Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Closer to home (around Philly, that is)

  1. An Inquirer editorial looks at Phila's Home Rule Charter and whether it, in fact, is in need of overhaul as Mayor Street claims. The last attempt to modernize things was crushed at the polls, so delicate handling is required in both timing and presentation. (They support such an effort.)

  2. America's Hometown notes that there will be another ethics measure on the ballot in the May primary election, one which would establish an independent ethics oversight board. Look for more on this, which I will be working to help pass, as spring progresses.

  3. Friedman also notes that Wharton topped the business school list this year, and Temple's entry also made the honor roll.

  4. And finally, PoliticsPhilly lets loose a rant on a college-age guy who wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for State Rep while keeping a stable of ludicrous adolescent email addresses.

Around the state

  • State Senator Vice Fumo continues to rediscover his progressive side lately, most recently with the suggestion that if taxes must be raised, the wealthy should bear more of the burden.
    "Make no mistake - that's a tax shift," Fumo said yesterday of the plans advocating a sales tax increase, which he believes would disproportionately hurt senior citizens and the poor. "When we shift, we're going to raise someone's taxes.

    "So the minute we got into raising taxes, that's when I said, 'Well, if we are going to raise taxes - if it's a fait accompli - we should raise it on people who can really afford to pay it,' " he said.
    His plan would create three income-tax brackets and raise the percentage for the top two substantially. Should be a huge hit with the GOP leadership...

  • While U.S. Senator Rick Santorum may be trying to make hay with charges of anti-Italian bias (see prev. here), he's finding no ally in fellow Republican and Italian Philadelphia Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr., who passed up their prepared press releases. It's easy enough to avoid comparisons with the mob if you keep your nose clean.

  • John Baer devotes today's column to data on the state of the state, finding good and bad signs for Pennsylvania's economic and personal health.

  • Ray Murphy at YPP has a short piece on the party dynamics in the state House and on signs that the Philadelphia delgation might be striving for a more unified approach.

  • Ben Waxman at YPP looks at how Casey could be "centrist" without selling out to the right, but instead by focusing on the real issues worrying average Pennsylvanians.

  • Finally, America's Hometown notes several businesses and institutions that are leading the way in purchasing green energy (or even generating their own), many of which have a strong PA presence (and the Commonwealth makes the Top 25 nationally too!)...

They meant it

Operation Clean Sweep, one of the groups who carried the banner of the anti-pay-raise troops this past summer, has really stuck with their cause, and will be fielding 81 candidates for various state House and Senate seats (and with a couple weeks left to fulfill their goal of challenging every incumbent in the state).
The slate announced yesterday is a mix of Democrats, Republicans, and a few minor-party candidates who have taken the group's pledge to require voter approval for future pay raises and to support a 10-day "cooling-off period" for legislation so bills are not rammed through the two houses.

[Founder Russ] Diamond said there was a backlog of more than 70 other potential candidates waiting to be screened by the group. "This is just the first wave."
Two-thirds of this number will be making a primary run or contesting an open seat; the rest will be mounting challenges to sitting legislators. Always good to bring new blood into the political process, although I hope that the individual candidates can find more than this to justify support...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Chirpings from the wireless plan?

Somehow I missed this, but apparently Philadelphia has finally signed a wireless deal, and will start building its first large (test) chunk in Northeast Philly. City Council must still give approval.

(via Philadelphia Will Do)

Belated Monday round-up

Three bits from the weekend

  • The Sunday Inquirer had a front-page look at recently elected Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo (who much to our frustration got one of the highest vote-counts last fall, due mainly to his ownership of a popular restaurant, despite being declared unqualified by the bar (prev. here)), and specifically at his dubious involvement with a strip club that resides in one of his buildings. Palumbo has always claimed that he was merely a landlord for the establishment, but a closer look reveals that he has substantial personal and financial entanglements with the club's owner, and might even come into possession of it subsequent to a legal dispute. Pennsylvania judges are forbidden from having either direct or indirect financial involvement with any bar, so this could be a nontrivial mess for him.

  • Sunday's Inquirer also had a prominent piece looking at Lynn Swann's prospects for the gubernatorial race from the perspective of other athletes who've entered politics. I was surprised how many were familiar names, from Bill Bradley to Jack Kemp. The piece discusses the tricky mix of high name-recognition with an easy suspicion that the candidate has nothing of substance to offer in the political realm, putting the burden on him to prove otherwise.

  • On Saturday I went to the forum sponsored by Neighborhood Networks for the three Democratic candidates for Senate. Bob Casey decided not to come, but Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals were there, and the discussion was very engaging. This was my first real chance to hear either of them discuss policy and their campaigns, and neither seemed like the misguided dreamer that the press would have you believe; both were thoughtful and well-spoken, both had a good sense of what they could hope to do with the job they were running for, both were serious about developing a statewide machine to help propel them to primary victory and provide a basis for the general election. And both felt that there were needs at city, state, national, and global levels that were being ignored by the current government and were being given short schrift by the Democratic leadership in their focus on the self-fulfilling nonsense of "electability." I guess that Sandals impressed me more, but Pennacchio had a better effect at inspiring the crowd, so he might be better placed to do the uphill work of giving a crown prince a run for his money....

    Lots of the small-group discussion that followed focused on the question of whether NN should endorse any candidate for the primary, a question that is not yet settled. However, the people (some 150) in attendance were clearly heartened to find that they had much better options than they had feared, and that there might be a worthy opportunity here, at the very least, for sending a message to the party leadership that its voters don't like being told whom to choose.

    Update: Don't miss Albert's photo-essay on the event, which captures the feel pretty well. Thanks to him, as ever, for giving us all a fabulous look into the events we can't attend in person.

Friday, January 27, 2006

All that glitters...

Albert notes some recent Zogby polling data that, among other things, pokes holes in the presumed power of Robert Casey's name recognition. He argues that this gives impetus to those who have been afraid to vote their principles in the primary (but appears not to give much credence to the data that Casey can pull in Republican voters too)... Other interesting bits there too.

