Friday, September 30, 2005

Tour the neighborhoods

cameraI've been a fan of PhillySkyline's views of Philadelphia ever since I stumbled onto his full-day photo tour of the SEPTA system (from the city streets to the subway turnstiles). Now it appears that he's centralized some of his trips around town in a Neighborhoods section, where you can see the relevant region marked on a city map and then wander along with him as he captures the big picture and little details that make each area unique. Worth some return visits, especially to see where else he goes. (Most recent addition: Fitler Square.)

Weekly snark

Dan pans the student rags (today it's Temple). He has a stronger stomach than I do, just to keep up with them...

Just wedge a paper ball in there...

Above Average Jane has been wondering about the specifics of the new(ish) Harrisburg rule allowing legislators to vote absentee if they have to be out of the room/building on business when the vote occurs. She now has the specific wording and provides it for the rest of us. Narrower than I had imagined, but still not guaranteeing that pols have to listen to any of the debate before making up their minds...

Lots of chewy news bits

  • Those who once touted private management companies like Edison as the solution to the woes of Philadelphia's public schools are a bit chastened by the report today that no notable improvements have been delivered. Test scores are improving district-wide, but the specialized approaches aren't showing any special benefits.

  • While Pennsylvanians are pressing their legislators to give some consideration to a minimum wage increase, New Jersey is already plunging ahead with the first step of their two-phase increase: the minimum there will go up by $1 (to $6.15) tomorrow, to be followed by another $1 next fall.

  • Philadelphia's City Council is going to look at the property valuations used as the basis of tax assessments, with an eye to buffering their constituents from the sharp tax increases that could accompany a valuation realignment to reflect the housing boom in some parts of the city.

  • The newly state-controlled Phila. Parking Authority may have overstepped its bounds when it decided to start ticketing cars for missing or outdated registration stickers. A judge points out that the registration issue carries safety and criminal implications that are outside the authority of the revenue-hungry PPA. oops!

  • Meantime, the contract dispute between SEPTA and its workers (see issues here), forgotten over the summer (see truce here), may be about to come to the fore again, as the voluntary deadline extension draws to a close this weekend. No mention of scheduled talks, but the workers are meeting to discuss a strike. Eep!

Priest scandals continue to be big news

In the wake of the District Attorney's report documenting abuse of children by Catholic priests, there has been much recrimination (see here) and ongoing outrage. Today's coverage includes reports that waves of additional victims are coming forward, as well as reports that a steady stream of emails document the dashed trust of parishoners around the region. All those misguided cover-ups...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Senatorial flash

The cover story of the new City Paper shows a haloed Senator Rick Santorum and carries the tagline "How Rick Santorum became the nation's evangelical poster boy." The article itself is in no way reverent, but curious about the Santorum phenomenon, as well as the man's view of himself -- lots of looking into his personal history and interviewing family and friends. You get a sense of a moderate but ambitious man who took a sharp right-turn about 15 years ago (around the time of his marriage and entry into politics), who has always been politically attuned and driven, and who remains in many ways a cipher.

A smaller article in the same issue looks at John Featherman, who intends to challenge Santorum for the Republican nomination (see previous here). However, it's more about the Underdog Phenomenon than it is about the candidate or his actual positions, although it mentions his key concerns and describes his longtime involvement with privacy issues.

News of local institutions

Checked out the Philadelphia Business Journal today and noticed three articles mentioning interesting developments among the city's educational and nonprofit organizations:
  1. A group of centers (CHOP, Drexel School of Health, and UPenn) just got a *huge* grant to do the largest-ever study of the impact of environmental factors on children's health. It will be a long-term study following a group of children over the next couple of decades (from pregnancy through age 21), so don't wait up for the results, but it could be a real eye-opener on the influence of diet, air quality, health care, and many other factors.

  2. The Mural Arts Program (*) is planning a large new center for education and outreach, to be built adjacent to its current facilities just north of Center City, using funds from state, city, and Lincoln Financial (after whom it will be named sigh). I love this program and what it does for the city of Philadelphia. Go, team!

  3. Drexel, continuing its trend toward ever higher profile and wider reach, will open a law school starting next fall. The program will involve opportunities for students to intern in various private and public businesses. They'll be building a new building for the school, and, I suppose, doing some serious faculty recruitment (with first hires to be announced in a month)!

Spotlight on Philadelphia Housing Authority

The Daily News has a double-header on the PHA today: the first article looks at improvements in the quality of homes built under their auspices (most are now attractive and modern townhouses rather than large industrial high-rises), as well as improvements in screening of tenants and the opportunity to buy rather than rent some properties. They're trying to be better neighbors, as well as help their tenants become independent and be a spur to private neighborhood development. The second article looks at the downside of the new strategy, specifically the super-poor who are being less well accomodated in some of the snazzier schemes, and others who get booted when a family member breaks the rules. They also note substantial waiting lists for PHA housing and for Section 8 housing (in privately run apartments).

A round-up of other items

A bunch of updates and items that might be of interest (I'm a bit short of time today):

More concerns about heating costs

The news that Philadelphia Gas Works is considering a substantial rate hike this fall (see here) has led to a number of subsequent articles and conversations.
  1. The Inquirer reports that state and local officials are looking into the matter and hoping to find ways to prevent or mitigate the increase. One program mentioned, as yesterday, is LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), to which PA does not contribute. Also discussed is the utility's proposal to ship and store liquified natural gas, a buffer against price fluctuations but a concern to safety experts.

