Monday, February 28, 2005

The unexpected glare of novelty

Funny piece in the Daily News about the potential gubenatorial candidacy of onetime Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann -- it's too early to talk about his policy positions, so it's mostly about the novelty of a candidate's appearing fully formed from the head of Zeus, so to speak, relative to the pedigree- and legacy-laden norm of PA politics.
And I don't know if celebrity - though it worked for Jesse "The Body" in Minnesota and The Ahnold and, of course, Reagan in California - is enough to win in Pennsylvania. But I do know it's different. And different in politics in this state ought to be considered.
An amusing tone (disparaging celebrity fuss as well as political gravitas) throughout.

More on the Mayoral feuds

Two Daily News stories about the Fattah/Mondesire dust-ups of recent weeks:
  • A history of tensions between the two men, which makes more sense of the way in which the level of rhetoric has ramped up in the virtual absence of real moves. The two men actually represent separate factions of the black political community in the Philadelphia region, with conflicts going back at least two decades, and Fattah added fuel to the fire by switching sides at some point along the way...

  • Fattah promises to decide by the end of this year whether he'll be throwing his hat into the Mayoral race ring in 2007. These guys sure want to have these debates well in advance, neh? The inside guys (Councilmen Nutter and Rizzo, Controller Saidel, and noisemakers Dougherty and Knox) seem to be playing it a bit cooler, but perhaps that's because there's no flame being sent their way...
Looks like we won't see the last of this chest-thumping for a while.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Sparks over smoking

The notion of a smoking ban in Philadelphia bars continues to be controversial, despite the record of success of similar bans in cities such as San Francisco and New York. (If brown-fingered locals in New York continued to go to bars after the ban, why wouldn't the same thing happen here? Surely a ton of smoke-intolerant middle agers would come out of the woodwork to rediscover their onetime haunts! End editorial.) The latest battles are within City Council, where Rick Mariano thinks the issue should be left to voters in a referendum (perhaps so nobody could point the finger at him), while sponsor Michael Nutter thinks this is exactly the sort of decision that City Council exists for.
"Councilman Nutter is concerned about health issues, which we should be thinking about, but I just think this is a place where City Council shouldn't be sticking their neck in. So let the voters decide," Mariano said. "If the people want a ban, then we'll talk about it."

Nutter responded that Council members are paid "a very decent salary" to make laws. "This issue is clearly within our authority, and we don't need any additional authorization for it," he said.
Most of the other arguments made here are somewhat ridiculous, so I suspect that the main issue is whether each Council member thinks his or her consituents will be pleased or peeved with a vote in support of this measure...

Ethics gets a jump-start

When Zack Stalberg was appointed to the Committee of Seventy, Philly's election oversight organization, there was much speculation about intentions to make the organization more aggressive, broaden its scope to more between-elections issues, etc. Looks like that's the way things will play out, given the tone of the news conference at which Stalberg was introduced:
"We've got to overcome Philadelphia's culture that says: 'That's the way things are done around here, you can't change it anyway, get over it,'" said Ned Dunham, a lawyer who is the committee's board chairman. "We say: 'Nuts.' We can do better."

The committee's agenda will now include pressuring City Council to curtail no-bid contracts, enact ethics legislation and put teeth in campaign-finance limits, according to Dunham and Stalberg. Another focus: opening up public records and meetings.
Looks like the Board intends to majorly increase the group's budget and hire more staff, presumably in response to the culture of corruption on display in the City Hall investigations, and perhaps in preparation for the new challenges and temptations that casino gambling will bring to the region. Certainly, their list of goals sound hard to argue with!

Better late than never

The New Jersey Assembly has passed legislation, now awaiting Senate consideration, to create the post of Lieutenant Governor. This would have been of great help to them when each of their last two governors had to leave before completing his term.

Interesting points:
  1. The legislation will also require voter action, as establishing a new line of succession for the position of Governor would involve a change in the state Constitution.

  2. The new LG post would be, rather like Vice President, an adjunct of gubernatorial candidacy -- i.e., the candidate for Governor would choose a running mate for the November election. This is in contrast with the system in Pennsylvania, in which the LG runs independently during the primary and is then grafted onto the gubernatorial ticket (with sometimes contentious results).

