We got it, folks: The new motto for the Democratic City Committee, courtesy of party honcho Bob Brady, sure to send a patriotic shiver down your spine.
“I know what it looks like. … But we just had to do what we had to do.”
And just what was it that the committee “had to do,” Brady told my colleagues Chris Brennan and Claudia Vargas? Why, it had to summon the moral resolve to endorse an accused serial sexual harasser for sheriff. Sheriff!
Now, Sheriff Jewell Williams — with two settled sexual-harassment claims against him, and another one moving through federal court — will have the party’s official support. Most important, in a primary cycle that typically gets little publicity, Williams will have his name plastered on Democratic sample ballots — which are some voters’ first introduction to candidates. It’s not an insurmountable hurdle for challengers, but it’s a crucial get.
Welcome to a depressing rehash of what our Democratic City Committee is willing to overlook in a candidate. This is, after all, the party machine that endorsed Anthony Clark, the city commissioner who oversees voting and couldn’t be bothered to vote, or even to show up regularly for his job.
In 2015, it endorsed Manny Morales, a party hack, over Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the experienced two-term Council incumbent known for her independence. To be fair, the committee did withdraw its endorsement after Quiñones-Sánchez surfaced a slew of racist, homophobic posts from Morales’ Facebook page, going back years. Great research skills, guys.
Philly’s Democratic Party system itself is under a microscope this year, and rightfully so. The reams of young, progressive, qualified candidates who have put their names forth in this year’s races have thrown the old way of things into sharper relief. Look at the very mechanics of the committee’s endorsements: Each candidate gets three minutes to give a speech to the party’s policy committee. Connected candidates are often walked in by an influential ward leader.
And who’s waiting for them when they enter that room? Veteran ward leaders and committeemen and -women, and even, some who have attended the meetings have told me, marquee names from the latest federal indictments. Like Bobby Henon, the city councilman facing potential federal time, who doesn’t vote on endorsements but whose presence is not exactly reassuring.
It’s never been a level playing field. In this kind of atmosphere, how can the newcomers and desperately needed fresh voices — and all those supporting them — gain any kind of footing?
Williams, in this case, is just the latest, if most glaring, disgrace.
It’s a measure of how tone-deaf and entitled Philly’s party has become when Brady and his colleagues look at the national conversation on sexual assault and harassment, the #MeToo movement, the man in the White House, the groundswell of support for first-time candidates and progressive politics, and think, Yeah, Jewell Williams is our guy.
Brady, who, after all, just had to do what he had to do, says that the party has offered a diverse slate, gives new candidates a fair shot — and, in fact, conducts a lot of research before that three-minute interview.
But talking with Brady about Williams is exhibit No. 1 for why we need new leadership to break up the old guard.
Brady said his understanding, from Williams’ lawyer, was that his accusers were “working together on this.” And that Williams didn’t want to settle — he wanted to go to trial.
Brady offered this caveat on the allegations against Williams: “The complaints said he did something, not touching.” (He immediately apologized after I called him out on it. “I made a mistake,” he said.)
And who was he, he asked me, to instill his will on ward leaders, labor bosses, black clergy, and the police union, who all supported Williams? (He’s only the most powerful Democrat in the city, but I digress.)
“I couldn’t take a guy’s livelihood away because of an accusation,” Brady said. “We’re not judge and jury.”
No, they’re just the same old Democratic City Committee.