  2. The Daily News has two pieces on the problem:
    • One looking at how heating prices have risen over the last few years and how it has or is likely to affect the poor.
    • A second in the form of questions and answers about rising energy costs in general. Main advice? Weather-proof your house and prepare to bundle up...

David Cohen hospitalized

The papers are reporting that Philadelphia's longtime City Councilman David Cohen has been hospitalized for a week for an undisclosed ailment ("common to senior citizens"). Little things can take on more serious aspects for anyone over 90 -- we all wish a speedy recovery for the Councilman and all the best to his family (including State Rep. and frequent commenter here Mark Cohen) meantime.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Philadelphia is a lot like the much-younger sibling intimidated by the accomplishments and sparkle of its elders among East Coast metropolises (metropoli?). Thus the loud rejoicing when anybody tosses us a bone or gives us a friendly head-pat. Current edition: National Geographic Traveler says that Philly is the next big thing, and backs that up with a nine-page spread. Expect waves of hipsters to descend as soon as it hits the stands!

Meet the players

Those following the race for the GOP's gubenatorial candidacy (see prev. here) may be interested in an interview with state Sen. Jeff Piccola over at pstupidonymous, which covers a range of issues and strategic questions. Will be interesting to see whether the frontrunners will also give the blogosphere some time.

Updates on recent stories

Prepare for a long, cold winter

Folk wisdom has it that a hot summer like we've had here in Southeastern PA is likely to be followed by an extra-cold winter. Unfortunate, then, that it appears that local utility PGW is looking for a hefty rate hike (either 19% (Inq) or 29% (DN), depending on your math) in response to rising wholesale prices. Young Philly Politics points out that this raises the importance of assistance to low-income households (through a program melifluously named LIHEAP), so that nobody freezes to death due to a shortage of funds.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Other noteworthy Tuesday news bits

  • The Inquirer reports that Philadelphia is about to restructure its housing agencies to make it easier for developers to acquire abandoned lots and the like. It seems like this is less about laxer regulation than about better computer systems and inter-agency coordination, which seem like a benefit to all concerned. Perhaps the zoning code will be next up for a second look...

  • Politics Philly notes that the city parking agency intends to go after unpaid parking tickets up to 15 years old! Time to dig through that glove compartment.

  • Alex at Young Philly Politics has a look at recent polling and past campaign strategy for PA's 8th US Congressional District. Lots of interesting action ahead for 2006!

  • Meanwhile, across the river, the New Jersey gubenatorial campaign just took an unexpected twist when the tax-exemption of religious insitutions was brought into the fray:
    Black ministers who endorsed Sen. Jon S. Corzine for governor yesterday found themselves on the defensive over $2.5 million in donations that the Democratic candidate's foundation has made to African American churches.
    Ahem. I expect that we'll be hearing more about the proper relationship of clergy and candidates in national politics in the next decade.

I.D. to go under spotlight

The teaching of Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania's Dover school system will be put to a test in federal court in a case that started yesterday. I'm mostly ranted out at this point, but if you want to know why it's a poor idea to present "a variety of theories" about science in schools, see this piece from a saner moment.

Legislators get rowdy reception

The anti-pay-hike contingent took it's summer of rising fury on the road yesterday, with a variety of protests in Harrisburg to welcome the state legislature back into session. Coverage includes the following:
  1. The Inquirer gives an overview of the day and a sample of the crowd.

  2. John Grogan provides his own account, especially noting the tangible absence of House Speaker John Perzel.

  3. John Baer also offers some colorful out-takes from the demonstrations.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Other local bits

  • Ray Murphy at Young Philly Politics offers an interesting take on the local priest sex scandal investigations, and in particular the way that they reflect on city District Attorney Lynn Abraham's seriousness about seeing justice done.

  • The cover story of last Wednesday's CityPaper focused on the insufficiency of Philadelphia's response to the hunger of its citizens, who can get caught between circumstances and the bureaucracy.
    But as I examined why, despite an abundance of programs geared toward helping the needy, hunger persists in Philadelphia, I did not encounter a grand indifference. Instead, I saw resources scattered throughout an enormously complex and arcane system — a maze, if you will — where people in need pursue food distributors endlessly, sometimes meeting and completing their life-sustaining transactions, sometimes dead-ending into missed meals, and always, always, putting forth copious efforts for disproportionately meager results.
    Some of the anecdotes are quite grueling.

  • The Philadelphia Weekly asks whether Philadelphia can afford the proposed wireless plan, suggesting that public subsidies are likely to be required.

More on the emptying of local news rooms

Two pieces respond to the recent announcement that Knight-Ridder intends to cut 100 total press jobs at Philadelphia's Inquirer and Daily News (see here):
  1. Editor and Publisher presents the viewpoints of two past editors of these papers, one expressing optimism that the papers will rise above the cuts and the other thinking they could prove fatal.
    (via Dan at Young Philly Politics)

  2. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's Rep. Vince Fumo, not always happy with his own coverage, still shakes his fist in the wind appeals to Mayor Street and Governor Rendell to intervene somehow to prevent the cuts.

