The totally made-up, entirely accurate 2018 Philly politics awards

Billy Penn’s political editor reflects on a depraved year.

cityhall-stylized
Billy Penn illustration
maxmarin-square

It’s been a weird run around the sun for U.S. politics. But in Philadelphia, some might argue, it was just a year like any other. Politicians went down. Scandals erupted. Taxpayers lost faith. Some days, the only thing that united us all was the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, 41-33.

Counterpoint: The city took small but meaningful strides forward. Maybe, just maybe, each passing year chips away at the “corrupt and contented” epithet Philly politicians have made manifest for the last century. Or maybe not.

Either way, we need a record of everything that happened. To that end, here is my set of completely made-up awards to recap some of the stories that defined 2018. Pray for my inbox.

The Ride-Or-Die Friend of 2018

WINNER: Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

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Jared Piper / PHL Council

It was a good year to be longtime buddies with the unofficial Mayor of Point Breeze. A Philadelphia Inquirer investigation revealed that Johnson effectively helped his childhood friend-turned-developer sidestep rules to acquire a trio of city-owned lots at a fraction of market value — two of which the developer resold for at a six-figure markup months later. Johnson blamed communication errors between government agencies, and quickly introduced a reform bill in City Council.

Most Hackable Government Agency

WINNER: Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

pasenatedems
James Robinson / PA Senate Democrats

Back in 2017, a ransomware attack befell Democrats in the state senate, locking them out of their emails and freezing their internal documents. But it wasn’t until this year when the public learned the price of the cyber sting — kind of. The catastrophe cost taxpayers a broad “six-figure” sum, it was revealed, somewhere between $100,000 and $999,999. That’s quite a bit more than the 28 bitcoin, worth roughly $36,000, demanded by hackers at the time of the attack. (Man, 2018 was wild.) Alternate titles: “Least Likely To Give Into The Demands Of Cyber-Terrorists” and “Hey, It Could’ve Happened To Any Of Us.”

Last Person To Call It A Night

WINNER: Ex-Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown

lowerybrown_capitol
Courtesy PA House; Sarah Anne Hughes / Billy Penn

Former state Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown’s corruption case traces back to 2010 when she caught accepting a $4,000 bribe from a lobbyist-turned-informant. Brown was one of five lawmakers caught in the sting, but the only one who didn’t take a plea deal. You’d think she would have had time to prepare for the possibility of a conviction, which came last month along with a two-year probation sentence. But Brown kept taxpayers and constituents wondering when — or if! — she’d actually resign, for more than week.

Matrix Character of the Year

WINNER: Congressman Bob Brady

Bob Brady sips from the Pope's water glass.

Bob Brady sips from the Pope's water glass.

What a year for the soon-to-be retired Congressman. The threat of a federal indictment cast a dark cloud over the city’s most powerful Democrat for most of 2018, and his former right-hand man was formally convicted for unlawful campaign finance activity. But Brady managed to Neo the bullet that could have tarnished his storied career in both Washington and Philly. Not to be missed: in a glorious exit interview, the 73-year-old lawmaker hinted at retirement plans to lose his “weed virginity,” legalization be damned.

Taxpayer of The Year

WINNER: District Attorney Larry Krasner

DACA_4 _ Larry Krasner
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

In a condemnable oversight by Philly media — this writer included — Krasner coasted to victory in 2017 with nary a poke into his personal finances. It wasn’t until after he took office in January that reporters began to dig up the insurgent prosecutor’s list of outstanding tax bills and history of delinquency. Krasner immediately settled his debts or showed proof of payment plans, making him entirely deserving of this award.

Most Likely To Piss Off The Neighbors

WINNER: The Zoning Board of Adjustment

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Five years after the city’s zoning code received a modern makeover, the city’s five-person zoning board remains stubbornly stuck in the past. A 2018 report by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission found the ZBA approves a staggering 92 percent of requests for “variances” made by developers, begging critics to inquire, what’s the point of a zoning code at all if you’re virtually guaranteed to get your way no matter what?

