A Game of Philly Thrones, Book 1: A Song of Wards
In the world of Westeros, the land’s ancient families rule through their dynastic power, working to ultimately take King’s Landing and win the “Game of Thrones.”
Bloodlines run deep in the HBO show and its source material from author George R.R. Martin, where spots in line for the throne are passed through generations of powerful families. Aren’t born in one? Tough luck for you. You’re most likely destined to a life of hard labor, poor wages and worst of all: Little power.
While Philadelphia’s political scene isn’t as dramatic or fantastical as the one unfolding in the Seven Kingdoms — hey, technically, we’re a democratic republic! — the oldest city in America has spawned familial control of epic proportion, passing seats in government through generations.
Whether it’s the Rizzos or the Cohens or the Goodes, Philadelphia figures use their family influence to boost their own political clout, in a similar way as the Lannisters and the Starks and the Targaryens. They are the longtime keepers of Philadelphia, warring against each other at times and maintaining a grip on the city.
There are obviously more than this small sample — and more areas of power than politics — but hey, we needed to start somewhere. So meet some of the families that have gained political clout in Philly politics:
Members: Brothers Kevin Boyle, 172nd District state Representative, and Brendan Boyle, 13th District U.S. Congressman
Yes, any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power, but you can earn it the hard way, too. Sons of an Irish immigrant who works as a janitor for SEPTA, Kevin and Brendan Boyle have shaken up the local Democratic party. After Brendan Boyle’s election to the U.S. House in the fall, he and Kevin Boyle wanted a former aide to run for his spot in the special election, but the local Democratic party nominated an ally of Mike Stack’s who lost the election. Will the local Democrats ultimately align with them? They can only hope this tiff is not a pit but a ladder.
Members: Father David Cohen, City Councilman; Son Mark B. Cohen, 202nd District state Representative; Daughter Sherrie Cohen, City Council candidate
The Cohen clan is one that knows how to survive on the Iron Throne through the worst of winter. From 1967 to 2005, David Cohen served as a councilman until his death at age 90, making a fool of House Goode when Wilson Sr. tried to oust him in 1987. He was called the Philadelphia Democratic party’s conscience by Bob Brady. He clashed with House Rizzo and advocated for peace and desegregation. Mark B. Cohen has held a spot in the PA House since 1974, and continued that progressive tradition, opposing the Vietnam War and advocating for rights of rape victims. Sherrie Cohen is a public interest lawyer running for an at-large spot on City Council this year, aiming to become the first openly gay council member.
Members: Father Wilson Goode, Mayor and City Councilman; and son Wilson Goode Jr., City Councilman
Goode Sr. did make history. He was the city’s first black mayor, defeating House Rizzo in the 1982 election. Two years into his tenure, police dropped a bomb on his own city in an attempt to stop MOVE and Goode was implicated but not charged. Despite this scandal, he got re-elected to a second term. Fire cannot kill a dragon … or change an electorate’s mind.
His son, Wilson Goode Jr., has been an at-large Council member since first winning a spot in 1999. He is perhaps best known for helping raise the minimum wage for workers contracted by the city.
Members: Father Frank Rizzo, Police Commissioner and Mayor; and son Frank Rizzo Jr., City Councilman
Frank Rizzo would never disagree that the man who passes the sentence should swing the nightstick, too. But was the nightstick always justified? He served as mayor from 1972 to 1980 after more than two decades with the Philly police. After his term as mayor, he tried running for it again three more times until he died. He pissed off a lot of people along the way, from the black community to the gay community to the media to the suspects who accused him of beating them.
Frank Rizzo Jr. is running for City Council-at-large this year as a Democrat. From 1995 to 2011, he was a Republican councilman but lost the election after it was revealed he’d taken part in the deferred retirement option plan.
Members: Grandfather Michael Stack, U.S. Congressman; and grandson Mike Stack, Lieutenant Governor and 5th District state Senator
Politics skipped a generation in the Stack family, with Mike Stack gaining power in Pennsylvania beyond what grandfather Michael Stack attained in two terms as a U.S. Congressman in the late 1930s.
How long will the power last? The Stacks and the Boyles, both of the Northeast, are warring houses. Soda has been spilled. After Stack’s pick for Brendan Boyle’s state house seat lost to a Republican, Stack’s wife, Tonya Stack, threw soda at Kevin Boyle at a fundraiser inside a parish hall in the Northeast.
Members: Brothers John Street, Mayor and City Councilman; and Milton Street, 181st District state Representative, 3rd District state Senator and mayoral candidate
There is only one thing they say to investigators: Not today.
Philadelphia elected John Street mayor in 1999 after he spent nearly two decades as a councilman. In 2003, the FBI bugged his office, investigating corruption. Nothing stuck. Milton Street got caught once, serving time for misdemeanor tax evasion (don’t you dare call him a felon), but the penalty didn’t sink him. He could still run for mayor in 2011. Two investigations, about his residency and his party affiliation, have tried to take him down this year. He’s still in the race.
Members: Father Hardy Williams, 191st district Pa. Representative and 8th district Pa. Senator; and son Anthony Hardy Williams, 191st district Pa. Representative, 8th district Pa. Senator and mayoral candidate
If the family name is all that lives on, then Tony Williams has served his father right. Hardy Williams was in the Pennsylvania House and then Senate from 1971 to 1998. He retired at the last minute so his son could take over his seat. It worked. After serving as a House member in his father’s seat, he took over for his Senate seat. He’s now running for mayor. His father once did, in 1971, but lost to House Rizzo. Can Tony Williams advance the family name?