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Leaving a Job, Knowing It's Really 'Never Done'

July 16, 2005 By:
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Philip Goldsmith

For the first time in years, Philip Goldsmith is taking it easy. The 60-year-old, who on April 1 (no fooling!) stepped down after 26 months as the city's managing director, and was dubbed "Mr. Fixit" in a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, is spending time trying to shed "20 pounds of stress" and catching up on missed time with his three grandchildren.

"The problem I had living in town as managing director was that I could never relax, because every time I walked out on the street I saw a problem. I would actually like to spend a lot more time [in the city], and no longer have the responsibility," said Goldsmith, noting that he and his wife plan to keep both their condominium near Rittenhouse Square, in addition to their longtime home in Wynnewood.

The Allentown native, who on June 1 received the person-of-the-year honors from Shomrim of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, an organization of Jewish police officers and firefighters, explained that all of the city's departments - police, fire, water, streets, recreation, prisons, emergency services - reported directly to his office.

"I looked at myself as kind of an orchestra leader," he said, "trying to make sure everybody [had] the same score."

The one-time political reporter's career in city government began in 1979 as a campaign aide to William Green - who served as mayor from 1980 to 1984 - and also included stints as Fairmount Park commissioner and CEO of the School District of Philadelphia. Mayor John Street appointed Goldsmith to his most recent position in 2003.

His pronouncement is clear: Philadelphia is a "hot city."

He cites as evidence a booming real estate market and a thriving restaurant scene - even the Barnes Foundation's plans to relocate to Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Merion.

But has the pay-to-play corruption trials - not to mention Time magazine naming Mayor John Street as one of America's worst mayors - tainted Philadelphia's reputation?

"I will never defend pay-to-play," he said right off the bat. "But pay-to-play has occurred in previous administrations; it occurs in Washington, it occurs in Harrisburg, it occurs in every state capital.

"It's a problem," he continued, "because we have money influencing too many decisions. It should be cleaned up. [Street's] done a much better job than he's been given credit for. To some extent, he doesn't tout his accomplishments as he should; he's always allowed other people to paint a picture of him."

While he speaks glowingly of what the city has to offer - from its undiscovered parks to its hidden neighborhoods - he also admits that certain parts of it, specifically pockets of North, West and Southwest Philadelphia, remain plagued by social ills, including violence and poverty: "We have some infant mortality [rates] in this city in some census tracks that are as high as in the Gaza Strip."

In that same vein, "I think it's great that Philadelphia is going to be a site of Live 8," he said, referring to the upcoming July 2 concert organized to coincide with a meeting of the world's economic powers and call attention to global poverty and hunger. "The fact of the matter is that Philadelphia,like other urban areas, also has some of the same problems you have in Africa, but not to the same depth."

Looking back at his time in City Hall, Goldsmith refused to see failure in the fact that so much more work remains.

"The job is never done. If you hold yourself to a standard that you are going to eradicate all the problems, you hold yourself up to an unattainable standard," he offered.

"What you have to hope is that you have tried your best, and left it a little better for the next person."

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