Friday, December 22, 2006

Friday pre-holiday wrap-up

  • As noted in the update below, the Chester County recounts are over, with Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith the agreed winner. As the Inquirer notes, that still leaves unanswered the question of who will be Speaker next year, although I'm not sure this will be an easy year for Perzel to find himself a turncoat... [Some chat here about who new Dem. committee chairs are likely to be.]

  • In other big news, Eakins masterpiece The Gross Clinic will be staying in Philadelphia after all: the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts will co-own the work after a successful 6-week scramble to match the exorbinant bid of a Walmart heiress. Noteworthy are multimillion-dollar gifts from the Annenberg Foundation, PEW Charitable Trusts, and several generous individuals. [Also noteworthy was the absence of Jefferson University officials, who should be ashamed at having held an entire city (and its own alums) hostage in this way.]

  • People:

    1. The Inquirer provides a closer look at the investors behind the two new casinos that appear to be headed for Philadelphia.

    2. The DN points out it's hard being police commissioner right now, between violence woes and the upcoming mayoral election that could make him a pawn in a larger game.

    3. The DN also looks at the recent Brady fundraiser and what it might indicate about Bob's mayoral thoughts.

    4. AAJane offers us some notes from a Sestak appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, in which he assessed the prospects of the President's intended increase in troop levels in Iraq.

    5. Finally, a YPP poster comments on the absence of female candidates and powerbrokers in Philadelphia.

  • PGW is looking for another rate hike of a hefty 8% or so. Critics say the utility needs to find ways to fix its internal problems.

  • The US Army wants to dump nerve gas byproducts into the Delaware River -- it's billed as a NJ story, but um, don't we share the same river? An added concern is the long way that the material would be trucked cross-country (say, cross-PA) before getting dumped. Altogether unpleasant sounding, although the CDC and EPA have signed off on the project.

  • The Zoning Board has approved a 23-story tower for Old City, pretty much adjacent to historic (and diminutive) Betsy Ross House, among other sites. I suspect we haven't heard the last of this.

  • The governor's signature made civil unions official in New Jersey yesterday, with ceremonies to become possible starting in late February. Still no joint tax returns though...

  • Inga Saffron pipes up on the River City proposal (see previous here), and she thinks it's too ambitious, too densely designed, and too destructive of the city's pedestrian culture. Dan UA agrees, and compares today's busy building environment with the enthusiasm-starved situation 5-10 years ago when "any development is good" might have been ok.
This is the last bit before I hit the road for the holidays -- see you in the new year. Safe and happy holidays to all!

Pasha as elf

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday, in other news

  • The Inquirer depicts the Democratic City Committee Christmas party, with Bob Brady as hand-shaker in chief.

  • Looks like the Democrat will win the recount in Chester County. The number of uncounted and/or contested ballots is smaller than the current margin.

    Update: It's over; Royer has conceded and McIlvaine Smith will take the seat in January.

  • Michael Nutter suggests weekly mayoral debates for the new year (to snarky response from D-Mac). Would love to get that deep a slice of their ideas, but suspect most folks would tune out pretty quickly...

  • The CityPaper suggests ways you can share a better life with others for the holiday season, through a variety of charities that put your time and/or money to good use.

  • In a less festive mood, they report on difficulties with condom distribution in prisons, a critical first line of defense against AIDS.

  • Their political notebook takes a first look at who will run for judge next year, from the top of the court system to the more humble levels.

  • And finally, Phila Will Do gets in some last ribbing at outgoing Rep. Curt Weldon for his misfortunes and missteps in the last year.

Thursday casino fallout

Oh, the weeping and wailing! Oh, the celebration and looking-ahead! Oh, the punditry!
  • The Inquirer starts us off with an overview of who won the five slots licenses statewide and how the news is being received. Both Philadelphia winners say they could have casinos built and running by 2008. Of course, that's after an appeals process that could stretch into next summer...

  • The Daily News also offers a main story, focusing on the bookends that the two new Philadelphia casinos would create for the main city riverfront on the Delaware. [They also note that, although the Gaming Board won't release its rationale for a few weeks yet, all votes were unanimous. Perhaps a decision of the closed earlier sessions?]

  • Sandra Shea at the DN says that most consultants ranked these two finalists last among the choices, and assesses the impact of political connections on the outcome.

  • The Inky casino blog includes the report of one financial group that picked the winners based on their financial reports and public presentations. [This report is worth reading, for its assessments of what else factored into the choices (they thought it a fair process) and also what comes next on several fronts.]

  • The group behind Foxwoods (the S. Philly winner) also owns a large casino development in Connecticut, whose employees are airing grievances about work conditions on a dedicated website. Perhaps Philadelphia is the right place to get an early unionization effort underway! [unearthly cackling...]

  • The Inky has a short piece recapping where the revenue will go, according to the bill passed this past summer. Property tax reductions (often by changing the source of school funding) are the big thing.

  • Another piece points out that a chunk of casino revenue will fund local charities and neighborhood activities.

  • Fishtown residents offer mixed reactions to the SugarHouse go-ahead.

  • The DN notes a swell of opposition, not least a promised lawsuit by riverfront district City Councilman Frank DiCicco (also noted here and somewhat more snarkily here).

  • One pol, at least, celebrates the Nicetown activists who "slew the Trump dragon" that threatened their part of town.