This week's Fattah rumblings

Speculation about US Rep. Chaka Fattah's prospects for Philadelphia mayoralty (see previous, e.g., here) continue steaming along. Two current stories:
  1. An Inquirer piece looks at current Mayor John Street's shows of support and catalogs other evidence from the trail.

  2. Meanwhile, a short piece notes that one of Fattah's signature programs, Gear Up, which helps low-income students become prepared for college, has produced no funds for his own hometown in the last round of grants.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Sneaking away again through the weekend. Thought I'd get a quick look at the news (if any has surfaced), but no such luck. Content yourselves with other sources of Philadelphiarcana, and/or check out this mega-post for diversions for the next few days.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Knight-Ridder cuts jobs

First it was speculation, now it's a fact -- the newspapers are going to have to slim down. Both of Philadelphia's major dailies will be affected, with the Inquirer losing 75 people and the Daily News losing 25. Staff will be offered a chance at a transfer or buyout, but the target numbers Will Be Met. eep.

Region reaps business benefits of Katrina

New Orleans is a major convention destination -- I know my own onetime professional society (Society for Neuroscience) took its annual meeting there every few years, as it was one of the few places in North America that could handle gatherings in the 10-20k range. The destruction has left a host of conference planners scrambling to find alternative venues on short notice, and a significant number are considering having their events at the Philadelphia Convention Center, some because they're familiar with the site from previous use. I can only imagine the logistical headaches of such things; the sort of secondary fall-out from the hurricane that most of us would never be aware of.

(via PoliticsPhilly)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gas prices -- a closer look

Everybody's complaining about the high cost of gas (well, those of us who designed our lives with public transit in mind may be feeling smug instead), but it turns out that some neighborhoods are getting hit far worse than others.
Jason Toews, co-founder of the price-tracking Web site GasBuddy. com, says that oil companies often set 100 or more price zones across a single metropolitan area.

"It's all based on what they think the market will bear in that area," he said.
The prices are essentially set by wholesale price differences, not local dealers. South Philly has it the worst, and the Northeast the best, with a difference of 20-40 cents (!).

Where does Rendell stand?

Governor Ed Rendell has been a bit of a flip-flopper on the question of a minimum wage (MW). In the course of just this summer, he said he supported an increase and would veto a legislative pay-hike unless the MW was raised as well [1]; then he signed the pay-hike without an MW increase [2]. Now he's listing it as one of his priorities for the new legislative session [3]. Phila. City Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr., points out further that in 2002 Rendell actually campaigned against the MW, and that he interfered with attempts to boost the city MW back in 1998. Hard to think he brings a lot of clout to the issue if he's been that overtly unsupportive in the past, but perhaps his current signing-on is a symptom of the way the wind is blowing in Harrisburg (and any politician's desire to be on the right side of an issue that's about to be decided). Only time will tell.

City Council endorses Sheehan visit

Philadelphia's City Council acted last Friday to approve a motion (sponsored by Reynolds-Brown) to welcome Cindy Sheehan to Philly this past weekend and call for the removal of American troops from Iraq. This action follows the decision two years ago to condemn the Patriot Act (that measure sponsored by Ortiz) -- both toothless but principled stances on national issues. Ben Waxman at Young Philly Politics has some reflections on the relationship of national and local issues, and on the motivations of politicians in an overwhelmingly liberal city.

Quiet news day

Very little news in the major papers today, which perhaps explains why the columnists are recycling things they've already said about the legislative pay-raise and its energization of the electorate, etc. Of course, the Harrisburg folks go back to work today (to be greeted by an inflatable pig), so there's sure to be news again by tomorrow...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Some woofing of big dogs

  • PA Governor Ed Rendell apparently caught state legislators off-guard when he suggested a rare special session dedicated to tax relief. Perhaps he's trying to find a way to force simultaneous consideration of all the various proposals from both sides of the aisle made in recent weeks. If so, new revenues from casinos and shifts of income and sales tax structures could all be on the table -- whew!

  • Meanwhile, US Rep. Chaka Fattah just moved one step closer to becoming an official candidate for Philadelphia's Democratic mayoral nomination next year: the FEC has given him the go-ahead to raise and spend unlimited funds while pursuing the possibilities. This is just a draft opinion, but if it gets an official stamp next Thursday, expect to see Fattah start shaking the trees...

City Council addresses pesky issues

  • Apparently among the first new bills of the session are two to deal with "nuisance" issues: neighborhood noise (barking dogs and incessant car alarms) may now be ticketable, and carry-out bars will see a bit more regulation.

  • Meanwhile, another West Philly development plan (see the previous one here) appears to be riling the neighborhood and putting grey hairs on Councilwoman Blackwell's head: the PHA's Mill Creek project may involve condemning some currently occupied homes, and offers of first dibs on the new housing aren't reassuring those just finding out about the whole affair. Looks like time for another community meeting!
Update: Politics Philly has a complete list of the bills introduced at the first session of the City Council yesterday.

