(p.s.) Feel free to use this as an open thread for alerting me to any major developments while I'm away, so I get back up to speed ASAP on July 5. Thanks!
Jottings about local politics in southeastern PA
"Every election cycle, New Jersey bankrolls a large portion of presidential candidates' campaigns, even though not every candidate stays in the race long enough to be given a vote here," [Sen.] Vitale said. "This bill would ensure that campaigns would have to spend campaign cash in New Jersey to be competitive..."
In April, the state was sued because a lack of housing and other services was keeping nearly 1,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals past their discharge dates - some for years.Unclear what the Assembly thinks of this bill.
When asked if it's normal for one person to buy 10 handguns for protection purposes, Sauers said it was.Sure.
"As former directors of ATF under six presidents, we are appalled that members of Congress would support special-interest legislation to protect dangerous gun dealers rather than laws that would protect the American people," Steve Higgins and Rex Davis wrote in a recent editorial published in the Baltimore Sun.The bill looks well on its way to passage, with supporters including PA senators Specter and Santorum.
"Congress should be strengthening our laws and increasing ATF's resources, not tying its hands."
. . .
Opponents of the bill say gun dealers could duck liability for making sales that are legal but reckless.
The State House of Representatives has approved a bill legalizing the practice of short-term "payday lending" at interest rates over 400 percent, after stripping away at what its sponsor said was a key consumer protection.The measure will go to the State Senate next. It's not entirely clear where Gov. Rendell stands on this issue -- the quote given here was "Gov. Rendell, who favored the original bill, promised a veto it if it reaches him in its current form." In what form would this bill not be about legalizing financial predation? hmmm...
In its unanimous ruling, the court rejected a challenge that the General Assembly's process in passing the bill failed to adhere to the state's constitution. But the justices did strike down some provisions, including one that effectively gave the gaming board the power to overrule local zoning in deciding where slots parlors could be located.Apparently the major basis for thier finding was that legislators have the right to make laws, and that the presumption is that they have broad rights in doing so (and thus can, in essence, never be considered to be violating the state constitution in the performance of such duties). This seems a bad precedent, allowing more stealth activity (legislation by amendment, thus often in secret), but the unanimity seems to leave little room for further questions.
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who is also chairman of the Democratic City Committee, called a closed-door meeting on Monday over the stalled Route 15 trolley - and came out with a plan to get the $84 million public-works project running.As part of the deal, the neighborhood (and Campbell) are giving up on the illegal parking spaces they had gotten used to, and SEPTA has agreed to be a better neighbor around its Callowhill depot (including regular meetings with the neighborhood). Hooray for sanity! everybody wins.
"My goal is to have the trolley operational by the end of the summer," said SEPTA Board Chairman Pat Deon, who was at the meeting.
Labor, on the whole, has yet to make any decisions as to who will be supported at this stage. Labor leaders were in abundance at all three events, with unions sending representatives to each party. The conclusion from that is organized labor, for the most part, are in a wait and see attitude, as one leader said, "It's a long two years before we have choose sides."Fun for horserace junkies.
That puts the 185,000-student district at the vanguard of a national debate on history education that turns on these questions: What will be taught? What will be emphasized? How will ethnic groups be presented? And how can the focus be kept on turning out proficient students?Always tricky to decide how to interpret the past, let alone turn out "educated" graduates.
Maya Angelou called the Philadelphia School District's decision requiring high school students to take a course encompassing African American history and the history of Africa "brilliant."One can see it that way, but obviously...
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. said: "One must see this as an asset to truth, not as a threat to the status quo."
"I would like to see them master basic reading, writing and arithmetic," the Northeast Philadelphia Republican said in an interview yesterday, referring to the district's students. "Once we have them down pat, I don't care what they teach... . They should understand basic American history before we go into African American history."He is partly voicing the complaints of his constituents in the Northeast.
The school reform commissioner - a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls and former chief of staff for then-State Sen. Chaka Fattah - met with each of the other four commissioners and made her case.She appears to be active in trying to improve much about the city's schools, as well as working on urban policy issues with a national nonprofit foundation.
