IWOULDN'T recognize Corey Kemp if I ran into him in solitary. But I can spot an injustice from miles away when it occurs at the federal courthouse at 6th and Chestnut.
That's the same courthouse in the same city with the same prosecutor's office concerned with city corruption where two individuals got widely divergent sentences. One, a young third-tier black city official, gets sent away for 10 years. The other, an aging white member of the city's politburo, gets less than half that time.
One had the state's power brokers coming to his defense - the governor, an ex-Supreme Court justice, business and union leaders. The other was basically left out to dry.
One was a young man on the make; the other someone who, by hook or by crook, had made it a long time ago.
Kemp did wrong. He took favors for doing his job - a trip to the Super Bowl, a porch on his house, giving bankers an inside track. Federal Judge Michael Baylson made him the poster child in a probe of City Hall corruption, throwing the book at him.
Vince Fumo had a judge who obviously took a liking to him and made him not a poster child, but a pinup boy. The judge seemed, if I may use the word, empathetic to Fumo, even though he was someone who spied on enemies, bragged about using other people's money and was convicted by a jury of his peers on all 137 counts of corruption.
On the same day that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was asserting to skeptical GOP senators that "We don't apply feelings to facts," that's precisely what U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter, a Republican appointee from Lancaster, did in the Fumo case, ignoring even his own downgraded sentencing guidelines.
Sentencing is an imperfect science, but if Buckwalter was pitching horseshoes, he didn't come close to hitting the stake, to say nothing of an Amish barn door.
The judge has done a disservice to justice and our city, and so have many others who rushed to Fumo's defense, writing letters to the judge and basically proclaiming that the ends justify the means.
Fumo could have achieved many of his ends without resorting to his means.
If he was really concerned about
utility rates, why did he have to extract money for his friend Peter Nero?
Or for his civic association? Or direct which law firm Verizon should hire?
That didn't give him any more leverage to get the job done. He was looking out for himself and his friends. When state employees are working on his private properties at taxpayer expense, isn't that the same thing as lining your own pocket or getting a porch paid for? True, the money didn't touch Fumo's pockets - it went directly to his gofers. Give him points for efficiency, not honesty.
The judge and many of Fumo's power- elite supporters identify with him because they're part of the same old boys' network - something that Kemp may have aspired to but wasn't part of.
Fumo was the big guy in the locker room and everyone either wanted to be associated with him - or were scared of facing him down, like the PECO exec who caved in to his $17 million demands.
No profiles in courage in that crowd.
The get-along, go-along crowd is what makes this city so hard to reform. They are enablers of political corruption just like Michael Jackson's doctors enabled his drug use.
There are no true reformers who can - or are willing - to stand up to our corrupt culture. We have lawyers, business people and civic leaders who are all too beholden to government, which has become our major industry, supported by the bottom fish that feed off it.
And in its wake, we have a city where justice doesn't prevail, but political might does.
Several years ago, when I was the city's managing director, I attended a meeting in the mayor's office with then-Sen. Fumo. Accompanied by several political buddies, he was trying to unsuccessfully persuade Mayor Street to have the city invest in a project that his buddies or their spouses had a financial interest in. Fumo was Fumo: foulmouthed and disparaging of those who disputed his idea or assumptions.
WHAT WAS THE project? It was to have the city buy GPS-type electronic monitoring devices from Fumo's pals so we wouldn't have to imprison so many people and could reduce prison overcrowding. How prescient.
If Fumo really cares about prison overcrowding rather than lining his buddies' pockets, let him take Kemp's place in jail - for the full 10 years.
Phil Goldsmith was formerly the city's managing director. Read his blog at philgoldsmith.blogspot.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.