Cardella: A Brief History of Losing

Well, South Philly, you got Jim Kenney as mayor for another four years. I know, I know. It seems as if you spend half your life hating on Jim Kenney. I feel it’s my job to cheer you up. Hey, look on the bright side. Maybe Kenney resigns after two years and runs for governor. If he wins, he’s stashed away in Harrisburg, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, although you might on yours. And everybody down here knows, being governor of Pennsylvania is irrelevant in South Philly. We can’t even work up a hate for Tom Wolf, no matter how liberal he gets. Some of us think Tom Wolf is still writing books. Books we don’t read.

I know you liked Billy Ciancaglini’s chances. Take it from me, the Vegas book gave better odds on Custer. BILLY FOR PHILLY. Turns out the slogan should’ve been IT WON’T BE BILLY, SILLY. The Republicans wouldn’t even throw Billy a few stamps to mail his campaign literature. I heard they offered him a kid with a little red wagon to distribute his campaign literature. It’s no wonder the Republicans haven’t elected a mayor in this city since Barney Samuel. That was during the war. World War II. I want to dispel a rumor right now. I never played halfball with Barney Samuel. Not that I’m aware of. Maybe, at most, a bagel with a shmear of cream cheese. But back to Philly Billy.

Inquiring minds want to know what will happen next to Billy Ciancaglini. Good question. What DOES happen to losing Republican candidates in Philadelphia? I’ve voted for a few of them myself. Thacher Longstreth. Arlen Specter. Sam Katz twice. I want to dispel a few more rumors. It’s NOT true that losing Republican mayoral candidates wind up as indentured servants in the Meehan family household. It is true that some of the losers — the less prominent ones — get swallowed up in the bowels of the Union League, only to emerge on New Year’s Day to watch the parade. That’s most definitely NOT true for the highly qualified Republicans that I voted for.

Thacher Longstreth left quite a legacy in Philadelphia. He ran against Frank Rizzo. Had a puncher’s chance. Lost.  Rizzo had a way of pronouncing Thacher’s name that sounded like snakes hissing in the Garden of Eden. Longstreth did become a six-term councilperson. He was known for wearing bow ties and argyle socks. I tried wearing bow ties and argyle socks in Longstreth’s honor and got tossed from the corner at 9th and Wolf.

I think most of us remember Arlen Specter, but are probably unaware that he, too, failed to win election as Philadelphia’s mayor before he became known nationally. It was Specter who was responsible for the “single bullet theory” that attempted to explain why only one gunman was responsible for JFK’s assassination. The single bullet theory proposed that a bullet from a 2,000-year-old Italian rifle fired from the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository by a guy with cataracts in both eyes ricocheted off the thigh of a hot dog vendor near Dealey Plaza, through the six secret servicemen, the governor of Texas and a stripper at Jack Ruby’s nightclub, and then killed Kennedy. Specter concluded his massive findings with the words, “It was a frickin’ lucky shot.”

Specter almost defeated Democrat James Tate to become mayor. When he fell short, Arlen was heard swearing, “If I can’t beat that Tate guy, I might as well become a U.S. senator.”  Specter went on to become a successful senator, known for switching his political party affiliation about 17 times. No one, in fact, knows whether Specter died a Republican or Democrat. Not even Arlen.

That leaves us with Sam Katz. Full disclosure — Fran and I worked in Katz’s mayoral campaign stuffing envelopes and making phone calls (Fran twice). Sam came very close the first time, not so much the second time around. He once visited Marconi Square on a campaign stop. I found him under a tree by himself, trying to figure out whether provolone should be part of a roast beef sandwich. Sam, bless him, never figured out South Philly. In the meantime, Katz has given us some great documentaries about the city. Like the others, Sam’s biggest sin was having the “R” next to his name.

Frank Rizzo switched parties and ran in the Republican primary in an effort to become mayor again. But he died before the election was held, paving the way for Sal Palantonio to canonize him first in a book and then in the theater. Unlike Sal, I can’t conclude that Rizzo would’ve become mayor again if not for his untimely death, although a few folks down here probably wrote in his name in last week’s election.

I’m not sure what it will take for the Republicans to someday win City Hall. I know what won’t work. You can’t win by running for mayor of the entire city by running as if you want to become mayor of only one section of the city — as much as that flatters South Philly. It’s not enough to run AGAINST stuff without having a clue what you’re FOR. For example, if you don’t like the soda tax, fine. Figure out how you’re going to fund pre-K, the libraries and the rec centers, or admit you don’t give a whit.

Until Republicans figure out how to do all that, this is a one-party town. Even Lincoln couldn’t win here. ••

Tom Cardella can be seen talking football on Monday night at 6 with a special guest. Streaming live on or rebroadcast on Tuesday night at 5 on 610 ESPN Radio.