  • Inga Saffron has a piece in the Inquirer lambasting the choices for design, amenities, and location.

  • The Inky editorial page decries the distressing duo of winners, noting that both of its top picks fell by the wayside.

  • The DN also looks at reactions around the state by/to license winners. Apparently at least Rendell was pleased with the whole process.

  • Related by the merest of threads: Trump may have lost his casino bid, but he won a court ruling that would make a journalist provide evidence that Trump is only a millionare, and not a billionare as he claims. Definitely an issue I'm losing sleep over. feh.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wednesday speed-chess

(No, i have no idea what that means either. but most of you are on vacation already, so I'm letting my hair down...)
  • Casinos, casinos, casinos

    • Yesterday, Philadelphia's five applicants made their last pitch in Harrisburg.

    • Today the big news: two casinos along Delaware River (Foxwoods and Sugarhouse). Written rationale will follow, and the decision could well be appealed. Meantime, YPP is agog. Marc Stier fleshes out his objections here.

    • Another large Inquirer piece says the debate is far from over, and looks at who might contest the license choices.

    • One Gaming Board appointee fixed his records to admit to his own substantial casino winnings.

    • A Poconos-area applicant suggests an auditing board to oversee his casino, in response to questions about whether he had mob ties. Doesn't just reading about this stuff make you feel cleaner?

  • Tales of transportation

    • An Inquirer editorial looks at the state of PATCO and whether its fitness is being compromised by the long hold on the Port Authority budget (caught in a sandbox fight between PA and NJ governors over dredging).

    • Another Inky editorial endorses the CSX compromise to allow safe passage to the Schuylkill River Park.

    • Meanwhile the DN opinion page looks at SEPTA's short-term solution to long-term budget woes, and calls on the state legislature to step up and help find dedicated transit funding.

  • Other bits

    • Just under half of the Chester County ballots have been recounted, with a handful set aside for challenges. Looks good for their deadline.

    • A Northern Liberties bank is trying out neighborhood banking as a model to compete with the corporate oligarchy that seems to have taken over the industry. People you can know, combined with trendy technology, an interesting mix.

    • Ray Murphy reminds local officials that there are only 18 days left on his challenge for them to pick up on novel solutions to the city's violence problems.

    • AAJane notes the new committee assignments of local congressfolk headed to DC.

    • DN columnist Mark Alan Hughes signs off to go back a mayoral candidate, without telling us which one. Eesh.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tuesday takes

  • Casino yappage:

    • A profile of the Pinnacle group, behind the proposed Fishtown casino. They have a number of other gaming enterprises around the country.

    • More on Street's support for the Riverwalk casino proposal (and more related noise, aiming toward the big announcements tomorrow). And more.

    • Meanwhile, a number of planners call on the city to allow more time for citizen input and coherent riverfront planning.

    • And a Nothern Liberties neighborhood activist also weighs in.

    • A YPP poster notes that Philadelphia's anti-casino movement has caught some national attention.

  • The Fraternal Order of Police want the Police Commissioner replaced because of Philadelphia's problems with violence. (Also some other recommendations, as for improving and even relocating some police houses.)

  • Hand recount in Chester County started this morning, with a strict one-week deadline, holidays be damned.

  • Update on the Eakins painting controversy: Street drops attempt at historic designation, as Philadelphia Museum of Art (and collaborators) feel optimistic about their speed fundraising effort (and worry that the designation might complicate matters). Also mentioned here is some undisclosed "agreement" between Jefferson and the city.

  • City likely to join appeal of the court decision that overturned local campaign finance rules (presumably gladdening the Daily News, who called on them to join in). Meantime, the new city Ethics Board calls on all mayoral candidates to honor the rules while the legal battle sorts things out. [This sentence also interested me: "If a candidate raises funds above the limits before officially declaring, the board asked that the excess money be put in a separate account not used for the campaign." hmmmmm, rational but sticky for some.]

  • DN columnist Ronnie Polaneczky is cautiously optimistic about a new deal between the city and CSX that might solve pedestrian woes and make access to the Schulykill River Park a breeze.

  • A DN editorial bemoans the state of those without heat facing a winter in Philadelphia. In related news, Dan at YPP notes that a local activist saved us from Enron a decade ago. (So things could be much worse!)

  • And finally, the unseasonable warmth in Philly has led Albert to think about recycling and using recycled products, both things we could all do more of.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday news bits

  • Pennsylvania's roads need fixing, and that means decisions about how to raise more funds. (A number of options floated here.)

  • Gaming Board swears clout won't factor into their licensing picks. Regional journalists think they must have misheard. Basically, we're just marking time until the decision on Wednesday.

  • Apparently also disbelieving the above, Mayor Street endorses one of the casino proposals for Philadelphia. More details about how he (may have) made his choice, and what other notes and cautions he included with his recommendation (esp. with regard to transportation concerns).

  • Mayoral candidate Michael Nutter will appeal the ruling that overthrew Philadelphia's right to limit campaign contributions in local races; more here. The conflicting ruling from this fall should provide plenty of grounds.

  • Dem. Party Chair Bob Brady won't say whether he's in or out of the mayoral pack, but he's throwing a fundraiser this week to benefit his Friends of Brady fund.

  • The Daily News has a piece on development plans along the Schuylkill River, especially in the area near University of Pennsylvania.

