The Shame of a City

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The Shame of a City is a 2006 feature-length documentary, which premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival,.[1] Filmmaker Tigre Hill chronicles the 2003 Philadelphia mayoral race between Democrat incumbent mayor John Street and Republican challenger Sam Katz. Early polls showed Katz with a small lead in this predominantly Democratic city but twenty-seven days before the election, an FBI bug was found in the mayor’s office. The discovery at first seemed like a death knell to the Street campaign and a near certain victory for Katz. Yet this prediction was proven wrong when Street and his supporters successfully polarized the campaign by leveling accusations of instituational racial prejudice and playing on historical skepticism of the Republican-controlled federal government. As a result, Street won re-election by a sixteen-point margin.

With exclusive inside access to the Katz campaign,[2] “The Shame of a City” traverses the bizarre final month to Election Day with the losing candidate as he tries in vain to salvage his campaign while his victor succeeds in manipulating voter sentiment in order to thwart it.

“The Shame of a City” is named for Lincoln Steffens’ 1904 book, The Shame of the Cities, which sought to expose the wrongdoing of public officials in cities across the United States.[3] Considered one of the first and finest examples of muckraking journalism, the book sparked Hill’s idea to shine a similar light into the deep corners where Philly’s political cronyism and malfeasance lurk. In his book, Lincoln Steffens infamously calls Philadelphia “corrupt and contented.” One hundred years later, this documentary explodes with overwhelming evidence that not much has changed.

Media attention[edit]

“The Shame of a City” gained widespread attention for exposing many high-ranking Street supporters as disingenuous opportunists who intentionally and falsely manipulated racial tensions and suspicion of President George W Bush's administration to get Street re-elected, despite a string of corruption indictments in his inner circle that threatened to implicate him directly.

The film won several awards (most notably “Best Feature-Length Film” at the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival's Festival of Independents[4]) and generated monumental amounts of press, earning Hill an interview on MSNBC,[5] named references in five successive issues of Philadelphia magazine, and positive reviews by The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

Critic reviews[edit]

"Tigre Hill’s 'The Shame of a City' is a civic Rorschach test. A cautionary tale of the streetfight that was the 2003 Philadelphia mayoral contest, this scrappy exposé reveals how Smear-Room politics alienates voters across the political and color spectrum." Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer[2]

“'The Shame of a City' is sure to be studied in political-campaign war rooms for years to come." Stu Bykofsky, Philadelphia Daily News[6]

“'The Shame of a City' is political dynamite. Thumbs up. Four stars. Must-see." Michael Smerconish, talk radio host[7]

Political impact[edit]

The film quickly drew the attention of local politicians, journalists, academics and activists in addressing the endemic problems of a city once referred to as “corrupt and contented.”[8] The timing of these civic discussions inarguably benefited reformer and former city council member Michael Nutter,[9] who was by then attempting to succeed Street by securing the Democratic primary vote for mayor against two Street supporters portrayed negatively in Hill’s movie: Congressmen Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah. After receiving Hill’s endorsement, Nutter himself screened “The Shame of a City” five times to sold-out audiences, using it to raise money and awareness of his opponents’ admitted nefarious political techniques. Also, the DVD release was timed to coincide with the primary election cycle, thereby more broadly reminding voters about the previous elections controversies. In the primary of May 2007, Nutter went from underdog to winner then proceeded to statistically annihilate his opponent in the general election. “The Shame of a City” also provided an introduction to a Katz campaign consultant, Carl Singley, whose strongly positive appearance in the movie briefly made him the focus of an early, informal city-wide campaign for him to run for mayor[10] – a municipal conversation legitimized by a feature article in Philadelphia magazine [11] and silenced when Singley declined to run.[12]

Box office[edit]

Screenings were sponsored by diverse institutions ranging from the FBI, Philadelphia Forward, The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to Philadelphia magazine and philebrity.com[13] and were held at venerable locations like the National Constitution Center.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ “’Shame of a City’ Offers Inside Look at Fractious 2003 Mayoral Election,” The Evening Bulletin, April 3, 2006
  2. ^ a b “A Backroom Look at Katz vs. Street,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 2006
  3. ^ “Roll ‘em…,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 2006
  4. ^ http://www.phillyfilmfest.org
  5. ^ Imus in the Morning," April 26, 2007
  6. ^ “Politics in ‘Shame,’ No Shame in Politics,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 30, 2006
  7. ^ “Sneak Peek at a True Philly Horror Film,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 23, 2006
  8. ^ Political Ties,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 2006
  9. ^ “Hill: Players Remain the Same,” Metro, March 27, 2007
  10. ^ “Bit Part Could Be Singley’s Big Break,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 2006
  11. ^ “Carl Singley Loud and Clear,” Philadelphia magazine, November 2006
  12. ^ “Former Street Ally to Eschew Mayoral Run,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 7, 2006
  13. ^ “Tigre on Election Trail,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 10, 2007
  14. ^ Shame of a City