Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Inky Gets It Right

While I was gone Inquirer columnist Andrew Cassel actually got it right regarding the comments of mayoral aide George Burrell:

Let's assume it's true, as mayoral aide Burrell told a federal jury this week, that city contracts were not awarded by the Street administration in return for campaign donations and other under-the-table gratuities.

Let's accept Burrell's explanation that some bidders for city business receive preferential treatment not because they pay to play, but because they "support the mayor's vision" through local investment or charitable contributions.

Does that make it right?

I'm in no position to judge whether the 2003 discussion between Burrell and the late Ron White - captured on tape by the FBI and played as evidence in the trial of investment banker Denis J. Carlson - means anyone broke the law.

But whatever might yet emerge from the federal probe of City Hall, Burrell's effort to frame this as legitimate governing-as-usual is pretty revealing all by itself.

If I understood him correctly, Burrell was saying that it's perfectly fine for city government to pass out contracts to people and firms it likes - as opposed to those that offer the best service or lowest price.

He's suggesting that it's not only innocent, but also positively admirable, for City Hall to favor businesses that support its objectives.


Firms that hire local residents, invest in neighborhoods, or donate to worthy local causes ought to be rewarded with favored treatment when it comes to purchasing and contracting.

Who could disagree with that?

How about... a taxpayer?

Right on, Andy - and major props to you for saying so. It's so not like the Inquirer to put legitimate economic concerns ahead of feel good rhetoric, but there it is. Such disregard for the cost implications of business decisions is particularly inexcusable in a city where the nation's highest wage tax is frightening people away in droves, and when the mayor keeps telling us that anything more than the most trivial of cuts is "irresponsible".

No, Mr. Mayor, I'll tell you what's irresponsible. Letting officials in your administration act in such a cavalier fashion with the monies with which they are entrusted by the citizens who elected you. And that's giving you the benefit of the doubt that this all is not directly your doing.


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