From the weeklies

A cluster of stories from Philadelphia's City Paper and Phila Weekly caught my (belated) eye:
  • Two pieces look at the need for greater fuel conservation:
    1. What Would Jesus Drive? profiles some religious leaders prodding their congregants to carpool and take other steps to better environmental stewardship, and also what the city is slowly doing about its own consumption costs. Philly Beyond Oil will have a conference this weekend on the subject.
    2. Share Prices are Down puts the spotlight on PhillyCarShare, which allows city residents to rent cars for short in-town trips, and takes credit for reducing the number of cars kept in Philadelphia by some 1,400 and cutting the costs of transportation for its members.

  • The weekly tells of the city's problem finding a head for its recycling program--see the previous story of the woes of that program here.

  • Apparently the city's 911 responses are a mess, with dispatchers not seeming to know their way around the city and emergency personnel taking forever to arrive or coming in the wrong kind of vehicle. Very unnerving!

  • Mary Patel takes a quick look at former Steeler Lynn Swann, along with other gubenatorial hopefuls who attended the Republican State Committee meeting last weekend.

The mistake was by a different beginner

Looks like the poll-visiting kerfluffle threatening to sour Cherelle Parker's win this week (see here) was less a result of her first-timer mis-steps than of over-zealousness by the new head of the Committee of Seventy, Zach Stalberg (see background here):
The committee announced on Wednesday that it had asked the District Attorney's Office to investigate whether Parker's multiple visits inside several polling places Tuesday were against the state code.
. . .
The committee learned yesterday that the City Commissioners' Office had issued Parker a poll watcher's certificate, which allowed her to enter any polling place.
Oops! Then I guess that all those suspicious visits to polling places were, um, pre-approved! Guess if he wants to change local practices at the who-provides-lunch level, Stalberg should start by suggesting a better system, rather than trying to get somebody taken to court.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Minimum wage creates clash of the opinion pages

Two editorials from the Pittsburgh end of the state in response to Governor Ed Rendell's mention of minimum wage as part of his agenda for the session to start a week from Monday: the Patriot-News thinks it's long overdue
As we noted earlier this year, the buying power of the minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $1.60. It is now near its lowest actual worth, adjusted for inflation, in its history, with an estimated two-thirds of those who are paid at this level adults. With rising energy prices, and inflation generally starting to gain ground, it is time to give those workers on the bottom rung of employment a boost in income.
. . .
It shall be interesting to see whether those lawmakers who voted themselves a pay increase so over the top that it shocked the commonwealth from Erie to Chester can vote to deny a pay raise to those laboring at the margins of economic sustainability.
... while the Tribune-Review thinks it's foolhardy.
Not only are most minimum-wage earners not "poor," half are under 24 and nearly half of them still live with their parents. Nearly two-thirds are part-time workers. And the average family income of the typical minimum-wage employee in Pennsylvania is $50,000.

The irony of the Rendell proposal is that, if adopted, it would kill thousands of entry-level jobs so vital to giving young people their first critical work experience.
I don't know the publications that well, but I can guess that they represent rather different slices of the political spectrum . . .

I'm no expert in this field, nor about to become one with a few Google searches, but that last study doesn't jibe with what I've heard from a bunch of independent sources. To randomly waive other data (say, this), I might offer:
• Historically, analyses of the minimum wage's impact on young workers have never shown the predicted large job-loss effects.
• The small negative employment effects found in past analyses diminish over time and are no longer statistically significant.
• Minimum wage increases are well targeted in the sense that 63% of the gains from a dollar increase in the minimum wage would be expected to accrue to working households in the bottom 40% of the income distribution.
• Of the 8.4 million workers (age 18 to 64) whose wages and incomes would increase with a one-dollar raise in the minimum wage, 2.7 million (32%) are the parents of 4.7 million children. Of the 2.7 million parents who earned at or near the current minimum wage in 1999, 63% had family incomes below $25,000.
• Most minimum wage workers are adults (71%), age 20 and up. Women and minority workers are over-represented among the minimum wage workforce. Slightly less than half (48%) of the minimum wage workforce are full-time workers.
Note that parts of this list aren't necessarily inconsistent with the above, but certainly casts the light in a different direction. So, as ever, one must take the "facts" in opinion pieces with a grain of salt.

here's a related study showing that the cost of insuring a family of 4 is now more than the annual salary of a minimum wage worker...

Senate race news

Apparently the Democratic party's presumptive nominee for US Senate in 2006, Robert Casey, is leading incumbent (and family advice-book writer) Rick Santorum by something like 14 points in current polling. It's still mighty early, with plenty of time for voters to forget about the housewife and hurricane-refugee remarks that have widened the gap recently. Casey's going to have to be more than the anti-Santorum, come spring.

(via Edico)

Other bits

Two bits about Phila neighborhood developments:
  • Center City to get more sidewalk lighting, always good for pedestrians, which means residents + visitors. Specific areas targeted for this round of improvements are Washington Square, Pine Street, Market Street Bridge, and 22nd and Arch streets -- I see the fingerprints of activist civic associations (WashWest, esp.), but hope they can find some bucks for the Fitler area eventually; I used to live there and it feels safe but can be extremely creepy at night.
    (via PoliticsPhilly)

  • Extending the already tangible westward creep of Civilization (gentrification) on South Street, a major condo development is now planned for the 1300 block (read: just before Broad). A parking lot will go and more pricey Kimmel-proximal housing (some already presold) takes its place.
    (via America's Hometown)
In unrelated news, a story about tax notions circulating in Harrisburg includes the news that some Philly-area Republicans want to shift the tax burdon from property owners onto wage-earners and shoppers. That's what we need -- county-by-county tax structure. This appears to be a response to the failure of Act 72, which would have used casino monies to help defray school budget costs.