Upgrade what?

I'm a bit perplexed by word that Philadelphia is considering implementing pedestrian count-down timers, which alert folks to the amount of time before the light changes, at its cross-walks. This is handy technology, but the article's opening sentence captures my confusion:
A Philadelphia City Council member wants to add "pedestrian countdown timers" to augment those blinking walk and don't walk icons at city intersections.
Now I don't know about you, but I walk almost everywhere I go, other than the commute to work, and, um, 95% of the intersections that I encounter don't have any walk signs at all right now . . . ?

Friday politicians

  • US Senator Rick Santorum, trying to clean up appearances of his link to lobbying on K-street before the sleeping beast of voter awareness rouses, has decided to stop including a job fair at his biweekly lobbyist gatherings. Much protesting of his innocence accompanied the move.

  • US Representative and Philadelphia mayoral wannabee Chaka Fattah appears to be behind the delivery of discounted Venezualan oil to low-income Philadelphians. It is intended to go to families who have used up their LIHEAP allowances (see prev. here).

  • The flurry of investigation and indictment in the vicinity of PA state Senator Vince Fumo continues with the federal investigation of a former top aide for her involvement with the corruption-ridden nonprofit Citizens Alliance. The article gives a summary of all the currently known shady dealings of the company.

  • Philadelphia's Mayor John Street is arguing in favor of the liquid natural gas shipping plan, despite the nervousness of City Council and many civic organizations. He's focused on possible rate-drop benefits to PGW customers, but all many folks can think about is the magnitude of the disaster should a single tanker explode or be bombed...

Be careful what you say

...appears to be the take-home message of Bill Scranton's top campaign staffer, who made the priceless gaffe of calling opponent Lynn Swann "the rich white guy in the race." Amusing, but, um, impolitic. He was fired within the hour. Ah, for a metaphor thesaurus!

John Baer predicts that this was the kiss of death for Scranton's already struggling comeback, and the Daily News opinion page welcomes Seif to the Hall of Shame (in quite uncomfortable company).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Santorum, installment next

He's really working the bounds of credulity these days, claiming that his bumper stickers are a national service, that he doesn't know his own allies, and other wonderments. Sadly, people notice the crapulance... (for those who might have missed these gems)

All the rest . . .

  • The Inquirer takes a look at the start of City Controller Alan Butkovitz's new term. What he hopes to do, his intention to treat powerful pols equally, views on current financial issues, and other speculations.

  • John Baer thinks that the state GOP is at loose ends this year to an uncharacteristic degree, especially with regard to their choice between Scranton and Swann for their gubernatorial torch-bearer.

  • The CityPaper's political notebook looks at the sudden flurry of interest in the Lieutenant Governor's post and wonders why the office even exists (at least in its current plush but ceremonial form).

  • Will Bunch notes that it wasn't just Casey taking a needless position in favor of Alito, but that Governor Rendell weighed in too -- this disappoints Bunch even more, and leads him to discuss whether our Gov, with his call for less "partisan nitpicking," is a man for a different era.

  • And finally, Above Average Jane notes the possibility that we could have a confusing pack of legislators named Murphy, depending on the results of the fall elections. I hope that's a problem we get to have!

Street smarting?

Apparently the idea of screwing the poor preventing the start of low-wage tax cuts was the one part of Mayor Street's budget proposal that may have hit a brick wall. City Council was not impressed with this idea, having already passed the measure over Street's veto. Further, they see it as disrespect for its originator, the recently deceased David Cohen.
"You go to the man's funeral, speak a bunch of platitudes about how he helped the poor and in your next budget you want to reject his crowning legislative achievement. How cold is that?" Councilman James Kenney asked. "This is a personal dismantling of a colleague's legacy, and it's smacking David Cohen in the grave."
. . .
[Florence Cohen added] "The working poor deserve this tax cut, and remember that it's modeled after a state tax-credit program that came from a Republican legislature. I think this would make a Democratic city look very bad."
I can't see the political analysis justifying his choice here, even if DiCicco is right in saying that some of the support for the roll-back was a courtesy to Cohen originally. Why revisit an issue that is likely to rub so many the wrong way, especially in a surplus year? What principle is served? I guess it could be a cheap bone to throw Council during negotiations, but it's sure a blot on Street's judgement meantime.

Update: Dan delivers some snark on this one too... man, I had forgotten that theater-employee gaff!

Big money

Vern Anastasio has an opinion piece in today's Daily News echoing my dismay at the proposed hyper-security system for City Hall (see prev. here) and, more strikingly, showing the impressive alternative things that could be done around town for $6 million... (He also adds a threat that this could be turned against current office-holders when the next election rolls around.)

Today's Senate chat

  1. The big news is that when Philadelphia's labor unions got together to make an endorsement in the U.S. Senate race, a subset decided to go with Santorum rather than his Democratic opponent. The state AFL-CIO has already endorsed Casey, but some construction firms decided that their interests lie otherwise.
    The alliance with Santorum might seem contradictory - the senator has a 12 percent lifetime congressional voting record with the national AFL-CIO. But Gillespie and the dissident unions decided that, although they might not agree with him on everything, Santorum has brought construction jobs to the city and fought hard for the Delaware River dredging project, which proponents say will boost the region's port economy.
    Or maybe those guys are looking forward to a future in Walmart-style jobs... The Santorum camp is pleased with even a small victory here, as they hope to peel off votes among traditional Dem supporters (they're also courting Jews and environmentalists, among others), as well as depress turnout by creating the impression that support for Casey is lackluster among core groups.
    The goal is to hold down his Democratic opponent's vote margins in the Philadelphia area, where Casey would need to perform well to overcome Republican votes in central Pennsylvania.
    Looks like these guys will have a bit of an uphill push, what with Casey working so hard to alienate his own voters along the way...

