The local political story is the continuing trial of former State Senator Vincent Fmo (D-Philadelphia) on theft and obstruction of justice charges. When you read about the daily testimony concerning Mr Fumo, you just shake your head: what could ever have possessed the man to do this stuff, and to think that he could get away with it?
But it was a smaller story that caught my eye, one which, to me, says a lot more about the culture of corruption that surrounds politicians, and this one isn’t even about something illegal:
Rendell ally gets job despite hiring freeze¹
By Mario F. Cattabiani, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
HARRISBURG – When is a hiring freeze not a hiring freeze? When you are a deposed state representative who needs a job and you know the governor really well.
Gov. Rendell made an exception this week to his administration’s four-month-old hiring freeze to create a $95,002-a-year bureaucratic post and fill it with a fellow Democrat, former State Rep. Dan Surra.
The 18-year representative from Elk County began his new job – senior adviser to Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – on Monday.
In his new role, Surra will focus on the administration’s Pennsylvania Wilds initiative to increase ecotourism and development in a 12-county region in the northern part of the state.
When the state is facing a budget deficit, and has responded with a hiring freeze to keep from taking on new obligations, Governor Rendell finds a $95,002 job for one of his friends.
My guess is that6 this isn’t anything illegal.
If you read the local section, not only will you see the stories about the Fumo trial, but about Mayor Michael Nutter’s (D-Philadelphia) planned budget cuts, to deal with the city’s looming budget deficit, a plan which includes shutting down eleven of the city’s libraries. The people re up in arms, the proposal is drawing all sorts of protests, one of which is seen in this photo:
While I’m somewhat amused that the gentleman holding the sign doesn’t understand that you have to have a budget to buy books, it does show that there are some real concerns in Pennsylvania about money, and the government not having enough to meet all of the things people want. That’s why Governor Rendell imposed the hiring freeze. Yet, when it came to the Governor’s friend needing a job, well, the rules that apply to the rest of us mere mortals somehow don’t apply.
This is what happened to Mr Fumo, and this is what seems to be happening throughout government: an attitude that they are somehow different from us, somehow better than us. Vince Fumo apparently liked to boast about spending OPM: other people’s money. He apparently thought that he could have an ex-wife tailed, and have his private eye call the cops when he observed her getting behind the wheel while possibly intoxicted, and that he could even pay for it with state money. One of the charges against him is that he used state funds to have this done, but just as important, to me, is the attitude that this was something he could and should do, even if he had paid for it all himself.
We common folks tend to understand that some things are just wrong, some things are maybe funny to fantasize about but stupid to do, and don’t do them. For Mr Fumo, who is an attorney and thus should have known what the laws are concerning the use of public funds, the self-importance of being a powerful state senator, a decades-long state senator, apparently outweighed common sense. For Mr Rendell, it’s the idea that he can help a friend in need, without regard to the hiring freeze he put in place himself.
As much as I’d like to blame it all on Democrats, Republicans haven’t been exempt. Convicted felons Randy Cunningham, Bob Ney and Ted Stevens all acted like the rules simply didn’t apply to them.
Our ideal is of the public servant, the man who has the interest of the people at heart. Maybe a lot of these guys come into office actually feeling that way, but as the sycophants and flatterers and people wanting things keep sucking up to them, it’s as though some of them — most of them? all of them? — lose sight of why they are there and that they really aren’t better than everybody else.
I don’t know how else to explain it.
¹ – The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, 14 January 2009, p. B-1