  3. There are nontrivial questions about how the new office will be funded -- not just a new state employee at the top, but a presumed staff, etc. If the office involves heading an existing agency (such as the Department of State), it is hoped that the incease in expenditures (in a cash-strapped budget) can be minimized.
It's rare we get to see state-building issues in progress. Fascinating.

You scratch my back....

Five years ago, Joseph M. Torsella, director of the National Constitution Center project, hired Arlen Specter's wife, Joan, as a fundraiser. Now Arlen returns the favor, hiring Torsella's wife, Carolyn Short, as general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee (of which Specter is the Chair). But there's no connection, of course.
Sen. Specter's press secretary for the Judiciary Committee, declined to say what salary Short would receive, what her duties are, or what hours she would work.
Didn't somebody have to write up the job description in advance? I mean, I'm sure it was advertised . . .

Ironically, this hire was controversial in DC for a different set of reasons: because of Short's ties to Democrats (she contributed to H. Clinton's Senate campaign, and hubby Torsella ran as a Dem. in the Senate primary against Allyson Schwartz).
Kay Daly, head of the conservative Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, said Sen. Specter "is hiring ardent, partisan, declared, card-carrying leftists."
More shovels for the task of burying Specter the Dangerous Moderate. Something for everybody.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Forum on Philly

From the CityPaper's "Political Notebook":
Future of Philly?

Does this city have a future? Has the federal probe hurt the city's image? Those questions and others will be the focus of the Third Annual State of the City panel discussion hosted by Center City Proprietors Association and the Pennsylvania Economy League next month at the World Café.

Panelists will include Innovation Philadelphia head Rich Bendis, Center City District Executive Director Paul Levy, city Commerce Director Stephanie Naidoff, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Schweiker and Pennsylvania Economy League Southeastern Pennsylvania Executive Director David Thornburgh. For more information, call the CCPA at 215-545-7766.
Could be an interesting event, and even more so if some thoughtful folks are in the audience...

Representing an actual geography...

Presumed 2007 Mayoral candidate Jonathan Saidel and current City Councilman Frank DiCicco are both arguing for a relaxation of residency requirements for Philadelphia city employees. I guess it would feel wrong to me for a Mayor, Congressperson, or other person elected to represent a geographical area not to actually live in that area. I can see a parallel (but slightly different) argument against "outsider" police. But, really, does it matter whether the bulk of city civil servants -- the office workers and the like -- live in the city limits? My instinct is to say that everybody working in the city's interests should share those interests, but it also seems arbitrary to exclude workers who have two-body location issues or who live right across the river from a specific subset of jobs in Philadelphia. (This is all before you get into the cases discussed in the article, where somebody has to relocate before even finding out whether they get a job.)

I'd be interested to hear anybody else's thoughts on this issue.

Commercialization of public space, chapter next

First it was the legislature suggesting that SEPTA sell naming rights to its major stations (such as Suburban) to raise short-term funds. Now John Street is proposing that we sell the name of the PA Convention Center and use the money for arts and cultural funding. On the one hand, I have nothing staked on the current vanilla names. On the other hand, (a) it's a very short-term infusion of funds for causes that need more substantial support, and (b) are we going to turn into a sort of Bladerunner culture, with neon and commercials on every facade? Dunno, just seems unnerving because of the multiple suggestions, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

News roundup

Lots of developments in various areas that interest me, after a long dull stretch. To save time and space, a quick roundup here:
  1. confirming previous rumor, Zack Stalberg, longtime Daily News editor until just recently, is indeed taking the post of head of the Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia's nonpartisan political oversight organization. Will be interesting to see what new ideas he brings.

  2. Rendell and other state leaders are meeting to find solutions to SEPTA's funding woes -- the governor meets first with legislators, and then the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (many of them his appointees) are standing by in case he requests a meeting about shifting federal transportation funds around. Wouldn't it be nice if someday these things could happen without an air of crisis?

  3. Philadelphia Gas Works will be cutting rates starting March 1 by a nontrivial 11%, due to a fall in wholesale prices. How convenient that this will be after a couple of the coldest winter months on record...

  4. the new Gaming Advisory Board, established by John Street to help Philadelphia have some say in the handling of new slots parlors, held its first meeting and promptly kicked the public out so that it could scheme behind closed doors. You must be kidding.
Ok, that should hold local news-hounds for a good while! :)

More than one, uh, streetlight

It's not just Philadelphia government that's being subjected to federal scrutiny: a major FBI sting in Monmouth, NJ will top off a long investigation into corruption there, including money laundering, extortion, and a wide range of other sins. My favorite line from the article:
"It's incredible to me, after three years of doing this, that public officials are still taking envelopes of cash in New Jersey."
Christopher J. Christie,
U.S. attorney for New Jersey
there there . . .

