RIP: Robert Brady – King of the Philadelphia Democratic Political Machine


With a flash meeting called at DCC headquarters at Spring Garden, key Philadelphia ward leaders were given the news: Congressman Bob Brady will no longer seek office.   The immediate effect:  Brady’s political career is winding to a close.  And with that will soon come his job as chief cat-herder of Philadelphia’s Democrat establishment.

There is a strong expectation that Brady will soon be named in an indictment that has already resulted in a guilty plea from former Municipal Court judge Jimmy Moore.   Moore admitted to a payment arrangement and lying on campaign finance reports where he received over $70,000 in compensation from Brady in exchange for dropping out of a Democratic primary challenge.   In addition to this, Federal prosecutors are currently pursuing charges against two other close Brady aides.   Brady paid Judge Moore to drop out given that Brady has had a record of skepticism and fear about African-American candidates vying for his position as a US House rep for Pennsylvania’s first congressional district.

Most millennialkin in Philadelphia have absolutely no clue how much their closest friends in local government have had their lives and careers controlled from the party boss.   As head of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, Brady leads and directs the city’s Democratic ward leaders.

Ward leaders in turn manage the local party’s GOTV efforts and distribute pay… and payola… to elected volunteers known as ward committee people, or “committee-people” for short.   This system ensures that no one rises in Democratic politics without going through the ward system.  In turn the ward system exploits the aspects of having full control over the City government.   In the bad old days this meant ward leaders would directly hand out civil service jobs, also known as patronage.  Nearly every City Council person who serves is a product of the city’s ward system and must have the full support of the wards in their district in order to have a shot at getting volunteers and access to residents.

The Closed Loop of Control is Gone

Social media has had an interesting effect on the city’s political system.   It has allowed direct criticism to be levied at the lower rungs of Philadelphia’s politics; in particular the ward leaders.   In years past this part of local politics was mostly ignored save for brief mentions in flash news about a more visible local corrupt politician who got intro trouble and how various ward leaders were involved.

Ascendant progressives looking to get into City government have had direct resistance in the form of the city’s ward system and the overarching protectionism coming from Bob Brady.

With Brady’s ability to control most of the party’s hotheaded and aspirational ward leaders already gone; it’s is expected that there will be a lot of folks both visible and invisible vying for control over the city’s political machine.

How long Brady remains is a mystery only Brady knows the answer to.   But Brady’s magical consensus abilities have already eroded, starting with the debacle over the 197th state representative special election and a current struggle between building trades union loyalists and upstart progressives.   In the 197th District special election, Brady lent endorsement to a replacement candidate who lives in Bucks County—far away from the Hispanic neighborhood of Feltonville.   Once Republicans challenged the party’s nomination, a cat fight ensued in front of Brady where upset committeepeople were locked out of DCC party headquarters while Brady selected a replacement ward leader who worked at the Parking Authority as a substitute.   The chaos ultimately left the Democratic City Committee without a named candidate on the ballot and a scramble ensued to issue stamps and cajole Spanish-speaking voters to the polls, informing them that the machines were broken and that they need to vote as a write-in using a stamper.

And I’ll make one easy prediction here:  the word “unity” will come up a lot at internal gatherings and discussion while this struggle takes place.   I don’t expect this to be the death of Philadelphia’s long-running political machine; which has strangulated this place for too long.

Instead, I think Democratic ladder-climbers at the low-rungs of the party will attempt to sell the idea that Philadelphia’s political machine never existed and will repackage the machine itself as “unity”, and for good measure invoke the Trump boogeyman as a distraction while they battle it out in the Brady vacuum.

Meanwhile we will get more of the same types of people looking to build political fiefdoms out of the city’s neighborhoods and ignoring the great and the good and instead settling for mediocre people because friendships, family and loyalty are more important in Philadelphia’s political system than good people.

There are certainly good Democrats out there with good ideas for the city–but right behind Bob Brady stands a lot of people who have been waiting for “their time” participating in the this city’s political machine hoping to get morsels of spoil from it.  They will be a massive impediment to progress.