  2. Meantime, Santorum apparently resents all the comparison between Abramoff's links and largesse and the machinations of the mob, and he calls for an end to such ethnic slurs. Of course, the comparisons seem pretty apt, whatever Santorum's personal national heritage might be, but painting oneself as a victim is very popular in some circles. The DSCC has already removed some Godfather references from its website in response to these criticisms.

Getting around Philly

Two blows for sanity, to my mind: giving up the renaming of 30th Street Station (officialy dropped by the Pew folks, who first suggested it) and allowing right turns from Chestnut Street (just voted out of committee on City Council). Let's hear it for helping keep the city functioning!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Other notable bits

  • This may or may not be the first casualty of the pay-hike outrage: Bucks County's state Senator Joe Conti has decided not to run for re-election this year. He didn't cite specific reasons, but his constituents may still recall his lame "I spent it on a water heater" excuse for not giving back the unvouchered expense money, and there are likely to be both primary and general election challengers aplenty. Or maybe it's something else entirely. [The article also gives a list of state legislators currently planning not to run.]

  • The debate over shipping of liquified natural gas around Philadelphia hasn't gone away, but has simply been dormant of late. PGW may be about to announce a partner in developing a new shipping project, and fierce debate is expected in City Council, which must give its approval and seems disinclined to do so...

  • An Inquirer editorial uses the recently disclosed ugliness in the School District's contracting to take a look into the eyes of the payola beast in Philadelphia. They put out a plea to Perzel and other pols to keep the cronyism away from our school system, which has enough to deal with already just doing its job.

  • The Philadelphia Weekly features an article looking at a couple of empty lots in prime Avenue of the Arts locations, which have gone undeveloped long enough that the Redevelopment Authority is close to revoking the current owners' rights. Good for them. Pulling projects together can be hard work, but companies taking publically handled land shouldn't hold out for the snazziest package of options either --- the city suffers when prime lots become rubble fields.

  • Apparently there were two forums on gun violence this past Saturday, with one organized by/at the African American Museum (and memorializing victims past) and another put together by the Germantown branch of Neighborhood Networks (and working on letters to legislators). Each had great panelists and drew around 100 folks; glad to see people trying to find creative ways to deal with this pervasive problem.

  • And finally, Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick points out that even though Philadelphia's murder rate is raising pulses, its total crime rate is down significantly. (Oh, this was a Sunday story, but what the heck.)

Street talk

Official stories today after mayor Street's address to City Council appear not much different from those posted yesterday morning. [Inquirer, Daily News] New here is the response of councilmembers, who appreciated the shift in tone from stick to carrot. Also new, and a bit surprising to me, is that a related DN opinion piece not only applauds the budget, but appears to think that rolling back a planned tax credit for the poor counts as brave. Yeah, because screwing the poor is something we rarely have the courage to do.

Who is this winning over?

With all the complaints about Bob Casey's invisibility in recent months, you'd think that his rare appearances or statements would be those carefully calculated to win him significant votes. But who exactly is he courting by taking a position on the Alito nomination, which will be long over before he's even up for election? Liberals already depressed by his abortion stance will see this statement of support as unnecessary salt in the wound, real social conservatives are probably already Santorum pals, and how many centrists are paying attention yet? But perhaps I show my naivete, and lots of mid-staters will see this as a sign of his centrism. Would certainly love to know.

(via a Medley furling)

Update: heh, Dan at YPP is even more irate than I am...

Update 2: Atrios/kos are also perplexed and peeved, though they put it more eloquently than I...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Busy blogger day

  • Ray Murphy at YPP looks at a recent West Philly proposal to tax businesses in the University City District. Among other interesting arguments, he points out that if subsections of the city can levy taxes to provide desired safety and other improvements, the result will only be more skewing of the differences between poor and prosperous parts of the city. That can't be the right way to go.

  • PoliticsPhilly links to the Sunday Inquirer story about Tom Knox, who plans to quit his current job at the end of the month to work on the mayoral race full time.

  • Above Average Jane is disgusted by Santorum's attempts to distance himself from K-street (or Land of Lobbyists) and contrasts some previous reports with current claims.

  • Albert takes a look at Lynn Swann's campaign page and makes disparaging remarks.

  • America's Hometown notices an argument for gay marriage by a staunch conservative (this issue suddenly relevent locally with the late introduction of some anti-gay-marriage legislation in Harrisburg, by leadership eager to offset the liberal look of some other bills they may pass).

  • And finally, not political but of pop-culture interest, Philadelphia Will Do notes that UPN and WB are going to merge to form a new network "CW" starting in the fall -- I guess that the Buffy/Angel migration might have foreshadowed this...

ACM = aggregator-cum-muttering

[Or, Tuesday bits, as my life spins out of my control]
  • More news on Street's novel surplus budget:

    1. Street apparently addressed City Council this morning, and the anticipatory piece in the Inquirer predicts some wins and some losses (based on the drafts it saw):
      Mayor Street today will propose major new spending for cultural institutions and riverfront development, and push to rescind planned tax cuts for the poor that had been the pet project of City Councilman David Cohen . . .
      Odd that they're discussing bond issues and tax hikes in a surplus environment -- does Street have a dire forecast that we're not privvy to?

    2. The Daily News piece on the same subject hits some of the same notes, and speculates (in concert with the Inquirer) that Street is thinking about his legacy to the city. I note the absence of discussion of ambulances (see crisis here or here)...

    3. The DN also offers a run-down of the highlights. Expect much discussion on all of this tomorrow.

    4. Update: Dan at YPP takes exception to Street's priorities, especially to his "sticking it to the poor."

  • Also at Philadelphia's City Hall, a key Street aid apparently won't wait to see the legacy take shape, having just given notice.
    Technically, Burrell is the mayor's secretary for external affairs. But in plainer terms, he has been the man to see about city contracts. The man who kept political score of Street's friends and enemies. And the man who has advised the mayor on hirings and firings and policy-making.
    . . .
    Burrell has also been a central point of curiosity for federal investigators looking into municipal corruption.
    It's probably been a tough run, but speculations always run high when a top aide takes his leave.

