Friday, October 28, 2005

Other Friday tidbits

  • The city of Philadelphia (or at least the press) continues to anxiously await the handling of property tax reassessments. City Council just finished the second of three planned hearings on the matter, but won't really be in a position to act until the reassessments come in and they can see the magnitude of the valuation change (as well as look at specific cases that might need adjustment).
    One of the ideas floated as a way to help homeowners, particularly elderly and low-income residents, who might face tax increases was to establish a buffer system that would base taxes on an average of perhaps three years' worth of assessments rather than on one year's assessment.

    Another idea was to seek state approval to offer property owners a homestead exemption such as that in Florida, which does not tax residents on the first $25,000 of their property's value if they live in the home.

    Other ideas included capping tax increases in any given year, and taxing buildings less and land more to reduce the tax burden on homeowners and discourage speculators.
    Should get real interesting, once those tweaks get underway -- time for the watchdogs to get their oversight systems in place as well! One can only imagine the abuse potential... Daily News columnist Elmer Smith also derides the contention that this isn't a means to a back-door tax-hike.

  • Meanwhile, over in Harrisburg, the governor and the legislature appear to be at war over the issue of clean-air standards. Apparently the Rendell folks wanted to increase PA's automobile-emmissions standards to a level closer to the strict ones of California (joining a few other states, including New York), but House lawmakers have fast-tracked legislation to block such a move. Always most concerned with our welfare, those guys. I have to say that this is the first I'd heard of this issue, however, which makes me wonder how much this is really a Rendell priority rather than just something he wants to hold over the GOP's heads next fall.

Bored now

Really, there's no Mariano news, what with the newness of the indictments, and yet we can milk a daily column from the seven minute of action each day between now and whenever actual trials (and then verdicts!) arrive. I think I'll pass on most of this, as I did with the daily bug-scandal updates, until there's real news. But since I've already got a post going today, here are today's placeholders: today was Rick's mugshots, plea, and paperwork. whee.
Mariano would remain inside the federal complex for 6 1/2 hours, including a four-minute court appearance during which he pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.
Here's the DN version of the same. Given that his new counsel keeps Mariano from talking to reporters, they are reduced to reporting how he looks on crutches, what he had for lunch, and other thrilling details.

Still no rays of hope of averting a transit strike

City leadership is battening down the hatches for a mess next week, given the lack of progress, starting by offering insightful tips for commuters: City's advice if SEPTA strikes: Trains, bikes or carpools. Great. How about putting some pressure on negotiators instead? The Daily News offers this practical survival guide to get you out the door on Monday.

Meanwhile, the press is heaping pressure on the union side of things. First the Inquirer editorial page encourages the union to work with the latest SEPTA offer. Then a Daily News columnist takes them to task for their public relations assault. I'm sure both sides have made some missteps, but surely there's room for negotiation and counter-offer, unless one side or the other thinks it's more important to "make a point" . . .

Update: Ray Murphy interviews a union spokesman about the union's stance on the negotiations and the possibility of strike. Fills out some details and answers some questions raised previously, but adds no sunshine to one's sense of the forecast.

Update 2: Here are some tips on what to expect from a part-time TWU employee, summarized on PhillyFuture. Still no sun...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

In other Thursday news

  • State senators yesterday passed a bill to "rein in spending," but which really sets artificial caps on the budget and the degree to which it can be expanded or reshaped (see prev. DN editorial against this measure here).
    While Democrats noted that spending caps have left other states unable to respond to some dire public needs, Republicans say their legislation addresses those concerns by allowing a two-thirds vote to exceed the spending cap or appropriate money from an emergency reserve fund.
    Not clear what the House thinks of this measure, but Senate Republicans are working on a parallel effort to amend the state constitution to a similar end.

  • The CityPaper's political notebook takes a look at the upcoming election for City Controller and a bit at what the office might be expected to do better in coming years.

  • America's Hometown points us to Pennsylvania's latest marketing campaign (slick and amusing all at once).

  • Finally, the CityPaper's cover story this week is the fate of the Daily News, given planned cuts and other changes in the industry.
    "The mood is shit," says one reporter. "We're doing our best to put out a great paper but we're also really busy looking for jobs."
    What's amazing is that both the Inquirer and Daily News have hefty profit margins, but the corporate bosses are under pressure to push the numbers ever higher. There's gotta be a minimum staff necesssary just to make the paper worth reading...

Casino site report unveiled

Mayor Street's Gaming Advisory Task Force will today release the final version of its recommendations concerning sites for the two future slots parlors in Philadelphia. This report narrows the previous contenders from 11 (see here) to the best 6, and not only ranks the sites but discusses which pairings would be most beneficial to the region. The Daily News story gives more details, including the recommendation that Penn's Landing and the Disney Hole (at 8th and Market) be kept casino-free, and also provides a map of the recommended sites. Their editorial page endorses the report's approach, thoroughness, and guidance.

First moves in the Mariano chess match

  1. Four of those indicted for bribing Mariano plead not-guilty and vow a court battle.

  2. The muted reponse of fellow Council members is in contrast to historical precedents. (Speculations given as to why.)

  3. Cops confiscate Mariano's guns, as licenses are revoked after federal indictment -- it was also the family's request, probably for peace of mind.

  4. The Daily News points out that an indicted politician can still have staff with outstanding ethics. (It contrasts this with behavior of local officials who tipped off Mariano to some charges against him, even while passing the information along to the feds.)

Transit bits

The war for public opinion continues: The CityPaper pans the union's ad campaign and SEPTA's informative flyers, while the Inquirer reports SEPTA leaks of their negotiating positions (DN report here). The union is unimpressed with the "facts" released, saying that they hide big increases elsewhere (as doubling caps for out-of-pocket payment for hospitalization) as well as inequities (e.g., SEPTA management still doesn't pay any of its own health coverage). Noting the rising winds, the school district issues advice on contingency plans for students and parents.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Misc goodies

A lot of noteworthy stories and blog posts, so presented in brief:
  1. Above Average Jane puts the SEPTA labor dispute in sharp perspective by a look at the approach Whole Foods takes to benefits.

  2. America's Hometown notes a business leaving the suburbs for Center City in a pleasant reversal of historic trends.

  3. Attytood asks for reader suggestions on the future course of the Philadelphia Daily News.

  4. John Baer bemoans the vague legislative agenda for Harrisburg this year, as state legislators try to duck voter outrage over the spring pay-hike.

  5. A Philadelphia Weekly story bemoans the seedy side of the gayborhood, but it feels a bit overwrought to me.

  6. The automatic intersection cameras touted as reducing red-light-running, turn out to increase the incidence of rear-end collisions. We at ASFR are not lovers of general citizen surveillance (see prev. here and here) and welcome the availability of statistics concerning camera effectiveness.

  7. Philadelphia Will Do catches a double-edged statistic: hotel occupancy is up because the number of rooms is down, due largely to condo conversions. oops!

So, about that ethics reform measure...

Inquirer columnist Chris Satullo exhorts Philadelphians to start a revolution by going to the polls on November 8 and voting yes on the Home Rule Charter ballot measure.
Through this five-minute act, you'll activate a significant reform of the squalid, pay-to-play culture of city government. Even more important, you'll send the political class in town a message its members try very hard not to hear.

The message is the same one Howard Beale urged TV watchers to howl out their windows in the film Network: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more."
The bill it enables will help squash the quid-pro-quo culture of government contracting, but it also puts politicians in general on notice that we're interested in more than bread & butter issues -- that we demand better government. Today's column also builds on the Sunday Inquirer editorial saying we've had enough trials and indictments of government officials, and it's time for reform. This is also a call to vote Yes on the ballot measure.
The law bars businesses, including officers, partners and related political action committees, from receiving no-bid city contracts valued at $25,000 or more - if they have donated more than $10,000 annually to city candidates or elected officials. Individuals would be barred from getting no-bid deals if they'd contributed more than $2,500 annually.

