government more efficient," he notes. "It's hugely corrosive, and I don't understand why we choose to live with it."

About four weeks ago City Council members held two hearings to debate a measure intended to curb the Philadelphia tradition of awarding fat government contracts to campaign contributors.

The legislation, sponsored by Nutter, would have required people or firms seeking no-bid contracts-typically legal work and bond underwriting-to disclose campaign contributions made to any elected official in Pennsylvania within the previous four years. The city's website would then publicize firms that won contracts; the basis for the awards; whether the firm was the lowest bidder; and if not, why it deserved the work.

The bill would have barred individuals who contribute more than $2,000 to a candidate from competing for city contracts. Political action committees associated with the business could not contribute more than $10,000 and remain eligible for city contracts.

Nutter introduced the bill along with two other ethics-reform measures. One bill would ban city workers from hiring relatives, and from accepting meals and gifts. The other would fund an independent ethics board. These proposals have been stuck in the Law and Government Committee since September.

During contract reform hearings held Feb. 28 and March 1, several Council members vociferously opposed Nutter's ideas to make the process more transparent and open. They objected on the grounds that rigid contracting guidelines would make life tougher for elected officials and the city's Procurement Department.

Councilman Rick Mariano said that creating new laws intended to rein in the influence of money and cronyism "doesn't work for me."

"Why are we trying to get more things to do that can get us in federal prison?" he asked. "My name ends in a vowel, so they're always looking at you anyhow-when your name ends in a vowel."

Clarke stressed that he has never exploited his tight relationship with Mayor Street to influence the awarding of city contracts. Yet Nutter's bill implies Council members are "wheeling and dealing" to sway the selection process, Clarke said.

"If I'm not involved in the process, then why should the perception be that somehow I'm using some veiled attempt to manipulate the process in order to get support from a campaign contributor?" asked Clarke.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell voiced concerns that minority contractors would have a tougher time competing for city work if they were required to disclose political contributions.

"Many [minority business owners] are not sophisticated enough to know what they're supposed to do," Blackwell said during the second hearing.

Nutter believes Blackwell is missing the point.

"There are so many contracts that businesspeople don't know are available, so city contracts continually go to those with an inside track," he says. "The forces that be want to keep the process as murky as possible to shut out the competition. Where's the opportunity in that?"

Outside the hearings Councilwoman Marian Tasco said she couldn't support the bill because it would require city contracts with social service providers to be renewed annually-potentially burdening the system and disrupting delivery of services.

And Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller argued that the bill "casts a cloud" on volunteers. "If you have to disclose whom you gave contributions to over the past four years, that's a problem," she said. "It suggests the intent of impropriety."

Miller contended that Nutter's ideas are ineffective anyway. "Would this bill stop a deck from getting get built for free on someone's home? No."

Under the Home Rule Charter, City Council members themselves can't change no-bid contract processes. For now, voters won't get a chance to amend the rules either. On March 17 a City Council resolution calling for a ballot question on contract reform fell one "aye" short of passage.

A second wave of ethics reform took hold in Philadelphia about 10 years after the drastic changes brought about by the Home Rule Charter.

In April 1961 the city controller completed an audit that found high-ranking city officials awarding no-bid construction contracts in exchange for golf clubs, cases of whiskey and home renovations. In response to what became known as the payola scandal, Mayor Dilworth immediately appointed a three-person panel to draft a stronger ethics code.

Jefferson Fordham, then dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, headed up the commission. In an article that ran in the May 29, 1961 edition of Philadelphia's Evening Bulletin, Fordham said he didn't know where the commission's work would stop.

"It isn't going to be any whitewash," he told the paper. "It may reach into all agencies of the city government."

As part of its investigation, the Fordham Committee studied city records and confidential documents. Members also held public hearings on the issue of ethics in government. "In candor, it must be reported that the public's response to the invitation was disappointing," a committee report notes.

The Fordham Committee submitted its recommendations to newly elected Mayor James Tate on March 15, 1962.

The suggestions may ring a bell. They included a ban on all gifts to city employees; fuller reporting of campaign contributions; prohibition of outside employment that could conflict with the duties of a city employee; and creation of an independent ethics board.