  • At the state level, friction in a couple of high-profile races:

    1. New Jersey's new Senator (freshly installed in Corzine's seat) Menendez takes some jabs at Santorum, essentially challenging him on threats to cut off funding or make other trouble in the current Delaware-dredging conflict between NJ and PA (see prev. here). He claims to want to get beyond threats to negotiations, but mentions along the way that he can hold up funding for PA projects as well as Rick can stymie NJ, so perhaps the sand-throwing isn't completely past...

    2. Meanwhile, in the horserace for Pennsylvania's GOP gubernatorial primary, Bill Scranton got feisty yesterday, laying into Lynn Swann for refusing to debate, and warning the Republicans not to throw their lot in with an unknown entity only to wake up with buyer's regret.

  • Not satisfied to alarm neighborhoods with his casino ambitions, Trump now plans a condo development along the Delaware.
    Trump described his project as a "first-class" condo building with landscaped gardens, a high-end spa, a five-star restaurant, a wine cellar, health and fitness club, recreation rooms, and an outdoor deck.
    I'm sure it's just coincidence that the new project would be adjacent to one of the other hot regions for a new gambling casino...

    Update: a YPP blogger responds to this news with an exhortation to the city to plan wisely, including infrastructure from grocery stores to transit routes to serve new developments (and current neighborhoods).

  • A Daily News editorial calls on state legislators to raise the minimum wage. Let me second that, and add that I hope they can pass one of the real bills that have been bottled up in committee until lately, without amending it down to a meaningless improvement.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Quick Monday round-up

Day already completely out of control. Here's the headers:

Weekend political scandal news

A couple of stories caught my attention in yesterday's paper:
  1. The federal Mariano probe has caught up the school district, including beloved chief Paul Vallas. That is, Mariano and Perzel both had ties to an otherwise unqualified company (Danlin) which was hired by the school district to give advice on reducing its compensation costs (through a no-bid process, of course).
    The district's top financial officer at the time had concerns about Danlin but felt pressured by Vallas to hire the Center City firm, according to newly released records of the FBI's investigation into the matter.

    When Danlin ran into problems in 2004, Perzel's office stepped in, pressing Vallas to keep paying the company even after senior district staffers had concluded it wasn't delivering what it had promised, records show. Vallas in turn got personally involved, the records show.
    The story continues along sadly familiar lines. Not clear what indictments will come out of the new findings...

  2. A nonprofit organization controlled by state Senator Vince Fumo appears to have financed a lawsuit against a perennial Fumo rival:
    The FBI is asking why the nonprofit - created to clean streets and revitalize businesses in Fumo's district - financed an unsuccessful 2001 lawsuit against the head of the state Senate, Republican Robert C. Jubelirer of Altoona, according to people familiar with the investigation.
    Nonprofits aren't allowed to wade into politics, but the money was funneled unsubtlely through an intermediary (and Fumo political advisor). Very pretty, and it's only one of many unseemly charges against the company...
Above Average Jane noticed these same two stories, along with two others raising a similar stink of money and its influence on politicians around the state. She adds her thoughts on the problem of constant fundraising and the need for continued citizen oversight.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bloggers on the air

Philadelphia's own national NPR program, Radio Times, interviews local boy (although not really local-blogger) Duncan Black (Atrios) on blogging -- the phenomenon, his experience, how it compares to mainstream journalism, etc. The link provides Real Audio stream archives (pick the Jan. 20 show).

Cross-town cross section

Philly Skyline offers another visual tour of Philadelphia, this time traveling from East to West along Vine Street. Great shots, as ever, for lovers of the city or just lovers of good photography.



Belated Friday bits

Hmmm, the day kind of got away from me. I have to blame KoL -- I mean, the tons of work I had to do! Anyway, nothing huge, but here are the things that caught my eye today:
  • New scandal! Ron White continues to bless us from beyond the grave; the latest federal sniff involves nefarious activity linking airport contracts with campaign contributions. No! No Street offspring are mentioned, but there are plenty of other names to be sullied. (Second story on the topic here.)

  • The Daily News provides a run-down of the Dilworth tributes offered up yesterday. (This link is a bit like the weekly political notebook, with an assortment of other political gossip stories as well.)

  • On their opinion page, the Daily News editors are a bit breathless about Street's new anti-violence initiatives, especially its combination of "hot spot" policing with involvement of social services.

  • Finally, PoliticsPhilly catches an interesting article that I had missed in the Tribune, looking at what might shape up in the battle for Michael Nutter's City Council seat once he officially declares his candidacy for mayor. One possible has already filed!
That's it for now! have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thursday round-up

  • A feature story in the new CityPaper again profiles the crisis in emergency services faced by Philadelphia, with fewer ambulances answering more calls, and undertrained and overworked staff.
    "Our goal should be getting a paramedic on the scene of a cardiac arrest within six minutes," says [paramedic and union rep.] Kearney. "Right now, our goal is to not run out of ambulances. The city doesn't allocate enough resources to even understand the scope of the problem, let alone deal it."
    It's scary, and I wish that the city would get serious about addressing this life-threatening situation.

  • In related news, at least one ambulance company is under investigation, as its executives appear to have squandered a sizeable amount of public money. Philadelphia hires its own ambulance staff, but the suburbs use nonprofit contractors like this. I guess some "unpaid" executives decided it was time to get paid...

  • Residents in the area of one proposed casino site are protesting the plan, saying they'd prefer a grocery store or home improvement mart to a sparkly gambling destination -- the latter might bring money, but it won't improve the general quality of life like normal development might. I'm sure this won't be the last "Not in my neighborhood" complaint on this issue, but I sympathize...

