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Jill Porter | Knox the Reformer vs. Knox the Dealmaker

TOM KNOX calls himself a "reformer" who's going to purge corruption and cozy insider dealing from City Hall. But this week he proved to be a hypocrite instead.

Tom Knox with Jannie Blackwell at Democratic rally on Monday.
Tom Knox with Jannie Blackwell at Democratic rally on Monday.Read more

TOM KNOX calls himself a "reformer" who's going to purge corruption and cozy insider dealing from City Hall.

But this week he proved to be a hypocrite instead.

Knox's endorsement for City Council president of Jannie Blackwell - a career politician who defiantly embraces the political status quo - undermines his whole campaign.

"He's not a reformer; he doesn't talk in any specifics about further reforms that are necessary or anything that's actionable, so it's all slogans and sound bites," said one observer.

"What he's good at is making a deal. It made him a rich man. And he made a deal with her."

The ambitious Blackwell gets a seat at the table of power. The white candidate gets whatever African-American voters she can deliver on Election Day from her West Philadelphia bailiwick.

It's as cynically pragmatic a pairing since liberal activist Happy Fernandez hired legendary political operative (and convicted felon) Buddy Cianfrani when she campaigned for City Council in the '90s.

That worked.

Hopefully, this won't.

Blackwell not only dissented when Council passed ethics legislation, she famously dismissed the reform agenda by saying she was "ethic'ed out."

Now, there's a curious partner for a candidate who defines his mission as ending "pay-to-play" - the very goal of the legislation Blackwell rejected.

The legislation was too confusing, she said back then and repeated this week, when she and Knox were confronted about the contradictions between his words and her deeds. The rules were too cumbersome for small businesses to navigate, she said.

And what about nepotism, another political scourge that Knox pledges to eliminate - the very source of Blackwell's career?

She was hired by her husband, Lucien, a former councilman and congressman, and succeeded him as ward leader.

Knox and Blackwell danced around that issue as well at their news conference this week.

Blackwell said she wasn't a product of nepotism, erroneously defining it as hiring kin for "no-work" jobs.

As if the ethics contradictions aren't bad enough, there's the infuriating issue of the stalled Youth Study Center.

How can any mayoral candidate embrace the Council member who singlehandedly is blocking construction of the new facility, thereby dramatically escalating the costs of the move?

Every taxpayer is footing the bill for Blackwell's petulant refusal to introduce legislation that would permit the center to be built in her district.

According to a Daily News story by Mark McDonald, Blackwell says she wants to be sure the community supports it - when, in fact, a coalition of 150 community organizations, churches, businesses and institutions in West and Southwest Philadelphia signed off on the project 15 months ago.

That's an abuse of power - and now Tom Knox wants to give her more.

Not everyone thinks the Blackwell endorsement unmasks Knox as a hypocrite.

Good-government advocate Brett Mandel said he thought it was "intriguing."

"If one of the knocks on Tom Knox has been how is this neophyte pol going to manage the political relationships that get anything done, the fact that he's formed a coalition with Blackwell is intriguing."

If it helps Knox implement his agenda, then "it's smart politics," said Mandel, of Philadelphia Forward.

But, if the alliance means "he's backing away from the principles he's run on or what he's promised the voters, just to win, then Philadelphians might have buyers' remorse," Mandel said.

Not if they don't buy in the first place - which they shouldn't. *

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