  • An Inquirer editorial calls on Philadelphia residents to make their voices heard, to help guarantee that our new leaders are responsive on issues we care about and that the city evolves into a more open, functional place. Another reminder of the Great Expectations forums that will occur during January and February.

  • A YPP poster exhorts progressives to support local progressive candidates with more than the ballot box.

  • Two tales of stealth figures:

    1. AAJane has an interview with Sy Snyder, the pseudonymous owner of the influential PoliticsPA website.

    2. Blinq tells the tale of restaurant reviewer Craig Laban, who is so protective of his identity (so that being recognized doesn't bias his experiences eating out) that he appeared at a reading in elaborate disguise.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday bits (in random order)

  • Why do we need this story? Donald Trump is a household name. Oh, and he'd like to build a casino here. Dan at YPP derides this seeming cult of personality.

  • SEPTA says no fare-hikes threatened (see also here). However, as Philadelphia Will Do spells out, they're just putting off capital investments and equipment upkeep, and next year will only be worse as a result. The litany of cancelled improvements is hard to read.

  • NJ passes civil union bill. Nobody happy with the result.

  • John Grogan tells the sad tale of Joe Conti and his cushy landing after thumbing his nose at voters (achieved via Rendell's thumbing his nose at voters). John Baer is also unimpressed by these shenanigans. The blantancy of the whole thing just makes AAJane tired and discouraged. Hard to disagree.

  • Big mess on the horizon: judge throws out Philadelphia's campaign contribution rules, saying such regulation must occur at the state level. The DN version of this story notes that this ruling conflicts with another one from September, which may mean that appeals will be required before anything's final... Meanwhile, Evans backs a bill in Harrisburg to specifically grant Philadelphia such regulatory rights (but won't bend over backwards to conform to the guidelines meantime). The Inquirer reacts to all this in an editorial. Dan at YPP also has some good rant (and gets some Council candidates to chip in their thoughts too).

  • Gar Josephs offers some mayoral speculations, including who's pushing Brady to join the race, who's courting Nutter, and other tidbits.

  • A round-up of City Council's final burst of business: Inky here, DN here. Quick summary: smoking ban pushed back a few weeks, bill introduced to ban trans fats from all Philadelphia eateries (!), zoning limit passed for NW CC area (read: Logan Square neighborhood, where River City project proposed) to keep buildings under 125 feet (part of planning? no -- designed to make developers navigate the painful ad hoc exceptions process. sigh), diversion of city surplus to fire and police (see prev. here), and curfew and gun control extensions. You gotta read both stories to get even half the details sorted out...

  • The Daily News has two pieces on the Kimmel's fifth birthday -- a general story and a critic's view.

  • The DN opinion page disagrees with the suggestion that casino licensing should be delayed by six months, mainly because they don't think that the Board intends to take public opinion much into consideration anyway. They say pick the winners, but then delay granting licenses, so that the developers can be made to jump through city hoops. I fear this is splitting fine hairs over something that will never happen. But it never hurts to clap louder!

  • Ray Murphy challenges city officials to implement new ideas on curbing violence, before the year is out!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Late Thursday round-up

Quickish, insofar as I'm actually capable of that...
    Old stories, revisited:

  • Rendell says he's running out patience of on the dredging dispute with New Jersey. What patience is that, exactly? Isn't he already the one showing tantrum-like behavior in holding the River Port Authority hostage?

  • Councilman DiCicco calls on the Gaming Board to delay casino licensing decisions for six months, so that the city's Riverfront planning group can have time to consider broader riverfront development. More here. It's noteworthy that his approach here was to suggest a (last-minute) petition to the Board, rather than, say, introducing legislation in City Council to defer creation of new Entertainment Districts . . . Meanwhile, Dougherty and DiCicco aids get in tiff as sideshow.

  • The Convention Center Authority has reached a deal with the state to allow their expansion to come in under the budget cap. The final contract needs to be signed before bids are heard in March.

  • A CityPaper piece looks at the ongoing dispute with railroad company CSX over pedestrian crossings needed to guarantee safe access to the Schuylkill River Park. Councilman Clarke says an agreement might come by summer; see also the previous post about the River City project, which would actually span these train tracks and provide a safer crossing.
    More recent stories, ongoing:

  • The Liquor Control Board approved, in a split decision, the new CEO position created by Rendell apparently for (outgoing State Sen.) Joe Conti. The current chief remains livid about the short notice and apparent breach of good government procedures. Ya' think? An Inquirer editorial really takes Rendell to task for the move: "To conjure up such a cushy patronage job in a year in which voters booted out 24 incumbents takes a brazenness the size of Lincoln Financial Field."

  • A Chester County judge will decide whether recounts in the 152nd District State House race will proceed by machine or manual methods. Apparently the current vote differential is within the margin of error for the optical scanners involved.

  • A Daily News editorial applauds current City Council efforts to overhaul the Zoning Code.

  • Mary Patel at the CityPaper gives her take on the recent Philadelphia Society gathering in New York.
    New business:

  • Vallas claims that Philadelphia schools were safer this year than last.

  • South Philly residents put Homeland Security reps on the spot over the vulnerability of the Sunoco processing plant to terrorist attack (lack of adequate sirens, evacuation plans, etc.).

  • AAJane notes two instances of folks trying to make local politics matter.

  • It might not be too late to make tonight's launch party for PhillySkyline's new calendar of local photos; it's definitely not too late to order one -- support the site, the artists, and your city all at once.