Trying to find a positive spin

Santorum is working the region's college campuses, trying to buck up support for the (still abstract) Bush plan to overhaul Social Security. It appears that audiences are not buying what Rick is trying to sell:
He was heckled by protesters, called a liar, and told that his views were unconscionable. Those sentiments ranged across the age spectrum.
There's also some insight into national strategy (or at least who believes what about those needing convincing):
Congress is out of session, and senators and representatives are out among the voters, talking and listening. ... Where they're going tells a tale. Democrats are seeking out older Americans. Sen. Jon Corzine (D., N.J.) is coming to Cherry Hill tomorrow in conjunction with the AARP; Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) had a session with elderly voters Monday at a Jewish community center in Northeast Philadelphia.

Santorum is searching for the young and persuadable. Of the 10 town hall meetings on his schedule this week, all devoted to Social Security, eight were set for college and university campuses.
Emphasis mine, but you get that in other quotes from this article, accusing Santorum of trying to "snow" young voters.
The overall tenor of Santorum's meetings yesterday was summed up by an exchange that occurred at Drexel.

Santorum asked the audience what would happen in 2008. The response he wanted was that the oldest baby boomers would turn 62 and be eligible for early retirement.

What he got instead, shouted out by an unfriendly voice, was: "George Bush will leave office!"

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New discipline for state troopers

After a series of sexual and other scandals, the PA state troopers are overhauling their codes of discipline and implementing a sort of one-strike rule. I guess this is good, although that last part could potentially lead to some injustices.
Penny Harrington, a consultant on gender relations in law enforcement who served as an expert witness in the Evans litigation, said the agency's reforms should serve as an example to police departments across the country.

"I think they're sending a clear message to troopers that this is a whole new ball game, and that what had been tolerated in the past" now carries consequences, Harrington said.
Most of the reforms seem like they'd lead to a much more rational and impartial way of handling complaints, which must be best for all concerned.

(via Keystone Blog)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Temple hopes for neighborhood renewal

Temple Health System is moving its administrative folks out of Center City and up to N. Broad (on the East Falls/North Philly border) just west of its other hospital complex. In part this will make more room for medical purposes in the downtown facilities, but Temple also hopes that by spending its money and creating jobs "in its own backyard," it may help to spark renewal in this downtrodden neighborhood.
Several sites were under serious consideration, including two in Center City: 1500 Spring Garden St. and 901 Market St. In the end, Marshall said, "we decided that the really responsible thing to do was spend our money in our own community."

Using as a model what the University of Pennsylvania has done to improve West Philadelphia, Marshall hopes to stimulate growth in the mile-long corridor between the hospitals and the Budd complex.

"We create a lot of really good middle-class jobs," Marshall said. As Penn has done, he hopes to find ways to encourage many of these health-care workers to move into the neighborhood and help rebuild it.
Good for them! I hope it works.

(via America's Hometown)

A tale of two Streets

Young Philly Politics had an interesting piece yesterday on the strange/incongruous two-facedness of our current Mayor.
Reformer John and Tammany John. Two people who would hate each other if they ever met.
That seems to get to the heart of why I find all this "bugged office" investigation coverage so frustrating -- less because government payola is such a shock than because there seems to be so little room left for good intentions and principled programs. There was a while when some good things appeared to be getting done. I hope it doesn't all come to an end because the Mayor's Evil Twin was so busy behind closed doors . . .

An offer to change his spots...

In this week's news of the bizarre, apparently Seth Williams was offered the chance to run against Lynne Abraham as a Republican, giving him the chance to be in the race without having a grueling primary battle.
To hear Williams tell it, the GOP nomination was his for the asking -it would give him time to raise money and build an organization to take on incumbent Lynne Abraham in the fall.

For Republicans, a deal would bring an attractive African American candidate an outside shot at winning their first citywide race in more than a decade.

