Friday, August 3, 2007

The Devil Wears Brooks Brothers

There was a time when I could self-induce a near stroke simply by Googling Philip Mangano, the Bush appointee who heads the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. I knew Phil in a former life when I was active in Boston. For awhile he was the Cambridge Shelter Commissioner. That was a sweet gig. No one really knew what he did, but he was great at it.

He also ran the Boston shelter providers trade association for awhile, which was not to be confused with the advocacy coalition that actually did things for poor people. This was the coalition that did things for service providers.

Phil was widely regarded as an oleaginous chameleon in a nice suit.

So when he got reinvented as the Bush administration's maverick crusader to end homelessness, it sort of made sense.

He and I had dinner together about five years ago, back when he was still new and I was still sort of giving him the benefit of the doubt. He had this stagey "down with the people" routine that I found really annoying, and would affect instant intimacy with anyone who was homeless as he asked for their story and felt their pain.

I guess he still does that.

He had all the elements of his rap down even then. There was the "Massachusetts Abolitionist" line. "Republicans ended slavery and they'll end homelessness too." I did my best to try to pin him down on whether he was a D or an R but he wasn't talking.

There was also the evangelical belief in the power of data and in Housing First, although back then he was still promising that the feds would offer resources. He's pretty much backed off of that one. He was also saying that federal housing policy should focus on those under thirty percent of median income. He doesn't say that anymore either.

When I asked how you could end homelessness without addressing deepening poverty or widening inequality, he said that affluence and poverty were unconnected.

I wonder if most Republicans think that? How convenient.

So, I'm a Phil watcher. It's astonishing to me that this guy can walk into a room full of homeless advocates anywhere in the United States and not get lynched. I used to go nearly apoplectic over his press.

Now I just think it's kind of funny.

Take this article, for instance, Abolitionist Apostle, where he was awarded's 2006 public official of the year award. He compares himself to Saint Francis of Assisi. Phil Fucking Mangano, the guy who hobnobs with the powerful, is known for his finely tailored suits, always flies first class, and takes limos instead of cabs.

This article, like many, discusses how Phil's work is a "spiritual calling."

When I really want to torture myself, I read his Religion & Ethics interview, in which he utters the words "I think it simply reminds us that ultimately the issue of homelessness is a spiritual issue. It's not really an ideological issue, it's not a political issue, it's not an economic issue," and again refers to his "Franciscan nature." But if you're really looking to be entertained, skip to the part where he talks about Simone Weil. "She is a patron saint of mine, I would say. When I read her words, it's pretty much sacramental to me."

Another story from New Orleans captures his big vision, no substance style nicely.
"Those same voices have been around for a long time," he says, his voice rising as he heads toward a big point. Those same voices told Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton that slavery wouldn't end and that women couldn't be equal, he says. They told Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn that the Iron Curtain would never fall, told Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu that apartheid would never end.

"They were wrong then -- and they're wrong now," Mangano says.
Nice. The day he can reconcile his boss' constant attacks on the poor end 'ending homelessness" will be the day he can invoke Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu without making me want to puke.

But no search is complete until you've seen the Philip Mangano Quote Page.

Here's one that you're better off not over-thinking:
“We've been bailing the leaky boat of homelessness ... only to see more people fall in.”

Metaphor isn't one of his gifts.

Another of his favorite lines is that
“The very definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” He stole this from Albert Einstein, but it's a good one.

The feds take $52 billion in federal housing dollars away and replace that with $1.5 billion in money for homeless programs, and then wonder why homelessness isn't going away. I'll bet Einstein could figure that one out, even if Phil can't.


Revel said...

Brother Sun Sister Goon. What's with the Franciscan inside line? Didn't Wayne Dyer use that one up?

marklp said...


He's just another politico! Ease up on him. After all he got Mayor Velluci to fund the Homeless Service Center in Cambridge and he did spend a lot of time answering the Crisis Line in the basement of the Cambridge City Hall Annex. Give the Devil his due!

Gumby said...

Here Here!! I wonder how long taxpayers will allow him to fly around the world "preaching" his BS. He is an arrogent, selfish man who threatens those who don't fall in line. Satan is the perfect nickname because if you fall for his misguided thinking you have truely sold your soul. I would say I can't wait til he goes back to Boston but I have too much respect for my friends there.

Paul.Rice said...

Whoops! I accidentally forwarded this post to Phil Mangano.

bill said...

Phil, met him once btw and sat next to him tho even the hem of his garment didn't brush against me, is the epitome of cognitive dissonance,... the paradigm of the successful back-room-deal corporato who bends down to bequeath his charges with the yada-yada without the moulah to bring about change,... oh wait, he brings small change with him, coinage from the realm. I ought be kinder but let's face it, he isn't the one suffering or at risk, andneither are those of us he sits beside. Horns may be too kind for him,...