That reform is aimed directly at the pay-to-pay culture whereby businesses and individuals spread campaign cash around liberally, exploiting the city's Wild West campaign-finance atmosphere, then get the money refunded (and then some) by obtaining lush city contracts.

This ethics reform would also put in place extensive disclosure requirements for all players in the process. Sunlight is one way to disinfect a corrupt process.
If you need any further convincing, Philadelphia's political watchdog, The Committee of Seventy, also advocates a yes vote, and a constellation of local groups have joined their effort. Mark your calendars for November 8, and if you do nothing else, say yes to this measure!check the box!

(We'll offer our thoughts on judges and other races as the date draws a bit closer...)


Mariano round-up (deluge edition)

  • Yesterday's indictment news gets fleshed out a bit in today's story.
    The grand jury alleged that in exchange for paying $23,000 in credit-card bills and providing a fancy gym membership, Mariano helped his codefendants acquire a significant tax break, a lucrative city contract, and valuable vacant city land at a discount.

    Mariano also participated in a cover-up, according to a 26-count indictment that made him the first elected city official charged with public corruption since 1991.
    Altogether, theese charges (detailed extensively here) would have a minimum sentence of 10 years. All charges denied, of course, and Mariano insists he will remain on City Council.

  • The Daily News recaps the same tale, pointing out the familiar themes of payola and back-scratching.
    Mariano, indicted yesterday along with five friends for bribery, conspiracy and other federal charges, was short on cash in 2002 as one marriage ended, another was starting and his City Council paychecks were frozen in a dispute over redistricting. He sought help from friends who used their businesses to pay his bills, investigators charge.
    . . .
    "This indictment tells a story which is becoming very familiar: A public servant uses his position to help those who will help him," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan. "Bribes and gifts, those were the benefits for which Rick Mariano sold his office and sold out the very people that he represents."
    hmmm... ethics reform, anyone?

  • A second DN story looks more closely at all six men indicted in this set of investigations. [Note that the individuals charged appear in all-caps; the names alone on lines in-between appear to be the reporters who did the profiles, an unfortunate source of confusion.]

  • A short piece looks at political foes who might be waiting in the wings for a possible special election or other way into Mariano's Council seat. 2007 could get quite lively!

  • A longer piece looks at the various stances of Mariano's colleagues with regard to his innocence, whether he should stay in office and/or just keep away from Council hearings, et al. If convicted, he must resign, but what to do meantime is a source of very delicate opining, especially with so much ethics legislation sure to be under discussion.

  • Rounding out the perky local DN coverage, columnist Jill Porter adds a bit of a rant about corrupt politicians. She points out that voters can begin to vent their frustration by voting up the Charter Change bill on the ballot in two weeks, which will allow the first 'Nutter ethics bill' to go into effect.
    The truth is, there's no legislation that can prevent corrupt politicians from enriching themselves at taxpayers' expense.

    But serious ethics legislation would send a different message to public officials than the one they're getting now.

    It would curtail the city's cozy insider culture and create a different mindset about public service, as in: shenanigans won't be tolerated.
    More on that in just a minute...

SEPTA strike forecast continues grim

The Daily News reports that the two sides "aren't even close," not all that surprising, given the heated rhetoric and lack of negotiations. But hey, they "met for an hour" yesterday... Meanwhile, the union is set to run anti-SEPTA TV ads this week. Doesn't look like they're leaving much room for things to change for the better.

I don't care who wins the publicity war. A transit strike is going to batter commuters and other city residents, most especially the poor, and leave both management and workers after it's over with lots of work to convince the region to support them again. To judge by the fist-shaking, this isn't likely to be a quick fight either -- better start dusting off your bicycles...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mariano indicted

Rick Mariano was officially indicted this afternoon, as had been expected, on a range of charges from bribery and money-laundering to tax violations.
The major charges included accusations that Mariano took bribes to help one businessman win a large tax break and that he helped another businessman buy a plot of land from the city for $100,000 when its true market value was $400,000.
He is expected to surrender to the FBI tomorrow. The article includes a sampling of specific allegations, including many that had been discussed over the last few months.

News of natural gas

Two pieces today addressing the fore and aft, so to speak, of natural gas production: first, PGW differs with previous reports (see, e.g., here), claiming that discussions about liquid natural gas deliveries are continuing. (Feel free to resume prior paranoia levels.) On the other end of things, a group located on the border of Chester and Lancaster counties is going to start harvesting landfill methane (a product of decay) for energy production purposes. Customers get discounted fuel, the regional waste authority gets some income, and the environment is spared the wasteful burning of such gasses -- great stuff! Other similar facilities are in the works.

Around the politicians

  • City: Mayor Street decides to wade into debate over fate of Dilworth house. There's no good answer; why would he want to get hit by the flying mud and blamed by the eventual sore loser?

  • City: Several candidates for judge rated crappy by local bar; most of them are almost guaranteed to be elected anyway. The Daily News points out that one of them is a strip-club landlord. All gives you real confidence...

  • City: Beleagured City Councilman Rick Mariano gets a new lawyer, just in time for his indictment expected today. First advice? Stop airing dirty laundry for the press.

  • State: Learning nothing from this summer's outcry over dark-of-night legislating, state politicians apparently tried to slip a major bill under the public radar already this fall. The bill would cap state spending at current levels, with small annual adjustments to reflect growth in state population or revenue, with any extra put into a fund for discretionary spending by the legislators themselves (only for the public good, of course). The Daily News editorial linked here explains (with an example) why this idea doesn't work and should be nipped in the bud.

  • Region: The Inquirer does a double-header on the environmental records of the two New Jersey gubernatorial candidates: Corzine (once heralded by green forces, then doubted, now proving himself to them again) and Forrester (unexpectedly liberal for a Republican, on the environment as on many other issues). The fate of Petty's Island is at the heart of much of the discussion, and of pay-to-play efforts and eminent domain questions past and ongoing.

Tuesday transit news (such as it is)

  • I gotta put this article first, because a few weeks ago I asked, "now that a strike deadline is set, are negotiation talks underway?" and at least one commenter thought that the answer was "of course!" Well, apparently not: it's news that face-to-face talks started yesterday (with a 15-minute meeting and exchange of documents). Um, what has everybody been doing, other than throwing insults from across the street? Do they really think a week will get anything done, or is this a sign that both sides are essentially resigned to a strike?

  • As if to answer that question, SEPTA provides advice in case of a strike. "Buy rail tickets in advance. Be patient." great.

  • Meanwhile, the Daily News opinion page expresses pessimism on all fronts.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Just whistle a happy tune

D-Mac at PhiladelphiaWillDo catches a rather ugly show of fear in Northeast Philadelphia, as residents turn out to protest an office building that might provide support to other services for homeless people. (Just the association with homeless people! Chaos and the end of civilization in the area!)

Other Monday(ish) news

  • A new educational collaboration between two lauded institutions aims to offer North Philly students preparation for top highschools in the region through a new private elementary school with tuition on a sliding scale.
    Classes will be limited to a dozen students. Teachers will use Germantown Academy's curriculum, and Project H.O.M.E. will provide social services and support for students and their families.
    A bold idea -- I wish them luck.

  • John Grogan looks at the seedier side of Atlantic City casinos and asks state leaders whether this is really what they're hoping will save Pennsylvania.

  • Another voice chimes in with ideas for saving/improving gas utility PGW: merge it with PECO! The recommendation came from a utility commissioner, who argued that a combined utility would have larger bargaining power in the wholesale market as well as more resources for subsidizing low-income users. PECO officials were none too thrilled, and I'm sure residents would want to know more before creating a monopoly utility monster.

