Lisa Deeley, you’ve had a tough go of it in 2016.
You worked hard all of your life to get where you are. You played the game. You worked in (and worked) the Democratic political machine. You paid your dues, you waited your turn. Finally, in 2015, with City Commissioner Stephanie Singer veering off the rails, The Party decided that it was your turn. You helped bump Singer off the ballot, routed all comers, and won your first election. Fair and square. In January of this year, you were inaugurated to be one of the three chieftains of Philadelphia’s elections, a (seemingly) important and honorable post.
And it was going to get even better! Incumbent Democrat Anthony Clark, who won a second term as City Commissioner last year, well… let’s just say he isn’t really interested in things like “doing any work.” Or even showing up to work. Or even making a pretense that he’s showing up to work. Or voting. Or abiding by election laws. That was great for you though! His indifference meant that you’d be a shoe-in to become Chairwoman, the highest rank for your office. After all, he’s a Democrat too, and would want to see a fellow Democrat actually running the joint. Once there, you’d get to work with Al Schmidt, a Republican with a progressive, reformer streak, to make a difference in Philadelphia elections.
Then it all went to hell.
Clark and Schmidt double-crossed you without even a courtesy phone call. Clark took a pay raise, Schmidt took the power, and you got left holding the bag.
And now these jerks over at The Philadelphia Citizen have started a petition to eliminate your office entirely.
In your defense, Ms. Deeley, you’re not going down without a fight. Although your style is, to say the least, peculiar. Despite being in office for less than two months, you’ve already tried to pass two measures directly aimed at screwing over Clark and Schmidt. First, you tried to have your fellow commissioners’ pay docked if they didn’t come to the office enough. Then, when that didn’t work, you tried to have their emails audited to see if they were actually responding to citizen’s requests. Both of those efforts were glaring reminders of just how pathetic things have gotten. But they were also doomed to fail because in order for them to pass you needed at least one vote from either—wait for it—Clark or Schmidt. Anthony Clark is never going to punch a time clock, and Al Schmidt is never going to let you audit his email.
You had to know this going in, right? If not, it would be hard to conclude anything other than that you’re another first-time politician who doesn’t know how to play the game well enough to actually get results. Given your time working for Councilman Bobby Henon and Controller Alan Butkovitz, it’s hard to believe that you’d be such a novice. But your actions look and feel a lot like the rookie mistakes that Daylin Leach copped to making when he was first elected.
A savvy, cynical politician, one might think, would try to work with Clark and Schmidt to benefit all three of you in some way. Give us the appearance of reform without actually making Clark do a damn bit of work or making Schmidt relinquish his newfound authority. We’re Philadelphians! We’re trained to accept exactly that type of shenanigans!
Then again, the more I think about it, the more I think you might just be a savvier politician than you get credit for. Here’s how I see it: once Clark and Schmidt screwed you over, you had two options. Option 1 was to keep your head down, try to make minor reforms and improvements, and hope against hope that in four years you keep your seat and Clark or Schmidt get voted out. Not very likely, though, and it would require four long years of waiting. Not only that, you’d be likely to be painted with the same broad brush as Clark and Schmidt, making you an easy target when it’s time for re-election.
Option 2 was to ask yourself: What would Frank Underwood do? Destroy both of them. Your public attempts at reform, though doomed to fail, have accomplished one major goal: keeping the story in the media. Everyone from the austere Philadelphia Inquirer to the normally-mild-mannered Committee of Seventy wants to pile on. People are pissed, and you helped them get that way.
Clark and Schmidt knew they’d catch hell from you. But they didn’t count on us. They didn’t count on the people of Philadelphia standing up and saying “enough is enough” with the entire sham of the City Commissioners’ office. They didn’t expect a Citizen petition to have over 900 supporters already, with more to come. Your problem is that, if we throw them out, we’d be throwing you out, too.
I hope, for your sake, that you have an exit strategy. Even if you were the best person for the job, at this point I’m more than willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because the bathwater is toxic. I’m not sure what your next play will be, but I’m certainly interested to see how this whole thing plays out.
But what I really hope is that, at the end of the day, the city of Philadelphia gets to have people in charge of their elections who show up to work, do the work, vote, and generally give a damn about running our elections.
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