Late edition warning

Short day, so probably won't get to blog my remaining stories until 8ish...

Philadelphia's next big building vision

Both daily papers have big stories today about "Philadelphia River City," an ambitious project that aims to put up some dozen buildings of residential, office, and entertainment space over a 10-15-year period in the area just north of JFK Boulevard and adjacent to the Schuylkill. The news stories (Inky here and DN here) focus on how much taller this development is than the Logan Square neighborhood to the north, and on the negative reaction of that local Neighborhood Association to the proposal (asking for variances before the designs are finalized). However, it seemed to me that these buildings would be somewhat more continuous if viewed in the context of the immense towers already present along Market and JFK, not to mention the ambitious plans of Penn and pals on the west side of the same river.

To get more info and perhaps some deeper description of the project itself, I turned for expert opinion to PhillySkyline, which has done a great job of covering all sorts of large construction proposals around the city. Turns out Brad did a great overview of the project back in September (you may need to reload the link to end up in the right spot), looking at what this space represents in context, what the project would offer, and all the unknowns along the way. Among the assets of the plan, he notes
retail where there is currently nothing, public access to the Schuylkill River Park where there is currently controversy with CSX, a muffler over CSX's noisy, stinky trains, two hotels in a city that is sorely underserved, an Olympic sized pool, a skating rink, a Jetsons-age people mover from River City across the river and to 30th Street Station, and a totally changed skyline
Also helpful is the version of the site sketch included there, as it is a view from the NW that shows how naturally this project links up with the other JFK buildings. I don't blame the neighbors for their concerns (more on that here), but it seems like this might be a pretty good start on the inevitable development of Philadelphia's major downtown strip and of the linkage between Center City and West Philly that is a dream of many. I'll be intrigued to hear more as the developers clarify their ideas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday round-up

Wow, piled up the tabs and then totally forgot about blogging them. Blame an early lunch...
  • Rendell apparently creates a Liquor Control Board position for displaced Bucks County Republican State Sen. Joe Conti. Making nice with the opposition to get some of his agenda passed?

  • Philadelphia City Council holding hearings on how to make Roosevelt Boulevard less lethal. Sinking the street might solve the problem, but bankrupt the city along the way...

  • A judge appears uncomfortable with how some papers related to the investigations of State Sen. Vince Fumo came to be released to the press/public. A second judge has specifically ordered that some papers be kept private.

  • A Philadelphia Weekly piece looks at issue of truancy in city schools and recent efforts to lower rates of absent students. In related news, the Daily News opinion page calls for a lowering of the minimum enrollment age in PA, which currently allows children to start school as late as 8 years old!

  • The newspapers have a new contract, although the Guild sounds less than fully thrilled with its provisions, which may include substantial staffing cuts. (Ferrick calls it a shit sandwich...)

  • Another Weekly piece looks at an interesting community melding event happening over dinners at the Broad Street Ministry.

  • The Kimmel Center turns five.

  • Major state political website PoliticsPA to be sold to bipartisan investors?

  • Jill Porter hopes that maybe the Eakins controversy will teach us to preemptively get to know our local masterpieces.

  • Citizens ask Governor Rendell to put a moratorium on casino licensing until more information is available to guide such developments.

  • And finally, one YPP poster, at least is impressed with Evans' antiviolence proposals.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday round-up

  • Politicians

    • Governor Rendell plans a major health-care initiative for his second term, aiming to widen coverage while keeping down costs. And ponies for everyone! John Baer looks at this and other second-term proposals and speculates about the motivations for such ambition, and its chances for success.

    • Evans officially announced for mayor yesterday, emphasizing his commitment to the problem of violent crime, and releasing a detailed policy paper for how to reduce crime levels in Philadelphia. More here. A number of regulars at YPP would have liked to hear about more than the one issue.

    • In the ongoing Saidel/Brady speculation, two entries today: Elmer Smith is a bit surprised by the early appearance of race in the air (and the way it demeans the intelligence of voters), and a short DN piece notes a big show of togetherness by the two supposed rivals.

  • Schools

    City Council grilled Schools chief Vallas about a number of issues, from the suddenly discovered deficit to test scores and dropout rates. Wilson Goode, Jr., in particular pushed the chief on the link between dropouts and gun violence. Street was also at the special meeting, calling for a 5-year plan from the School Reform Commission, so that everybody (esp. the city!) knows what the bottom line is currently and where it might best benefit from additional funding.

  • Newspaper status

    Despite a long day of negotiation, serious distance still existed yesterday between management and Guild on pensions. Mediators were meeting with management today, and the two sides planned further negotiations. Meanwhile, the Teamsters and other unions working for the city newspapers have signed new contracts and are back to regular business.

  • Other stories

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday news bits

Update: somehow missed this long post on "progressive tax reform" by Stan Shapiro -- lots of chewy detail about what could be done other than the much-discussed cuts to BPT.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

At-Large City Council Forum

As promised, here are my notes from Thursday night's event (sponsored by Neighborhood Networks and held at the Itailian Bistro on Broad Street downtown); I didn't check any names for those who weren't known in advance, and I also should make the disclaimer that my notes were abbreviated and thus may omit some points made or other impressions. But I did fill up both sides of the two sheets of notepad paper shared with me by another audience member, so perhaps there's enough to find of use...

