You don’t have to be in the city to be for the city


I’m working on a deal to buy a house in Philadelphia.

I mention this because, over my years as a commentator, my suburban ZIP code has generated a predictable reaction from a certain type of Philly-based progressive.

Should I presume to let escape a public observation about say, the state of the city schools or the quirks of City Hall, sure as the sunrise I would receive a reply in this vein:

“You have no right to any opinion about anything that goes on in the city. You don’t live here.”

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Ahh, but I pay taxes here. Thanks to the wonders of the commuter tax and business privilege tax, my wife and I already pay city taxes.  Lots of city taxes.

It is a particularly Philadelphian conceit that the job of people from outside the city is to pay up regularly to help Philly address its problems (and indulge its quirks) — then to maintain a Trappist silence. This is what is called taxation without representation. Once upon a time, it led people to dump tea in Boston Harbor.

I don’t take these gibes personally. I find them darkly funny.

But here’s what does bother me:  As a lover of Philadelphia, a believer in its possibilities, I often see how this common attitude regularly wounds Philadelphia’s chances of garnering support from precincts beyond City Avenue.

A lot of city politicians and activists never seem to quite grasp that: “Send us your money, then shut up about how we spend it,” is not a winning message.

And, as we know, many folks upstate really don’t need much of an excuse to continue their grand tradition of shafting Pennsylvania’s chief city.

It’s also self-defeating when, say, school activists loudly tell district leaders, for the benefit of TV cameras: “We don’t trust you. We reject you, and all your deeds.”

Then they turn around and demand: “Send more money to our schools.”

Right, so that it can be managed by the same people you just denounced as scoundrels and fools. Yeah, that’ll work.

Sometimes, I just want to grab some Philadelphians by the lapels: “They can see you in Harrisburg, you know.” No magic shield screens out all the squabbling, the poisoned rhetoric, the inside dealing. These sorely damage Philly’s strong case for more support.

But, fingers crossed, I’ll be a real Philadelphian soon, and be allowed to mention this.   Then again, I’m steeling myself for the first time I’ll hear this variant of the old dismissal: “You live in Center City, You have no right to comment on what goes on in the neighborhoods.”

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