Payday lenders currently operate in Pennsylvania at the edge of the law, but a bill pending in Harrisburg would legalize the practice and permit lenders to keep charging interest rates of more than 400 percent to borrowers.Supporters of the measure say that if the market exists, it should be regulated, but their suggested "limits" don't look like even enough to make the whole business legitimate:
Such rates are illegal under the state's usury laws, but payday lenders get around that problem through partnerships with out-of-state banks. Under the arrangement, companies such as Advance America or Cash Today are technically brokers for the outside bank loan.Why not crack down on this ridiculous loophole, and force the rates down to where they don't so easily victimize those who use them? This bill looks to me like an attempt to shield the industry from federal regulators, who have gone after similar practices in Delaware. Promoters of this measure should be ashamed! Worst, it looks to be passed without any public hearings -- unless the public notices now!
It used to be there were only two ways to swing on City Council - you were either with the mayor or you weren't.The reality of the need to get things done sometimes demands an end to grandstanding, but recent end-of-term shenanigans (ahem) leave room for new tensions between Council and mayor . . .
But as Council breaks for the summer after nine months of debate on issues such as government ethics, the once-established boundaries of political alliances have blurred - and the Council that has emerged is one where anything goes.
As some of the world's leading scientists considered the latest advances in disease treatment, stem-cell research and bioterrorism response, a panel of educators, scientists and civil libertarians clashed over a recently introduced bill that would allow the teaching of intelligent design in Pennsylvania's public school science classes.I can only recommend that anyone curious about I.D. and its weaknesses consult this excellent recent New Yorker piece on the topic. They describe the two men behind the movement and the myriad problems with the "theory" they've cobbled together.
There are a number of serious issues this community has had with SEPTA. SEPTA acknowledges that the Callowhill Depot has been a problem for neighbors for many years, not least because SEPTA workers take parking spots on residential streets. However, SEPTA has tried a number of ways to reach out to the neighbors and Campbell to discuss these difficulties and find a way to overcome them. I also tried to contact her on behalf of the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, with the hopes that our organization could help work out the problems between the neighborhood and SEPTA. But, so far, Ms. Campbell has been unwilling to discuss these issues with SEPTA or the PTC.I hear that some high-level discussions may be occurring in the near-term to settle this mess.
MAYOR STREET agrees: Ten parking spaces are a crappy trade for SEPTA's $85- million investment in the Route 15 antique trolley line. Illegal parking spaces, at that.Towing might get the trolley through, at least until the offended neighbors turned the block into a parking lot in protest. Lets hope cooler heads prevail -- the pressure added by some of Nutter's future rivals weighing in with their scorn will probably help move negotiations back up to tangible speed.
Thwarting long-term tax-cut advocates for the second year in a row, Mayor Street yesterday vetoed a bill that would have locked in five years of incremental reductions in the city's business-privilege tax and established a schedule to eliminate the tax entirely by 2017.The usual suspects make the usual outraged responses, but the writing was on the wall some time ago...
In other business yesterday, Clarke, together with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, introduced legislation asking voters to decide whether the city should consolidate the Fairmount Park Commission and the city's Recreation Department. The bill is sure to spark controversy among the city's parks groups.Those first two make you think maybe somebody is hoping for a lot of political maneouvering over the summer...
In a separate measure, Council approved a resolution calling for hearings on the feasibility of the Street administration's Wireless Philadelphia proposal - as well as on its potential impact to help economically disadvantaged children. The resolution was sponsored by Brown.
Also yesterday, Council approved a resolution, sponsored by Goode, to hire an outside firm to study whether banks holding city deposits engage in redlining.
Two City Council members want to dissolve the venerable Fairmount Park Commission and reconstitute it as a less powerful agency within the Recreation Department.Apparently the suggestion has been made before, but it still seems out of the blue to me. On the other hand, most of the world subsumes parks under general Recreation oversight, so there's no reason Philly couldn't handle this as well as NYC. Just not sure what's bringing it up now...
Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown were to introduce legislation today - Council's final session of the summer - to make the change possible.
The bill arrived like a Stealth bomber, catching by surprise most of the 17-member Council, as well as the Street administration. It seeks a change to the city charter that could go before voters in November.