Update: I originally intended this post to be two groupings of two stories, but then I couldn't find a link for the fourth story (#2 about taxes). Ray Murphy now provides coverage (it was a press conference but not yet a story) of the new proposal by state Rep. Dwight Evans to establish a Pennsylvania Earned Income Tax Credit, which would provide a boost to the poorest of the state's working poor.

Speaking of SEPTA

Last week I was away in Paris, and every time I got onto the Metro I thought about how great it would be if Philadelphia had that kind of transit coverage: nobody more than a few blocks from a stop, most major destinations no more than one train-change away, easy access, etc. This is not to say that the Metro is perfect (I missed the air-conditioning of SEPTA's cars greatly), but merely an excellent standard of integration into the fabric of a city.

Anyway, that made me super-primed for this fantasy SEPTA map, which apparently incorporates just about every expansion and tweak suggestion made in the last century and achieves almost the kind of coverage I'd been imagining myself. I'd especially like to see an extension into South Philly, but really it all looks great. Where do I sign up?

(via Philadelphia Will Do)

Metro no more

Many Philadelphia commuters have become hooked on The Metro, a tabloid distillation of the days news just perfect for a 10-minute to 1-hour ride. But those days will soon end, in light of today's announcement that SEPTA will end its contract with the paper as of September 30, in response to a variety of conflicts (see prev. here). Details in the article make it unclear whether there will be any change for stations where The Metro appears next to boxes for other papers, but the publication will no longer include SEPTA news.

Today's news from the education front

Two stories of note today:
  • Students seem enthused about the Philadelphia system's new African/African-American history course (see prev. here and here), to judge by hefty initial enrollments. This course will be a requirement for all students, starting with this year's freshmen, but the 5,000 currently signed up will be taking it as an upper-level elective by free choice.

  • As another facet of the District's attempt to keep parents involved, they are now enabling online tracking of a variety of information about schools:
    That information includes attendance data, report-card grades, standardized test scores, progress reports, curriculum details and the ability to communicate with teachers via e-mail.
    Parents will get a password to allow them access to the data, and discounted computers will be made available where appropriate. So far the program has been instituted in only a subset of (elementary) schools, but administrator hope to widen its reach.

A novel fund-raising notion

A round-up of hurricane news and DC actions related to it includes a note that Philadelphia's Rep. Bob Brady has suggested raising disaster relief monies by authorizing a special 38-cent stamp, with the extra penny from each such stamp going to help ongoing efforts. That's a new one!

Beginner mistakes

Cherelle Parker, still basking in her landslide win in the 8th Congressional District special election Tuesday (see here), is now being accused of violating election law with totally needless pandering to election workers. More likely an appearance than a reality of impropriety, but if the D.A. gets involved, that distinction ceases to matter. Whoops!

New local source for newsy snark

Via a tip from Tulin of PoliticsPhilly I discovered the new local blog "Philadelphia Will Do," which has made me entirely reconsider my approach to regional blogging. I sucked down more than a week almost the complete archive of posts, which poke irreverent fun at much local news and opinion, and even moreso at the way that the media covers both. [Shades of The Daily Show here.] Worth a regular visit.

Update: (1) The above is a Phila Weekly blog, in case you didn't know that, and (2) its author has been a journlist in the region for a while. This led to some chat (that I totally missed this summer) about whether news organizations understand blogs, whether journalists can be good bloggers, blah blah. Um, I think this guy gets it. What he's doing is good, in a way that Attytood and Blinq don't come close to -- it's not just collecting links, it's a sharp analytical eye combined with well-written snark that is a cynical delight. My two cents.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Expect fireworks starting tomorrow

Philadelphia's City Council returns to session tomorrow, with a busy agenda that includes not only the new Fairmont Park proposal mentioned below, but also government reform issues, some sort of smoking ban, and a variety of competing tax proposals -- all that and questions over whether Councilman Rick Mariano will face federal indictment. whew! Should make for some interesting discussions (and more lively news than has been available on the local front of late)...

Update: the Inquirer adds to this with speculation about the political winds that will be blowing this term.

Off with its head!

The Daily News has a multi-part feature today on the Fairmont Parks Commission (see previous story here), the gist of which can, I think, be summarized by the headline of the editorial that kicks it off: DEATH TO THE PARK COMMISSION. [ahem] Essentially, they say that Recreation could handle the job better.
When we first began our intensive study of the city's parks for our 2001 series, "Acres of Neglect," we found Fairmount Park in a pathetic state of decline, neglected by city leaders, and often tragically abused by park users.
Conditions now are better, they admit, but far from where they should be, as illustrated in their comparison of specific aspects then and now. The third piece in this series profiles and rates the current members of the commission, giving short bios, attendance records, and overall appraisals for each.

Make of this what you will. They plan to follow up this barrage with more pieces over coming days, so perhaps they will make their case that Recreation (or the new fusion department envisioned by Clarke and Reynolds-Brown) could do better.