  • The Pennsylvania House and Senate are still trying to come to agreement about ways to shift taxes around so that property taxes can be cut even without the hoped-for linkage to casino revenues. The Senate favors increasing the sales tax rate, while the House prefers a mix of wider sales-tax coverage with an increase in the income tax. Everybody loves taxes in an election year...

  • John Baer criticizes GOP gubernatorial hopeful Lynn Swann for his unwillingness to debate his primary opponent Bill Scranton, at least before the party bestows its endorsement. Swann's name is better known than his positions, so there's some hubris in his disinterest in talking substance.

  • Finally, the Inquirer opinion page joins me in decrying the proposed new City Hall security system as too intrusive.
    It's an affront to the freedoms shaped in Philadelphia to create a database of people who simply want to witness their government in action - whether it's a City Council meeting or a mayoral proclamation ceremony.
    Their suggestion that such photos could end up as line-ups is a pointed one that I hadn't considered, but certainly the unwillingness to commit to privacy (or scheduled destruction) of such information should raise flags. I hope the planners reconsider.

State Rep. becomes regional blogger

State Rep. Mark Cohen apparently has decided to abandon his labor-intensive effort to comment on all major PA legislation in favor of a more generalized (real) blog, called 21st Century Pennsylvania. Perhaps his experience in discussions here and on other regional blogs gave him a taste of the drug, or perhaps he decided he'd rather make a more general case for his stances on large policy issues. I see that the first smattering of posts concern minimimum wage considerations and some hybrid energy possibilities. I hope he adds to it regularly.

(via Dan at Young Philly Politics)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Other Wednesday bits

  • Amidst the Ben Franklin celebration flurry, the Inquirer takes a moment to note a more recent Philadelphia anniversary:
    On Jan. 2, 1956 - 50 years ago - Richardson Dilworth was inaugurated as the 26th mayor of modern Philadelphia. Along with a core of reformers that included Joseph S. Clark, Dilworth helped end 67 years of GOP rule in Philadelphia, gave birth to a new City Charter, rooted out endemic corruption, and set in motion the redevelopment of Society Hill, among other things.
    A landmark in local tolerance, civic reinvigoration, and foresight.

  • Philadelphia's police commisioner previewed a new anti-crime initiative being developed by Mayor Street, to focus on "hot spots" of crime and on repeat offenders who have slipped through the cracks. As usual, details to be disclosed later.

  • Meanwhile, the city's commitment to reducing gun violence is put into question by the recent promotion of the local gun czar to be simultaneously the head of Internal Affairs. Maybe he has more time in his day than most guys.

  • The Daily News uses Codey's signature of the New Jersey anti-smoking legislation to again bewail Philadelphia's stalled smoking bill. Clever smoke-related wordplay abounds.

  • Local bloggers continue to berate Allyson Schwartz for her vote on the recent bankruptcy bill, and the Patriot Act before it, both of which violate principles she claims to uphold.

  • Blinq notes that Ben Franklin's self-published newsletters weren't that different from blog postings (except for the legwork required to get them into people's homes).

  • And finally, Above Average Jane spurred an assortment of bloggers to use MLK Day to ruminate on the degree to which personal faith can motivate political participation, even among those who strongly believe in the separation of church and state. She offers her thoughts and some of the other contributions, and will happily link to additional folks who wish to contribute to the discussion.

Ouch (recurrent)

One (conservative) blogger hears Casey interviewed on the radio and is more than unimpressed. If Casey isn't ready to speak about his positions, he shouldn't give interviews; if he really has no opinions on so many critical national issues, why is he running for the U.S. Senate? Note that I didn't hear the interview myself, and no audio link was provided.

(via Grassroots PA)

In other hot races

No news in the Senatorial realm, but much speculation on the Philadelphia mayoral front, with the Phila Weekly featuring a run-down of what is known about the frontrunners and some speculations that a lot of the important moves in the race will happen this year. With things so far ahead of the usual curve, there may actually be time to discuss issues and proposals, rather than just insider connections and fund-raising success.
U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah has been threatening for some time to start unveiling policy initiatives this year. Former city controller Jonathan Saidel is releasing a revised version of his book Philadelphia: A New Urban Direction, which figures to be full of policies Saidel would enact if elected. And then there's City Councilman Michael Nutter and state Rep. Dwight Evans, both of whom propose new legislation about as often as a body drops on The Sopranos.
They also have photos here. Doc looks possessed, but where did Saidel get that uber-geek haircut?? Altogether a good summary of where things stand and a reference scorecard for the next 18 months.

Swann and Scranton news

In the ongoing drama over Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, frontrunners Lynn Swann and Bill Scranton are getting most of the press coverage and regional endorsements. The two appeared at an event of the Philadelphia Young Republicans yesterday, where they recounted their life stories and swore to do battle with the Democratic incumbent. The event was explicitly not a debate, but more of forum, with speeches by each, followed by questions from the audience; however, no debate is planned before the date of the party endorsement, so these appearances were given close scrutiny by the press, but not that many differences in substance are yet evident.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

They get letters

Here are some opinion pieces taking issue with the more commonly heard viewpoint on these matters:
  1. A writer from New Jersey makes the case against deepening the Delaware, pointing out that a range of experts have argued against the claims of economic benefit and have identified numerous risks.

  2. John Baer thinks that the "brewing Casey-Santorum battle" is in a calm before the storm, but sees signs already of the fireworks to come. He wonders, however, whether Casey will really have enough game.

  3. Another NJ resident argues that gun purchase limitations don't work to stop crime, pointing out that D.C. continues to have problems after banning such sales entirely. A worthwhile point, even if I don't agree that solving Philadelphia's gun problems is as simple as "arresting and incarcerating criminals." (There are a lot of teenage boys packing out there, and I'd rather see an end to *that* rather than presuming that they're already lost to the "criminal class.")

New York blah Philly blah blah

Next installment from John Grogan: Philadelphia's no New York, and we like it better that way. Pointy shoes scare this guy?

