Approached by a lobbyist bearing cash or jewelry, any official with a semblance of ethical backbone would refuse the gifts and report the sleazy encounter to authorities. And yet not one of the Philadelphia Democrats alleged to have taken such gifts from a wire-wearing informant did that.
Interviewed by The Inquirer’s Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy, most of the politicians claimed memory lapses, changed their stories or just refused to respond. Only one, state Rep. Louise Bishop, managed to deny taking the money.
State Rep. Ronald G. Waters said he didn’t remember taking $7,650. But he allowed that the informant, lobbyist Tyron B. Ali, might have given him something for his birthday. Sources told The Inquirer that Ali did indeed give Waters $1,000 for his birthday, to which Waters replied, “My man, happy birthday to Ron Waters.”
State Rep. Vanessa Brown refused to discuss the allegations. But sources said that when Ali handed her $2,000, she responded, “Thank you twice.”
State Rep. Michelle Brownlee said she didn’t recall taking $3,500.
Former Traffic Court President Judge Thomasine Tynes, who is awaiting trial on federal ticket-fixing charges, confirmed that the informant gave her a bracelet, but said she didn’t know it was worth $2,000. Yet somehow it seemed valuable enough to end up in her safe deposit box.
This is the second report in as many weeks portraying Philadelphia’s elected officials as crudely putting their own interests before voters’. State Sen. LeAnna Washington was charged last week with using state staff and resources to organize an annual birthday party and fundraiser. Washington allegedly told a dissenting staffer, “I’m the f-ing senator. I do what the f- I want” — embodying the self-serving arrogance of too many city politicians.
The real victims are regular Philadelphians. These legislators have been part of the failure to solve the public school funding crisis and otherwise ably represent a city that desperately needs competent leadership.
Even in the face of the disturbing allegations, there was silence from the city’s Democratic leadership, which has been content to protect its hacks at the city’s expense.
It’s equally disappointing that Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Kane killed the case, which was developed under her predecessors, on the grounds that it was flawed. Allies of the seasoned prosecutor who led the sting, Frank Fina, pointedly dispute that. While it’s impossible to say whether the case would have led to convictions, it’s clear that the state’s prosecutors should be busy busting corruption instead of arguing with each other.
If the politicians took cash and gifts that weren’t reported in their annual disclosures of financial interests, they could be charged with false swearing. The Inquirer’s report should at least prompt a state ethics investigation. And the good-government group Committee of Seventy’s call for an independent counsel to sort out dueling claims of prosecutorial malpractice also has merit.
As for the legislators, if they refuse to explain themselves or step down, the voters are the solution.
The Philadelphia Inquirer