Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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July 27–August 3, 2000

pretzel logic

Under The Rug

by Howard Altman

The last time Philadelphia had a circus in town this good was the summer of 1776, when a group of wig-wearing rabble-rousers testified to the world that the value of their ideals was greater even than the value of their lives.

And here we are, 224 years later, the circus is back in town, this time with elephants, and what do we have?

A sense that the greatest value of all is public relations.

Let’s start with our guests.

I have to make one thing perfectly clear.

Some of my best friends are Republicans — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

They know how to have a good time.

But the highly sanitized coronation we are about to witness is all about hiding the rips in the big tent.

Which is why their Texas oil millionaire presumptive nominee chose another Texas oil millionaire as his veep.

George W. Bush does not want any tsoriss, so his convention will pretend that there is none.

Like, for instance, moderate Republicans who believe in abortion rights and feel that the party has no business running on a platform opposing abortion.

Bush has successfully swept Republicans For Choice and other moderates under the rugs of his big tent.

In Philadelphia, the Republicans are ignoring their thirst.

Image, indeed, is everything.

And that brings us to Philadelphia 2000, the convention host committee, where sweeping things under the rugs of big tents has been an obsession.

Take, for example, the tents erected in the parking lot of the FU Center to provide work space for thousands of visiting journalists.

According to Philadelphia 2000, those aren’t tents. They’re Temporary Fabric Structures.

To me, they look like tents, but what do I know?

That same 1984-ish logic is being applied by the committee to portrayals of Philly.

No ugliness.

No blight.

Come on, everybody, cheer up. Put on a happy face.

Unfortunately for the committee, this being the nation’s fifth largest city there’s just too damn much to sweep under the rug, a concept well illustrated by recent events.

First there was Thomas Jones, the carjacking thug who shot a cop, stole his car and wound up getting pummeled by officers at the end of a chase. All in view of video cameras trained on them from helicopters up above.

Then came the clowns.

Al Sharpton, the New York blowhard who sniffs out photo ops like a pig hunting truffles. And J. Wyatt Mondesire, megalomaniac newspaper publisher and president of the local NAACP, who feeds off racial strife like a mongoose sucking yoke out of a snake egg.

Together, Sharpton and Mondesire tried to turn Jones’ beating into something it was not, a racial incident.

The mayor didn’t help Philly 2000’s bid for a sanitized presentation of the city when George magazine came out with an article in which John Street, himself a former rabble-rouser, talked about how Philadelphia will handle the visiting protesters, some of whom he refers to as "idiots."

"Some will come, say whatever little obnoxious thing they want to say, and go home," Street told Chris McDougall in George, "but some will be coming here to disrupt, to make a spectacle out of what’s going on. They’re going to [get] a very ugly response."

I imagine the folks at Philly 2000 cringed upon reading those remarks, and probably had heart palpitations when the folks at the city’s department of Licenses & Inspections shut down a nefarious puppet-making operation, raiding Matthew Hart’s puppet studio cum protest prop outlet like Eliot Ness going after Frank Nitti’s illegal distilleries.

And all of this action was taking place against a backdrop of a potential city workers strike, which would have shut down recreation centers and left huge, festering, maggoty piles of garbage all over.

Definitely a Maalox Moment.

Until District Council 33 leader Herman "Pete" Matthews stabbed his white-collar brethren in the back by agreeing to a contract with the city while leaving District Council 47 twisting in the wind, ultimately caving in themselves. Meaning there was one less pile of debris to sweep under the rug.

But then there’s my bus tour, which is being viewed by Philly 2000 as evil on wheels.

Which is really a shame.

Because this is one of the nation’s most fascinating cities.

And in fascinating cities, there is just too much going on to sweep it all under the rug.

Already, the first wave of about 15,000 visiting journalists are fed up with the straight dose of pablum being offered by Philadelphia 2000.

They are going to search for themselves where Mumia shot Faulkner and where the cops beat Jones. Being the friendly, helpful soul that I am, I just figured I’d offer a little free Philly hospitality.

There is entirely too much concern about so-called negative coverage of Philadelphia giving this city a "black eye." Besides, if anyone thinks that the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Reading Terminal and City Hall — all stops on the tour along with the more notorious, aforementioned locations — represent the dark side of the city, well, it’s time to pack up and move to the Main Line, boys and girls.

The bottom line, though, is that the visiting journalists — and delegates and candidates, too — ought to get a very good look at life in the big city.

Hey, this is a place that venerates a cracked bell, a monument to shoddy workmanship.

It is a place where people put their lives on the line and stood up to the British.

I don’t think Jefferson and Franklin and crew worried much about how facing reality would affect their image.

Two hundred and twenty-four years later, why should we?

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