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Goode: bad and indifferent.

GOODE: BAD AND INDIFFERENT

Philadelphians angrily called it a bomb. Police officials coolly insisted it was an "entry device.' But the semantic difference soon seemed absurd, because whatever it was that the police dropped on a rowhouse inhabited by MOVE, a radical back-to-nature group, had turned the neighborhood into an inferno. The bomb killed six adults and five children, and gutted 61 adjacent black-owned rowhouses, leaving 250 black people homeless--and writing a new chapter in the City of Brotherly Love's history of black politics.

Political cartoons quickly defined Mayor W. Wilson Goode's role, showing him piloting a bomber plane over the city. In a column the next day, "The Bomb that Shattered a Civility,' I dubbed Goode, "Brown Bomber II.' Ten months later, the Mayor's Commission investigating the incident corroborated the satirical assessment with a more factual but equally scathing censure. In May, the city's district attorney empaneled a grand jury to investigate whether to press criminal charges against the top four city officials, including the Mayor.

Yet, incredible as it may seem, W. Wilson Goode is overwhelmingly favored to cruise to the Democratic nomination in May 1987, and a slight favorite to win re-election in November 1987. As of last month, 71 percent of the city's blacks still supported Goode. Although that's a drop from the 98 percent black voters gave him in 1983, the community's fidelity remains almost fanatical. Their 40 percent of the electorate, along with the 10 percent of the whites who still support Goode, could sneak him back into city hall.

Surprising as that may seem, it is doubly surprising considering his record of ineffectiveness with the city council and state legislature, and the personal scandals in which his name has been involved. Front-page headlines blared his denial, "I Don't Beat My Wife,' after rumors had spread around the city that he had. A middle-aged white woman who had an affair with Goode sued him, and Philadelphia's Inquirer and Daily News published exposes of now he had failed to pay for 24 tailored suits.

Yet the city's powerful businessmen, civic leaders, and black clergymen continue to speak out as unmovable Goode allies. Before MOVE, they credited him with supernatural powers. Now, despite the deep fissures in Goode's "wall of respect,' they still think of him as an inspirational leader.

"He's had a very successful administration with some gaps being created--the trash-to-steam program, the convention center,' says William Rouse, the prominent developer. "But he has created a sense of hope that no white man can create. I think we need a black mayor for the next four years.'

In addition, Jack Miller, CEO of Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, says, "I've known him for 10 or 12 years and I've always liked him.' Would he endorse him for re-election? He pauses. "I think I would.'

Henry Nicholas, one of Goode's most energetic black supporters and president of the powerful District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, eagerly endorses Rouse's position, but with a more pointedly political explanation. "The defeat of Wilson Goode leaves us without a city-wide black elected official and we'd be out of City Hall for another 20 years.'

No matter how bad his judgment in approving a life-destroying and neighborhood-wrecking bomb, Goode still commands the loyalty of most of the black community for only one reason-- he is black. "Can you imagine what would have happened if Frank Rizzo had dropped that bomb?' people commonly asked. To understand why that matters so much in Philadelphia, one must first understand three historical laws governing black Philadelphia's experience.

1) The Law of Ethnic Succession--Black supporters and their white allies still hold black mayors to a double standard of behavior because they fear that their relatively recent empowerment will be lost. It has only been 19 years since Carl Stokes was elected the first black mayor of a major city, Cleveland. The Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and the Poles all have had their political turns at bat. Now it's time for blacks and Hispanics. Why should blacks surrender their political power when they are such fledgling beneficiaries of the law of ethnic succession?

2) The Law of Ethnic Loyalty--This is a universal law of politics. In Boston, Irish voters repeatedly re-elected James Michael Curley to Congress, mayor, and governor despite constant investigations and allegations of corruption. In 1978, when Frank Rizzo sought a referendum to amend the City Charter so he could run for a third term, voters repudiated him almost 2 to 1. But Rizzo easily carried all of the predominantly Italian wards of South Philadelphia. And you can be sure that ethnic fidelity is no small part of Rep. Henry Waxman's appeal in his Jewish Los Angeles district or Dan Rostenkowski's popularity in his Polish district in Chicago.

3) The Law of White Paternalism--One of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.'s favorite aphorisms warned: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, phony white liberals and colored men seeking loans.' While white liberals have been necessary allies in the fight for racial justice, they have frequently made decisions on the basis of preserving a short-term political alliance at the expense of blacks' well-being. Who would argue that Mayor Goode should escape criticism for his destruction of 11 black lives? And yet not one of the phalanx of white liberals who led the 1976 effort to recall Frank Rizzo has raised a voice in protest. One of the most active anti-Rizzo leaders was the former Philadelphia Americans for Democratic Action president Lenore Benson, the Mother Superior of white liberals. Today she is an inside member of the Goode administration, serving as the Director of Special Projects.

A group of 109 blacks from around the country, including Paul Robeson, Jr., Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Richie Havens, and Kwame Toury (Stokely Carmichael) recently placed an ad that stated the problem with Goode eloquently. It was printed in the local black newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune (The Philadelphia Inquirer refused to print it), under the headings "Draw the Line,' and stated: "Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed significant increases in the number of black elected officials. It is often said, and some of us signing this statement do in fact believe that such increases represent advances in the struggle of black people. But all of us agree on this basic truth: when black elected officials use their positions of power to attack black people or to cover up for or to excuse such attacks they are no friend of ours and don't speak for or represent the interests of black people. In the past, lines were clearly drawn on this question. Those who attack black people were counted among our enemies. This line must be firmly drawn again. Murder is murder, no matter whether those responsible are black or white.'
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Title Annotation:W. Wilson Goode
Author:Stone, Chuck
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 1986
Words:1135
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