There were a dozen candidates present, and probably 100+ people in the audience -- enough that a number had to stand throughout the event. The candidates were seated in a ring on a raised platform, and the rest of the space had tables with 4 chairs each---a higher ratio of chairs would have helped, but the restaurant staff were busy elsewhere and probably couldn't get through the crowd anyway.

Before the event got underway, there was quite a hob-knobbish scene as people flowed in, some in suits, some more casual; some apparently supporters of some candidate, most there to figure it out; a few reporters (though they may have represented only the Public Record). Among those glimpsed here and there working the crowd for their own ends: [mayoral candidate] Tom Knox, [recent and probably future State Rep. candidate] Larry Farnese, [likely District Council candidate] Vern Anastasio, and [likely District Council candidate] Irv Ackelsburg. Aside from those and some NN Steering Committee folks, however, most of the crowd was new to me. The crowd, like the candidates, were quite diverse in age and race (maybe 60/40 white/black, with a smattering of others). They were quite interactive, applauding some points made by the speakers, giving talk-back to various issues and discussions ("you preach it!" or "don't we know" and so forth), and generally creating a lively atmosphere very attuned to what was being discussed.

Gloria Gilman (NN Chair) gave a brief introduction to the organization and the event, and then John Hogan took over as MC of the forum itself. [It was announced that Jim Kenney was unable to make it due to a prior commitment, but hoped to attend any future such event.] First the candidates would each have 3 minutes to introduce themselves and their aims (going in alphabetical order), and then each would be given a "lightning round" question chosen randomly from a batch of prepared questions (going in seating order). (All of these were, I think, gleaned from the extensive questionnaire that the NN elections committee has prepared for citywide candidates seeking our endorsement; see here.) I'm going to present these two phases as two lists, for simplicity (I hope). First, the introductions -- just some out-takes:
Rev. Jesse Brown (around 50, black, N. Philly)
Touched on the importance of healthcare issues, anti-casino activism, eminent domain, environmentalism, city home rule. Had a good populist cant -- call and response with the crowd, quite dynamic, motivated/-ing.
Maceo Cummings (around 50, black, W. Philly)
A quieter presence than Brown (lost a bit by the contrast), he talked about having spent his life in community service. He spent most of this time telling his resume, which seemed largely financial -- comunity development.
Derek Green (around 40, black, not yet formally declared)
He gave his background, which appeared to be financial and legal. His motivation for entering the race would be to "end the culture of violence" and that's basically all he talked about here -- Blueprint for a Safer Philadelhpia may have been something he was involved with.
Bill Greenlee (50+, white, Fairmont)
Talked about his work in Fairmont, as Councilman David Cohen's chief of staff, as 15th Ward Leader, and his interest in working with all groups who want to make the city better. Talked about the speed entry he's had into Council in the last month, becoming chair of the Law and Government Committee, etc. Said that the challenge of the future would be how to keep government services running in the face of seeming zeal for tax cuts (and said he'd come down on the side of services, if a conflict arose). All good thus far, but then he brought up the issue of having been criticized for how he was s/elected -- this elicited grumbles from the crowd and made him sound defensive -- saying he's as progressive as anybody that the critics would like to see in office. Running long, wrapped up by quick mentions of housing, crime, and transit as top issues.
Elmer Money (45, white, NE Philly)
Not sure who this guy was, but he appeared to feel out of his depth (inexperienced? Republican?). He had a written speech prepared, then filed it away, then kind of went with "there has to be a better way" and "I want to make a difference" and sat down.
David Oh (40-50, Asian, SW Philly)
Background in D.A.'s office, army, legal services center; has served on many impressive Boards and Commissions. He was well-spoken and earnest, talked about the need to build on the city's strengths -- mentioned the Delaware River dredging issue and how it could increase port jobs by 10-fold, the need for improved education, etc.
Blondell Reynolds-Brown (40+, black, incumbent)
Mentioned that she worked her way up from committeewoman, had been a teacher. Said that she was interested in business and the arts, but decided to focus most of her efforst on children. Gave the example of the stadium dispute of a few years back, and how she wrangled a tie-in to benefit kids via a 30-year agreement that the teams would chip into a children's fund that could be given to various nonprofit organizations and programs. She has also sponsored childcare bills, and vows to continue making that issue her focus.
Ben Ramos (50+, Hispanic, N. Philly?)
He gave his educational history (M.S. in Community/Economic Development), worked with the Housing and Development Agency, various other boards. In politics, he was chief of staff for Councilman Angel Ortiz, Deputy Mayor under Rendell, and a State Rep. (!), working on Health and Human Services committee and Urban Affairs. He mentioned that the city is facing some complex issues in coming years, including increasing benefits costs, need for ethical reform, neighborhood development, and tax reduction. He was softspoken and earnest.
Matt Rubin (around 40, white, Northern Liberties)
He was the head of the Northern Liberties Civic Association, and has been an activist on issues including abortion access, HIV, and fair housing. Said his two top issues were education and jobs, but also mentioned overhauling the zoning code, ethics, economic fairness (specifically that we must have growth with justice), and maintaining community diversity (rather than letting gentrification push people out), bridging the ethnic divides that have been used to turn us against each other. Cleary a kindred spirit to NN folks. He had a good exhortative style that got the crowd behind him -- great quote near the end (from some philosopher): "A society of sheep begets a government of wolves."
Marc Stier (around 50, white, Mt.Airy)
Worked with West Mount Airy neighbors, saw "how the system worked," which is that it *doesn't* -- favors the connected. His theme is that "politics in Philadelphia is broken" and that we need to replace the "politics of fear with the politics of hope." Speficially, he talked about overcoming the discriminatory structure of local government (need to know somebody to get anything done), to let ourselves try some policies and programs used successfully in other large cities, etc. Mentioned working on our economic corridors, inclusionary housing, violence, and letting people stay in their homes "during the good times, after they stayed through the bad times." He also has a good style while hitting his high points, got the crowd excited. [Also one of NN's founders, so by definition sympatico.] Ended with a short (anticlimactic) note thanking the other candidates for being willing to "come to my house" (an NN forum) for this event, saying he "looked forward to visiting yours."
Sharif Street (35, black, N. Philly?, dreadlocked)
Talked about his background as a lawyer, involved with affordable housing, drug addiction efforts, the Broad Street empowerment zone. Tried to distance himself from charges of nepotism by talking about parents who were "a hot-dog vendor and a substitute teacher," and that although they've done well, he's making his own way. Emphasis on remembering where you come from...
Andy Toy (35+, Asian, not yet declared)
Working on economic and community development (CDC). Mentioned the importance of the community coming together behind common goals, mentioning the battle to keep a new stadium out of Chinatown a few years back. Also spoke on the need for Philadelphia to promote our assets better, as well as to improve fairness and protect diversity in the city. He was quiet but well-spoken, and it was unenviable to go last after a long line-up.
On the whole, this was a more impressive showing than I had expected. No loons or losers, although clearly some had made more of an impression than others. From there we went pretty directly into the question round (although a portion of the crowd took off). I was happy that some of the people whose introduction had been more resume than policy got into some chewier material in response to their questions -- perhaps all the issues and crowd responses were getting some cross-pollination going.
  • Q: What steps do you think the city can take to increase the amount of material we recycle?
    A: (Stier) There's a great pilot program, Recycle Bank, that has been working like crazy (ties recycling to an economic growth stimulus, saves city money) -- we just need to care enough to put it into practice.