Specific to contracts, the Fordham Committee recommended opening up the bidding process. "While many excellent firms are engaged by the city ... the same names tend to appear in contract-lettings, and interest in submitting bids for some contracts is sometimes limited."

Some Philadelphians are proud of their city's rough-and-tumble reputation.

"Perhaps they think living in Philly is like an episode of The Sopranos," says Zack Stalberg, the new president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. "But many more people are pissed off about Milton Street and his airport contracts ... Strangers approach me on the sidewalk with complaints about political corruption."

The Committee of Seventy hopes to overcome the business-as-usual attitude. For the past two decades no one has advocated for ethics reforms, Stalberg says. "But we're here to shore up support."

Members of the Committee of Seventy sound like pit bulls now, but not long ago they looked more like Pekingese watchdogs.

The group has been around since 1904. But for the past couple of decades Philadelphians heard from the organization's leadership only on Election Day-when former director Fred Voigt would show up on the TV news and talk about fraud at the polls and, more recently, electronic voting machings.

Even after Philadelphia police officers discovered the infamous bug in Mayor Street's office on Oct. 7, 2003, this "good government" organization kept silent.

However, board members recognize the powerful role the Committee of Seventy can play, board chair Dunham says. Last year they used a William Penn Foundation grant to finance a search for a high-profile president. The quest ended when board members lured Stalberg away from his 20-year stint as editor of the Daily News. The organization plans to "at least double" its budget this year. Its 2003 budget was $300,000.

In order to push through ethics reforms, Stalberg and Committee of Seventy board members are building alliances with Philadelphia business leaders. "We're not interested in generating cocktail party conversation," Dunham says. "We want to leverage their resources."

One of the heavyweights they're courting is Thornburgh of the Pennsylvania Economy League. He agrees the business community "is one element of the constituency for change."

But grassroots groups need to weigh in on ethics reforms as well, he stresses. "This is a Ralph Nader 101 issue," Thornburgh says. "The frustration is out there. It just needs to be effectualized."

City Council members are raising trivial objections to Nutter's contract reform bill, Thornburgh contends, as an excuse to kill the legislation. He likens legislators to depraved guests at a Christmas tree-trimming party.

"Council members keep adding tinsel until the thing topples over," he says. "Suddenly they want to talk about the impact on nonprofits and minority businesses-rather than the issue. It's an old distraction trick."

A few weeks back, between panels at a national conference, Thornburgh grabbed coffee with business leaders from Boston, Kansas City, Miami and other major cities. He says everybody asked the same question: "What's going on with that corruption trial in Philadelphia?"

Too many citizens throw up their hands in frustration, laments Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government reform group Common Cause/Pennsylvania.

"Pay-to-play is one of the dirtiest scandals Philadelphia has going for it," he says. "Common Cause has 1,000 members in the city, and we'd like to play an active role in changing the culture."

A group of frustrated residents has built a website with information about pay-to-play legislation (www.stoppaytoplay.info). The site links to a petition, and group organizers are urging residents to contact City Council members April 13 as part of a "virtual protest."

While Nutter appreciates the public's efforts to exert pressure on City Council, he says recent ethical lapses should be enough to motivate his colleagues to enact reforms. "Unless your vision is severely impaired, you see something is wrong," he says.

On March 15, two days before the lethal floor vote on Nutter's contract reform bill, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce finally endorsed the measure.

Mark Schweiker, president and CEO of the Chamber, says the organization is "eager for contract reform to be accomplished."

"It's a giant step toward strengthening government ethics," the former Pennsylvania governor says. "It boils down to a simple consideration: Contract reform is the fair and equitable thing to do."

While Schweiker acknowledges the "unseemly headline" about corruption, he shrugs off suggestions that the FBI probe is stunting Philadelphia's economic growth.

"If criminal action led to a region's economic demise, the Washington, D.C., region would cease to exist," Schweiker asserts.

Certainly, Philadelphia isn't the only local government grappling with the problem of pay-to-play. "Public contracting is the biggest issue in government ethics right now," says Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California.