Kicking up the cow-pies

  • John Perzel has probably taken a beating among the dairy vote for his claim that migrant milkers take home a swanky $55k per year. He appears to have disappeared again after making his remarks.

  • Meanwhile, a group of state lawmakers have made a noisy show of bills to repeal the pay-hike or the early bonus (unvouchered expenses) portion thereof. It's pretty unlikely that either of these will ever see the light of day (or even dark-of-night consideration), so the legislators behind them are mostly hoping to get risk-free political cover with their constituents.

Results in: Cherelle Parker wins 8th District seat

The Daily News reports a landslide (without numbers), and the Inquirer says "overwhelming margin," showing her with almost tenfold the vote numbers of her rivals (at 66% reporting). PennLive gives this summary just now:
With more than 92 percent of the districts reporting, Parker had 2,952 votes compared to 615 for Santoyo and 298 for Rossman, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State Web site.
Congratulations to the newest Rep. in Harrisburg!

Special neighborhood reports

The Inquirer has collected a series of their profiles of various neighborhoods within Philadelphia and in the surrounding region. Currently featured are the Upper Main Line (from this summer), University City (from last fall), and Cherry Hill (from two years ago). Their explorations of specific regions can all be found on a "where we live" page, which I presume gets updated with each new installment -- each link there sends you to a page with links to a group of stories published together. A great idea and a super resource -- I hope they keep adding new ones.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

News of other politicians and wannabees

  • There seems to be a lot going on in the US Congressional 8th District (Bucks County and parts of Montgomery County), where Republican Michael Fitzpatrick is up for re-election next year. Last time, his opponent in the general election was Ginny Schrader (then a darling of the liberal blogosphere), and she announced this summer her intent to run again. However, Schrader has now withdrawn from the race, citing the unpleasant demands of running. That leaves Paul Lang, a Coast Guard veteran (see Above Average Jane's note about him here), Andrew Warren (former head of PennDOT and recently a Republican), and Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran. Murphy appears to be the favorite of the local progressive blogosphere, also collecting an endorsement from Philly for Change.

  • Today's installment of speculations about the 2007 Philadelphia mayoral race includes an examination of the PR antics of the local favorites. They all claim to be going about their usual business, but there seem to be a lot of press events along the way.
    "Rank-and-file voters won't pay much attention to this," said Terry Madonna, a pollster and political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster. "They're jockeying to gain visibility and support among Philadelphia's political, civic and community leaders.

Today's Santorum news (weather edition)

Pennsylvania's US Senator Rick Santorum was in the papers today in two contexts:
  1. He condemns rival Casey for an email taking Santorum to task over hurricane-related hard-heartedness. (Sorry, Rick, but sometimes people can actually be too poor to get out of Dodge, and that's without the police stopping the Coloreds at the bridges.)

  2. He accompanies the HUD Secretary to Philadelphia-area shelters helping displaced hurricane victims, where federal funds are promised to support further efforts (including permanent housing).
(for previous weather-related Santorum news, see this)

Pay-raises, minimum wages, and other forms of calculus

Three pieces today on this loosely structured theme:
  1. PA Governor Ed Rendell made his preseason pitch to lawmakers about his goals for the coming term, and he emphasized raising the minimum wage, among other top priorities. Also mentioned was his support for a repeal of the "unvouchered expenses" portion of the recent legislative pay-raise, the portion that seems to lead to greatest voter fury, and further attempts to get casino tax monies into property owners' pockets.

  2. A Daily News editorial chimes in with support for Rendell's requests, in particular the minimum wage and some sentencing guidelines. On the former, it notes:
    Opposition, particularly from conservatives and the business community, will be swift and fierce. Opponents will argue that a wage hike will result in fewer jobs.

    But the research no longer supports that view. In a now-well-known study conducted by two Princeton University economists, job growth in the 1990s in Pennsylvania was compared to that of New Jersey's, which has a higher minimum wage. According to the study, "employment actually expanded in New Jersey relative to Pennsylvania, where the minimum wage was constant."
    Time for PA to keep up with its more enlightened neighbors.

  3. In news of the ongoing pay-raise fallout, John Baer picks up on something that caught my attention in the Sunday article about GOP in-fighting (see prev.): state House Speaker Perzel's claim that his salary was perfectly justifiable as only 2-3 times what an "immigrant milking cows in Lancaster" makes. His cited figure for the latter was $50-55k, which certainly made me perk up my ears (and reconsider my career choice). Baer does a little fact-checking and comes up with the unsurprising discovery that Perzel's figures were about 3-fold inflated; dairy workers take home more like $17k per year, which makes Perzel's new salary look closer to a 9-10-fold multiple (not including the benefits, cars, and per diems)...

Monday, September 12, 2005

And friends

Many of you may already know this from pesky delightful political mailings, but Joe Hoeffel has made a public statement in favor of an increase in Pennsylvania's minimum wage, and is sponsoring a petition to encourage lawmakers to consider one of the bills currently queued up. Every little bit of support from prominent figures, however belated, has to be good for these efforts.