It was not to be.
I wonder what they see in him that seemed to have cross-party appeal? I guess that candidates for District Attorney are always law-and-order types to a degree that probably trumps much of the partisan differences between candidates for other offices. Still, to look at this letter seeking support, he seems to have enough of a liberal streak to have made their offer a long-shot. Wacky.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Apparently Arlen Specter has Hodgkin's disease, a form of leukemia that has a much better prognosis than most. The Senator appears upbeat:
Specter, 75, said he planned to continue all his Senate duties as he received twice-monthly chemotherapy treatments over the next six to eight months. The survival rate for the form of Hodgkin's that Specter has is 60 percent to 70 percent, doctors said.

"I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery, and many tough political opponents, and I'm going to beat this, too," Specter said in a statement released by his office. "I have a lot more work to do for Pennsylvania and America."
I'm sure I join all of PA in wishing him and his family all the best for the difficult months ahead. It's been a tough year to be Arlen.

Rendell takes a position

On Social Security, that is. He had previously appeared conciliatory in his response to Bush's proposed "reform," but now comes out clearly in support of the safety net and against private accounts.
And you know, this argument that people know best how to handle their own money – if that was the case, why would we have ever needed Social Security in the first place? Right? If people were doing such a good job handling their money so they had no nest eggs for retirement, why would we ever have needed Social Security in the first place? Well, there you have it.
I suppose that the upwelling of public opposition made such a stance a bit easier, but maybe he felt this way all along. His support or opposition may not matter officially when it comes time for national decisions, but I'm sure it carries some weight with legislators from the region.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More wind for Casey's sails

New polling results show Bob Casey with higher numbers than Rick Santorum in a theoretical match-up for Senate. Of course, the former just won a statewide election and the latter has been a bit quieter than usual the last few weeks, but still, it's hard to ignore.
"Casey edges Santorum in a head-to-head matchup, and both candidates have nearly equal favorable ratings, while Santorum has a much higher unfavorable rating. As an outspoken conservative, Santorum has placed himself at the right end of the political spectrum, with even 12 percent of Republicans saying he is too conservative," Richards added.
Other Democratic candidates (Hoeffel, Hafer) show less impressively, but this is as much an indicator of current name recognition as it is of any real preference among those polled.

(via kos)

New Jersey's political machinery

Tom Turcol at the Inquirer talks about the recent party brokering behind the pre-primary annointment of U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine as the Democratic nominee for Governor, leap-frogging over the current interim Governor Richard J. Codey despite the latter's high approval ratings and seeming fitness to continue in the post he took over from McGreevey.
Most party officials and activists wanted to endorse Corzine from the start, viewing Codey as a caretaker who was serving the remaining 14 months of Jim McGreevey's term. But reluctant to publicly oppose an incumbent, they held back, which gave Codey time to build support.

Once it appeared that Codey was about to run, Corzine and his key allies swung into action, warning party officials to announce their support or get left behind.
I have to say that a lot of the outlines here sound quite familiar, not to mention the following complaint:
"Before the primary, there's a primary of the insiders - and that's the one that counts," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. "There are political machines in other states, but that doesn't mean the bosses can just sit in a room and avoid a primary like they do in New Jersey."
The article has a good Who's Who of big dogs from the other side of the Delaware for those who want to keep score...

A failed experiment?

Edison Schools was hailed as a possible savior when it came in to help run some troubled Philadelphia-area schools about four years ago -- the notion of private management was controversial, but many of the teachers at the schools involved felt an infusion of hope into districts that had been paralyzed by hopelessness. Chester Upland schools were selected as a trial run for the Edison folks, who got the contract to manage all but one of its schools. However, it's now being suggested that Edison's contract be allowed to lapse when it expires next year, in light of the continued woes of the district and a forecasted budget shortfall.
Board of Control member Adriene Irving said that she feels that "privatization hasn't worked here."

"Not that it's been Edison's fault completely," she said. "It's been a combination of the community, the administration and Edison not working together. It's best to bring in a new CEO who feels he or she will have complete control of all the schools."
It takes more than a "fresh face" (public or private) to turn things around across a whole educational system; every single person involved has to care every day. That's not easy to engineer from the top...

Green Philly

That is, not Eagles green, but enviro-green --- not only do we have a great organic farming movement in PA, but apparently Philadelphia has a Sustainable Business Network dedicated to "building a more socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable local economy." Amen to that!