Philadelphia mental health officials plan to launch an ambitious new Web site today that will allow patients and their relatives to search for treatment options, learn about legislation that could affect them and create their own private medical Web page.This is an attempt to centralize information and resources, for both patients and health care providers, to improve the city's mental health. Patients can also keep a confidential record of their own treatment, if desired. The new website already exists and will be available translated into six languages. Check it out:
Gardasil protects against four HPV strains that cause cervical cancer, cervical pre-cancers, abnormal Pap tests and genital warts, Merck's testing indicates.HPV infections is very widespread, and often asymptomatic, so this would probably be a recommended vaccine for all boys and girls of about junior high age (or a bit earlier). Imagine! a preventable cancer.
In clinical tests so far, the vaccine has shown to be 100 percent effective against four types of HPV. Two of the types - called types 18 and 16 - cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. And types 11 and 6 cause up to 90 percent of all genital warts and have been linked to abnormal Pap smears, which alarm both patients and doctors and lead to unnecessary tests.
"It used to be that the Democratic Party stood for workers' rights and the common man, for poor people," [Gloria Gilman] said. "Not anymore."And on the conference, this:
Neighborhood Networks plans to offer a competing vision, focused on such issues as mass transit, the minimum wage, and the end of pay-to-play politics, leaders say. They will inject intra-party competition, and in some areas members will run for committee and ward leader positions in the party.
At the first meeting, half of the city's 66 wards had at least one representative - with the highest concentration of members in traditionally liberal areas such as the Ninth Ward in Chestnut Hill, the Eighth and 30th Wards in Center City, and the 15th Ward in Fairmount. About 25 people came from various West Philadelphia wards.A sad commentary on the way the current leaders have lost their way was provided by the following quote, intended as a critique, but probably a point of pride for those who hope that volunteers driven by actual values can transform local politics:
. . .
Attending the first meeting were labor activists, people from neighborhood associations, bloggers, fans of former presidential candidate Howard Dean's, opponents of the Iraq war, even a few Green Party members.
City Commissioner Edgar Howard, leader of the 10th Ward in Northwest Philadelphia, said that the group would be limited by the absence of patronage jobs and money to reward loyalists and punish dissenters.He's right that it's one thing to mobilize for a single campaign and quite something else to build an organization for the long haul, but nobody in NN has any delusions about that, or about the internal dissent that has plagued the left for decades. But mobilization around even a small number of consensus issues would mean a real impact, and the motivation is high to get things underway.
"You have to be able to deliver goods and services to the constituents or else why should people stick with you?" Howard said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: Do they have staying power? It's a big, big city."
If Carol Campbell and Michael Nutter believe that this city can afford to flush an $82 million investment down the toilet, they don't deserve to be in City Council, or to consider a run for mayor, because they obviously have no respect for other people's money or how to handle investments.You tell 'em!! It's hard enough to get money out of Harrisburg without giving them evidence that we squander whatever we get . . .
If every child had good parents, did well at school, and stayed off drugs, Philadelphia would have gone a long way toward preventing youth violence, a variety of experts said at a Senate hearing here yesterday.One of the themes running through testimony about local efforts was that even successful programs were limited by their funding shortages:
Otherwise, bringing the hammer down by targeting specific law-breakers in specific neighborhoods is the best way to prevent young people from shooting each other...
Hart said successful approaches include "systematic analyses" of high-crime areas and intensive coordination among police, probation, courts and prosecutors. Disrupting illegal gun markets also is important, she said.Unfortunately, this is just one hearing, to be followed by others in DC (says Specter), so no programs or new solutions were discussed. Further, many folks will be unhappy with this tidbit:
Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal and local effort in West Philadelphia, uses all those tactics, but there is no money to expand it throughout the city. A similar program in parts of North and Southwest Philadelphia is the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, but it, too, cannot expand because money is lacking.
Tougher gun-control laws, long sought by city officials, were dismissed by Specter and Santorum.Indeed, the Daily News report of the occasion notes that the whole notion of these "field hearings" outraged many locals, especially anti-gun activists, who dismissed the event as a mere photo op.
"This guy who is owned by the gun lobby comes to Philadelphia to put on a dog-and-pony show about youth violence. His job is to make laws, but he does nothing about taking guns off the streets."It goes on from there. Yeowch!
Howard, Miller and others in their camp pointed out that both Specter and Sen. Rick Santorum, R. Pa., who participated in the hearing at the Constitution Center, voted in 2004 against renewing the federal assault weapons ban, which expired last September.