Franklin's 300th

The Inquirer provides a round-up of events planned to celebrate Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday, today and ongoing. Apparently we've already missed a parade today, complete with bagpipes and Masons...

The Daily News offers a quiz to test your mastery of Franklin trivia.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Republican governor's race heating up

An Inquirer article looks at the state of things in the hot race to displace Rendell, with the Central Committee's surprise endorsement of Swann over Scranton last week (apparently I missed this), and straw polls underway in many parts of the state this week and next, leading up to the deadline for official party endorsement on February 11. The Philadelphia suburbs are considered a key region, but that caucus comes quite late in the process, and there are supporters of both Swann and Scranton in regions still to vote, so there is bound to be much speculation in coming weeks. Even then, the loser could well stick it out for the primary...

Undue burdon?

Apparently plans for updates to Philadelphia's City Hall include a new security system that would photograph and log all visitors to the upper floors of the building. Motivations appear to involve "post-9/11 concerns," but nobody will guarantee that such records will be kept private or how they might be stored or used. Personally, I find the notion of being photographed for attemtping to contact my city employees more than trivially jarring -- are complaintants and filers automatically suspects? Do I want my photograph on file for unknown future use? And, um, isn't jury duty (the only thing that's taken me to upper floors) already bad enough??

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday news bits

A smattering of stories on a number of fronts, with minimal time to give:

Only the petty

This has to be the bonehead move of the year (12 months, that is, not 12 days): despite the fact that his office was already under federal scrutiny, a city hearings officer was caught fixing parking tickets in exchange for cash and concert passes. Lessee, reasons why this gives such amusement: (1) his boss was already being investigated, (2) this was such a petty gain, in light of the risk, (3) they were tickets to Prince and Phil Collins concerts. Dan at Philadelphia Will Do adds some more humor to the story...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Next volley in the battle across the Delaware

That is, in response to PA Governor Rendell's threats, New Jersey counters with a proposal to skip the dredging and use federal funds for a more multifaceted development of the economy along the river. Unfortunately, all the plans are for the NJ side, which is hardly likely to settle any feathers...

Time for a new scandal

The Daily News outs Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell Clarke for apparent conflict of interest in directing a government-supported housing development to a nonprofit from which he had bought his own house, despite the fact that it involved grabbing land from a rival nonprofit developer.
That long-vacant land was to go to Kensington South, which planned to build 14 market-rate and 10 affordable homes with the help of $1.24 million in federal housing funds.

The land is owned by 413 Hope Mission Ministries, another non-profit, which has a rival plan to build 40 market-rate homes with no government assistance.
Keeping up the theme of folks who just don't get it (either reality or appearance of inpropriety), Clarke declares that there's no problem here.
Clarke asserts that he has a right to buy a home from whomever he wishes, that this purchase had nothing to do with his official duties and that he scrupulously made sure there was no public subsidy involved.
He got the City Solicitor to look at the matter and agree that there was no problem. Of course, he barely spoke to the current owners of the property that he had condemned. And it's hard not to see the custom-refurbished house as a convenient gift, when you see discussion like this:
Clarke said the price he paid was market rate, but Scott Krisanda, Kensington South's executive director, said the non-profit probably lost money on the transaction when all its soft costs are added up.
I agree that Kensington's proposal, because it includes an affordable-housing component, could be preferable to that of Hope Mission, but the fact is that the latter already owns the property and wishes to develop it -- this hardly seems like a proper use of eminent domain, even without the uncomfortable closeness.

[Previous mentions of Clarke on ASFR, related to various bills and suggestions: 1, 2, 3, 4]

Credit where it's due

Knight-Ridder has taken a lot of local flak for its squeezing of newsroom staff at the Inquirer and Daily News. So it's worth giving them credit when they do something right, like stand up to bullies who try to intimidate them out of reporting the news.

(via Medley)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Last writes

The Inquirer managed to craft a new story out of old news, by summarizing in one place the complete list of pay-hike outcomes: who took it, who took and then returned it, who never took it. In case you want to fill our your scorecard for the next set of elections, or have a dead horse that needs beating...

Wednesday bits (Philadelphia edition)

  • The reassessment of property values in Philadelphia, source of much nervous anticipation and City Hall brainstorming (see, e.g., here), appears to be being delayed by a year. That is, the actual valuations (which are being done with particular care) are being delayed a few months, which means that they can't really be included in this year's budget planning, and thus notices won't be sent until 2007 (conveniently after the City Council primary elections). I don't know how/whether this will affect some public meetings being held on the various proposed bills/strategies this week and next...

  • Mayor Street once hoped to oversee a major redevelopment of the Delaware River waterfront, but now he's been forced to scale back his ambitions by 75% after years of fruitless wrangling over funds. City Council members cite a lack of detail in the proposal, not atypical of Steet's big dreams.

  • Folks being shuffled around at the School District command center, after a top honcho left on short notice. No current news here, although some new stratigic plans are due at the end of the month.

Hippo birdie, two ewes

Today is the bloggiversary of ASFR. I started this to become better informed about local politics and politicians, and feel like that succeeded wonderfully. Many of you also seem to appreciate the "consolidator" effect of the news updates here. But I have to admit that my work time is feeling squeezed and I'm not sure I can keep this up; it involves reading a lot of articles far longer than the blog posts and other stuff I web surf on my own. No decision as yet, but some rumblings in the distance that something may have to change. We'll see.

Anyway, thanks to all the readers and commenters. I'm glad you've found value in taking the trip with me. Onward, ho.

(Appropriately, Blogger is unwell today, so this may or may not even get posted on the 11th...)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I feel obligated to link this Daily News story about the low enthusiasm of women for Casey's Senate candidacy. It's not really news, as the question of the relationship of the Democratic party and the abortion issue has been a hot one for the last six months, at least. But somebody out there might not have put it together to deduce that an anti-choice Democratic alternative to widely despised Santorum might not bring out the maximum bucks and volunteers for the final push... (More worth of note is that they actually mention both other Democratic primary candidates by name and even quote some supporters. !)

