IRONIC, ISN'T IT, that on the very day Gov. Rendell was pounding the podium in his impassioned call for reform in Harrisburg - including a $5,000 limit on campaign contributions for races like Philadelphia's mayoral election - he pledged nearly a million dollars to Bob Brady . . . er, we mean, Community College's striking teachers.

Talk about tone-deaf.

Bob Brady, who in his pre-candidate days was known as a fixer of union impasses, was called

on by the Community College faculty union to help fix its problem. (And now that a judge has ruled that Brady can stay on the ballot despite omissions on financial-reporting forms, he is still very much a candidate.)

After the college's "last best offer" still fell short of what the union wanted, Brady called his friend the governor, who came up with the money that the union wanted: $800,000 - $480,000 of it from Rendell's "discretionary funds" and $320,000 from a source yet to be determined.

Thereby cemeting in stone The Way We Do Things Around Here.

Our beef with this is not just that "call a friend, fix a problem," while a bedrock of politics, has, in its corrupted form, stymied the city and kept us in a state of suspended animation. Or rather, unanimation.

We see the mayoral race to be our best hope to change the city's political culture of who-you-know - where the best way to solve problems is papering them over with "discretionary funds."

We also find it ironic that Brady, a champion of the unions, has, with this fix, subverted the collective-bargaining process. The union, unable to get the money it wanted from the college, went out and got it independently, from Brady and Rendell. (The college remained firm in its final offer, but agreed to distribute whatever money the union could get.)

It not only subverts the collective-bargaining process, it undermines the integrity of the college's management. We wonder what's to stop any union from going out and finding the money it wants from independent sources . . . maybe even corporate sponsors? Your college education: brought to you by taxpayers, and the XYZ Corp.

Also, while Brady and the governor have "fixed" the Community College contract problem, how many more have they created? For example, do the other community colleges around the state automatically get this increase, next time their contracts roll around?

And after the CCP five-year contract is up, who's on the hook for continuing that money? Once it becomes part of people's paychecks, it becomes part of the next contract talks.

THEN THERE'S the big question: Where will the remaining $320,000 come from?

We're glad that the students can return to school and that the teachers have been satisfied. But this deal, a favor that will benefit a candidate for mayor that costs nearly $1 million in taxpayer money, smells foul.

Of course, if Brady's fondest dreams come true, he'll be mayor when the next contract talks roll around. Call us cynics, but we're betting that Brady can count on at least 1,400 votes- the number of faculty members at the college.

Divide that figure by the $800,000 deal, and that comes out to about $600 a vote.

Since it's coming from taxpayers, we hope those votes are worth it. *