The nation is riveted by the discussion about political corruption following a whistle-blower complaint against President Donald Trump. A president pressuring a foreign power to investigate a political rival is unprecedented — and deserves the full attention that comes with an impeachment process.
The Trump drama is a spectacle, but it shouldn’t distract us from the smaller and pettier political corruption in Philadelphia’s eternally troubled row offices.
This week, after seven months of investigation, Philadelphia Controller Rebecca Rhynhart released a report alleging that the process through which the city’s commissioners — the elected officials who oversee our elections — chose new voting machines was biased and opaque. According to the controller, Commissioners Lisa Deeley and Al Schmidt came into the selection process predisposed toward a specific vendor — which spent close to half a million dollars over the past five years on lobbying, and on campaign contributions to the commissioners’ campaigns.
Last February, the city commissioners selected ExpressVote XL from Election Systems and Software (ES&S) to replace all voting machines in Philadelphia before the November 2019 election. In April, one of the three commissioners, the retiring Anthony Clark, spoke out against the decision and called for the process to start over. This points directly to the absurdity of having an office designed to insure the integrity of city elections run by elected officials.
The Commissioners’ Office is not the only row office that has been embroiled in controversy. Last spring, Rochelle Bilal defeated Sheriff Jewell Williams in the primary, setting her up to be the next sheriff, as she is unopposed in the November election. Bilal ran on a platform of cleaning up the office, which is good considering that Williams has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women while the former sheriff, John Green, started a prison sentence on Monday after pleading guilty to taking $675,000 in bribes and kickbacks.
The Office of the Register of Wills is also getting a new boss: Tracey Gordon, who ousted a 10-term incumbent in the primary. According to The Inquirer Clout column, Gordon’s chief of staff is going to be Rasheen Crews, a political consultant accused of taking cash to help judicial candidates get signatures on their nomination petitions, sometimes by forging them. Apparently, once a patronage mill, always a patronage mill.
Not one of these row offices need to be an elected office. It’s way past time we eliminated them and incorporate their functions into other offices where questionable behavior is less tolerated.