  • The Inquirer editorial page declines to endorse a candidate for City Controller. They say the need for a good one is greater than ever, but apparently they aren't too impressed with the choices. However, it feels pretty clear that they dislike Butkovitz a whole lot less than his opponent.

  • The Daily News has another piece discussing Philadelphia's property taxes, which include plans to revalue all homes in the city (mostly higher) and then reset the overall tax rate (presumably lower). There's a hearing tomorrow at which the fireworks will get underway. Meantime, the chairman of the Board of Revision of Taxes answers some questions about what homeowners can expect the process to look like.

Transportation under assault on three fronts

  1. A Sunday Inquirer piece looks at the SEPTA strike threatened for a week from today, and predicts a dire impact on the transit company just starting to benefit from increased ridership due to gas prices.

  2. As if the loss of public transit wouldn't be bad enough, some of the city's cabbies may strike the same day, decrying increases in their medallion fees and the price of gas.
    (via PoliticsPhilly)

  3. Meantime, those driving their own cars may have been at the mercy of price-gouging by the PPA, which has been adding a surcharge onto all tickets written within the city limits. Yeah, this state takeover has really been a boon for citizens!
Update: the PPA defends its fees, which it says are used to keep unregistered and dangerous drivers off the street, thereby reducing city insurance rates.
(No sign of a change in my latest insurance bill...)

Bad times for Mariano, cont.

Lots of sorrowful news around Councilman Rick Mariano, the focus of federal investigation over the last few months andn subject of anticipated indictments. At the end of last week he lost his lawyer and then alarmed folks by going to the top of City Hall to think things through. He was then hospitalized briefly amid reports of feeling isolated in his difficult times. Apparently the solution to that last was to chat with a friend on his radio show. Strange days, indeed.

[also note: Blogger is acting up today, so may not get a full set of posts up until later...]

Update: along the way, the Daily News editorial page added their voice to calls for Mariano to step down. Maybe it would help ease the pressure.
(via PoliticsPhilly)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thursday micro round-up

Just a few quickies today:
  • A few months ago there was much trepidation over the possibilty that Philadelphia's harbor could see shipments of volatile liquid natural gas passing through on a regular basis -- good for business, bad for risks of toxic citywide disaster (see prev. here). Now, however, it looks like the deal is off, at least for the foreseeable future.

  • How to lower state property taxes continues to be a source of great debate in Harrisburg, with numerous plans having been proposed by different parties.

  • The Daily News follows up on worries about soaring heating costs this winter with a triple-header today:
    1. One looks at utility shutoffs for folks who can't keep up with payments and don't know how to find help.
    2. Another looks at ways to cut costs, from plastic wrap to the LIHEAP program.
    3. The last one gives quotes from "regular folks" about the ways they plan to conserve.
I'm away tomorrow, so you'll have to get your Friday news elsewhere. Have a good weekend!

The CityPaper's front page story this week is also about cold/heat worries. A second piece takes a look at how much substance there is to Street's new homelessness plans.

Bryan Lentz on Iraq

Democrat Brian Lentz is running for the US Congressional seat from PA's 7th District, which encompasses Delaware County and parts of Chester and Montgomery, in the Philadelphia suburbs and beyond -- he hopes to displace the current Republican office-holder, Curt Weldon. Somehow this race has been a bit under my radar, but it looks like another good battle for '06. Lentz has a statement on Iraq policy on today's dailyKos; you can also see more on his vision of this race and of an assortment of issues at his campaign site. It's going to be a busy time next fall!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Don't stand on the sidelines

Above Average Jane has a great piece on the problem of homelessness, both visible and invisible, and pointer not only to a current push by PhillyFuture but also to other ways you can get involved in helping those who need it in your community. Every dime or hour helps.

Latest poll

A September poll by a Republican firm finds Casey with a continued substantial lead over Sen. Santorum, and Gov. Rendell beating any of the current GOP frontrunners. Make of it what you will, 12 months out.

Today's opinion bits

  1. The Inquirer's editorial page takes Mayor Street to task for having done nothing with a fund intended to lure businesses to the Philadelphia region and create jobs by decreasing competition between neighboring states and municipalities.

  2. John Baer is tickled pink by the comedic nature of state House Speaker Perzel's recent woes and gaffs.

  3. A letter to the Daily News argues that we have the capacity to appreciate a nuanced story of George Washington, national hero and flawed human being (slave owner).
    Robert Morris' story can be told at the house, along with Washington's, and Adams', and Hercules' and Oney Judge's. I will bring my children to see it all, to learn about liberty and slavery together and grow proud, not of a nation that falsely claims perfection, but of a people who, no matter how far we stray from our chosen path, never stop reaching for justice, and the truth.
    Well said.

Wednesday mega-roundup

  • Big news of the day is that things are looking grim for Councilman Rick Mariano, who has been under federal investigation for some time (see background here) and now appears likely to be indicted for his various poorly considered financial involvements. Dan at YoungPhillyPolitics puts out a plea to Mariano to step down and spare the city another round of trials involving sitting politicians.

  • Meantime, mutterings over the poor ethical regulations of the Gaming Board have been heard in Harrisburg, where state legislators are drafting stricter controls. These will be bundled with other amendments planned for the casino legislation, so it may take a while to get all the negotiations untangled.

  • Not satisfied with their new control of the Phila. Parking Authority, state lawmakers are considering a takeover of the local gas utility PGW in response to its large debt and planned rate hikes. I just hope that this decision doesn't get hurried through as part of a show of machismo in the race for City Controller.

  • Sure to draw comment is a proposal by Mayor Street to raise city salaries. Learning a lesson from the state pay-hike furor, the mayor promises no dead-of-night votes and plans to convene an independent commission to recommend exact adjustments.

  • A story speculating about the Philadelphia city wireless internet network looks at how pilot programs are already helping homeless folks find forms and services online, but wonders who the eventual users (and funders) of the program will be.

  • Neighborhood library branches, which suffered from cuts in hours and services during a budget battle in City Hall this year, will be restored to full service in the next two weeks. The article discusses sources and uses of the new library funds.

  • In Pennsylvania's own gubernatorial sweepstakes, still a year off, Republican Bill Scranton officially throws his hat in the ring. He still has a lot of competition in the primary before he gets to take on Ed Rendell. The Daily News offers their take on Scranton and how he stands in the Republican field.
    Scranton is a political moderate in a GOP field that includes a state senator, a hard-line conservative businessman, and an ex-football star of unknown conviction. But yesterday, Scranton aimed his fire at Gov. Rendell.
    Still a lot of clarification of positions to be had.

  • Over in Dover's Intelligent Design case, the prosecution lawyer brought to light inconsistencies in the explanations and defenses made by one of the movement's core thinkers (who testified the day before as well).Imagine my surprise.

  • The Daily News notes that Philadelphia is carrying a high level of debt compared to other cities, what with bond issues for stadium building, school district improvements, and other projects. I'll bet they can't wait for all those 10-year tax abatements to expire!

  • Finally, a little good news: citizen outrage over the PPA enforcement of registration-sticker fines (see, e.g., here) has paid off. Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr., reponding in part to a flurry of calls, has introduced legislation to remove that authority from the PPA (presumably back to the police where it belongs), and got the PPA to call a moritorium meantime. Score one for the beleagured little guys!

A better option for the open Council seat?