  • Q: Would you repeal, modify, or retain the current system of property tax abatements for new construction?
    A: (Toy) Interesting question. It might be that some parts of the city no longer need that incentive, others perhaps need more. We also need to give some thought to what we'll do with the additional revenue stream as past abatements end -- perhaps an affordable housing fund could be established.

  • Q: There is a shortage of 60,000 housing units for poor people in Philadelphia, and rents are skyrocketing. What do you propose to deal with this situation?
    A: (Rubin) tax abatement $$ could be used to subsidize affordable housing. One neighborhood was able to get such an agreement from a local developer, and the city's leverage is much greater...

  • Q: What changes would you make in how the city and related agencies contract for services? [Actually, I'm not sure whether he was asked that question or "What standards of behavior or operation do you think the city should require from businesses that receive contracts or benefits, such as tax abatements or subsidies, from the city?" Notes too minimal.]
    A: (Green) Talked about a program in Baltimore (CitiStat?) that helps oversee the effectiveness of city services...

  • Q: What steps can the city take to reduce handgun homicides?
    A: (Cummings) Before we can make any policy work, we need people to feel like the government cares, and also need people to feel good about where they live. [Lots of crowd agreement here. He warmed up a lot from the first time.]

  • Q: What role, if any, do you think casino gambling should play in Philadelphia's economic development?
    A: (Greenlee) We have to accept that they're a done deal and make the best of it. Glad Harrisburg left the city in charge of things after all. Need to watch carefully that comunity benefits agreements are honored...

  • Q: How would you exercise the city's leverage over SEPTA to improve its service and performance?
    A: (Street) We should ask that levels of city service match those in the suburbs -- we especially need to improve cleanliness and safety, so people will use more. Should also help SEPTA pressure the state for funding. Made an interesting note that gas tax money goes for highway improvements but not to help with city streets; if we could change that, we'd free up money for doing more with transit locally.

  • Q: What role should local communities have in determining whether and how casinos and other developments are built and operated?
    A: (Money) Neighborhood input is key to any large addition to the region...

  • Q: What measures would you support to protect low-income homeowners from rising property taxes in the wake of gentrification?
    A: (Brown) Don't want to tax people out, may need financial help not only with taxes but with upkeep of their properties.

  • Q: How would you regulate campaign finance in Philadelphia?
    A: (Ramos) The current bill is in the right direction but not enough. Ideally, we need public financing, but at the least we need better disclosure and clarification of how enforcement will proceed.

  • Q: What municipal services in Philadelphia do you think are most in need of improvement?
    A: (Reynolds-Brown) The big problem is that departments and agencies don't talk to one another, so they aren't working as efficiently in delivering services as they should (example of parallel programs for children run in 3-4 different departments with no coordination)...