Least Likely To Police Its Own Bullshit

WINNER: Pennsylvania General Assembly

Want to win a seat inside the General Assembly? First, you have to collect enough valid signatures.
Sarah Anne Hughes / Billy Penn illustration

Despite a bevy of misconduct scandals in their own ranks, Harrisburg lawmakers snuffed out the year without any meaningful movement on #MeToo legislation. Perhaps unsurprising for a body ranked near-to-last in the nation in gender parity? One of the stalled bills would’ve forbid the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits against elected officials. Republican leadership held back voting on the package and accused Democrats of “politicizing” issues around sexual harassment. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Honorable mention for this award: The Philadelphia Police Department.

Most Egregious Charade of The Year

WINNER: Philly and PA’s Amazon HQ2 bid

Amazon HQ's front door

Amazon HQ's front door

Robert Scoble / Flickr

We can all count our blessings that Amazon’s Machiavellian HQ2 powerplay is over. But let’s not forget both Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf nearly gave away the house. The city and state’s combined proposal for the e-commerce giant included some $5.7 billion in tax breaks and other incentives — which both administrations worked hard to keep hidden from the public until after their deal was rejected.

Most Likely To Drive In Center City Rush Hour

WINNER: All of City Council

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Philadelphia City Council / Flickr

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell consumes enough gas to drive 74 miles a day on taxpayers dime. But she isn’t alone. Nearly every member of Council enjoys the oft-questioned perk of a city-owned car with unlimited gas at municipal pumping stations. At a time when SEPTA is grasping for ways to get more people to take public transit and Vision Zero advocates make daily calls to decongest the roadways, council members be ridin’ round town with the windows down.

Best Dressed

WINNER: Kenyatta Johnson

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Instagram / @councilmankj

With Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, the Gatsby of Northeast Philly, on his way out, Johnson is the clear-eyed choice for 2018’s political fashion maven. Lavender pocket squares, three-piece suits, the occasional bow tie — he’s a modern man in the musty drab of Council chambers. (Disclaimer: This reporter’s habit of showing up at press conferences in hiking boots and hoagie-stained tees should not detract from the fidelity of this award.)

Most Likely To Take Over The Playlist

WINNERS: State Reps. Joanna McClinton and Jordan Harris

Malcolm Kenyatta, Jason Dawkins, and Elizabeth Fiedler.

Malcolm Kenyatta, Jason Dawkins, and Elizabeth Fiedler.

Courtesy Jason Dawkins Facebook page

Philadelphia’s presence in Harrisburg got a lot younger and more diverse this year. Two incumbent state representatives (McClinton and Harris) clinched high-ranking posts in the Democratic Caucus, and two newcomers (Feidler and Kenyatta) joined the city’s delegation with Dawkins. In particular, though, Harris and McClinton’s ascension signaled a power shift in Philly’s favor, taking back reins previously held by lawmakers in central or western Pennsylvania.

Honorable mentions: Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, Jason Dawkins and Elizabeth Fiedler

The Don’t Call It A Comeback Kid

WINNER: Johnny Doc

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Max Marin / Billy Penn

John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty — face of the Local 98 electricians’ union, head of the Philly Building Trades and one of the city’s biggest power brokers — isn’t landing as many punches as he used to. Not politically speaking at least. Following mixed successes on the campaign trail in 2017, the so-called kingmaker backed a losing candidate for a state House seat in his own South Philly backyard this year. His seven-figure bet on city labor aide Rich Lazer’s congressional bid also unceremoniously fizzled out. All this comes at a time when Dougherty has receded from the public eye, as he contends with a federal probe into his union work and family health issues at home. But in the final hours of the year, Doc returned to familiar form, hosting a pugnacious press conference in which he sang a ditty about menacing mushrooms.

Best Hair

WINNER: Gritty

NHL: Florida Panthers at Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Does this Adult Swim cheese curl fantasia deserve all the attention he gets? Don’t answer that. It is true that Gritty lives mainly on the internet, as well as in the hearts and minds of his haters everywhere. But he inarguably also exists within the nebulous landscape of politics, both locally and nationally. And let’s face it: this town’s pool of hirsute movers and shakers isn’t what it used to be. (Was there ever an era of exciting hair in City Hall?) Anyway, stay beautiful, Gritty. And keep me abreast of your plans to sabotage Councilman Curtis Jones’ re-election campaign next year because he called you ugly.

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