The 2005-2006 school year will be the first time the district will have a standardized curriculum in social studies. From kindergarten through 12th grade, there will be lessons, or modules, about ethnic communities that are part of Philadelphia - Asian, Latino, Jewish, to name a few.That seems like it goes a long way toward answering many of the objections that were raised to the highschool course, and helps put it into a context that could lead to useful discussions and even a sense of shared adventure. I'm certainly willing to wait and see how things develop.
Our kids will know more about their neighbors, schoolmates and the world. They will understand better than their parents, for example, reasons for the starvation and civil unrest in Africa, or why some Mexicans will risk death to come here.
Fattah said he'll lay out a sweeping "agenda for the city" early next year, and his fund-raiser tonight is hosted by an all-star lineup of Democratic money men and political heavyweights.The fundraiser is for his congressional campaign fund, so officially none of the players who show up are taking a stance on majoral prospects, but it's another of those clear sabre-rattling events (like Saidel had this spring) that get everybody busy.
Meanwhile Fattah said he plans to advance an agenda of change through his allies in City Council early next year.Will be interesting to see whether his proposals are helpful or just grandstanding, and how much of a toehold they get in fractious City Hall discussions. As for the mayor's race, Fattah is now planning to withhold his decision until spring...
"Ordinance by ordinance, I will offer my proposals for moving Philadelphia in a new direction on critical issues including crime, education, tax policy, and housing," Fattah said.
In a letter to the state gambling control board yesterday, the Philadelphia Democrat recommended that casinos not cash personal and government checks or check advances for gamblers. He also urged the board to require casino applicants to submit a plan to address compulsive gambling when they apply for a license, and casino operators to post gambling treatment information in advertising and at casinos.It's good to see the addiction problem being addressed, as well as the whole legislation given a closer look.
Yesterday, district officials confirmed that they would mandate a combined African and African American history course in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds African American. The course becomes one of four required social-studies courses, just as important as American history, geography and world history.This is apparently a very belated response to a school board mandate from 1968. Of course, the decision has met with a wide range of reactions, including concerns by other minority groups that their own stories will become even more overlooked. However, for the time being, their numbers don't carry enough clout.
"I guess the ideal I would love to see is a rich, diverse, textural and contextual history of all those who make up the fabric of America," Nevels said. "Short of that, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."Some of the debate is summarized in a second article here. Only time will tell how successful the courses are, and whether they serve more to unite or divide the student bodies.
Mayor Street, who had been about to go down in history as the mayor who tried to balance the budget by shutting city swimming pools, yesterday softened his reputation by opening the first of four new city "spraygrounds" on the site of an old city pool in West Philadelphia.They look like great fun, and I can imagine they're both cheaper and safer for the city to run. Neat idea!
Juvenile violence has been identified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a "health problem." In his capacity as head of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, Specter said he would explore the possibility of "earmarking," or designating CDC funding for programs in Philadelphia and other parts of the state.All efforts to help keep local schoolkids from getting gunned down in their own neighborhoods is certainly welcome...
NTI was a pile of money, and its only strategic imperative was to be spent. Without a core strategy, NTI was little more than a story told by the mayor about the effects of absentee landlords and boarded-up windows.Instead of being the equivalent of Street's car-towing campaign, catching the city up on many years' backlog of derelict and dangerous properties, NTI started funding sidewalk sweepers, community gardens, and a host of small distributed items that could never combine to really transform anything in a substantial way -- and half the crumbling houses are still standing.
... without core values, NTI absorbed any good idea that came along. The problem began when Mayor Street decided to sell NTI as program for every neighborhood, changing it from an anti-blight initiative into a giant municipal entitlement.
Bright yellow "Saidel for Mayor" stickers are plastered on No Parking signs and utility poles in Queen Village. "Dock 07" messages have spouted up on everything from bartenders' T-shirts to football-shaped stickers distributed at an Eagles' pre-Super Bowl rally.This City Paper article has speculations on just about every name that has come up over the last six months, so good fodder for political junkies. They also point out that, with jockeying starting this early, the 2007 primary may well be headed for an alltime record in campaign spending.