Philadelphia City Councilman David Cohen's recent passing has left more than half of his term unfinished, with no strict requirement for how that vacancy should be handled. The main argument in favor of calling a special election is to prevent it's remaining open for two years and to guarantee the maximum number of voices on important bills (especially the anti-pay-to-play measures) coming before the Council in that interval; a primary advocate of this approach has been the Committee of Seventy (see here). The main argument against a special election is that it bypasses the usual primary process that allows real democratic consideration of possible candidates, and thus puts too much power in the hands of the Democratic City Committee to annoint the next holder of the seat (and confer incumbent advantage to that person in 2007); advocates of letting the seat stay open include the Daily News editorial page (see here). Many progressive groups also worry that the virtual appointment of a replacement would mean the installation of a new Councilperson whose views were substantially more conservative that those championed by Cohen.

FlorenceToday brings the announcement that Cohen's widow, Florence Cohen, would be interested in running for his Council seat. She worked closely with him throughout his decades in city office, and would be expected to advocate for most of the same causes and viewpoints that he represented. More importantly, from the viewpoint of political wrangling (and Bob Brady's digestion; see here), she has made clear that she is interested only in serving out the balance of her husband's term, and would not seek reelection in 2007. This could afford the city leadership an opportunity to fill the seat, reassure its liberal wing that its priorities are not forgotten, and sidestep the need to pick among the various inside candidates (each with different strengths and baggage) whose names have been bandied about over the last week. A safe out for everyone on the political front, and a chance for Cohen's office and family to bring a more natural conclusion to his contributions to the city. I hope that Council President Anna Verna will give serious thought to this opportunity.

NJ round-up

Lots of news today, so I may give individual stories a little less ink. First, a smattering of additions to stories from the governor's race across the river:
  1. The Inquirer continues it's proud coverage of style over substance with today's second installment of "gubernatorial campaign styles" of the major candidates -- this time, John Corzine.
    Corzine does not wow crowds with his oratory ... and fumbles awkwardly during debates. But his personal touch seems to be his strength.
    What color shoes does he wear? sigh.

  2. They also report on last-night's debate between Corzine and Forrester, where each accused the other of being too tied to the worst of the status quo. Two independent candidates also appeared (who presumably agree that both major-party candidates are too entrenched).

  3. Another piece marvels at both candidates' tax returns, which show them with millions of annual income, unsurprising as both have indicated willingness to fund much of their expensive campaigns.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cohen's legacy

Ray at YoungPhillyPolitics gives a wrap-up of yesterday's memorial service for Councilman David Cohen, both the speakers and the vibes that may have been present about plans for the future of the open seat. Not much to go on but hope that his memory will be honored with actions in addition to words.

Quick, look over there!

Philadelphia Will Do stays on the case of Knight-Ridder's cuts at the local papers (see prev. here), noting today that one of their oft-cited rationales for reducing staff doesn't hold up to inspection. Oops! Time for more hand-waving! Wouldn't want folks to think about profit margins...

Other Tuesday bits

More lows than highs in this group:
  • Perzel's hapless elementary school visit (see prev. here) appears to have put him directly in the midst of the pay-raise fury in the southwest part of the state (where the voters are, however, in no position to vote him out). The article focuses on the reasons why opposition to the raise is most intense in the Pittsburgh region.

  • The Gaming Board continues to show its complete lack of political radar or even self-preservation when it denies the need for further ethical constraints, specifically a ban on political fund-raising by casino regulators.
    "I have never sought or solicited campaign contributions from anyone with an interest in gaming," [Joseph] Marshall said in a statement issued through board spokesman Nick Hays.
    Oh, well! Now I feel much better.

  • The Philadelphia city controller's office has just reprimanded the school district after a routine audit indicated that capital funds were being used to pay for ordinary expenses. This was money intended for the ambitious plans for new schools and other expansion, but instead some went toward salaries, computers, and renovations. Um, the rest of the article would really interest only accountant types.

  • Meanwhile, over in Dover, one of the two men most central to the creation of Intelligent Design defends it in court. No surprises there.

New Jersey news

  • The Inquirer offers a discussion of Forrester's gubernatorial campaign, promising to profile his opponent's "campaign style" in a matching piece soon.
    Whether given before a small group ready to sign his ubiquitous property-tax placard, with a high-profile politician, or to a large group, Forrester's stump speeches are always filled with intensity and peppered with humor.
    Substance, anyone? No word yet on a companion piece to the more concrete look at Corzine yesterday.

  • Meanwhile the state has picked up a billion dollars in transit money from the federal government for the next two years, which is particularly timely since the state's own transportation fund is about to run dry next summer.

  • Another Inquirer piece profiles the brutal (and expensive!) ad war between Forrester and Corzine as the race for the governor's office tightens (the negative ads appear to have siphoned off some of Corzine's impressive initial lead). And still three weeks to go! yippee.

Tuesday transit news

Three pieces in the paper today that darken the looming cloud of a potential strike:
  1. The union of suburban transit workers has pledged to join the TWU if a strike is called. This would leave the regional rail running, but remove various trollies and other suburban lines such as the 100 to Norristown.

  2. The Inquirer reports the same (official notice given).

  3. Meanwhile the President of TWU 234 writes a Daily News opinion piece, calling on SEPTA to uphold its end of the wages versus health care bargain.
    Over the decades, union members have accepted less in wages and benefits in return in a deal made for health care. The reason that SEPTA's union employees rank 20th in wages compared to other transit authorities: We made a health-care covenant with SEPTA.
    See also this prev. along similar lines.
I just hope there are actually meaningful discussions going on. The public rhetorical wars seem to indicate that not much progress is being made around the table...

Monday, October 17, 2005

A challenge to would-be city reformers

A Sunday editorial in the Inquirer takes a look at Philadelphia's shapers and reformers past, and then sets out some challenges to anyone hoping to bring reform today. Lots of good fodder for thought, amidst lots of thinking in many quarters about where our city is headed.

Our Robert Moses

I read with interest in the papers the life story of Edmund Bacon, who passed away at the end of last week. He was a widely respected and remarkably influential city planner in Philadelphia, who was responsible for shaping a range of projects from the rehabilitation of Society Hill to the creation of the Market East mall. Anyway, PoliticsPhilly has the links in case you missed the coverage (check out the vintage Time Magazine cover, if nothing else). He had a vision of Philadelphia joining the nation's top-ranked cities, and he contributed a lot toward making that a reality.

A word from our grousers

A round-up of complaints and suggestions, both editorial and otherwise:
  1. An Inquirer editorial looks at the ethical rules constraining PA's Gaming Control Board and concludes that they're not yet ready for the arrival of casinos in the state and the shysters sure to follow.
    It's not just about intent; it's about perception. When it comes to regulating gambling, you don't want even the perception that the regulators can be bribed.

    The Pennsylvania board should know that. It should also know that an ethics code that has no clear ban on political activity by board members is inadequate. Its code doesn't even bar the immediate family of board members from working for casino companies.
    Look like there's still some work to do before anybody will be sleeping easy.

  2. More battles over the registration sticker fines being handed out by the newly state-controlled Philadelphia Parking Authority. City Council says it never meant to authorize this little game when it passed a restriction on the parking of unregistered cars on the city streets (remember those abandoned wrecks of yore?).
    "The people whose stickers are stolen should be PAID for the hassle they go through since it's the state's idiotic system and the lack of police protection to prevent the thefts that are responsible," wrote one reader.
    heh. I'd love to see that, having once had three plates in a 14-month period myself, after my plates were "clipped" for the sticker. Now that the PPA is pointing a finger, they're likely to find a change in the legislation cutting off this particular source of feed.

  3. At the Daily News, Stu Bykofsky challenges voters to put their ballots where their gripes are and vote out their state representatives as punishment for the pay-hike. He say that "but my Rep. is one of the good ones" doesn't work anymore. The CleanSweep folks agree, but I'm not sure I do (both because I like "my guy" and because I'd rather hold the legislators accountable in other ways, as by pressuring them to "share the wealth" with lower income Pennsylvanians).

