March 9-15, 2006
philly bluntCalling Out the Gimp
I wasn't just pondering the "knee injury" that the honorable, three-term Seventh District Councilman aggravated when reporters, according to his attorney, "attacked him" at City Hall last Thursday. No, this goes much deeper.
Specifically, Philadelphia's Fourth Estate should be held accountable for allegedly taking $30,000 in bribes from local businesses to pay off credit-card debts in exchange for having a good friend in City Hall.
Those pesky reporters are also at fault for once threatening to knock co-workers' teeth out, riding a bicycle around their neighborhood while wielding a gun all vigilante-style, using their taxpayer-funded staff to deliver cookies for their ex-wife's private business and saying the late Councilman David Cohen "eats young, unborn children."
Yep, as the disgraced legislator from Juniata Park fiddled with his cane, pretended not to see the three TV cameras trained on him and waited in the passenger seat for attorney Nino V. Tinari to finish fielding questions about the uneventful first day of jury selection, I felt dirty. Apparently, if it weren't for people like me, Ricky wouldn't be facing some heavy prison time.
Shortly after Tinari asked the media to back off of his client "Everyone's beating up on little Ricky Mariano," was the quote in Sunday's Inquirer I needed some penance. I mean, just covering a corruption trial is the equivalent of dirtying the waters, no? So I asked Tinari, with all the sincerity I could muster, about how the press is hindering his client's right to a fair trial.
"Very much so," he responded. "It's overwhelming, and most of it's negative, so the whole perception [of Mariano] is negative. It's disturbing, really."
With that explanation of how we've prematurely and unfairly painted Mariano guilty, Tinari hopped into the backseat of the car that yep, we're all paying for and drove off with his professional victim of a client. (It beats cab fare, no?)
Now, I'm all for every defendant's right to a vigorous defense. But what's truly pathetic about our latest pol-gone-wild trial is that Mariano's delusional to the point that he probably believes the media really is to blame.
Here I thought the fun part of taking the little guy's side in a fight against a cold, uncaring system was that the hero is a noble warrior, the type of person who, for example, takes responsibility for his actions. (Ok, alleged actions.) Instead, what we're getting here is a game of Deflect the Blame. The tragedy of all this is that I want to root for people like Mariano. (I wear a beat-up Chicago Cubs hat; it's in my nature.) But Mariano makes it impossible for even the biggest underdog backer in the world to wave his banner.
When I first met the councilman four years ago, my initial take for a cover story in another Weekly newspaper in Philadelphia was this:
So what if the dude's a renegade? He takes care of his people like a politician should. A really Philly guy. So cut him some slack. (This, even though he didn't seem to care an iota that a homeless guy was apparently dying on the sidewalk outside the Tower Records where we met. "Well, we have programs for them," he said, before we hopped into his illegally parked Crown Vic for a tour of his district. And lemme tell you, the off-the-record conversations were enlightening, to say the least.)
Well, I totally read him wrong. Not long after that story hit the streets, Mariano filed a lawsuit because of an editing error that he thought gave the impression that his teenaged son's girlfriend had a kid. (It was actually Mariano's girlfriend later his wife who had the kid.)
I don't bring this up to whine that a one-word typo landed me in dozens of hours of debriefings with lawyers to prove the paper didn't have a vendetta against Mariano. Rather, I think it speaks directly to Mariano's approach to this case, and life in general. If he sees an easy way out, he takes it. Hence the woe-is-me, cane-carrying, sad-eyed, blame-the-press garbage coming out of his camp.
Does that make him guilty of the charges? No. (I'd bet the house he gets some time, though.) But it certainly disqualifies him from earning any sympathy from a city that tends to love the underdog.
And that, little Ricky, is what's really disturbing.