Before I get into it, a little background. For better or worse, I live in Berks County, Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia.
Artist Keith Haring once called Berks County his home, namely Kutztown, where I went to college. To honor Haring's art and his spirit, the Reading Public Museum is sponsoring an exhibit of Haring's work beginning next month, and as part of the exhibit, the museum board filed a request to place Haring's uplifting mural of the State of Liberty in the county services building downtown.
Haring created the mural to raise money for charities benefiting children. A mural by a Berks legend -- one of the most influential artists of our time -- which was drawn to help children.
So it's a lock, right? Up goes the mural.
Enter Mark Scott, the chairman of the county Board of Commissioners and probably one of the most hard line right-wing politicians in the commonwealth.
"Some of this art, even the Statue of Liberty, looks more like bathroom graffiti in a seedy bar than it does artwork," Scott said, as reported in today's Reading Eagle (which hasn't posted a version of the article online). "This is not the kind of artist taxpayers should be embracing in a public way. I'm surprised that of all the artists that have come out of Berks County, this one would be embraced by the board of the Reading Public Museum."
So the commission decided that the mural could not be displayed in the building because some of Haring's other work is offensive -- to Mark Scott.
You know what's really offensive? Mark Scott. This is a politician who opposed bilingual ballots designed for the growing population of Latino voters, mainly in the city. An insider on Scott's campaign several years ago told me that it was a move strictly for political points with Republican voters, and that Scott knew the bilingual ballot measure would pass anyway. But why not use the increasing racial divide in the area to solidify the base. Good guy.
It gets worse. Berks was recently slammed with a 34 percent property tax increase. The almost punitive tax hike, Scott said in a series of local radio ads last year, was due in part to poor people who come to the area to plunder our human services programs. Human services like homeless assistance, low income housing programs, and child welfare. Programs vital to the area since the departure of the city's manufacturing economic base.
"Demolish more houses in the city so poor families will not be enticed by low rent housing to move in from outside the county," Scott told the Reading Eagle (again, article not online for linking). "Identify other factors that may be attracting poor families and eliminate them."
By "them" we can only assume he wants to eliminate both the "other factors" AND "the poor families". So rather than calling for small cuts in incentives for retail megastores and bank branches, he'd rather cut funding to the poor and demolish their homes, effectively destroying their only hope for survival.
The maxim goes, "All politics is local politics." How many more Mark Scotts are there -- politicians who are unknown on the national scene, but who could be doing far more damage than the bigtime demagogues who we write about here every day? Berks isn't unique in this respect. So while we're ripping into Bush, Cheney, O'Reilly, Rumsfeld, DeLay, and the rest, keep an eye on the guy with the plaid vest running your local politics.
Meanwhile, help me send a message to Mark Scott. Write to him here. Ask him what's more harmful: a work of art featuring the Statue of Liberty or campaigning against bilingual ballots and human services.