(via America's Hometown)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Challenge to slots law

The PA Supreme Court is going to hear a constitutional challenge to the state's new slot-machine law, and the expedited schedule will mean that the trial starts in a few weeks.
Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion Fund Inc. and the other plaintiffs allege that the law, which the legislature passed in July, violated requirements in the state constitution that laws address a single subject and resemble the original purpose of the bill.
Oh, picky kids! We like things amalgamated in the dark of night around here...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Calling all immigrants

A new bill introduced in City Council would create a director of immigrant affairs for the city, with the goal of encouraging more immigrants to come to Philadelphia.
The advantage of creating a new office for immigrant affairs in Philadelphia, Kenney said, "is that we would be working to attract people who are hungry to succeed and who are willing to work hard to do it. They would be coming in and working hard at the jobs they get, creating jobs by opening businesses, and buying houses and improving neighborhoods. We should be tapping into that."
This effort (sponsored by Kenney and Ramos) would dovetail with a Street initiative (Global Philadelphia) from last year to provide on-call translators to new arrivals who may not speak English. Apparently similar programs have been good for Boston and some other cities; this idea was introduced before but put aside after 9/11...

(via America's Hometown)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Challengers to the throne

The Inquirer has a round-up of Republicans considering a run against popular Governor Ed Rendell.
The Republican field includes a top state senator, a former lieutenant governor, and a football Hall of Famer. None has formally declared his candidacy for the 2006 election, but their actions in the last few months tell another story.
The stealth candidates hinted at above are Senate Majority Whip Jeffrey E. Piccola, William W. Scranton III, and Lynn Swann, respectively. All three are mostly in the glad-handing and fundraising stages...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Specter attempts temperance at Judiciary

Arlen Specter is still new in his Chair post in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it's a tough place to be a moderate these days. He claims the intention to avoid the nuclear option with regard to judicial appointments -- i.e., trying to negotiate with Democrats before contemplating changing the rules to prevent filibusters (which would likely to a virtual shut-down of Senate business in protest). Of course, over his shoulder...
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee gave Democrats until the end of last month to decide whether they wanted to continue the [10 current] filibusters. If so, he said, they may face the nuclear option the next time a judicial nominee comes to the floor.
Specter needs to walk a fine line on this stuff (and avoid the furor of his early announcements) if he wants to keep his job. He also hopes to use that position to implement some of his other goals:
He wants to hold hearings on sentencing guidelines that the Supreme Court struck down last month, a move by the court, he said, that did not surprise him. Mr. Specter did not say whether he agreed with the high court's decision, but warned against reacting too swiftly.
. . .
The chairman also plans hearings on the Patriot Act and hopes to make it permanent.
I'm pretty darned excited about that last bit. I hope that every PA Democrat who stood up for this guy is in line for the early installation of home surveillance cameras....

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Rustlings in Saidel's wake

With John Saidel's having announced that this is his last term as Controller (unspoken addendum: because he wants to run for Mayor next), possible candidates for his job are already jostling for position. State Rep. Alan Butkovitz just announced his interest, as, apparently, has Common Pleas Court Judge John Braxton.
Both men said they wanted to expand the mandate of the office beyond its bean-counting function, generating ideas to solve Philadelphia's problem of job and population loss.
I'm guessing that the former is the favored candidate here, given an endorsement by Dougherty and the description that he was "standing on a stage that groaned under the weight of the Democratic leaders backing him." heh.

I have to admit that I can't tell how regional candidates rank the various state, local, and national positions. Is City Controller really a step up from State Rep? Is Mayor more exciting/powerful than U.S. Rep? Is it just nice to work in the city where you live, or is Philadelphia the be-all and end-all for those who grew up here? Mysterious.

Smaller highschools proposed

The Philadelphia School District is going to try subdividing troubled highschools, in hopes that the more intimate-sized institutions will have more success. This will mean opening a large number of new schools in the next three years, so lots of planning is underway.
By 2008, the district should have 66 high schools, up from 38 in 2002 when Vallas arrived. More than half of the schools will have 400 students or fewer, Vallas said. Less than a quarter of the schools will enroll more than 1,000 students.

The Philadelphia Education Fund, a nonprofit group that has researched the issue, said smaller neighborhood high schools in urban areas show better test scores, less violence, higher college-going rates, and more satisfied staffs and students.
A bold step; clearly something needs to be done, since school quality is an area where the city could very much use to improve its image.

