Monday, December 20, 2004

Ethics Group looks for new leader; opening for bigger City watchdog to emerge

The Committee of Seventy, the City's de facto ethical watchdog recently announced that their long time leader, Fred Voight, is stepping down. As a result, there is an going search for a new leader, and maybe a new, more assertive attitude. The Daily News (link to the article in the title of the post) wants the Committee to be more like NYPIRG in New York. That, however, is equating a statewide organization with a small ethics watchdog (and we do have PennPirg in some places, but ethical watchdog isn't really its stated purpose.).

The article states:

The prospect of a new director at Seventy may seem like a minor shake-up in a small, private organization, but if Seventy can make the right choices now, the organization that helped clean up Philadelphia's once-corrupt elections in the 20th century could position itself to do the same in the 21st century for pinstripe patronage, skyrocketing campaign costs and overwhelming public cynicism.

"If you've got a clear message coming from the business community and civic community that we expect a clean, efficient, productive, get-your-money's-worth kind of government, then that's what you'll get," said David Thornburgh of the Pennsylvania Economy League. "The Committee of Seventy can have a powerful role in raising that level of expectations, raising that bar."

But who's the right leader? A fearless crusader like Ralph Nader? An experienced insider who can raise money in board rooms and lobby politicians? A research nerd who burrows into the mires of government?


I don't think it is necessary for the person to be a known public figure, because I do not think that this should turn into a platform for a future office-seeker to turn on the guns on a potential rival. I do think that there is a need for the organization to get bigger (and find funding to hire more than 3 people) and expand the organization to take on more than simple election fraud, which seems to be its only public role to this point. And, if they see corruption, they should call a spade a spade, and point it out.

It should not be left up to the FBI to try to change Philadelphia's political culture. A more vigorous Committee of Seventy could help in this battle.

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