Philadelphia's recent mayoral primary had a surprising result: Tom Knox, despite pouring in ten million of his personal fortune, come in second, losing to wonky, well-spoken, button-down Michael Nutter. I voted for Nutter absentee before leaving for a few weeks, thinking it was symbolic, and lo and behold, by the time we returned, he had shot ahead and ultimately won decisively. (The primary is more or less the election in Philly, since it's 90% Democratic.)
Knox's pitch that as a successful business person he could manage Philadelphia and make it work appealed to me for a few seconds, based on the NYC Bloomberg model. After hearing his stump speech, I concluded it was way too big of a gamble. Philadelphia has enacted campaign financing limits. But for some reason which I do not understand (perhaps someone can explain it), self-financing knows no limits! (By the way, most self-funded candidates lose.) Knox flooded the airways with ads and not surprisingly, since he was outspending the the other 4 candidates many times over, took an early lead. One of his campaign signatures was very heartwarming. Citizens got robo-calls inviting them to his public FREE DINNERS all over the city. His campaign workers shopped at BJ's and cooked up spaghetti and meatballs for up to 500 attendees a time. I'm sure folks that had never participated in any politicking showed up, had a good time, and learned something.
What intrigues me most is Knox's postmortem interview where he muses about the fact that dropping $10,000,000 on a quixotic quest for office will have no adverse affect on his life, and he had a good time.
While not ruling out another run for office, Knox said he might try investment banking. "You could probably make tens of millions of dollars if you get into it and do it right," he said yesterday in an interview. "Hundreds of millions, actually."
Clearly he is seeking meaning. Having that fortune doesn't provide it. Good for him that he is at least trying to do something meaningful. I'm sure it's frustrating having more money than you know what to do with, wanting to have a positive impact, and being clueless about what you might accomplish. The skills involved in accumulating capital are entirely different than the skills involved in using your fortune for something which is beneficial for the world.
Not that Knox needs it, even after spending $10 million on his campaign. "When you already have hundreds of millions, it doesn't matter," he said. "I can't spend it."
Here's my suggestion for Knox. He should keep the spaghetti and meatball dinner thing going, all over the city, feeding people and creating more social capital. He could do it in all our public schools, and by growing more civic engagement perhaps he could bring down the homicide rate. Go, Tom!