I’m reading “A Prayer for the City,” Buzz Bissinger’s classic book about Ed Rendell and his fight for the soul of Philadelphia, and this passage quoting the former mayor jumped out at me: “Everything that goes on is a power struggle between black politicians and white politicians, and it isn’t because of what’s good for the citizens. It’s about who controls what project. I’m so fed up with the blackmail stuff that goes on I could just scream. I could just take a machine gun and shoot’em all.”
Reading this book at a time when former councilman Jim Kenney is settling in at City Hall as the new mayor of Philadelphia is an eye-opening experience, mostly because it serves to remind me that identity politics used to mean only one thing: what color you were. Now, in a city where we have a new diversity czar, there is no limit to the characteristics and preferences and posturing that form the basis for our various “identities,” and apparently no limits to our new mayor’s willingness to pander to them.
For example, I can’t imagine Ed Rendell getting all hot under the collar because participants in the Mummer’s Parade made some off color jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. Just because a group of rowdy and institutionally drunken fellows decided to voice a politically incorrect opinion of “The Woman Formerly Known As Bruce” does not mean the mayor of this city should vilify them and promise to make them as accepting of the LGBT community.
According to the First Amendment, he can’t shut them up. He can’t in any way coerce or induce them to play nice with the LGBT community with threats of municipal punishment. All he can do is ask them to make their members behave, and hope for the best.
Even though the ‘storm troopers of tolerance’ weren’t around when he was mayor, I doubt Rendell would’ve caved to the demands of the LGBT community because he didn’t have time for stroking egos, which is essentially what Kenney is doing now. It’s a shame if the trans community doesn’t have the same sense of humor that I, a Catholic woman had when I saw Mummers dressed up as priests chasing little boys. Ha Ha, I said, through gritted teeth. How (blanking) adorable. And I didn’t even think to protest.
And even if I had, someone like Kenney wouldn’t have listened, because white Catholics aren’t important enough to snag the attention of the enlightened and progressive Imam from South Philly.
Which brings me to another special interest group that has endeared itself to the new mayor - the Islamic community. Hours after a police officer was shot by a man who declared his allegiance to ISIS, Kenney made sure to lecture us on the peaceful nature of Islam. This, to me, was completely irrelevant, and inappropriate, when one of his men in blue was fighting for his life in a hospital.
Back in Rendell’s day, that wouldn’t have happened. There were of course Muslim communities in the city. They coexisted peacefully alongside of Protestants and Catholics and Jews. This was years before jihadists used the word “Islam” as a cover for terrorism.
But now, we have to be very careful about insulting Muslims, just as we have to be careful of insulting members of the LGBT community, just as we have to be careful of insulting the criminally insane, just as we have to be careful of insulting women, just as we have to be careful of insulting fat people, just as we have to be careful of insulting people who don’t have children, just as we have to be careful of insulting people with overbites, and on, and on, and on.
Jim Kenney has started to turn Philadelphia into a haven for special interests, and unlike the days when Lucien Blackwell and Franny Rafferty literally represented the real combatants for the soul of Philadelphia by beating each other up on the floor of City Council, there are now many different groups ready to engage in identity politics.
And we have a new mayor who seems ready, willing and able to cheer them on.
I think we’ll need more than a Prayer for the City. This might take a Novena.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.