Politician watch

  • Pennsylvania's Senator Rick Santorum appears unworried about his poor poll numbers or the backlash of public opinion against GOP troubles.
    "I've been behind in every single race, so I'm in a comfortable position for me," Santorum told radio host Don Imus last month. "So I mean, it's a good time, if you want to, to sort of bail, endorse my opponent, and then come back at the end when I'm going to win."
    He may be wrong this time, but it's way to early to be certain of anything.

  • The Inquirer also has a profile of New Jersey's Democratic contender for governor, John Corzine, sure to be followed by a profile of his opponent in the next week. They portray Corzine as a liberal crusader:
    Corzine has long argued that government can be a force to improve living conditions for everyone - a view that is out of fashion in conservative circles - and his campaign prescriptions seem to flow naturally from his Senate career.

    "I prefer the term progressive, but I don't run from" the word liberal, Corzine said. "I believe in equal access and opportunities, not outcomes. I believe in making sure we have a social safety net. Those are fundamentally liberal policies."
    He's probably hoping that he can get more done from the governor's seat than as a junior Senator in the minority party.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Property protection bill introduced

Concern over recent Eminent Domain actions has spurred some PA legislators to introduce a bill to provide protection to property owners. The bill (companion bills in both General Assembly and Senate) would limit the state government's right to sieze property and then transfer it to a private company such as a developer (rather than using it for a school or highway). Expect much more discussion of this idea.

Unions and the American middle class

A post at Young Philly Politics pulls together a couple of recent observations/discussions about unions, health care costs, prevailing wages, and the quality of life of the average working American. Worth a read.

Political round-up

A couple of interesting stories today:
  • Most eye-catching was reference to the first poll related to the thick field of potential Philadelphia mayoral candidates, which found that they were closely clustered, contrary to expectations that rumblings from Big Dog Rep. Fattah would clear the decks of lesser choices.
    [Fattah] had support from 17 percent of respondents, to 15 percent for City Controller Jonathan Saidel; 12 percent for Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; 11 percent each for State Rep. Dwight Evans and Councilman Michael Nutter; and 7 percent for labor leader John Dougherty.
    Of course it's early days, and not all of these players have even declared official candidacy, but this makes it look like it's still anybody's game. Maybe the players will have to distinguish themselves and their visions!

  • Phila. Mayor John Street and PA Governor Ed Rendell appear to be competing to be out front with aid for the anticipated home-heating crisis this winter. The more, the merrier.

  • Daily News columnist Gar Joseph looks at the increasing numbers of government reform-minded citizens and networks in the region, and especially at their efforts to ensure that the first ethics improvement, embodied in the Charter Change ballot measure next month, gets passed.
    The Committee of Seventy's Zack Stalberg said the coalition's goal is to pass the measure by a margin so fat, politicians will realize people are serious about reform. "So, 51-49 isn't acceptable," Stalberg said. "We want 70-30."
    Apparently the wording of the measure is sufficiently opaque that it will take a lot of education and encouragement before voters are likely to feel confident in voting for it. Okay, then; let's get moving!

    (There's also an amusing speculation here about the likelihood of a special election to fill the Cohen Council seat -- Gar thinks Brady couldn't stomache the wrangling.)

Civil rights crusader passes

There are tributes and thoughts in the press about C. Dolores Tucker, whose activity in these parts precedes my time here, and who passed away on Wednesday. For those who knew her or are interested in knowing more, here's the Daily News piece from yesterday and a little follow-up note from today, and here's the Inquirer article and an editorial reflecting on her life. Lots of pioneers passing this fall; time for the new generation to take up where they left off.

David Cohen memorial service Monday

I've been asked to spread the word that here will be a memorial service for Councilman David Cohen in City Hall on Monday:

October 17
2:00 PM
City Council Chambers,
Room 400, City Hall

A reception will follow.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

High times for Perzel

PA House Speaker John Perzel can't escape the muck of the summer's kerfluffle (see here), even at so innocent an occasion as an elementary school appearance to read a book and talk to students . . . (the photo alone is priceless)

Another take on the empty council seat

In addition to editorials advocating waiting for a primary in 2007 and good government groups arguing that we need to fill it sooner, now there are folks in the Northeast arguing that this is a good excuse to do away with At-large council seats entirely. Well, then . . .

In other news

  1. Philadelphia Mayor John Street's call to end homelessness gets a little more flesh in a piece today.
    Street said the goal would be achieved through better coordination of existing services, construction of 600 new units - 25 a month - of subsidized housing for homeless people, and the addition of 100 beds for the chronically homeless.
    Some experts are being asked to recommend specifics.

  2. In a related announcement, Street calls for a special fund to help low-income residents with steep winter heating bills. This might supplement federal LIHEAP support, to which neither the state nor city currently contribute. Street also encouraged better-off Philadelphians to "adopt a family" to help see everybody through.

  3. Continuing the theme of bucking up the local community, PA Governor Ed Rendell ponies up $16 million to expand the convention center.
    The money will be used by PCCA to do the kind of work that needs to be done before construction crews move in: preparing bid documents and screening potential contractors, for example. A second agreement authorizes the city's Redevelopment Authority to use some of the money to hire real-estate appraisers and begin obtaining appraisals of properties needed for the expansion.
    I wonder if the return to discussions of this was spurred by the increased business coming our way after the closing of the New Orleans convention center (see here).

  4. The Fairmont Parks Commission has approved funds for an overhaul of little-known Franklin Park, one of the lynchpins of the original streetmap of Philadelphia (along Logan Circle, Rittenhouse Square, and Washington Square Park, each taking one corner of a rectangle), but eclipsed by the highway and bridge entrances. The proposal is only sketched here, which leaves me with the sense of an odd mix of restoration and modern additions (a big screen for news and films?)...

Combined efforts

A coalition of local groups is getting behind the Charter Change measure on the ballot for November 8, which attempts to rein in pay-to-play dynamics in Philadelphia (see prev. here). Now one of the candidates for City Controller, State Rep. Alan Butkovitz, has announced that he will include the issue on his campaign mailings, targeted at likely voters about a week before the election. Kind of a novelty, although not purely selfless, as he is making ethics part of his campaign...

Of faith and science

Today's papers feature two notes about the Intelligent Design case going on in Dover, PA (see prev. here):
  • An education expert testified yesterday that including I.D. in science class is detrimental to learning in that it leads to misconceptions about the nature of science. Duh. (But I guess if the advocates of this approach understood the distinction, we wouldn't be having this conversation.)

  • An Inquirer editorial looks at the correlation between views in this debate and economic status, and muses on what that means.
    It sounds reasonable and even harmless, and it surely appeals to the faith instincts of many people, but it is ultimately a matter of belief, not fact. As the polls show, this crucial distinction between science and faith is recognized more frequently by those with higher education.
    The empowering of the individual has had a host of benefits, but unwillingness to accept the authority of experts has been a consequence as well, with both beneficial and troubling results.
It is critical that we help explain the nature of science to society at large, and also strive to present younger students with consensus information as the basis for their understanding of the world before they are released into it.

A chat with Lois Murphy

Last night I sat in on my first blogger conference call with a local candidate, namely Lois Murphy, who is running against Jim Gerlach for the seat of US Representative from the 6th PA district (in the 2006 election). It was a small group, but Murphy was happy to be bouncing ideas rather than fund-raising, so I found the call interesting and enjoyable. More importantly, it was an excellent chance to see behind media ads and polished speeches to a bit of how the candidate talks and thinks informally, how she sees the race, what really motivates her to take part.