  • Q: How would you deal with the financial difficulties of the Philadelphia Gas Works?
    A: (Oh) Need a clear way to look at different groups of users... Need more budget overall to help PGW among others -- off onto economic growth ideas, talking about the zoo as a city asset (but that the train doesn't stop there!), leveraging the tech/pharma health sector, bringing more people in by investing in infrastructure, tech. transfer... The crowd got restless over the change of subject, but he did what he could with an issue he clearly didn't know much about. Finally, Hogan ended things with a joke about how it's always the Republicans who run long.
Anyway, a range of chewy chat; I think everybody in the room was pleased and revved. I was happy to see that the majority of this group was intelligent, well-informed, and well-spoken. With a couple of exceptions, I could see any of them doing the job decently. Sharif Street, who gets the most flak, was better than I expected, although hardly wowing. But the folks who made the best overall impression on me were Brown, Oh, Reynolds-Brown, Ramos, Rubin, and Stier; Cummings and Greenlee also seemed reasonble. These are pretty early days, so you can expect all of these people to become better informed and polished, and we can hope that we'll hear more about all of their policy positions and priorities in the next few months. It's also likely that more candidates will emerge from the woodwork, and I'd still like to hear from incumbents Kenney and (Juan) Ramos. But at least we've kick-started the process, and gotten the candidates thinking about issues and voters before they get too wrapped into the political gamesmanship part of the process. The candidates appear to have enjoyed the experience as well, and at least one said he'd be doing some research about the issues raised by the questions. All in all, a great start!

oh, for those who want to know, there are seven total At-Large seats, of which two are reserved for the minority party (Republicans). Thus, presumably Democratic primary voters will be picking their top five from the final pile...

Update 2: for another perspective on the event, see this report at the Philadelphia Independent Media Center.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Other Friday bits

Friday political games

  • Philly City Council at war with mayor over budget surplus and how to spend it. Specifically, Council wants to direct $30 million to police, fire, and reacreation facilities; they can approve the funds, but Street has to spend them.

  • Another head-scratcher from Governor Rendell is summarized in the story's opening sentence:
    Gov. Rendell has picked a top lobbyist credited with killing the state's former lobbying-disclosure law as his representative on a panel drafting new rules for those who influence Harrisburg.
    Well, ok then...

  • Speaking of Rendell, his monster gubernatorial fundraising capped out at $32 million. wow.

  • Who will be Pennsylvania's next Treasurer, replacing Bob Casey? Some familiar and unfamiliar hats are in the ring. Rendell wants to appoint someone who won't run for reelection, which de-sweetens the pot a bit.

  • New Jersey legislature close to approving a civil unions bill that satisfies no one but is the only game in town.

  • John Grogan reads the tea leaves at the PA State House website -- where's Perzel? His continuing silence has speculation in triple-time.

  • Apparently Perzel had time out of his busy back-room scheming to appoint a retiring colleague to the Gaming Board.

  • Gar Josephs wonders about Saidel's sudden withdrawel from the Philadelphia mayoral race, just after big fundraising efforts and opening a campaign office; he suggests that some closet skeletons threatened to come forth... [Also other small gossip bits about political players here too.]

  • John Baer reviews the current political rumors sure to be getting aired at this weekend's hoity event in New York.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't forget: forum tonight

mini NN logoMeet a good swath of the At-Large City Council field, starting at 8:00 pm -- details here. Will be rare to get such good access, once the spring season really heats up . . .

Update: great event -- lots of candidates, lots of audience, lots of substantive discussion. I took a sheaf of detailed notes, so probably won't have time to write them up until this weekend, but will share what was said and my overall impressions then.

Thursday round-up

  • Rendell offers turnpike for lease. The idea is that all the money would be paid up-front, allowing the state to set up a long-term fund for highways and transit. But surely the leasor thinks that there's more money to be had from the tolls than from other investments -- why isn't that true for the state as well?

  • City Council wades into the effort to overhaul Philadelphia's zoning code, looking at bills to set up a Zoning Code Commission and give the Planning Commission more leeway. If approved, the measure would require voter approval of a charter change.

  • Politicians

    • State Senator Vince Fumo goes on the offensive against the investigation into his activities, calling the judge and grand jury biased.

    • Jonathan Saidel may say he bears Brady no grudge for elbowing him out of the mayoral race, but he appears to be kissing up to Fattah, among other suitors.

    • Undampened by his recent defeat, outgoing Senator Rick Santorum used the occasion of the confirmation of Gates as new Defense Secretary to rant about threats against America and those who he claims don't care about them.

  • Opinions

  • A CityPaper story looks at the 25-year history of the Mumia controversy.

  • AAJane points out some resources on the mysterious Pennsylvania Society meeting that occurs in New York (ahem) this weekend. Quite the political prom.

  • Newspaper negotiations continue, but look a bit grim (see also the latest here). If the Guild goes on strike, it plans to publish news here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wednesday lightning round

Two hours got sucked out of my day unexpectedly for corporate mumbo jumbo. Sigh. So no time for careful reading and summary today...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Other Tuesday news

  • City Council is considering instituting 311 service for non-emergency requests for information or service. The Street administration looked into this previously, but ran into budget worries.

  • Newspaper negotiations continue to make progress.

  • Philadelphia is about to try a new program using teams of retired city detectives, paired with a prosecutor, to work solely on illegal gun traffic. An innovative, if somewhat odd, way to get more dedicated feet on the street.

  • The city Ethics Board is now up and running, its first move raising the donation caps in accordance with recently passed legislation (and Knox's presence in the mayoral race).

  • A major player in the Foxwoods casino group was fined for making political donations in excess of limits set by the original casino legislation. In his defense, he brought up the issue himself, and also asked that all his money be returned. A couple of other groups had smaller fines and adjustments also given out. More here.

  • Marc Stier has a chewy rant on how Philadelphia politics is broken, using as an example the battles over casino development.

