Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ubiñas: What is it about 'public' these officials don't get?

We've got a president-elect who doesn't do news conferences, a U.S. senator who doesn't meet with constituents, and a Republican candidate for district attorney who won't say if she voted for Donald Trump.

We've got a president-elect who doesn't do news conferences, a U.S. senator who doesn't meet with constituents, and a Republican candidate for district attorney who won't say if she voted for Donald Trump.

Seems as if there's more than a little confusion these days about what it means to be a public official.

Let me help: You're duty-bound to meet with people and the press, IRL - and not just on your terms.

Twitter ain't transparency, y'all.

Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to hike up those big boy and big girl pants, and meet with the public and address its concerns and gripes. Maybe you hold a town-hall meeting. This is where I look all kinds of sideways at Sen. Pat Toomey, who doesn't seem to have held a town-hall meeting since 2013 - and, near as I can tell, nowhere near Philadelphia.

Oh, and if you're serious about being the next Philadelphia district attorney, Beth Grossman, don't play coy with where you stand on anything, including whom you voted for in the presidential election. Nobody likes a Timid Toomey, who waited until an hour before polls closed to say that he'd voted for Trump. Weak!

In theory, Trump will give a news conference on Wednesday. Put me down in the wickedly skeptical column. NPR is tracking how long it has been since he held a formal news conference and how many times he has tweeted. It's been 162 days since his last presser, but he's found time to tweet nearly 1,600 times.

Grossman just jumped into the DA's race, so I'm going to give her a minute to get herself together.

So, let's talk about Turn-'em Away Toomey.

On Tuesday afternoon, about 50 people went to the senator's Center City office, as they've been doing since the November election.

The group, which calls itself Tuesdays With Toomey, has been showing up to talk about all kinds of issues, from sanctuary cities to Trump's troubling cabinet nominees.

The Tuesday group hasn't yet been granted an audience with the big guy, but for a while staffers were open to hearing the visitors out, taking notes and accepting their letters - even if sometimes they handled them as if they were live grenades.

That was 2016. This Tuesday, the doors to the office building were locked. Security wouldn't let the group in. No one answered the phone at the senator's office.

Alexandra Gunnison, a member of TWT, said she's concerned over a pattern of Toomey's not engaging with his constituents, but hopes to work with his office again and didn't want to guess on whose decision it was to lock the doors.

I didn't either, so I went to the building at 1628 John F. Kennedy Blvd. and asked Ralph, the security guard on duty, for the what's-what. Nice guy, Ralph. He called a supervisor, who said Philadelphia police said lock the doors - except when I called the PD later, they knew nothing. And when I asked Ralph to call up to Toomey's office and let them know I'd like to chat, I was greeted in the lobby by a lovely young charge with a textbook handshake, a plastered smile, and a mission to hand me a sheet of paper.

Was it a statement?

A restraining order?

Maybe a belated holiday Christmas letter from the senator himself:

Dear Family and Friends, This year I squeaked back into office with a less than two percent lead. . . . Winner!

Alas, it was just contact info for Toomey's press secretary, Steve Kelly. I called the number, left a detailed message about the TWT group, and attempted to confirm some information about his town halls - maybe there were some not mentioned online? In return I got crickets.

In hindsight, this troubling silent treatment shouldn't surprise anyone. We're talking about a senator who wants to punish Philly, and other sanctuary cities, by stripping them of millions in federal funding.

None of this political behavior seemed to surprise David Thornburgh, president and CEO of Philadelphia's chief civic watchdog, the Committee of Seventy.

There has always been a cat-and-mouse game between politicians and the press, he said, and plenty of elected officials forget whom they're working for.

He reminded me that a wave of angry constituent phone calls caused House Republicans to back off their plan to weaken the independent ethics safeguards. As I write this, top intelligence officials are pushing back big time, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on cybersecurity, on Trump's dismissal of Russian interference in the presidential election.

So keep pounding, people.

Keep pounding, Tuesdays With Toomey.

They can't shut us out forever.

215-854-5943 @NotesFromHel Helen. Ubinas