Recently, I received a copy of the last edition of the original Philadelphia Bulletin from my mother who found the paper among my father's old things. My father was a newspaper man and I am certain he kept the paper because of his time as a pressman and his affection for his career in printing. I am glad he did.
What I did not expect was how relevant stories written 27 years ago would be to present day Philadelphia. The headlines and stories of the past could easily be substituted for stories and headlines today..
After reading the paper from front to back it left me scratching my head asking: Has Philadelphia not changed at all? Does history really repeat itself? Are we incapable as a region of learning from our mistakes? Is the truth that the City and the region are not in control of our own destiny? Perhaps reading the old Bulletin could answer the questions running through my mind.
Echoing the call of our current Mayor, Michael Nutter, the front page featured a story about Mayor Bill Green who was quoted as saying "What I really want to see is less self-interest and more common interest. There has got to be an end to this 'me first business". Sounds like Mayor Green was looking forward to a New Day and a New Way.
This year, in an effort to deal with spiraling college expenses, Gov. Rendell recommended the legalization of video poker to assist in paying tuition at state universities because the cost of college is spiraling out of control. In 1982, an article called "Sticker Shock" detailed that college education had gotten more expensive and harder to afford than ever before. Little did they know how high it could go.
In an article headlined "Rizzo Stirs Political Waters Again" The Bulletin quoted Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, Councilman Jimmy Tayoun, Councilman John Street, and Democratic Party chairman David Glancey all opining on what former Mayor Rizzo would do in the next Mayoral Election. Twenty-nine years later three of them are still active on the Philadelphia political scene, while Street is retired with no plans to make like Rizzo and return.
"Unanswered Questions Still Plague ABSCAM" detailed the convictions and appeals of an array of local and federal officials found taking bribes in tapes described as "the greatest civics lesson in American history." While there have been no FBI 'sheiks' handing out bribes like in the ABSCAM sting, the federal government has been anything but passive on the corruption scene in Philadelphia -- something that some understand better than others.
The Census showed Philadelphia and its suburbs stagnating in terms of growth. Prediction, the 2010 Census will show Philadelphia and its suburbs stagnating in terms of growth.
Major capital projects like the Blue Route and the Whitman Park Homes kept the city and the region fighting and the projects were delayed. They now seem like logical and necessary additions to the fabric of the region. The brawls then over these projects make the current casino debate seem tame by comparison.
In an article that could have just as easily been written about the departures of David Hornbeck or Paul Vallas, the Bulletin detailed the departure of the lightning rod head of the Philadelphia School District, Michael Marcase in the article "After Marcase, Schools Plight Seen Continuing." How's that for an understatement.
The article included a quote from a guy named Sam Katz that the district should strive in years ahead to change its contract with the teachers union to deal with class size and preparation time and that the district should not tolerate kids bringing weapons to school. Was Katz ahead of the game or are the rest of us simply behind in heeding the call?
In closing, the Bulletin in its swan song "God Bless You and Farewell" made the following wishes for the City that still ring true today:
1. A new sense of pride and purpose for the city
2. A massive endeavour to regain Philadelphia's rightful place as an employer for thousands of workers who love the area and need the work.
3. A serious review and reform of the City Charter including a revamping of the school district to make its controllers accountable to the public
I am not sure which of the questions running through my mind were answered by reading and re-reading the Bulletin. I have no greater understanding on whether history repeats itself or that we ignore history or whether we are incapable of change; but I was reminded of a song Billy Joel. The lyrics are from the song Angry Young Man:
I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I've found that just surviving is a noble fight.
I once believed in causes, too,
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.
Harry Nash is the name used by a writer who calls himself "a recovering politico."