Pay raise furor on the right

Rep. Mark Cohen has expressed concern that, while some progressive organizations have condemned the legislative pay-raise and attempted to use it as leverage for liberal ends (e.g., a hike in the minimum wage), the majority of the outrage has come from the right, where it has an anti-government flavor (and thus quite different goals). The Sunday Inquirer pursues that angle in a story positing a civil war within the state GOP with the grassroots taking exception to the move and the leadership defending it.
And at a meeting yesterday of the Republican State Committee, members passed a resolution knocking the GOP-controlled legislature and Democrat Gov. Rendell for the pay hike - a move that pollster Michael Young, a longtime observer of state politics, called "extraordinary."
In fact, conservative talk radio hosts and groups like the Young Republicans appear to be planning to punish some members of their party in upcoming primaries, perhaps finding Toomey-like super-conservatives to run against raise supporters. An interesting historical analysis of state conservative groups and trends can be found here.

Made me snort my Sunday coffee

Tom Ferrick's Sunday opinion piece took on a recent kerfluffle surrounding US Senator Rick Santorum and his general support for the Bush Administration on the Iraq War (see previous here), unsurprising given his leadership position. The piece is full of snark, but also some substance (comparing Santorum's standards for advance planning for the undertaking in Kosovo (Clinton) versus that in Iraq (Bush) rather pointedly). When I hit the middle section titled "Can you hear me now?" the sardonic beauty simply caused me to laugh myself into tears. hee. Worth a visit if you missed it.

Mayoral musings, installment number next

Lots of chewy speculation about the frontrunners in the invisible psychological primary for Philadelphia Mayor, taking place some 18 months before the actual event. Top bits:
  • Last week the Inquirer noted that US Rep. Chakah Fattah is keeping himself visible in the area, giving out lots of federal grant money on a variety of fronts, including school safety, park improvements, and a national memorial to colonial slaves.

  • The City Paper did a double-header of profiles of a couple of the other local favorites:
    1. Michael Nutter "not as boring as you think" (!), a lengthy piece which reviews many of Nutter's recent accomplishments and missteps, and attempts to peer into his personality a bit.
    2. A day in the life of John Dougherty, a shorter riff on a man who may or may not still be a "regular working stiff" and/or a political outsider.

  • Meanwhile, Mary Patel's "Political Notebook" muses on a few other figures shadowing the mayoral discussion, including Bob Brady and former Republican candidate Sam Katz. (This piece also discusses Carol Campbell's power as Ward Leader and other miscellany.)

Election day *tomorrow* in NW Philadelphia

There's an election in the Philly area tomorrow, in one of those low-turnout off-season local elections, this time for State Rep. It will be a short term, so a bit thankless, and not much time to prove yourself before running as the incumbent:
The 200th district seat opened after Democratic State Rep. LeAnna Washington was sworn into the state Senate in June. Whoever fills the rest of her term, which expires next year, will have to endure a May primary, and face the general election in November 2006.
Anyway, there are three candidates, Democrat Cherrelle Parker, Republican Robert Rossman, and Green Party candidate Marlene Santoyo (who is making some waves by positioning her campaign as a referendum on the local Democratic party machine). If you live in the Roxborough, Mt. Airy, or Chestnut Hill sections of the city, read up on the choices and turn out to have your say!

Update: here's one report of the candidates' statements in a recent neighborhood forum, which perhaps will be useful for uncertain citizens.

Update 2: PoliticsPhilly compiled some informative links about this election here.

Recent education news

Three stories from the last week about Philadelphia-area schools:
  1. In last Sunday's Inquirer (9/4; now archived, so no link), there was a story called "Revising grades will be tougher," which indicated that the Philadelphia school system will no longer allow principals to revise student grades without justifying their action to the regional superintendant. I was surprised that a subset of principals were intervening frequently; the problem is really about what to do with failing students, but earlier intervention seems better than letting students slip through without learning anything.

  2. In an apparent follow-up, the School District today announced a plan to help standardize grading standards across different schools. Also discussed is a previous guideline for failing students in a single grading period, which appeared to let students skip an entire class without receiving less than 50%. I hope they come up with a better idea this time around...

  3. Late last week the School District announced the latest in its innovative experiments: offering AP classes in special Saturday sessions for students whose home schools otherwise lack such programs (or whose schedules are already overburdened, eek). Interesting idea, although a lot of subjects (I'm thinking of calculus) can be hard to learn in a seminar format, rather than daily classes.
(props to staff researcher [read: jet-lagged spouse] RM for gleaning tidbits from last week's news for this and other posts today)

Friday, September 02, 2005

There must be something *I* can do

If you feel that way, watching the ever-worsening news from New Orleans, Albert Yee at dragonballyee is compiling a list of opportunities and organizations. Even your pennies help (or see this idea for a more substantial contribution).

(p.s.) I'll be out of town for the next week. Best to all in Philadelphia and along the southern coast of our country . . .

Willow Grove -- what's the best outcome?

Right now, the fate of the Willow Grove airbase is unclear: it's no longer a federal military base but can keep its National Guard unit, but if the feds take their airplanes home, it's not clear what the reduced troops would do there. Today John Grogan argues that hanging onto this remnant may not be the best use of such prime state land. That notion reminded me of an article from earlier this summer that looked at how other regions have dealt with closing bases, and concluded that prudent development can result in an excellent long-term outcome (after some inevitable short-term adjustment pain). I hope that somebody is at least sketching out some ideas along those lines, even as they work to implement the National Guard possibilities meantime . . .