Even though the mayoral primaries are two years off, not-so-subtle political messages are already evident across Philadelphia. Though neither Jonathan Saidel, who didn't seek re-election as City Controller, nor electricians' union head John Dougherty have officially declared, behind-the-scenes fundraising and rallies have them at the forefront of the race to replace Mayor Street.
"Rendell remains personally popular - people who know him and hear him like him," Madonna said. "But his policies aren't as popular, and people don't think he's delivered, particularly on cutting taxes and creating jobs."(The same poll also showed Casey with a new lead over Santorum for next year's Senate race, largely because of a drop in Santorum support over his recent activities.)
I just find it maddening that the place politicians look to save money is so often the very the place society is most noble in spending it.He has, of course, some other suggestions of better places for belt-tightening.
But the means of getting there from the current impasse in City Council is as murky as a neighborhood tavern during “Monday Night Football.”DiCicco sounded much less optimistic...
"When you adjust for inflation, Pennsylvania's minimum wage earners are bringing home fewer real dollars than at any time since 1949," Veon said. "Someone who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year at minimum wage still comes up $5,000 short of the poverty line for a family of three; even a single parent with one child comes up nearly $2,000 short.Polls have found very widespread support for such a measure too.
"Someone who works hard for 40 hours per week should at least be able to say they are above the poverty level."
"There was obviously some controversy over Sen. Stack's involvement," Kanofsky said. "We don't know if he did anything wrong... but in light of the controversy we felt we were best served by moving away."Good thinking . . .
A Pennsylvania Democratic consultant who prefers to be unnamed suggests future candidates for governor run against the Legislature on the slogan, "Cut their pay and send them home." That's a campaign I'd like to cover.Why wait for governor? Let's start holding their feet to the fire...
Property tax relief has been the most elusive policy objective in modern Pennsylvania history. For a generation, candidates for governor have routinely criticized the inequity of the property tax, but none could successfully tame the monster. In the argot of economists, the dilemma was about “ tax shifting”: inevitably the burden of shifting two billion in local property tax revenues to the state meant raising some state tax--either the income or sales--so much that neither a governor nor legislators was willing to gamble on the wrath of the state’s voters.This column includes discussion of topics that news coverage tends to sidestep, like the moral element to accepting funds from gambling enterprises. Not as long as my summary makes it sound, and very informative.
Street said he sees merit in the chamber's claim that a lower tax would one day lead to more tax money for the city.And you know, everybody loves to be behind a tax increase...
"We just don't know how much," Street said. "And I've always taken the position that I'll spend that revenue when I start seeing it."
Street sees the issue as tax reduction versus tax reform, which he described as decreasing taxes in one place and increasing them in another to even out the books.
And even if he had [gotten the votes], he still would have to get a blessing from Mayor Street, who yesterday said in no uncertain terms that Nutter's personality might ultimately be the biggest stumbling block to getting the legislation approved.Further discussion is underway, but there are only a couple more sessions before Council breaks for the summer...
Many of the founders were inspired by the neighbor-to-neighbor activism of MoveOn.org, which mobilized anti-Bush voters in last year's presidential election. They say they want to push for ethics reform in Philadelphia politics, and also to help nominate candidates in Democratic primaries who will support "social equality" and "economic justice" in office.Hope to meet a bunch of you there, and find out what you want to see happen in our city over the coming years.
But the details are to be left up to the members, and that's where the conference comes in. Those who show up will break into smaller geographic groups to discuss principles and draft the blueprint for the new organization.
Nutter, 47, in Council as a staffer since his early 20s, as a member since his early 30s, may be the most effective member of that body since... well, since John Street.Despite this comparison, Ferrick thinks that Nutter more resembles Gov. Ed Rendell, as a smooth operator and compromise-broker. Good speculations there about how the primary battle in 2007 is likely to play out, with Street dancing with Fattah in preference to his local rival...
With all this opportunity, this comedy and tragedy, how near all men come to doing nothing! It is strange that they did not make us more intense and emphatic, that they do not goad us into some action. Generally, with all our desires and restlessness, we are no more likely to embark in any enterprise than a tree is to walk to a more favorable locality.Don't wait any longer -- now is your chance to get involved in changing the way that local politics happens. Come to the Neighborhood Networks founding conference this Saturday to learn about what can be done, and to participate in getting things going in the right direction.
- Henry David Thoreau
Journal entry of May 29, 1857