A Game of Philly Thrones, Book 2: A Clash of Wards
Bloodlines run deep in Game of Thrones like they do here in Philadelphia politics. If you’re born into power, you can win the Game. If not, things are going to be tough for you.
Philadelphia’s political families have been known to use their names to gain considerable political clout, and then use that clout for good… or not. We’ve already introduced you to seven families. Meet some more of the families that have asserted their power in Philly politics:
Members: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, her husband the late Lucien Blackwell (a U.S. Rep. in West Philly and former councilman) and son Thomas Blackwell, a former member of the PA House.
House Blackwell gained power through the institution of marriage, but both husband and wife are West Philadelphia institutions in their own rite. The late Lucien Blackwell had an image as “the common man,” and often referred to himself with the nickname “Lucien the Solution.” He was a blue-collar, union guy who left his post as a councilman in the early 90s to become a Congressman. His wife Jannie took over his council seat in West Philadelphia. Both Jannie and Lucien have been known for being unpredictable council-memberss. Like that time Jannie used her campaign funds to pay for bills and groceries for people in her district and when an aide was linked to a nonprofit that has fundraised specifically for her. Willful, indeed.
Members: The late Buddy Cianfrani, a state Senator who took over for his father, Henry B. Cianfrani, in 1956 as the Democratic leader of the Second Ward in Queen Village and Bella Vista.
The late Buddy Cianfrani took any means possible to gaining power in this city — even if it meant spending time behind bars. The longtime Democratic leader of House Cianfrani embodied the machine and the corruption that can come along with it. The younger Cianfrani fell from grace. He was once one of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania, hailing from Philadelphia and leading the Senate Appropriations Committee. It also came out that he was sleeping with Laura Foreman while she was an Inquirer reporter. She went on to work at The New York Times, and when the news came out, the executive editor at the time said the now-famous journalism adage: “I don’t care if my reporters are screwing elephants, as long as they’re not covering the circus.” In 1977, Cianfrani was indicted on more than 100 counts of racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. It’s been reported that he had ghost employees on his payroll while in the Senate and, according to the Inquirer, “took bribes from parents who wanted their children placed in medical school.” He spent more than two years in federal prison, and got back into the Democratic party after he got out, still holding influence and mentoring people like Vince Fumo (went to prison for corruption) and Rep. Bob Brady, now in charge of the Philadelphia Democratic Party.
Members: Rep. Maria Donatucci, the late Rep. Robert Donatucci, former Rep. and current Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci
Ron Donatucci knows how to use his family’s name to help out his friends and political associates. And his own position of power. You see, Register of Wills doesn’t sound like someone who’d hold influence in City Hall, but when you’re from House Donatucci, you can use your office to hand out jobs to the people you actually like. Ron Donatucci, a lawyer and millionaire businessman, has handed out jobs to people who have supported his ward in South Philly and those who work for his successful plumbing business. He’s used his clout to his advantage, and has confidently said that “Patronage works in our office.” You scratch Ron Donatucci’s back, he’ll scratch yours… so it benefits him.
Members: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, parents were community leaders in West Philly, wife is TV broadcaster Renee Chenault-Fattah, son is Chaka Fattah Jr, daughter is Fran Fattah, who is running for judge.
The feds have been investigating Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah for years — probing his inner circle, parsing through his emails, subpoenaing documents from his offices. They’ve looked for proof that Fattah used his political clout to make money through a for-profit school. Meanwhile, Fattah’s son faces federal charges for tax evasion.
Members: SRC member and former councilman Bill Green, his father and former Mayor William Green III, and his grandfather William Green Jr., who was a Congressman and chair of the Democratic Committee
As mayor and one of the most powerful members of House Green, Bill Green III had open battles with members of City Council, local reporters and individual advisers. Meanwhile, his son has faced similar public disputes with regard to his seat on Council — and that time he was demoted in the School Reform Commission by a brand new governor named Tom Wolf. Will the younger Bill Green make a run for the mayor’s office in November to take over the office his father once held?
Members: Ward leader John Sabatina Sr. and his son, state Rep. John Sabatina Jr.
House Sabatina is in the midst of instituting a power shift in Northeast Philadelphia. The younger member is attempting to take over the vacated House Stack state Senate seat in the area, giving the family significantly more clout than a silly representatives position might hold. What’s more is father Sabatina’s hold on the politics and the Democratic part in the section of the city. He’s been called a “rogue ward leader” in the press, and is identified as one of the people who judicial candidates have to slip some cash money to if they want to do better in their section of the city. He runs his own ticket and goes his own way.
Members: State Rep. Christine Tartaglione, former Commissioner Marge Tartaglione and Renee Tartaglione-Matos, a former Commissioner’s office aide
When it comes to the matriarchal House Tartaglione, the city has nary seen a House hold power for as long. State Sen. Christine Tartaglione’s held her seat representing Northeast Philadelphia for six four-year terms, and her mother Marge was a political icon in Philly while she served as the top election official for decades. But there was trouble in paradise for House Tartaglione, when Christine’s sister, Renee, was ousted as an aide in the Commissioner’s office in 2010 after she was accused of ethical violations.
Members: Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh and son David Thornburgh, currently the Executive Director of the Committee Seventy and former Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.
Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh preached integrity during his time in office in the 1980s. He became U.S. Attorney General after that to enforce the same thing. And his son? He’s in charge of keeping Philadelphia’s other Houses in check.