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It's the libertarianism, stupid

Can money impose an ideology on Philadelphia voters?

My long-awaited (not really) newspaper opus -- on the three multi-millionaires (probably billionaires...after a certain point, who can count?) from Montgomery Country who plan to invest some of their fortune in an independent effort to boost state Sen. Anthony Williams in the mayoral race -- dropped today.

In a matter of days, you'll be seeing a blitz of pro-Williams TV ads funded by these principals of Bala Cynwyd's Susquehanna International Group, whose political interests are tied to one issue, and one issue alone: "School choice," led by the rise of charters as an alternative to traditional neighborhood schools.

Here's the issue for Philadelphia, and its voters:

This is Philadelphia, after all - the place that 20th-century muckraker Lincoln Steffens famously called "corrupt and contented" as citizens endured a soap opera of scandals from Election Day murder-and-mayhem to Abscam to Fumogate, all united by the idea that politicians can and will peddle their influence to make their friends rich.

But what are we to think when - in a new Gilded Age of wealth and with the Supreme Court's endorsement of limitless political spending - three icons of the "1 Percent," from the suburbs no less, are willing to draw down their fortune, in pursuit not of a city contract but an idea . . . and a highly divisive one, at that?

[SIG's Jeffrey] Yass, in particular, is active as a director in the nation's best-known libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, which has long been critical of the dominant role that traditional public schools play in educating America's kids.

"Rather than throw even more money at the problem, states should institute school choice on a broad scale, moving toward a competitive education market," the Cato Institute declares on its website. "The only way to transform the system is to break up the longstanding government monopoly and use the dynamics of the market to create innovations, better methods, and new schools."

[Arthur] Dantchik is a director of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-based law firm that represents parents in school-choice cases; both the Institute for Justice and the Cato Institute have received sizable contributions from the financial firm's philanthropic arm, the Susquehanna Foundation, which also supports a number of local charter schools. {Joel] Greenberg once was a director and major donor to the American Federation for Children, a pro-school-choice group headed by Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos.

Most of prefer to see public education not as a "monopoly," a term dripping with malevolent connotation, but as the most important stepladder to kids to escape poverty and rise to great heights -- as it was once for many of the successful business people funding "school choice," including folks like Greenberg and Yass who attended the public schools in Queens, N.Y.  It's important to remember a) that most Philadelphians don't support the unfettered brand of libertarianism linked to the Susquehanna partners and b) millions of dollars can buy a ton of TV air time, but it can't buy a single vote. The electorate needs to listen up, think for itself, and decide if it really wants this philosophy of the 1 Percent looming over City Hall for the next four years.