Charles P. Sexton is the township GOP leader in Springfield, PA, the town I grew up in, located a mere five miles from the border of impoverished West Philadelphia. My family's roots are in West Philadelphia where my parents, the children of Italian and Irish immigrants grew up. We lived on an increasingly dilapidated stretch of 63rd Street until we finally joined the white flight of immigrant families who left the old neighborhood crumbling behind them. The old neighborhood festered, consumed with drugs and violent crime; we moved out to the suburbs and got a lawn.
We arrived in Springfield as a working class family fresh from the city. My mom stayed at home to take care of me and my brother, my father fixed heaters and air conditioners for a living. There were a lot of other families in Springfield just like us at that point; blue collar families recently ascendant from the inner city hoping to send their kids to college for the first time in their family's histories. Springfield was a town of tiny red brick homes lined one after the next, each with its little allotment of grass in the front and back. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting; picture perfect middle class suburbia.
Even then, Charlie Sexton was a power player at the little table of local politics. My dad didn't like Charlie Sexton and Charlie Sexton didn't like my dad. You see, my dad drove a van to work emblazoned on the side with the name of the guy who signed his paychecks. Blue collar guys tend to drive trucks like these to work. They keep their tools in them and are usually dispatched to their first repair call of the morning straight from home. It makes sense to keep your truck in your driveway if you're a guy like my dad; it provides your livelihood and is packed full of expensive equipment you paid for yourself. There were trucks like these all over Springfield; carpenters, electricians, plumbers, you name it. It didn't bother anybody, having the trucks with stuff written on the side sitting in driveways. Except, that is, for Charlie Sexton.
Charlie Sexton came to the decision seemingly single-handedly that Springfield was no longer a blue collar town. He started pushing ordinances that would outlaw work trucks. These trucks, according to Charlie, were unsightly. They mucked up the view from his house up on the hill across town, where the kids whose parents went to college lived. He thought blue collar guys should leave the trucks at work, even though that would mean most of the families that used them would have to buy another vehicle that they couldn't afford. Charlie didn't care that he would be effectively extending the work day for these guys; they would now have to drive their work trucks to their company's headquarters miles away and be dispatched from there. Charlie didn't care that these guys paid taxes on the personal property where they parked, nor that they paid for the tools stacked up inside the trucks with their own money. The message was clear: Charlie hoped to make life so inconvenient for guys like my dad that hopefully they would go away and clear out some space for more guys like Charlie.
The town meetings around that time were legendarily unruly. The word about Charlie's master plan spread quick, bringing scores of big, burly blue collar guys who denounced elitist Charlie from the floor. They shut down one attempt after the next that Charlie made to get his ordinance pushed through. In frustration, Charlie started convening unplanned town meetings where he hoped to squeeze the ordinance past unchallenged. On these nights the phone would ring during dinner and after answering my father would storm out the door screaming expletives about sneaky Charlie Sexton, having been tipped off to the meeting by one of the many blue collar men in his network that kept a constant watch for such maneuvers. Dad always came home happy, saying that once again Charlie backed down and it was still within the law for working men to keep their trucks.
In the twenty years since Charlie Sexton's crusade to make Springfield safe from the working man, a lot of things have changed. For the most part, Charlie Sexton seems to have won, if only by circumstance and not design. When I go home to Springfield now I see lots of Lexus's, Mercedes Benz's, BMW's and high ticket SUVs. All those little red brick houses now have towering, mammoth extensions attached to them and the strip malls that used to house mom and pop operations are crammed tight with upscale chains. It didn't have anything to do with Charlie's crusade to ban trucks, nor the fact that he has grown in his power so much that he played host not long ago to the Bush family in his own home. Socioeconomic forces seem to have delivered the outcome to him that he hoped to achieve all along: working people can no longer afford to move to what is now the white collar enclave of Springfield. I know that for a fact; my brother, an auto mechanic, hoped to have his own house in the town he grew up in but couldn't afford one. Those little red brick houses, even without the monolithic attachments clinging to the back of them, now go for close to $300,000, which is out of the average grease monkey's range.
Charlie Sexton won but it doesn't matter; my dad isn't around to see it anyway, he died young from cancer a couple years back. But today, when I read the news that Charlie Sexton's home was raided by the FBI, investigating the Curt Weldon influence peddling accusations, I knew that somewhere he was smiling.
It's too bad dad's not around to see his arch nemesis Charlie Sexton's name on the front page of the morning paper right next to the letters, "F.B.I." I think my dad would have had a big laugh right before going outside in the chilly air and riding to a job in his work truck that he kept parked in his own driveway until the day he died.