Michele Masterfano

lives and writes in Philadelphia

When I drive across the Schuylkill on 34th Street, coming out of University City, I always think that the Center City towers, with the sunlight reflecting off them, looks like the Emerald City. It looks prosperous, bustling, and happy, even though you are just looking at buildings.

But I've also come to realize that there really is a wizard behind the curtain pulling the levers that run the city. That wizard is not a man speaking into a booming microphone but the machine politics of this city. The wizard pulls one lever, and three ward leaders are City Council members. Pull another lever, and the mayor's brother is making a fortune in airport concessions. Pull yet a third, and more no-bid contracts are awarded to "friends."

Instead of fighting through a field of poppies to get to the Emerald City, we've fallen asleep, inhaling the drug of complacency, expecting things just to stay the way they are; we're simply tired. But it's time to wake up and get back home again.

This time, home is a city that revels in its history, in its commerce, in its arts and its sciences. It's a city where the politicians truly serve the people, solving neighborhood problems, getting the guns and the drugs off the streets. It's a city with some of the best restaurants in the world, fabulous museums and a world-class orchestra. It's a city with tight-knit neighborhoods, playgrounds and parks. And it's a city where children get a top-notch education.

We can get there, with our collective action. One way of doing that is through term limits. Greed and corruption increase with increased power, and increased power comes from knowing that you're in office for as long as you want to be. It comes from a one-party town, where ward leaders can decide who serves in City Council and even the mayor's office, where favors and payback are the currencies required.

We need to end the power grab, and the way to do that is to go back to citizen politicians. If we all start agitating for term limits at every level of government, we can elect those who will actually enact it. And then we'll see more openness in government, where decisions are made in the light of day, and friends are no longer rewarded with lucrative contracts for which they need do nothing.

And that will truly be a horse of a different color.