Comic relief

It's a little bit hard for me to worry about local spats in the midst of the largest national disaster likely in my lifetime, so I appreciate the goofiness of the ongoing legislator/comic website kerfluffle (see note here). Today the Inquirer notes the site's removal, which Leach claims was due to its "susceptibility to hackers." heh. Meantime an editorial lambasts the man for his sense of humor and his poor political choices (and maybe for not knowing when he's doing which). ouch.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Plug it in!

Rep. Cohen is sponsoring legislation to encourage the use of plug-in hybrids in Pennsylvania -- see a recent story on the new technology here. Certainly, most city residents make primarily short trips, so these could cut gas usage hugely. A pleasant coincidence, I'm sure, that this coincides with rising gas prices making drivers think twice about their choices...

(via Young Philly Politics)

Drinking with the big dogs?

The City Paper this week profiles Philadelphia's growing Tuesday night Drinking Liberally gathering (see link with logo in sidebar) as "must-do politics" for local candidates (presumably as a way to enlist blogger support). I have a standing appointment on Tuesday nights, or I'd have really enjoyed meeting these folks, as well as the general yap and blather with other lefties... :(

Around the neighborhoods

  • A blighted area of NW Philadelphia, around Martin Luther King Highschool, is now slated for a $3 million improvement.
    The money will be used to acquire and rehabilitate five abandoned houses in the 1300 block of East Haines Street; restore trails and clear brush in Awbury Park; refurbish playgrounds at two recreation centers; clean up a polluted plot of land near the high school; and plant trees throughout the neighborhood.
    State Rep. (and mayoral hopeful?) Dwight Evans gets credit for spearheading the project, along with a number of other local pols, and they hope that this will be the start of a larger push in the NW generally.

  • The Philly Fringe Festival is outgrowing its initial stable of venues, and thus this year's fest will spread across the city and include some space in West Philadelphia for the first time.

  • This week's Philadelphia Weekly includes a story expanding on yesterday's Daily News piece about the fear of crime in Northern Liberties. Several groups are advocating redistricting the police department so that the neighborhood doesn't have to compete with Old City and Columbus Blvd. for weekend coverage. Meanwhile, some residents worry that the negative coverage will skewer their development bubble.

  • Meanwhile, across the river in New Jersey, the town of Mount Holly has been having a local battle over eminent domain (sort of), which ended yesterday with a judge's ruling against the Gardens neighborhood homeowners. Part of the problem is that the town hasn't really come up with a specific development proposal, but has been buying up houses with the intent to make something better -- too little for the judge to call discriminatory (but presumably by the time he can, it will be too late).

Happy ending for trolley saga in sight?

After initial glory, subsequent poor behavior, press exposure, and finally negotiations (see background here and last word here), the restored historic Girard trolley is ready to launch. Still a few mutterings; is SEPTA really so short-sighted that it hasn't gotten together with the neighbors yet?! Fix that. Service will start again this Sunday, so make your plans to have a ride -- maybe visit the zoo!

Today's gaming chips

  1. Color me missed-this-story-entirely, but apparently a group of investors had been attempting to pull together a plan to turn the Adam's Mark hotel on City Line into a new casino. Neighbors and City Councilman Michael Nutter were less than excited. Well, it looks like that plan is done with, since the owner won't sell the land anyway. Um, where exactly to you expect neighbors *not* to object??

  2. Meantime, in keeping with the ever-less-reassuring appearance of the state's gaming board (see prev.), one of its members was arrested in a bar brawl. Ya' can't make this stuff up.

Perzel returns to area, reserves comment

While the pay-raise blow-back has raged for much of the summer, state House Speaker has conveniently been out of the line of fire (see prev. here) traveling the world. However, he's back now, and his colleagues and the state press were sure to look to him to defend the measure and/or provide some cover. However, at his first public appearance he avoided the topic and claimed to know nothing about the various bills introduced to repeal the raise or the unvouchered expenses portion. John Baer opines that the legislative leadership thinks "public discontent goes away if you don't talk about it." He may be right, but they just might be wrong.

I know how it feels

I used to live in a 1-BR apartment in Society Hill, and my electricity bills averaged around $40-70 per month. I once got a bill for around $1100, and when I called to straighten it out I asked the guy what he thought I was doing that could rack up that kind of wattage -- running a nuclear toaster? So I could sympathize with the experience of Bucks County, who recently got an erroneous $179,400 phone bill . . . (luckily, mine never went to court!)

A little too much sunlight

When I saw on my way to work that the Inquirer had a front-page story about a state legislator's blog, I of course intended to check it out for myself -- many things can seem appalling when taken out of context that are more harmless or wry when you know the writer's voice. But I guess that Rep. Daylin Leach preferred not to submit his sense of humor to the inspection of all of his constituents (for fear of being dooced?) because the page appears to no longer exist, being replaced with a redirect to Yahoo.

Google offers this page in cache, with Monday's post skewering the press coverage of the legislators' conference in Seattle. Reasonably funny, but nothing I'd have come back for. Lesson: If you work for the public, be careful what you say there...

Update: Above Average Jane was more enterprising than I was, and found additional cached pages which she offers here.