I was very favorably impressed. Not only did Murphy have a host of reasons that she'd like her opponent to be gone (from his entanglement with Republican cronyism to his lack of leadership on any issue and lack of connection to his disctrict), but she had a motivated and genuinely progressive vision for what the priorities of Congress should be. In general terms, she would like to see a turn from a national discourse of division and fear to a focus on building communities, and particularly on bringing people from a range of areas and lifestyles (much like her diverse district) into a shared vision of the common good, investing in people and resources for the future. [An example she gave was a change from "should wealthy suburbs have to pay to run Reading city schools" to "should we all invest in educating our children for the future."] The longer discussion gave reason to believe that she had concrete ideas to support those ends, and good notions of how they applied at both local and national levels. Further, she was upbeat about the prospects for this election ("I wouldn't have gotten in if the trends didn't make it look like I could beat him this time"), and had the numbers to support that view.

In terms of specific questions that were asked, a few glosses:
  • On Iraq: The Bush folks have and are blowing it, and should be required to give a timetable and strategy for getting out (she didn't offer her own, claiming no expertise from which to work). On the flip side, Americans must realize that the focus on Iraq has meant that others things slide, from health care to real security at home.
  • On her top issues: She has a long history of working on women's rights, including reproductive issues, and is concerned about restrictions on those rights (and Supreme Court trends, etc.). Health care also central, with some notions that state efforts can be used as test caes for what might work at the national level. Homeland security also a major concern, where administration action hasn't always matched their rhetoric -- wants to improve real security on the ground, communications among agencies, etc.
  • On Gerlach: His ties to DeLay are the closest in the region, in voting record (91%), in money received for his campaigns, in contributions to DeLay's defense fund, even switching sides (and positions!) on critical votes in response to leadership pressure. Meantime, he hasn't taken the initiative or leadership on virtually any issue during his time in Congress.
  • On her chances: She had a very close race against Gerlach two years ago coming from zero name recognition; her district is trending more Democratic (in registration, voting patterns, polls of GOP approval ratings); there were Kerry votes she didn't get who can still be won over; Rendell at the top (hugely popular in her district) may help as well.
  • On public financing of campaigns: Great in theory, but in practice there's a huge deficit and too many Congressional races, so no. She also noted that lobbying money is now so immense that it's probably a much bigger ethical issue than campaign contributions.
In sum, I don't live in Murphy's district (which starts just west of the Philadelphia city limits and loops through the near suburbs and then out to snag a piece of Reading), but I think that I will be motivated to support her campaign. It's likely to be one of the few contested races in my area (Brady will have a cakewalk), and it's one where the two candidates really represent different approaches to policy and to politics. A Murphy win would put a meaningful voice in service of her constituents and our national interests where now there is only an empty suit beholden to Tom DeLay. Keep your eyes open for more news and activity (as well as a website overhaul to incude opportunities to volunteer and participate in research efforts) as we move into the new year.

Update: read Dan's take on the call here.
Update 2: BooMan offers his take as well here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Street pledges to end homelessness

Well, okay then! Get it done, man!

Political mutterings

Two interesting pieces today that take aim at local political dynamics:
  1. In the Inquirer, columnist Tom Ferrick writes his diary about mayoral race dramas, and specifically about whether various politicians are conniving to trade positions or whether those rumors are running on fumes.

  2. Meantime, over at the Daily News, columnist Jill Porter calls for term-limits for City Council, in part to prevent elderly members from outstaying their best years. Not likely to be popular, for a variety of reasons, many of which are captured by Mark Cohen in a comment here.

Two bits on businesses

Local Philadelphia restaurant chain Marathon Grill apparently isn't a great citizen, to judge from the fines they're required to pay for misuse of illegal immigrants and other employees.
"We've seen a pattern of them cheating employees out of their last paychecks - nickel and diming their way to higher profits," said Nadia Hewka, the Community Legal Services lawyer who filed the EEOC complaint. Her nonprofit agency represents low-income clients.
Meantime, city technology czar Diahnah Neff gets some props in an Inquirer editorial for withstanding criticism from all sides and working out a good deal for citywide WiFi.
Last week, Wireless Philadelphia responded to critics and doubters alike. It not only selected a solid corporate partner, Atlanta-based Earthlink, to build the city's wireless network; the nonprofit group headed by Neff also secured an offer from Earthlink to finance the construction.
Less risk to taxpayers, more expertise in the pot, and money to subsidize computer access for all. Good for the city's economic fairness and its national profile at once.

Smoke signals

Lots of folks are worried about their utility bills this winter, what with the soaring price of fuel, predicted cold, and recent rate hikes already in effect (see here). Are things likely to get better or worse? Apparently it depends who you ask:Ok, kids, which is it?

Poor Specter

He's caught a bit between a rock and a hard place, as the second Bush Supreme Court nomination pits the conservative wing of the party against the inner circle of loyalists, and he has to make the interrogation/confirmation process credible to each. He's trying to keep above the fray until more information comes out and enables a better assessment of both the candidate and the political winds...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

SEPTA/TWU negotiations -- another perspective

Fabricio at YoungPhillyPolitics looks at the debate over health-care costs from the union's perspective, indicating that in past negotiations most of the concessions in this area have come from their side and that SEPTA management is holding workers and management to different standards. Further, he cites evidence that SEPTA would like to break the union entirely. More grist for the rumination mill.

Tuesday round-up (news and opinion edition)

  • An Inquirer piece looks at senior citizens in Southeast PA, caught between fixed incomes and the area's increasing housing values (and hence property taxes). They appear not to qualify for much of the tax relief in Philadelphia, which put its casino-bill cuts into wage tax relief instead.
    Asked about the complaints last week, Rendell said Act 72 does provide special rebates for low-income seniors in the city. And he pointed out that while he was mayor, the city adopted legislation capping property tax increases for low-income seniors until they sell their homes.
    Unfortunately, it's those just above the "low-income" threshold who are in danger of losing their lifetime homes. tricky.

  • John Grogan is frustrated that legislators don't know the constitution that they're supposed to uphold and cries out for politicians at any level of government who display competence in pursuit of their jobs.
    Forget Republicans and Democrats. Forget liberals and conservatives. Forget blue states and red states. Just give me someone who is not a complete, card-carrying doofus.
    Heh, I feel your pain.

  • On a similar plaintive note, John Baer takes a look at the expense claims of regional judges and thinks they're playing a bit loose with taxpayer money, on expenses big and small.

  • Finally, the Committee of Seventy weighs in on the issue of when/whether to hold an election to fill Councilman Cohen's empty at-large seat (see prev. here). They think that a special election should be held sooner rather than later, specifically at the time of the party primaries in May.

About to get dumped

Rather surprised to read in the news that my electricity provider, Green Mountain Energy, is about to leave the Philadelphia area. This is a drag, since the presence of that company (which guaranteed that your portion of the state's electricity generation would come from wind, water, and biomass) contributed to the establishment of more environmentally friendly energy production here. They cite concerns about the increased cost of natural gas, which I guess makes their largest product untenable in PA's heavily regulated market. Anyway, this announcement (or, at least, the news that will be arriving in their customers' mailboxes next week) makes sense of the news I heard elsewhere that PECO is offering wind energy to interested customers.

(via staff researcher RM)

Thoughts on housing/building in Philadelphia

Some articles today and some related thoughts.
  • An Inquirer article reports that Center City's housing boom is being driven by demographic forces, and thus is unlikely to suffer the bubble-burst that other regions anticipate. In fact the Center City District folks predict another 20% growth in the next five years. There are other interesting notes there about the demographic make-up of the city's residents.

  • In related news, the Daily News reports that condo buying remains strong in the city. It may be that the super-luxury market will saturate, but there's plenty of desire to own downtown.

  • Not a local story, but one with local implications, a blogger looks at housing regulation in New York and at the balance between the desire to maintain "neighborhood character" and the desire to generate enough new housing (e.g., taller buildings) to keep prices from driving regular folks out of town. An interesting take.
    (via Atrios)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Surely you jest!