U.S. cities and counties issue about $400 billion of municipal bonds annually. It's not unheard of for banks-such as Commerce, at the center of the local FBI probe-to earn fees reaching $1 million for underwriting complex deals.

During fiscal year 2004, the city of Philadelphia awarded 586 procurement contracts based on competitive bidding, says mayoral spokesperson Dan Fee. By contrast, the city awarded 1,530 professional service contracts. These were "generally no-bid," but contractors were chosen based on their responses to the city's request for proposals, Fee says.

"When you're seeking city services such as providing health insurance, you can't just look for the lowest price," he adds. "It's not like we're buying widgets."

But no-bid contracts are where cronyism takes center stage. Businesses hoping to get work from city governments routinely make political campaign contributions and woo city officials who sign off on contracts.

In addition to the FBI probe into Philadelphia City Hall, the feds recently cracked down on contracting practices in several other cities. An arm of Fifth Third Bancorp shelled out $1 million in 2002 to settle charges of illegal donations to Cincinnati politicians.

Federal investigators are now looking into allegations made by hospital executives in Chicago. They claim that a banker from Bear Stearns Co. flexed his muscles to improperly snag a slice of a $10 billion pension fund deal.

The tough budget climate makes contract-fixing more tempting, Nadler speculates.

"When municipal officials are forced to tighten their belts, they try to get creative in their funding decisions," says Nadler, a former Santa Clara mayor. "There's greater opportunity for ethical lapses."

The issue of government ethics may also be cresting as "the second wave" following corporate scandals at companies like Enron and WorldCom, says Carla Miller, a steering committee member for the national Council on Govern-mental Ethics Laws.

Some elected officials get "stirred up" when they hear the word "ethics," says Miller, who serves as the ethics officer for the city of Jacksonville, Fla. "The bottom line is public confidence. Without that, the public won't support any decisions made by elected officials, and civic engagement gets torn down."

Dirty politics, real or perceived, is the reason people refuse to vote or volunteer on city boards, Nadler adds.

In response to critics who insist it's impossible to legislate morality, Nadler says the specter of "a hefty fine, removal from office or time behind bars does have an impact on people's behavior."

An effective ethics board is not on a witch hunt to root out elected officials who violate the rules, Nutter notes. "We have 23,000 city employees who could all use guidance on how to fill out income disclosure forms and what actions constitute a conflict of interest."

When a society tolerates a higher than average level of corruption, political scientists label it an "individualistic political culture." According to the theory, this type of government is common in regions settled by Catholic Southern European immigrants, who grew up in communities "where politics was about doing favors," says Joseph McLaughlin, an assistant dean at Temple's College of Liberal Arts and a fellow at the university's Institute for Public Affairs.

Elected officials operating in an individualistic political culture dislike bureaucracy when it limits favors and patronage, but appreciate bureaucracy when it enhances efficiency. They openly engage in dirty politics and dole out favors, and party cohesiveness is strong.

In individualistic political cultures-Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City among them-landing a government job is a means of getting ahead in the world, McLaughlin says.

"In Philadelphia, we saw immigrants boosting themselves into the middle class thanks to public jobs," he notes. "That's not to say everyone in the city is involved in corruption by any means."

Before entering academia, McLaughlin spent 20 years lobbying city officials. He represented the Eagles during stadium negotiations, pushing for increased public financing. The Philadelphia Orchestra hired him to bring in city cash for construction of the Kimmel Center. McLaughlin also worked for Marriott Hotels, urging the city of Philadelphia to allow the chain to build adjacent to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

McLaughlin scrutinizes the current investigation into City Hall corruption through the lens of a political scientist. But his vision is colored by his previous career as a lobbyist. McLaughlin recognizes that politics is largely about relationships.

Purging government of all opportunities to "curry influence" may be counterproductive, he says.

"Anticorruption measures often make government less efficient," he adds. "They tend to drive activities underground or increase bureaucracy with no provable reduction in corruption."

McLaughlin agrees with the "disclosure remedie" Nutter proposed in his contract reform bill. But the measure also "has the potential to discourage people who aren't calculating to steal from the government from participating," he speculates.

"You have to be careful that you don't go too far and create a new path for corruption," he says.

