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When leaders make excuses

It started with Gary Hart in 1987. Now, there are four in the area with their own lapses in judgment.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown in her City Hall office Feb. 5, 2013. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown in her City Hall office Feb. 5, 2013. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read more

In 1987, Jeff Greenfield, a former speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy turned journalist, was asked what his advice would be were he on the staff of Gary Hart. At the time, the former senator from Colorado was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president. Amid rumors of his womanizing, he had challenged the press to follow him - proclaiming that they'd be very "bored." Sure enough, a sex scandal erupted.

Greenfield said he would tell Hart that, considering the breadth of his ideas, legislative accomplishments, and temperament, he was uniquely qualified to be president. Which, Greenfield said, made it all the more painful to deliver his unvarnished advice: "In light of recent events, Senator, you're too stupid to be president."

Call it the Greenfield Postulate of Public Service, wherein a single lapse in judgment is disqualifying - even if it's an outlier in an otherwise exemplary career. From Greenfield's point of view, Hart's stupidity - not the adultery, but the hubristic denial and its evasion of personal responsibility - was so egregious that it abrogated all that had come before. Applying the Greenfield Postulate in Philly, I'm presenting the first Greenfield Awards:

Blondell Reynolds Brown. The councilwoman has done a lot of good things, advocating for Philadelphia's children and being a voice for the arts community. But all that changed when she used campaign money to pay off a personal loan after, she says, she separated from her husband. And she compounded matters by seeming to deflect responsibility, first to her aide, John McDaniel (who has subsequently pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100,000 in campaign funds), and then - in a move that rivaled Hart's for sheer chutzpah - by cynical excuse-making: "Women who are in the business of taking care of their families get this. . . . I've been encouraged by the level of support from women . . . who have been down this road of divorce and separation."

Greenfield would say: If your $120,000 yearly salary isn't enough, Councilwoman, feel free to enter the private sector. It may be hard to believe, but city government will survive without you.

State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery. A lot has been written recently about McCaffery, one of our town's great characters, but one particular incident qualifies him for The Greenfield. After his wife was ticketed for driving the wrong way on Market Street, McCaffery sent a text message to William Hird, then-director of operations of Traffic Court who was, according to William Chadwick's recent investigation, "known as a key contact for politically connected individuals . . . seeking special consideration." McCaffery summoned Hird to his car outside Traffic Court. McCaffery said he wanted to avoid a conflict of interest and make sure his wife's case wasn't assigned to a Philadelphia judge, which is perplexing since McCaffery is elected statewide. On the day of his meeting with Hird, Judge Warren Hogeland acquitted McCaffery's wife.

Greenfield would say: Driving the wrong way on a one-way street is a $150 fine. If you're a state Supreme Court justice and you believe in the rule of law, just pay the fine.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco. Last week, Tasco rightly criticized my alma mater, Philadelphia magazine, for "Being White in Philly," its retro and clueless cover story that purported to be about race. But then, in the next breath, she turned around and committed many of the same intellectual sins as that story by similarly trucking in manufactured racial victimhood. She blamed The Inquirer for its stories on a state investigation that found Rep. Dwight Evans' nonprofit to have misspent or mismanaged part of $12 million in state grants. "If he were a white legislator and this were a white neighborhood, The Inquirer headline would read 'Committed state legislator turns neighborhood around after 30 years of hard work,' " she said, adding that the coverage would have been much different had the subject of the report been Ed Rendell.

Let's go to the Greenfield-o-Meter. He'd say: Please. Former State Sen. Vince Fumo, the whitest of white politicians, sits in a federal penitentiary today because of a relentless paper trail of Inquirer headlines. You know this, Councilwoman, so stop pandering.

Doug Collins. I've long been a fan of the 76ers coach, but he recently violated a standard tenet of leadership. After his team's embarrassing late February loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, the 76ers coach blasted his players in a widely commented-upon news conference.

Of course, lots of coaches try to motivate their players in the media. That's a timeworn motivational strategy. But Collins went beyond that. What started as criticism of his players morphed into a "Don't blame me" pleading. Apparently, he's a leader who thinks the buck stops with his followers: "I gave my body to this franchise," he said. "I was never booed as a player. Never. I ran through my sneakers. . . . If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. . . . I love it when the fans start yelling at me. I'm not playing. You didn't yell at me when I played; why are you yelling at me when I'm coaching?"

Again, to our Inner Greenfield: Um, maybe because you're the guy in charge?

Notice a pattern here? Despite impressive credentials and histories, all four Greenfield Award honorees fail the test of leadership by, to one degree or another, seeking to deflect or evade accountability.

Kinda like Gary Hart. How times change, huh?