Traffic reports can be hard to decipher for folks new to town, as you have to learn the nicknames for all the various highways and landmarks (can anyone tell me where exactly the Conshohocken Curve really is?) before you can begin to take their advice. Blinq catches what is either a trendy new nickname for one of our most frequently clogged commuter highways or a terrible idea that will be disowned by sundown... Personally, I'm rooting for the latter!

Picking her fights

YoungPhillyPolitics makes a good catch in an Inquirer piece about District Attorney Lynne Abraham's handling of the explosive report about clergy pedophilia: the pre-election timing appears risky, but is actually nothing compared to what it might have been a few months ago during her much more competitive primary race. hmmmmm...

Everybody's got an opinion

Another editorial (this time at the Inquirer) addresses the gulf between SEPTA and it's Transit Workers' Union over the issue of healthcare copayments. This one also suggests that demanding continued 100% funding is unrealistic, and hopes that a reasonable compromise can be found, perhaps granting the workers an overdue pay-raise in exchange for their starting to chip in toward insurance.

Does anybody know whether talks are even underway?

Register to vote!

Anybody who isn't currently registered to vote should get on the ball: the deadline is tomorrow if you want to vote in this November's elections. Information on places and procedures for registering in the greater Philadelphia area are available here.

check it offThis is an off year, so people tend to be blase about being sure their registration is up-to-date, but there is important ethics legislation on the ballot, at the least, and likely to be other small races where your vote will make an important difference. Get registered now.

Friday, October 07, 2005

All those reassurances

But I thought that this was exactly what we were promised wouldn't happen to Boathouse Row once PECO took over the lights and made them LEDs. ick!
(See the whole Light for The Cure slideshow here.)

The company we keep

Above Average Jane has an insightful analysis of US Rep. Jim Gerlach's association with politicians currently under indictment, in particular his history of receiving money from and voting in support of them. Also speculations about how it might play into his reelection prospects next year.

Small developments on many fronts

  1. The state officially approved PGW's requested rate-hike (see prev. here), so expect your next bill to look noticeably bigger than last fall.

  2. The City Hall corruption case that consumed local interest for the last two of years came to a close yesterday with the sentencing of the convicted bankers. They appear not to have been expecting the jail time just awarded -- only time will tell whether it actually deters others.

  3. On the pay-hike front, Common Cause has upped the ante by filing suit in federal court, claiming that the short time between printing and approval of the bill (in the deep of night, yadda yadda) violated the rights of state citizens under the US Constitution. They want a federal hearing to avoid local and state judges who benefitted from the raise.

  4. The Gaming Control Board has responded to criticism of some of its back-room consultations (see prev. here) by proposing an ethics policy for its own operations. It's pretty minimal, but better than nothing.

  5. Next up in the testimony on Intelligent Design in Dover is the local teachers, who apparently opposed the notion from the start. Instead, local adminstrators read the required disclaimers to their classes.

  6. Meanwhile, the investigation of Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano appears to still be spreading, as raids are made on some bars and clubs belonging to those already swept into the storm.

More on Cohen: looking backward and foreward

Yesterday was the funeral for Philadelphia City Councilman and longtime liberal activist David Cohen (see prev. here), and apparently hundreds turned out for the occasion, and speeches included US Rep. Brady and Mayor Street as well as Cohen's family members. The Inquirer includes a visual retrospective with photos from key events over the last few years.

Other articles look ahead to how the empty Council seat should be handled.
  • A short Inquirer piece by Tom Fitzgerald speculates that Council Chair Anna Verna will leave the seat open until the 2007 ciy elections for a variety of reasons:
    ...partly to keep the rough balance of pro- and anti-administration votes that exists on Council, and partly to avoid handing the reins to Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who came close to unseating Verna last year.
    That piece also speculates about who might be considering (or considered by others for) the seat.

  • A Daily News Opinion piece argues that waiting for 2007 is preferable also because it precludes the selection of the next candidate by party power-brokers (a candidate who would then run for election as an incumbent), instead making use of the normal primary process. They note, however, that the Committee of Seventy is likely to recommend a special election next May, concerned over the presence of an even number for expected discussions about ethics and other pressing issues. Interesting considerations.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Thursday news round-up

  • ID trial update: yesterday saw testimony that books advocating Intelligent Design used the term "creationism" in earlier drafts and then just substituted the new term before publication (and after the Supreme Court ruled that creationism couldn't be taught in public schools).
    She said her conclusion is that creationism and intelligent design "are interchangeable, that they are virtually synonymous."

  • An Inquirer Editorial takes on Philadelphia's zoning code, which hasn't been revised since color came to TV. It's sometimes hard to get the politicians revved up for changes that lessen the power of their whims.

  • A Daily News Opinion piece takes the Transit Workers Union to task for their stance on health care costs. SEPTA needs tax-payer support, and the vast majority of tax-payers pay part of their own insurance premiums.

  • The CityPaper's "political notebook" notes a new alliance on City Council among the three Republicans. Will be interesting to see what leverage they gain from this move. Also noted here is an attempt by an organization of black clergy to draft Brady into the mayoral race (I think).

  • A larger CityPaper story looks at political wrangling in the Northeast, specifically over whether there should be restrictions on new bars opening between Northern Liberties and Old City, an area primed to be the next developers' squabble zone.

More discussion of casino sites

Discussions over the best location for Philadelphia's two new gambling sites (see prev. here) continues at a brisk pace, if rather far off the front page. (The Gaming Board will be accepting license applications through the end of the year, so there's still time for much wheeling and dealing.) The Daily News offers two stories about recent thoughts and posturing:
  1. First, a piece discussing the Penn's Landing Corp, which appears to control the use of a former incinerator site at Deleware and Spring Garden that has been mentioned as a possible casino spot. The Corp. wants a formal application process for development proposals for the site, in an effort to keep its role in any casino decisions transparent and above-board. Good for them. A number of substantive restrictions are put on the projects and the proposals, such as not getting licenses for other sites and not requesting any of the tax breaks for which this site might be elligible.

  2. Meanwhile, another group is arguing that Center City is the best option, in part because it's inland and thus safe from river disasters. ahem. They're attempting to argue against the site ranking put together previously by the mayor's Advisory Task Force (see link above).

News from across the river

A pile of things to blog today, but for a change I thought I'd start with news from New Jersey (from the Inquirer):
  1. One piece decries the mess that the state races have become from a starting intention of "clean elections." A new law hoped to involve more small donors but has ended up skewing the odds in some general elections and making everyone testy. (The best solution might rely on one party supporting the candidates from the other party! eesh.) Advice on what not to do in pursuit of clean elections, I suppose.

  2. Meanwhile, the outcome of NJ's gubenatorial race could determine the fate of a statewide smoking ban, among other issues. The acting governor had hoped to hurry the current bill through in his lame-duck session, but oddly it has been controversial enough to require more time and battles...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More on local newspaper woes

As though the staffing cuts weren't bad enough, Knight-Ridder is in the midst of renegotiating its contract with the Newspaper Guild, and it looks like things could get rough. I'm not sure the corporate model is going to produce the best results for citizen access to information...

Get your Trendy fix while you still can

Remember all those news bits about Philadelphia as the Next Big Thing? (see, e.g., this and this) Well, it's always heartening, but part of you knows it's just Media Fluff -- now snarky local and musing national figures point out that This Too Shall Pass . . .
Those of us who weren't here for the Trendy will still be here after the wave moves on.

