Later this year, it is possible — even probable — that the following individuals will all be in jail: former powerhouse Senator Vince Fumo, former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, Senators Jane Orie and Bob Mellow (both of Leadership), and former Representatives Mike Veon and Brett Feese (also from Leadership).
On the one hand, seeing corrupt politicians brought to justice is a good thing, as is all the money they are giving back to taxpayers via forfeited pensions.
But there is a downside. While such offenders should obviously be prosecuted, people’s cynicism toward their government seems to be at an all-time high. Why? Because the rampant corruption still occurring — the kind that directly affects people — just isn’t being tackled seriously.
Despite elements of corruption — both institutional and criminal — so apparent that even a law student could successfully prosecute the violators, nothing seems to get done.
Worst of all are the pols who campaign as straight-shooting, law-and-order reformers, hell-bent on rooting out corruption, yet do nothing of the kind when elected. Sadly, they often end up as corrupt as those they challenged. The status quo remains intact, and, save for a bit of window dressing “reforms” here and there, it’s Business As Usual.
Nowhere is that more apparent that the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), one of the most powerful — and corrupt — organizations in the entire nation.
But wait! Could there be hope after all of reforming the Authority? Sources say that a report from the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office will be released soon (possibly Monday), and that a gag order has been placed on its contents by the DRPA’s Chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Tim Corbett. Sounds so cloak-and-dagger that it’s just possible to think maybe, just maybe, this might finally be the time when the bums are kicked out, replaced by honest folks with only one objective: responsible stewardship of the toll payers’ money.
After all, on the other side of the river we have firebrand Governor Chris Christie, who, like Corbett, is a former prosecutor.
So will this be the day we’ve been waiting for?
Fat chance. Very fat.
Freindly Fire (FF) has been the longest-serving media voice taking on the DRPA and the heavyweights involved with the Authority (Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, the Ballard Spahr law firm, CEO John Matheussen, and past and present Boards, to name just a few). For much of the past four years, FF has been alone in its quest to upend the corrupt regime, eliminate mammoth conflicts of interest, fire double-dipping executives, and bring accountability to the agency. Joined by FOX 29 in 2010— and pretty much only FOX 29 — a number of the above objectives were met. DRPA execs were scrambling (some were canned), a few reforms were instituted (though mostly toothless), criminal investigations were launched, and both new governors promised swift and decisive action.
But then it all fell off a cliff.
While we have moved in the right direction, it is not nearly good enough. Quite frankly, this report will probably accomplish nothing. Sure, there will be press conferences with harsh warnings from Corbett and Christie for the DRPA to shape up, Board members will say all the right things, and taxpayer and reform groups will fall for the same empty promises. And you know what will happen?
Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a new position regarding all things DRPA — I am apologizing. In retrospect, I have been wrong across the board these past few years, and it is only fitting to publicly eat crow for those errors. I am man-enough to admit my mistakes. Here are some of the most substantial:
1) I was wrong to think Tom Corbett would make good on his promise to clean house upon becoming Governor (and making himself DRPA Chair). Instead, he chose to appoint hacks, lawyers (redundant?), former union officials, large-dollar political contributors and lobbyists to the Board, without so much as one reformer.
2) I was wrong to think Christie would use his office as a bully pulpit to demand the Jersey Board members (whom he can’t replace until their terms expire) to fire CEO Matheussen, under whose “leadership” the DRPA has become synonymous with “corrupt.” This is a CEO, by the way, who has been working without a contract for years, makes more than either governor, and stands to pocket a six-figure sum of toll payer money in accumulated sick/vacation days when he finally leaves. Yet he remains because there has been no political will to remove him.
3) I was wrong to think the other media outlets (except FOX 29) would jump on board, exposing the DRPA for what it really is. And I was wrong to assume they were capable of doing so in the first place, despite time and again giving them an exact roadmap for investigative articles.
4) I was wrong to think the Philadelphia Inquirer — both under former publisher Brian Tierney’s failed leadership and the current sell-out ownership — would cover the DRPA as a media watchdog should. Could such inaction have been caused by Tierney begging Rendell for a taxpayer-bailout of the paper? And let’s not forget that, while R.endell was in power, the acting Board Chairman was John Estey of Ballard Spahr — Rendell’s former Chief of Staff, a major Rendell fundraiser, and a fellow member of Rendell’s law firm. So obviously, I was wrong to even consider the possibility that the paper could objectively cover the matter.
5) I was wrong to expect that over $35 million in “economic development” money —codespeak for political slush funds used for everything under the sun —except the bridges — would be spent on 1) the long-overdue re-decking of the Walt Whitman Bridge; 2) helping offset yet another toll increase; or 3) paying down some of the DRPA’s enormous debt.
And I would be wrong to end my list here, since there is so much more. So check back next week for even more wrongs. And who know? Maybe all these wrongs might somehow make it right…
An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
March 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm Comments (0)