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Williams' guilty plea changes little in Philly's corruption climate

District Attorney Seth Williams' guilty plea and resignation won't end the city's corruption crisis because Philadelphia seems just fine with it.

Signe cartoon.SIGN30e.Seth Williams
Signe cartoon.SIGN30e.Seth WilliamsRead moreSigne Wilkinson

Philadelphia's highest law enforcement officer pleaded guilty Thursday to taking a bribe and the city shrugged — again.

Former District Attorney Seth Williams was accused of selling his office for lavish vacations, cash, and back slaps. But his plea and resignation won't end the city's corruption crisis because Philadelphia seems just fine with it … and we show that in so many ways:

Turnout in DA races is notoriously low even though the consequences are literally life and death. If the district attorney is doing his job, he can reduce neighborhood violence and save lives. He can make the difference between whether a person is charged with a crime that carries a life-ruining sentence or is given a chance at redemption.

Voters say there are too few good choices, and they're right about that. Philadelphia tolerates being a one-party town. Enough Democratic officeholders have been convicted in recent years to fill a cell block.

Party leaders, including Chairman Bob Brady, Mayor Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke, and others permit second-rate candidates to run on the Democratic ticket. Leaders rarely heard when a politician gets arrested find the time to show up at sentencing to plead with judges to go easy on their convicted colleagues.

Republicans don't escape blame either. The city GOP is so weak, it's just about DOA. The party doesn't finance strong candidates. It may be too content with the GOP patronage jobs at the Philadelphia Parking Authority to rock the boat.

Besides accepting criminal politicians, Philadelphia has an uncanny comfort level with little thefts; the ones pols say are legal, or arrogantly proclaim are well-deserved rewards for jobs they decide are well done.

In recent months, reporters from the Inquirer and Daily News exposed the "Mayor's Fund," a loosely guarded account from which a city official incurred $52,000 in poorly documented charges, including 458 Uber rides. In May, the papers reported that former Gov. Ed Rendell lavished $900,000 in bonuses and other payments on 16 staffers who worked on the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer. The committee insisted that not a penny of taxpayer funds went to the bonuses. But it raised money for a convention, not so Rendell could play Daddy Warbucks with a favored few.

Philadelphia shouldn't think that with Williams' packing for prison anything will get better.

The Democrats just voted in Larry Krasner as their general election nominee for DA. He rode to victory on a dark-money horse funded by Democratic financier George Soros. Krasner didn't complain about having an outside benefactor with little connection to Philadelphia. He took the help and won and is unlikely to suffer any consequences in November.

There will continue to be new episodes of Philadelphia's dirty dealings until the city's voters collectively decide they want the enlightened, clean politics and governance that can help the city reach its potential as a great place to live.

Everyone who cares about a brighter future has a role to play, from running for committee person in your neighborhood, to calling the party leaders and demanding to be heard.

Anything but the usual ennui.