Philadelphia needs to repair its smeared reputation, he says, but with a "measured response." McLaughlin says he won't be surprised if ethics reforms remain stuck in City Council committee until the feds win a conviction.

"Members of the public are appalled by what they're hearing, but it remains to be seen whether that translates into meaningful action," he says. "I don't see voters punishing their elected officials."

Which makes Philadelphia unique. Most cities respond to corruption by implementing tough ethics rules, says Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. Chicago, Miami, New York and L.A. all beefed up their ethics boards or rules in the wake of political scandals.

"It's typical for elected officials to delay and avoid voting to impose new laws on themselves," Stern says. "But I'm very surprised that, given today's climate, Philadelphia City Council is successfully resisting reforms."

Publicly, the Street administration never took a position on Nutter's contract reform bill. But behind the scenes it was a different story.

The morning of the vote a top mayoral aide distributed a memo listing 16 detailed criticisms of Nutter's proposal. Even as former city treasurer Corey Kemp stood trial for fixing contracts, the administration seemed to endorse the pay-to-play culture.

The memo warns that new contribution limits may negatively impact minority business owners. "The traditional way for such firms to be taken seriously and to get the attention of public officials is by means of political contributions," the memo reads.

Nutter's proposal could affect "prominent companie" that routinely dole out large contributions, it says. The memo singles out Independence Blue Cross, BFI, Verizon and PECO-as well as "numerous Center City law firm"-that would need to slash political contributions in order to remain eligible for no-bid contracts.

One of Street's arguments against Nutter's bill hit home with Councilwoman Marian Tasco. Although she typically votes in line with Nutter, Tasco opposed his contract reform measure. "I'm all for transparency," she says, "but this bill will tie up services to our constituents."

Mary Hurtig, director of policy for the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, initially warned Tasco about the bill's potential impact on social services. In some circles, Hurtig is blamed for single-handedly dooming contract reform.

"And that tremendously pains me," Hurtig says. "I dearly want to see a referendum enabling Council to pass ethics reforms. But this was bad legislation."

On March 3 Hurtig faxed a statement to nine City Council members expressing "serious concern" about Nutter's contract reform measure. She called for an amendment exempting social service agencies from reporting standards, as well as requirements that they rebid contracts on an annual basis.

Because mental health services-ranging from drug counseling to group homes for the disabled-are provided by multiple agencies, opening up contracts annually would become very expensive and overburden the system with administrative processes, says Hurtig.

"Rebidding contracts could be disastrous for consumers, who wouldn't be sure that they would have ongoing supports from one year to the next," Hurtig wrote.

Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. counters that nonprofits hide behind their special designation. "They shouldn't be put on a pedestal because of tax-exempt status," he says. "Too many nonprofits are hypocrites and fail to practice what they preach."

Hurtig says she appreciates Nutter's attempt to "fix" the bill by exempting most human service providers until March 2006. Ultimately, though, she didn't trust legislators to come up with acceptable language over the next year.

"It's an insult to the body," Nutter says. "No member of City Council wants to disrupt social services."

Hurtig is equally critical of the Street administration's failure to address the problem.

"I asked the administration to give Councilman Nutter language that would amend the bill, and they didn't do it," she says. And whoever penned the "fact sheet" listing 16 reasons to vote against his bill "should be fired," she adds. "It is despicable."

Mayor Street maintains contract and ethics reforms should be enacted at the state level, says the mayor's liaison to City Council, Joe Grace. "It's been our policy position from the beginning."

Regardless, Mayor Street isn't twiddling his thumbs, waiting for City Council to pass ethics legislation, Grace says. The mayor added $550,000 to the current budget for the Office of the Inspector General-who has authority to investigate criminal and integrity-related complaints of fraud and abuse in all departments under the mayor's jurisdiction.

In August Mayor Street signed executive orders prohibiting city employees from accepting meals or gifts and reviving the city Ethics Board. Street also submitted a comprehensive package of ethics reform bills to City Council.

But major differences between these proposals and legislation floated by Nutter stand in the way of progress.

The mayor's bills would prohibit elected officials from holding outside jobs with firms that do business with the city, and a handful of Council members moonlight for firms receiving city contracts.

