In yesterday’s book-length federal corruption indictment, former City Treasurer Corey Kemp manages in one phrase to sum up Philadelphia’s notorious pay-to-play culture, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. “If they ain’t with us,” Kemp allegedly tells his mentor, lawyer Ronald A. White, “they ain’t gonna get nothing.” In deal after deal, in quote after quote culled from months of federal wiretaps, the indictment provides a view on how the public’s business allegedly became perverted. The picture is an ugly one, a reformer’s darkest suspicions about what prosecutors called the city’s “shadow government” come to life. U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan made it clear that his prosecutors and the FBI aim to flush out a patronage system he called rotten from top to bottom. “Pay to play cannot be standard operating procedure in city government,” Meehan said. “We’ve charged 12 people here today, but in a sense we’ve indicted a culture, one in which quid pro quo needs no translation among the powerful.”
Federal authorities said bids were rigged for favored firms. People who agreed to play the game were cut in; those who balked were left out. Political fund-raising amounted to access-for-sale: One executive sat stunned as White offered to sell him a breakfast with Mayor John Street for $5,000. He didn’t pay. And his company got no city business. City business got traded for tickets to ball games, tickets to a Super Bowl and rock concerts, backyard decks and big dinners, for cocktails and car loans. “In short, life in the fast lane at the expense of the city taxpayer,” said FBI agent Jeffrey Lampinski. The mayor wasn’t charged, but the indictment says he bears responsibility for allowing White to control some city decisions. “The mayor allowed White to wield the power, the corrupt power, that he did,” Meehan said.