Convention Center expansion might actually happen!

According to a Daily News piece, the Redevelopment Authority is close to having purchased all the properties it needs to allow final planning and construction to occur. I might note my own surprise that one of the properties was what I've always thought of as the main building of PAFA (from a student point of view, not gallery-goer)...

(Also, don't miss the great quote at the end of the article linked above. :)

Things happening across the river

New Jersey takes some bold progressive steps, although at least partly for purely practical reasons: First, they passed a series of domestic partnership measures, one of which extends to homosexual couples the same protections over inheritance rights and funeral arrangements that exist for heterosexual marriages, and one of which allows all governmental units to extend health benefits to gay partners. These bills joined a number of others finished under the wire by the lame-duck congress. Second, they voted to suspend executions under the state death penalty due to concerns about the system's fairness as well as its administrative and legal costs. A report is required by November.

In (geographically) related news, the inter-state spat over dredging in the Delaware River continues acrimonious, with PA Governor Rendell threatening to shut down all operations of the Delaware River Port Authority, including collecing tolls on the bridges and running PATCO (which links PA and NJ via rail). I am a rock, I am an island... Background on the dispute is provided at the link. Perhaps the inauguration of Democrat Corzine will allow more productive negotiations to take place.

A tale of two bans

The New Jersey assembly has passed a ban on indoor smoking (with a casino exemption), which is expected to go into effect in April. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's attempt to enact a similar ban appears to be in limbo, apparently caught up in the rivalry between Mayor Street and Councilman Nutter. Let's get a move-on, boys!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Misc. Monday bits

  • An interesting piece in the Inquirer looks at the history of privatization of water in the Philadelphia region, especially at its effects on consumer costs and the question of what means of redress might exist. These companies appear to be quite profitable, so the author suggests that residents should attend rate and other utility hearings to speak up for the public good.

  • A local union president wonders about the effects of a stagnant minimum wage (with declining purchasing power) on the rise of crime during the same period, writing an identical letter to both Inquirer and Daily News.

  • John Baer gets out of the city to visit the farm show, and mostly notes that the crowds are flocking to Lynn Swann, gubenatorial hopeful.

  • Will Bunch notes that the Alito hearings will have a Philly flavor (the political connections, that is, not the snacks)...

  • Finally, Dan at YPP throws up his hands over the strange interconnections of politicians and their powerful supporters in the region...

Arlen Specter in the news

Pennsylvania's senior Senator Arlen Specter is much in the spotlight as the Judiciary Committee, of which he is chair, begins hearings on the Alito nomination today, a confirmation he'd probably prefer not to have to vote on and which has already brought pressure groups to his home town. Additionally, he was behind an amendment to declare illegal any annoying emails and posts, however unenforceable that measure (stuck onto the Department of Justice budget bill, in classic PA style) may be. Now he's likely to collect ire from yet another constituency, as he calls for Attorney General Gonzales to testify on the wiretapping scandal at hearings to be held in February. Been a busy year for Arlen!

Obligatory Justice Sunday update

Several pieces touch on the dog & pony show staged here last night. Apparently the trifecta of moderate Sen. Arlen Specter's home base, with Alito's current realm, with a major political donor and African-American religious leader was all too much to resist...
  1. The Inquirer reports that the fight over the courts came to Philadelphia. In a nutshell,
    A North Philadelphia church and the surrounding blocks became the staging ground last night for a national battle over the federal judiciary -- between conservatives who see it as hostile to religious freedom and liberals who characterize the political right as bullies of the court.
    Fallwell, Dobson, and Santorum were there to sing the praises of nominee Alito, whose hearings begin today, as the culmination of years of effort to bring "faith and values" to the fore.
    "The Supreme Court has become the supreme branch of our government, imposing its unrestrained will on all the people," said Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.). "The only way to restore this republic our founders envisioned is to elevate honorable jurists like Samuel Alito."
    Wait, I thought War President trumped all other players... ?

  2. The Daily News headlines their piece "Santorum rips liberal judges." They include part of the quote above, and note
    He did not cite any specific Supreme Court rulings, nor did Santorum or any of the other "Justice Sunday" speakers note that seven of the nine current justices were named by Republican presidents. But he did make a forceful plea for his fellow senators to confirm President Bush's current High Court nominee, Samuel Alito.
    This piece expands on the speculation elsewhere about how this event factors into Santorum's attempts to be both conservative enough to please his base and moderate enough to reassure the rest of the voters he'll need in November. In my view, it is often the case that events this far out from the election tend to cater to the base, which pays more consistent attention, with the moderate face appearing later when the wider electorate starts to tune in.

  3. Local blogger Albert Yee provides some photos from and reactions to the street protest that accompanied the televised church event -- participants ranged from AIDS activists to peace protesters to Alito opponents.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Santorum calls out entire state of NJ

It's somehow tied to the conflict over dredging the Delaward, but Rick is threatening to shut down any project that benefits New Jersey at all until the matter is settled (or until mom comes out to call everybody in from the playground). The whole dredging thing seems to bring out a sandbox dynamic, but this bit takes the cake.

(via Atrios)

A God & justice show comes to town

No dogs or ponies, but a star-studded array of conservative evangelical Christians are on parade in North Philly this weekend for "Justice Sunday III," an event that hopes to whip up the conservative base over issues related to religion and the Supreme Court (and specifically in support of Alito's nomination). Falwell and Dobson will be joined by Senator Rick Santorum for the event, to be televised nationally -- perhaps he hopes to win some new supporters:
Perkins acknowledged that the event may help cement ties between the mainly white Christian-right movement and socially conservative black church-goers, whose opposition to gay marriage or abortion has lured a small but growing number of them over to the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, a coalition of groups presented anti-Alito petitions (a million signatures) to Arlen Specter's office at the federal courthouse downtown.
At a news conference outside the federal building, where Specter has his local office, speaker after speaker blasted Alito as an agenda-driven ideologue whose confirmation they say would threaten the status quo in numerous areas of the law.
There will almost certainly be protests outside the church during the Sunday evening event as well. In honor of our distinguished visitors, Dan at YPP offers a selection of appalling quotes from Falwell, Dobson, and Santorum on various issues and occasions.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Can math save us from electoral fraud?