Brian O'Neill does legal work for Fox Rothschild, a law firm that regularly facilitates bond-financing deals for the city. Councilman Jim Kenney-who has a notoriously contentious relationship with the mayor-moonlights as a lobbyist for Vitetta Architecture & Engineering. The firm has done projects for the School District of Philadelphia and the Free Library.

Nutter's ethics package includes an antinepotism provision that has some members of Council up in arms. Blackwell started her career as a City Council aide to her late husband, Lucien. Mariano's son Ricky works in the managing director's office. Cohen's wife Florence once worked as his chief of staff.

City Council's Law and Government Committee held ethics hearings in November. Cohen, who chairs the committee, refused to allow members to vote on either set of bills so they could go before the full Council.

Many contend personal rivalries are overshadowing the common goal of passing ethics reforms.

"There is an obvious breach between Mayor Street and some members of City Council," says Daniel McElhatton, an attorney and former councilman who now serves as vice chair of Philadelphia's Board of Ethics. "And if Cohen's objection to a ban on nepotism is related to his wife's former employment, that's not fulfilling his obligation as a legislator."

Other members of City Council refuse to back Nutter's ethics proposals because they hate to see him "put any more feathers in his plume," as one staffer put it.

"Some people think he's sanctimonious and not a team player," another political insider notes.

The creation of the Home Rule Charter had a titanic effect. Instead of power being diffused, the charter strengthened the office of mayor. Pinstripe patronage and kickbacks were no longer the dominant rules of the game. Professionals flocked to Philadelphia, hoping to work for the new government.

But it's difficult to sustain any reform movement forever.

"If people don't stay on top of them, reforms can whither and die on the vine," McElhatton says.

Over the years the role of the city Ethics Board has ebbed and flowed, depending upon the interest of the serving mayor.

But the board did conduct public hearings when a union gave Mayor Goode free suits. It also advised then-district attorney Ed Rendell to pay a batch of parking tickets. The board was fairly active after the Abscam bribery scandal of the '80s, which netted three Council members and two Philadelphia congressmen.

But the board's role began fading in the early '90s, at the tail end of the Goode administration. The board became mostly inactive because Goode appointed a city solicitor "who believed the board was unnecessary," says attorney Greg Harvey.

Members rarely met during Mayor Rendell's two terms. In October 1998 the Daily News reported that six of 17 City Council members and two of 24 Rendell administration department heads failed to disclose outside financial interests-suggesting that enforcement of ethics rules had grown lax.

Rendell also "gutted" Goode's prohibition on gifts, and "the consequences continue to be felt today," says Harvey, the lawyer who helped draft ethics reforms for a mayoral committee last year.

"That gutting may have contributed to the atmosphere that led to what we now see being carried to extremes in the Street administration," he asserts.

Rendell saw no problem with allowing members of his administration to attend dinner parties hosted by corporate firms. "But one thing leads to another," Harvey says. "You go to a dinner. Then baseball games. Then the Super Bowl."

Given the spotlight on political corruption in Philadelphia, McElhatton is confident City Council will pass ethics legislation this year. "If it doesn't happen, shame on City Council and shame on the citizenry for not ratcheting up the pressure," he says.

Five City Council members- Clarke, Mariano, Miller, Tasco and Blackwell-knocked out Nutter's contract reform bill last month. But stakeholders are heading back into the ring, fists swinging, for round two.

"Sometimes attempts at change aren't successful the first time around," says David Thornburgh of the Pennsylvania Economy League. "But it begins with frustration and anger, and I feel the stirrings. The timing, the events and the people are right to make it happen."

Nutter says he has "every intention" of bringing back his legislation. "It's not just how the story begins. It's how the story ends. And we're only halfway through," he vows.

But Kauffman of Common Cause is less optimistic. He fears Council members assume the winds will calm and they can return to smooth sailing.

"Politicians may think they can batten down the hatches and ride out the storm," Kauffman asserts. "It's worked in the past. But the risk is making Philadelphia known as a greasy backwater town where corruption runs rampant."

Gwen Shaffer ([email protected]) last wrote about a report assessing the state of Center City.

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