  • Ray Murphy wants to know whether the departure of Perzel as Speaker of the State House would mean a chance to take back from state control the many aspects of city life that were taken over by Harrisburg in the last couple of decades...

  • AAJanes notes a piece arguing that potential replacement Speaker DeWeese needs a translator.

  • Blinq notices that Milton Street has a white lawn jockey. What next, juggling bears?

Tuesday Brady-blogging

Yesterday's news that Saidel would pull out of the mayoral race has, as expected, led to much analysis of what it would mean for Bob Brady to enter...
  • Some black leaders call foul on Brady for attempting to elbow out white competitors and for (possibly) taking his past black supporters for granted.
    "This is a betrayal of the legacy of racial harmony that he promised a decade ago when he went to Congress and that he's lived by for most of his political career," said J. Whyatt Mondesire, leader of the city's NAACP and a supporter of State Rep. Dwight Evans' mayoral hopes. "His chairmanship is now in jeopardy, and certainly he will not have his congressional seat in 18 months."
    Ouch. Also discussion here of how Brady's strengths and weaknesses might play out in a mayoral campaign, and whether issues such as "reform" could trump race with voters.

  • The Daily News offers more speculation and criticism aimed at Brady and his plans. Interesting questions here are whether Dougherty would be *more* likely to run with Brady in (in part to spite him), whether Brady could find his House seat at risk, and whether it's a pro or a con to be part of a machine.

  • An Inquirer editorial takes a look at Saidel's departure and Brady's possible entrance, and is sorry to see the back of the one of the few people talking about issues at this point.
    Most of the Democrats are familiar to voters through their years in public life. But this job interview should hinge on a candidate's ideas on where to take the city.
    Indeed. Let's hope the rest of the field makes their announcements so that we can switch over from speculation to substantive discussions!

  • The Daily News opinion page is also sorry to see Saidel go, both for his policy agenda and his sense of humor. Can't disagree.

Monday, December 04, 2006

In other Monday news

  • The Philadelphia newspapers have reached a partial agreement, although it's "non-economic" focus (including seniority issues) probably means that the some contentious issues (e.g., pensions) are still a source of division.

  • New US Rep. Joe Sestak turns his energies from campaigning to getting things done for his district, often a challenge for new arrivals in Washington, and in building bridges to other players and groups back home.

  • The Inquirer offers a love letter to profile of State House Speaker Perzel, his history in the legislature, and his current battle to retain control of the House for the GOP.

  • Meanwhile, John Baer at the DN looks at the new State Senate majority leader, Dominic Pileggi, who's just gone from obscurity to a key position of power in Harrisburg. Some glimpses of where he sits on a number of issues...

  • Gay rights activists are working to obtain marriage rights in New Jersey, rather than the civil unions currently under discussion in the legislature. A lot of work to remove the charge from a loaded word...

  • I had no idea that some of the people behind the Foxwoods casino proposal are the Pequot Indian tribe, who have become major powerhouses in Connecticut. Doesn't really affect my opinion of the project, just interesting to see that tribes are branching out of their own lands.

  • Inga Saffron gives an update on the status of the Bridgman View Tower of condos planned for the Delaware Riverfront, as well as an overview of the issues at stake as city planning meets ad hoc zoning adjustments and a development caught in the transition window could set the tone for the city's future.

  • Above Average Jane offers us two notes: one looking at GOP prospects for 2007 races in the suburbs, and the other noting a few places to speak up about issues that matter to you.

  • Finally, a reminder that Neighborhood Networks is sponsoring an exciting event this Thursday, a forum for City Council At-Large candidates. A great chance to get some sense of these folks for yourself before the mayoral race buries everything in its media tidal wave.

Well, that answers that

The headlines read "Saidel gives up mayoral campaign" (see also here), but of course the bigger message is that this has to be the result of the weekend's meetings with Brady et al., meaning that Brady plans to run. That's how I'm betting my money, anyway, between this and his posture at Ward meeting time ("who's to tell me NOT to run??"). He hopes to combine the white Insider vote with some of the black Undecideds revealed in the recent poll (e.g., see prev. here) and thus cobble together a plurality . . .

Update: I should add that I'm somewhat sorry to see Saidel go. He brought both some levity and some seriousness to the table, casting himself as a reformer, while it's hard to imagine a Brady campaign having any theme other than Rainmaker Has Arrived...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekend bits

Three stories caught my attention this weekend. In ascending order of noteworthiness:
  1. Charges against the antiwar grannies were dismissed, the judge ruling their sit-in at military recruiting center a form of protected speech (or somesuch).

  2. Bob Brady may not be saying whether he's in or out of the mayoral race, but he's having meetings about it with other party bigwigs, including attempts to dissuade Saidel from a run... [More here about racial calculus, and about Brady's resume.]

  3. A full page spread in the Sunday Inquirer was devoted to the Great Expectations project, an effort to define public priorities for the future of Philadelphia, rather than letting sound bites and political connections direct the discussions during next year's elections.
    Lesson One for the Next Great City: Stop waiting on a grimy political culture to do the necessary things. Start doing them yourself.
    Sounds pretty neat, and worth being part of. The print version included a list of currently scheduled civic forums, which are in a large number of city neighborhoods during January -- that list and a registration form are available online here, and more info about the longer-term goals and schedule of events can be found here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

No time to say hello, goodbye...

Superfast today. Really.