Corruption in municipal government can never be entirely abolished, three reform experts agreed at last night's Law Forum. But they differed on the means needed to diminish existing evil in government.
The three speakers, Rudolph Halley, president of the New York City Council, Jerome Rappaport, founder of the New Boston Committee, and Walter H. Phillips, city representative in Philadelphia, pointed out that municipal corruption has become virtually an accepted American institution, although all agreed that people were awakening to the danger of corruption.
"There is a naive feeling among the American people that by running out and reforming, everything will be clean again," Halley said. But this method at best is only temporary, he emphasized.
"The District Attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn tried to clean things up, and they couldn't do it. Why? Because business would not cooperate. Corruption can profit the businessman," Halley contended.
Phillips also noticed a tendency of the voters to accept corruption as a necessary evil. "Philadelphia has long been corrupt," he stated. "As a matter of fact, it has been badly off since the time of Lincoln Steffins, who called it "corrupt and contented."
But, according to Phillips, the corruption in Philadelphia stemmed from city hall and not business. The process of reform has been slow, he said, but there are indications that the municipal government is improving because of such things as a new charter and powerful civic organizations.
In Boston, Rappaport contended, corruption has not been the basic issue. "Problems of the city lie far deeper than corrupt administration but, like communism, people have surrounded corruption with a sort of hysteria," he said.
Rappaport went on to illustrate that the issues of corruption came from unbusiness-like practices in city administrations. He stated that corruption usually arises from three sources, large-scale and unregulated purchasing, indiscriminately spending, and unjust law enforcement.
"We should provide in addition to idealism, a spirit of integrity and the necessary information which will allow them to participate realistically in democratic politics. An understanding of the techniques of corruption are essential when one is interested in out-fighting its proponents," he maintained.
In concluding, Rappaport called for definite changes within the political framework of municipal government; Phillips called for reform within city hall; while Halley demanded that business should come about to the understanding that good government is good business and that only qualified people should run for public office.