The new City Paper offers us a feature article on a mathematician-cum-political consultant who hopes to use statistical analysis to verify the results from the hot fall elections. The concerns stem from odd effects seen in battleground states in 2004, but it's hard to say whether cross-referencing voting patterns against registered party affiliation, local turn-out, and other measures can offset the potential for tampering with modern voting machines. The article raises more questions than it answers, but it will be interesting to see what comes of attempts to oversee the voting system from outside.

Get your red-hot opinions here!

The Daily News opinion page asks Who ran Mariano's office? They are surely not alone in wondering, and suggest that Committee of Seventy's call for hearings might be the way to go. Columnist Mark Alan Hughes looks at the 2007 mayoral race and hopes that it will see more nuanced and practical approaches to the issues facing Philadelphia. And finally, the City Paper's political notebook gives some forecasts of who will be "in" and "out" among the political players in the year ahead. A good helping of snark on the side with that.

Misc. Thursday news bits

  • The debate over restructuring of state taxes continues, with testimony heard in the state Senate from supporters and opponents of current versions being examined in Harrisburg.

  • Open state House seats in Chester County may mean some competetive action there this year. Party affiliations there have been shifting, so both parties are quite interested in what happens this time around.

  • Philadelphia City Councilman Kenney would like to see the Penn's Landing Corp. subject to state sunshine laws in its proceedings, and Stalberg of the Committee of Seventy agrees that it does the public's business and therefore should be open to public scrutiny.

Swann takes the plunge

Surprising no-one, but getting a little limelight for the day, former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann officially announced last night that he's running for governor. Name recognition appears to be all in the GOP primary race, with Swann and former Lieutenant Governor Scranton the frontrunners. John Baer comments on how rare it is to find eager opposition for a sitting governor, and speculates about why some might view Rendell as vulnerable this time around.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In the shadows of success

Gwen Shaffer is behind the excellent cover story of this week's Philadelphia Weekly, which looks at the dichotomy between Center City's "renaissance" and the state of the rest of the city.
But a fact that many Philadelphians would like to keep hidden in the shadows of the swanky condos is that 25 percent of our residents live at or below the poverty line, and some 115,000 Philadelphia renters scrape by on less than $20,000 a year. In what people are calling the next great American city, there's a whole lot of competition for the available 60,000 low-income housing units.
. . .
"Okay, so Philadelphia is cool," says Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, which hopes to increase wealth in low-income communities. "But the city is limited by an inability to fix the basics, like schools and public transportation. We can focus all our civic energy on bringing the Olympics here, but what we need to address is the murder rate."
She follows some cases that remind us how little it takes to slip from basic security toward homelessness, notes the alarming rise in people living on the streets in the last couple of years, and cites statistics showing a decline in jobs paying a living wage. She also credits the Philadelphia Housing Authority with improving conditions in its projects, but points to the long (and sometimes closed!) waiting lists for houses and subsidized apartments as signs that there's a long way to go.
[Jean Hunt, executive director of the Campaign for Working Families] isn't complaining about dance clubs like Denim or trendy stores like Urban Outfitters. "My adult children moved back to Philly," she says. "I want it to attract young people. But studies show you need to earn $17.83 an hour to afford the average home in Philadelphia today. Very few service jobs pay that kind of money."
Clearly it's great that Philadelphia's image is on the upswing. But it will take a lot of work and creative thinking to be sure that the improvements are felt by those on the lowest rung of the ladder too. The hype can't be allowed to get in the way of concrete planning.

Two tidbits

At America's Hometown, another look at recycling -- how much money it saves the state, and how little attention anybody in Philadelphia government is willing to give the program.

Via PoliticsPhilly, another installment of the Philly Record's "Know Your Ward Leader" series looks at Ward 30's Terry Gillen. [This ward is essentially between South and Washington, west of Broad.] Not mentioned here is that Gillen ran unsuccessfully in the primary against state Rep. Babette Josephs in 2004, and she also ran for City Council in 1999, so she's got ambitions beyond her neighborhood...

Update: a third worthy tidbit comes from Scott at MyDD, who looks at the 2006 US Senate race and the (non-obvious) support of business interests for Santorum.
Business clearly prefers a tax-cutting GOP populist to an old-school economic liberal. What's more, if the embattled incumbent survives Casey's challenge, business lobbyists know that Santorum could well run for President -- and nobody wants to get on his bad side by sitting out the Senate race.
Interesting twists a-plenty, this race...

Seventy urges Mariano investigation

Zach Stalberg and the Committee of Seventy are urging City Council to hold hearings on indicted Councilman Rick Mariano, especially to look into the degree to which he was under the thumb of union boss Dougherty (see prev. here) and his dismissal of three staffers who testified to the FBI (see prev. here). Local powers-that-be choose to defer to the feds on this one.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Still quiet in newsland

  • In Sunday's paper, Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick made the argument against cutting off tax abatements, at least too quickly, pointing out that the lost revenue can be more than made up by wage, sales, and other income from residents in the new developments. He also notes that while Center City is booming, much of the rest of the city could benefit from stimulus for renovation and rebuilding.

  • Via YoungPhillyPolitics, an Inquirer article that notes that plans for citywide wireless are currently stalled as details of the contract with Earthlink get hammered out. Hopefully they can get it together by the time City Council reconvenes later this month.

  • To fill in the lack of more substantive news, I recommend a trip over to Philadelphia Will Do, which has a set of letters to the Northeast Times, from which you're challenged to pick out the real rants from the fakers. The answers are out, but don't check until you've guessed!