(via Philadelphia Will Do)

Two from the Weekly

The Philadelphia Weekly has two chewy pieces in the latest issue:
  • The first looks at what might be the effects of cuts at the Philadelphia Inquirer, especially on dense coverage of breaking local stories that nobody else is prepared to address in that way.
    The grand jury report gave Inquirer readers a reason to remember the bond that exists between a daily newspaper and the community it serves. Perhaps more important, the Inquirer may have also reminded itself where its greatest strengths lie. And not a moment too soon.
    They express the hope that "rebuilding" of the news room shores up the strong focus on local issues that local residents rely on, and especially deeper investigative stories, rather than spreading themselves thinly over all levels and minor event lists. It's not clear that there will be enough staff to support such a vision...

  • A second story looks at prospects for property tax hikes in coming years as housing valuations are adjusted to reflect current realities.
    The BRT plans to reassess all 568,000 properties in the city at 100 percent of their fair market value in time for the 2007 tax year. The move to "full valuation" will make the system more equitable and predictable. Politically, however, the move is tough because, like the Rittenhouse Square homeowner who pays taxes on only a portion of his property's value, many Philadelphians now grossly underpay.
    Definitely a hot potato, but not adjusting in order to avoid angry residents leaves the burden disproportionately on those whose houses haven't appreciated by much, and they're already being punished in a different way. Hopefully City Council will decrease the tax rate to offset some of the largest hikes, which will then also offer a break to those in the less booming neighborhoods. (I suspect a lot of individual-case adjustments may be needed as well for low-income folks overrun by gentrification.)

Thoughts on corruption

The Daily News has a piece looking at the DeLay indictments and then looking a bit closer to home at the numerous politicians who get away with minor or major end runs around election law, and how oversight folks often bend over backwards to make it possible. New ethics bills (see, e.g., here) will only make a difference if they are respected, and/or if the enforcers have teeth. Here's hoping.

In a semi-related piece, John Baer wonders whether voter frustration might come out in the form of an unprecedented unseating of sitting state Supreme Court justices (perhaps because of Cappy's outspokenness, or just because of their overstuffed financial extras). Personally I'd rather the voters lit a fire under D.A. Lynne Abraham on campaign finance and other enforcement duties, especially since she'll have another primary race soon enough at which her job performance can be rated against a worthy alternative.

A few more on David Cohen

The Inquirer has one more editorial tribute, from Claude Lewis, and the Daily News adds this reflection. And, reminding us once again of the power of images, Signe offers this visual memorial to the man and his life's work.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Liquor board tightens its grip

When the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn't privelege internal wineries over external in the right to ship wine to customers (see extensive background here), some hoped that the response would be to open the state's borders to shippers from all states. Good one. Instead, as of today, in-state wineries can no longer ship directly to in-state buyers, so the playing field has been leveled downward, and the customer loses again.

Wireless plan update

The papers are reporting that the commission charged with working out the details of a provider for Philadelphia's new citywide wireless plan have settled on megalith Earthlink as their finalist.
Assuming the deal stays in place, a team led by the Atlanta company EarthLink Inc. will build and maintain the system at its own expense, said Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer and also the nonprofit group's leader.

The arrangement, which has yet to be finalized, could dramatically change the contours of Wireless Philadelphia's business plan. Neff had previously estimated spending up to $20 million to build and maintain the network.
Earthlink will be responsible the network, but some portion of the bandwidth will eventually be leased to other internet companies who can compete for customers.

Tributes to David Cohen

Councilman David Cohen's death has shocked and saddened many Philadelphians, especially progressive activists who have worked with or relied on him through the decades. Today's papers reflect a portion of that grief, as well as giving tribute to a life spent in public service.
  1. The Daily News offers a timeline of his life including such highlights as
    photo from Bread & RosesA lousy paperhanger, but a bright student, he is sent off to the University of Pennsylvania by his brothers, first in family to go to college.
    . . .
    Graduates from Penn's Law school, but, after a one year fellowship with law school dean, finds Philadelphia law firms aren't hiring Jewish lawyers. Goes to Washington to practice law with FDR's New Deal Rural Electrification Administration.
    . . .
    When other lawyers fear government retribution, Cohen agrees to defend a Philadelphia man in the anti-Communist witch-hunt of the McCarthy era.
    . . .
    Leads a group of attorneys taking testimony in Mississippi to prove racial bias in voter registration. Joins Martin Luther King's march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
    Not a man for the sidelines.

  2. The Inquirer offers a sober summary of much of the same history, but fleshed out a bit more into prose, and complete with quotes from local leaders. (This piece also gives the time for the funeral and related information.)
    "He was our conscience," said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who also is the city Democratic Party chairman. "David fought for people who couldn't fight for themselves."

    "You always respected him because you knew the things he talked about were things he believed," Rendell said. "He didn't have any ulterior motives. How can you not respect someone like that, especially in this day and age when so many politicians believe in so little?"
    He may seem a fixture now, but he had to fight his way into city politics from far outside the machine...

  3. The Inquirer also carries a brief editorial tribute, titled "He was a towering figure in city politics."

  4. The Daily News offers two additional longer pieces, one somewhere between profile and tribute, called Voice for the voiceless is forever silenced.
    "I think his key belief was the common humanity that we all share, regardless of race, religion or class. He believed we all shared common values and that there is potential goodness in everyone," said [State Rep. Mark] Cohen, the oldest of four children.

    "David was the political conscience of the city and his voice will be missed," said former Councilman Angel Ortiz, Cohen’s key ally in the 90s and until his defeat in 2003. "The powerless of the city, without voice, have lost the voice today."
    The second, called Political landscape won't be the same looks a little at his impact and a little at what will come now, especially the possible battles over nominating and/or electing his successor.

  5. Finally, the Inquirer also has the obligatory political speculation piece (very short), looking ahead to the special election that could be called to fill Cohen's At-Large Council position for the two years remaining in his term. Apparently such an election takes 60 days notice, so it can't be combined with the regular fall elections. Would seem strange for his position to stay open for a year, but I guess that's a possibility.
Again, let me add my own heartfelt sorrow at David Cohen's passing, and my condolences to his entire family, all of whom have given much to their community. His legacy lives on.

Update: Young Philly Politics has an open thread for personal memories of David Cohen and other related sentiments.

Monday, October 03, 2005

R.I.P. Philadelphia City Councilman David Cohen

Sad news: apparently David Cohen passed away today. He had been hospitalized for about two weeks for kidney problems, and apparently was caught by heart failure. Our thoughts go with his family. A tribute to David and Florence Cohen was held last month at Bread & Roses -- see the notes there on his devotion to the community for many decades.
In City Council, the Cohens consistently championed anti-poverty programs, fair labor practices, anti-discrimination policies, and improved public education. Grassroots organizations, including many that Bread & Roses supports, have always known that they can count the Cohens to fight vigorously for legislation that will help Philadelphia communities.
This leaves some big shoes empty in City Hall...

What are they building *there*?

Ever wonder about new skyscrapers going up in the Philadelphia region -- who's building them, how large they'll be, what they're going to look like? Philly Skyline provides The Skinny: address, height, developer, architect, and pictures where available for all large corporate and residential projects planned or underway (as well as his overall ratings). Great resource, and very addictive browsing...

Other news items of interest

  • The federal investigation of Councilman Rick Mariano spreads to engulf another businessman, Reinaldo Pastrana, who benefitted from a convenient (75%!) discount land buy via a Commerce Department agreement sponsored by Mariano. Looks bad, of course, although there's some discussion about the land being contaminated and thus difficult to sell. (That ring a bell with anyone else?)

  • The Washington Monthly looked at US colleges and universities from the perspective of their service contributions, rather than the usual academic measures. Some local insitutions did quite well in the national ranking, including Penn State and U.Penn (which jumped past its ivy rivals) and the smaller colleges Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

  • Philadelphia has started a domestic violence hotline, which centralizes the responses of several agencies dealing with such cases. The city will fund this service, and also announced some new federal funding for domestic violence programs and training in the city.
    1-866-723-3014 (1-866-SAFE-014) Great idea, terrible mnemonic!