To paraphrase Jay-Z, State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown has 99 problems.
Last month, the Philadelphia Democrat was convicted of bribery and other charges from accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from an undercover operative in a sting operation. The 52-year-old single mother from West Philly managed to escape a prison sentence, but her government pension is in jeopardy. Her political career is toast. Her reputation is in tatters. She has many health issues and is about to lose her insurance.
But things could be worse for her.
Instead of jail, she got 23 months' probation. Almost anything is better than sitting in the pokey, which is why her friends are throwing a party in her honor on Saturday. They're not calling it a victory party, but that's the sentiment behind what's being called an "appreciation" celebration.
I was sitting at home last weekend when I got a text from Brown informing me of the event, which will be held at a venue in West Philly and is scheduled to last until 1 a.m. As I looked at it, I got a follow-up text asking me to bring an unwrapped toy, coat, or accessory, presumably for a holiday gift giveaway.
It struck me as odd. A party when things remain so, well, unsettled?
Brown hasn't resigned her House seat. Pennsylvania's constitution prohibits public officials convicted of certain crimes from serving in the legislature. Convicted lawmakers typically step down on the day they're sentenced.
I was scratching my head over it all when my cell rang. It was Brown, who explained, "My friends said, 'We've got to celebrate.' … It's just going to be an all-night celebration."
Brown strikes me as a kind and well-meaning person, but out of her element when it comes to the rough-and-tumble world of Harrisburg politics.
"I'm just very grateful I was able to get probation," she said. "I still have some things to work on. It's not over yet. My legal team hasn't given up on me, and they're deciding what the next course of action would be for me."
Brown, who was re-elected last month to represent parts of West Philly, pointed out, "I am not seeking to be seated on Jan. 1." In other words, she doesn't plan to show up on swearing-in day.
She also said she is no longer representing herself as a member of the Pennsylvania House. Many of her constituents still look to her as their representative, though.
"I'm just Vanessa Brown," she said. "Yes, I still do help people, because people need help and they don't know where to go. So my phone is still ringing from constituents day and night, 'Can you still help me? I know you're not a Rep. anymore, but I know you know how to help me.' And I'm not going to say no to anyone."
Still trying to help people. That's how she came into office in 2008. And it's how she's going out. I like that about her, but this is a matter of ethics.
Brown abused the public trust when she accepted $4,000 from that undercover informant in that shady sting operation. She's been convicted of it in a court of law.
I've got all kinds of problems with that operation and whom it targeted and why. But it's time to move on.
It would be best for Brown's former constituents if she would resign. Besides, Brown already has endorsed the candidate who she thinks should step in as her successor — a 31-year-old day-care entrepreneur named Amen Brown (to whom she is not related).