Pastor Rick said...

I think there are deeper and darker forces than Mr. M. which creeps the H E double-toothpicks out of me.

Thanks for calling him out. Like so many of this prezident's appointees, he's doin' a heckofa job.

Anonymous said...

Phil talks a lot and has done very well personally with his DC job. More Armani suits, the Limos the pre-arrival preps by staffers when he travels and the entourage on all first class trips sounds like a nice life, but isn't it a little hypocritical to live like this off the misery of the homeless?
Let's hope the new President sends him packing.

gr8scott said...

What a lot of pathetic, self absorbed and completely naive self righteous fools you all are. If you actually looked at the statistics and understood what it really costs the taxpayer to maintain the misery of those on the street, and the enormous amount of work Mr Mangano to actually get these people off the streets, you would understand the contribution he has made. He is actually trying, and succeeding with getting the homeless into their own homes and actually changing their lives. There's more to solving the homeless issue than pitying these people just so you can sleep at night and judge everyone who has a roof over there heads. I attended a meeting in Australia today with Mr Mangano, he gets it, it's not about continuing the cycle it's about embracing the business community and actually getting whole of community interest. Who cares if he wears a suit, who cares if he travels first class, it's not about him...or you, it's about the results. You are the real evil, you are the real hindrance to actually solving homelessness, to associate this man with anything but grace and class is deplorable. In our country Mr Mangano, in his suit, has the ear of our Prime Minister, our state leaders, our business leaders, everyone who can actually GET THESE PEOPLE OFF THE STREETS. Heaven forbid he actually succeeds and you worthless bunch will find yourself with no one to whine about. Shame on you all and long live Mr Mangano. I hope he does read this blog and know that not all of us are as narrow minded as this sad lot.

Bill said...

Hey, mate, keep him in Aussie-land,...please. Sure, judge him by his sound bites, smooth lines, incongruent metaphors, and sell him lots of suits, please,...including maybe a snorkel or two so he can dive further under the surface of reality. He's the capitalist answer to homelessness, as if that approach has solved much of anything. It all comes with a blessing and a curse, indeed, and the failure to realize the ascendancy of the curse and the diminishing blessing is why the guy will keep up his stock in Bekins and Mayflower. We used to call folks like him "snake-oil salesmen," and drove them out of town, eventually passed laws against them,... Go ahead, become his disciple scott, and feel the burn.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Philip Mangano and can attest to the fact that he's a heartless narcissist. He only cares about homelessness to the extent that the issue bolsters his career, books him for speaking engagements, and keeps him traveling on someone else's dime. What a fraud. The homelessness angle has been a successful niche for him, but his previous life as a Los Angeles music agent is much more appropriate for his true character. Oh, the abuse that took place in that office! It was so pervasive that I started keeping a file to document it. And then I came to my senses and found a new job.

a said...

Oh I wish I had seen this post a couple of years ago!!

I also worked for him and completely agree with everything that Anonymous said.

He was an emotionally abusive boss, to say the least.

Interestingly, I currently work with a battered women's shelter and its transitional living counterpart.

Anonymous said...

Philip has a great big ego and some really nice suits, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out he's not an easy boss.

None of that negates the fact that his mantra of accountability in the pursuit of ending chronic homelessness has had a big impact in the US. Mitigating the discomfort of homelessness by offering food, blankets, and shelter does very little to change a homeless person's situation. Shifting a community's focus to offering housing and social supports for those who are moved from the streets into that permanenet housing does change things.

There are many things wrong with federal policies relating to poverty, mental health care and housing. Still, it took someone willing to make those endless trip across the country to big cities and podunk towns to effect the shift in many places that is making a big dent in the number of chronically homeless folks on the streets.

Anonymous said...

I worked for him at MHSA. He called me his "adminsitrative angel" and was the most abusive boss I have ever worked for. The screaming and yelling at staff, belitting, and intimidation were NOT what I expected at a non profit homeless services agency.

I cannot imagine how this man continues to maintain positions of power...

And he drags along Mary Ellen with him-her ONLY cred is boffing Mitch Snyder

Tim Harris said...

Thanks for this. That last line is priceless.

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Anonymous said...

Wow. I, too, worked for him and Mary Ellen. I would awake with stomach aches every day in anticipation of working in that office. I often describe them as a narcissit and his enabler. I have fantasies of sitting down with either one of them just to ask what they thought they were accomplishing by treating staff that way. I saw him in an airport a couple months ago, but was in the middle of checking in, so couldn't grab him in time. Thanks for all of the validation. What are they up to these days?

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