Timeline: Philly’s colorful Democrats

    Our “corrupt and contented” city has more colorful politicians than you can count on one hand … or 20. But check out our interactive timeline for a look at some of them.

    People have had us pegged for centuries.

    “These Philadelphians are a strange set of people … They have the least feeling of real genuine politeness of any people with whom I am acquainted,” First Lady Abigail Adams said in a 1798 letter to her sister.

    In 1903, journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote: “All our municipal governments are more or less bad. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contented.”

    Judging by the headlines since then, not much has changed. You can’t chuck a cheesesteak without hitting a politician who’s been arrested, indicted, or at least implicated in some unusual behavior.

    Richardson Dilworth, a political science professor at Drexel University (and grandson of the Philadelphia mayor of the same name), attributes that at least in part to familiarity: Few elected offices have term limits.

    “What creates the crazy is that these folks get a little too comfortable with one another,” said Dilworth, director of Drexel’s Center for Public Policy. “It gets crazy like a family is crazy. Getting in a fistfight on the floor of City Council is something you do when you know people too well; it’s not something you do in a room full of strangers.”

    He added: “People have forgotten formal rules, if they ever knew them. They think the rules aren’t important, and they think everyone is on the same page.”

    Philadelphia Daily News columnist Helen Ubinas in 2013 characterized it as a citywide cynicism that pervaded every class and color of citizenry. She called it “the Philly Shrug” and launched a crusade to get people to care enough about corruption to mobilize against it.

    So this “corrupt and contented” city has more colorful politicians than you can count on one hand … or 20. But check out our interactive timeline for a look at some of them.

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