WHAT COULD you have been thinking?
There isn't a parent out there who hasn't used that phrase at least once with one of their children - usually a teenager - who committed an act that was just plain stupid.
At least teenagers have an excuse, which has to do with their developing brains. Experts say their brains aren't mature enough to weigh the rightness of their actions or the consequences. That comes later in life.
But, apparently not always.
Take District Attorney Seth Williams, who recently disclosed he had accepted $160,500 in gifts over the last five years, ranging from a $45,000 roof job to airfare and lodging for vacations, Visa gift cards worth $1,500, and premium sports tickets - including a sideline pass to Eagles games.
The city's top law-enforcement officer neglected to report these gifts, as required by the city's Ethics Law, until filing an amended report on Aug. 15. Williams later told his staff and supporters he accepted "full responsibility" for his failure to disclose, which raises this question: What could he have been thinking?
Didn't he know that public officials are not supposed to accept personal gifts, cash and bling? What part of his brain was on the fritz?
His isn't an isolated case. In recent months, former Traffic Judge Thomasine Tynes was convicted for taking a $2,000 Tiffany charm bracelet from a lobbyist, who also happened to be a plant for law enforcement.
Ironically, while Williams was failing to disclose his gifts, his office was prosecuting a half-dozen state House members from Philadelphia for taking cash from the same lobbyist/government informant.
The year has included the conviction of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah for a variety of misdeeds too numerous to catalog here. But they included falsifying campaign records and misusing federal grants to pay off loans to his campaign. What could he have been thinking?
We wonder whether more is at work here than brain freeze by a few politicians. Could a virus be spreading among our elected officials - a sort of Zika for politicians - that infects their brains? We doubt the source is mosquitoes. Perhaps it is contained in those pastry-wrapped Vienna wieners so popular at political receptions.
The symptoms include:
* A keen sense of entitlement. They are public officials. They work hard. They think they deserve a little extra. They hold high positions that don't yield high incomes - certainly not the level of wealth their friends and political associates enjoy.
* A blasé attitude toward consequences. Like the 16-year-old who breaks into the liquor cabinet, they can't envision the monumental hangover they surely will suffer, let alone being caught by their parents.
* A heightened arrogance. They believe they are untouchable. Fattah, for instance, serenely sailed through his own trial apparently believing he would never be convicted - until the jury read its verdict.
Another example is former Mayor Nutter's hissy fit over the City Controller's report on how proceeds of the $4 million Mayor's Fund was used (parties and trips are two of the answers.) Controller Alan Butkovitz's report was a bit snide, but it raised legitimate questions. But, Nutter, who called Butkovitz a "snake," reacted as if the controller had no right to question how he spent the money.