Center Square | 10 great reasons to say no to Knox
I should be happy. A couple of years ago, as pay-to-play scandals unfolded at City Hall, I wrote a column asking Philadelphians, "Why don't you want a revolution?"
I should be happy.
A couple of years ago, as pay-to-play scandals unfolded at City Hall, I wrote a column asking Philadelphians, "Why don't you want a revolution?"
Why don't you demand an end to the cozy City Hall deals that squelch good ideas, insulate the inept, and waste untold dollars? Many wrote back: We do. We do. Just watch.
So, ever hopeful, as this year's elections approached, I chattered about how government reform would be the surprise issue of the season. Most old hands at city politics scoffed. The public, they insisted, just doesn't care about ethical dust-ups the way scandal-mongering reporters do.
Well, whaddaya know? We're a week out from Primary Day. And cleaning up City Hall is the issue with legs.
Sure, gun violence is a huge concern, but every candidate has his 10-point plan on that one, and voters can't really tell them apart.
The two candidates at the top of the latest poll, splitting 56 percent of the committed voters, are Michael Nutter and Tom Knox. They're the two who have made government reform the byword of their campaigns.
Looks like lots of folks do want a revolution.
Vindication should feel sweet. But it doesn't. Not yet.
Why? I can't escape a nagging fear that the leading TV evangelist of reform, businessman Knox, isn't really sincere. Like so many other TV preachers who made an early splash, he might be less holy than advertised.
I could be wrong. Some others who pine for revolution think I am. They drink the Kool-Aid eagerly.
Why doubt them? Let's count the ways.
With apologies to David Letterman, here are the Top 10 reasons Tom Knox might not really be TV Tom, the ethical crusader he plays on his television ads:
10. As an executive with iron control of his businesses, Knox got used to handing out contract work to whomever he damn well pleased. In Knox's short stint in Ed Rendell's City Hall, other Rendell staffers say, he seemed to have a hard time grasping the difference between running your own liquor company and filling a public trust where you spend taxpayer dollars.
9. He has a tin ear for conflict of interest. As a deputy mayor, he merrily took a trip to the Barcelona Olympics on the dime of city vendor Independence Blue Cross. He'd earned the trip while in private business. So there wasn't a clear impropriety. In government, though, appearances matter mightily in the court of public trust. You just don't do that sort of thing.
8. Yes, it's Knox's money, and the Supreme Court says he can spend it to buy himself public office. But would a sincere reformer really do that so recklessly, undercutting Philadelphia's first authentic try at campaign finance reform?
7. Knox never belonged to the leading political reform group in town, the Committee of Seventy.
6. He didn't step up to support campaign reforms or pay-to-play limits when those issues were being hotly contested in City Council.
5. When called on his experience selling predatory payday loans, he tried to have it both ways. First, he had the gall to describe payday loans as a social service. Then he claimed he got out of that business when he realized it was a bad way to make money.
4. He hired a convicted embezzler who was an old pal of his to work at a Maryland insurance company he ran. This violated federal rules and earned a $125,000 fine. Loyalty to friends is admirable, but there's that ethical tin ear again.
3. Pennsylvania regulators ousted Knox as state-appointed overseer of a failing insurance company, over stock purchases they saw as a conflict of interest. Knox didn't see a problem with what he'd done.
2. He's been playing footsie with bare-knuckled union boss John Dougherty, patron of one-time councilman and now convicted felon Rick Mariano.
1. He's linked arms with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, promising to support her as Council president. On no planet in this galaxy would any genuine reformer want Blackwell to run Council. She's the epitome of Council person as petty feudal lord.
Add it up and you can see only two explanations: a) Knox is a pretend reformer trying to ride a convenient wave to power or b) He's sincere, but too tone-deaf and clueless to pull off what he promises.
Maybe I could see taking a risk on Knox, if the other choices were the usual suspects from the Democratic party machine.
But Michael Nutter and Dwight Evans are proven reformers of integrity. Dwight is a Boy Scout, who uses his clout as a state lawmaker only to help his city, not to buy himself power tools and Orecks.
As for Nutter, no other city elected official has such a clear record of working for serious reform of campaign finance and pay-to-play. He's done so despite setbacks, verbal abuse and political risk.
Why pass over Michael Nutter or Dwight Evans to take a flyer on a novice with all those red flags sticking out of his well-stuffed pockets?