Locals weigh in on Bush budget

Here's the first round of groans and protests:
  • Specter says the cuts are too large, pointing specifically to decreased support for transit and vetrans' benefits (while also tipping a hat to an education program created by fellow Pennsylvanian Fattah)
    "These cuts are unacceptable," Specter said. "We have a tremendous deficit we have to deal with, but the deficit is created by costs in Iraq and Afghanistan and an increase in the military budget and so all of this has to be very carefully considered. I'm going to take a close look at all of it as we work through the appropriations process."
  • Santorum (from the same article) is trying to walk the fine line between supporting Bush and still getting reelected next year, so says tentative things about Amtrak spending, in particular.
    "While I support the administration's disciplined efforts to cut the federal deficit in half within five years, I also support the careful review by Congress of each of the budget programs," Santorum said.
  • New Jersey's Senators (safely Dems) complain about the cuts in after-school programs
    "When billionaires get tax cuts, and our veterans and children are told to fend for themselves, something is very wrong," Lautenberg said.

    "If this budget is adopted, our communities, our safety, our schools, our health care, our air and water quality will be sacrificed to pay for President Bush's wrong choices," a Corzine statement said. "It's our veterans, seniors, kids, and the poor who will have to suffer..."
  • U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah vows to fight for his program GEAR UP, which helps prepare low-income students for college and is slated for $300 million in cuts.
    "This is a program, unlike others, in which there are actual, statistical indicators that show you the results. It works. It's successful."
    Fattah and others concerned with disadvantaged youth point out that the cuts in this and other programs dwarf the amount to be spent on Laura Bush's new anti-gang program.

  • Meanwhile, cuts in federal Medicaid spending are expected to cause problems for states already taking on a larger slice of healthcare costs than they can afford.
    Yesterday, Rendell said the state is "facing the crippling twin monster" of reduced federal funding for Medicaid and health-care costs that are rising at four times the rate of inflation.
Widespread cuts in valuable programs to fund all that tax "relief" for the upper classes. Should be some telling battles ahead.

New faces in high (nonpartisan) places?

Via Young Philly Politics, news that outgoing PDN editor Zack Stalberg may be a top candidate to take over as head of the Committee of Seventy (whose own leader is stepping down after several decades there). I don't know enough about Stalberg personally to have an opinion, but surely the smaller papers in the city do a lot of watchdogging already, so it might be a natural fit. Will be interesting to see whether any new head finds new ways for this useful organization to spread its between-election activities.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Grass taking root!

There is quite a lot of organizational activity going on in Southeast PA right now, especially among progressives energized by the November election and/or looking for a way to stay involved after the empowering experience with MoveOn. These energies appear poised to go in a number of directions, with some folks (including local Move On heads) sticking to big elections and national issues, and other groups interested in organizing on a neighborhood level for more local issues and races (either in support of the Democratic party or in attempts to push a more progressive agenda with or without the Dems). No news today, but here are some links to resources that have been developing along these lines:
  • Center for Progressive Leadership, which is starting pilot projects to train "the next generation of Progressives" in MI and PA -- read their announcement here
  • Philly2DC, a site for news and organizational forums (by Ward, topic, etc.) -- this seems like it could be a great resource for any and all local organizations
  • Lower Merion Grassroots -- they also have meetups (see here)
  • also see the "local activism and politics" section of PhillyFuture (it's on the left side) for a running series of blogger headlines in this area (and many more links from there)
Also related: the Principles Project, a joint effort of a number of familiar organizations to craft a one-page list of progressive values -- their draft is quite interesting.

Know about other sites and groups? Leave them in the comments, and maybe I can compile a more definitive list...

Friday, February 04, 2005

From the archives

A December, 2002, Philadelphia Weekly article about the dueling titans Vince Fumo and John Dougherty. Since the latter has been mentioned in relation to the next Mayoral race, and since the former is a constant Force To Be Reckoned With in the city, it might be of interest as background. Also worth noting is the alignment of various City Council members with one or the other power base...

Regional esoterica

An interesting round-up at the Daily News of under-the-radar political wrangling among judges at the traffic court, and also some discussion of state representatives and how critical their relationships with their Ward leaders are (with two current examples). Worth a perusal if you're generally interested in How Things Get Done.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Deterrence through education?

An intriguing idea coming out of Lynne Abraham's District Attorneys office involves teaching young people about the legal system -- both the penalties for making the wrong choices, and the different people who are part of the process (such as prosecutors and defense attorneys). They hope it will deter potential youth offenders, and maybe inspire a few kids to join the legal professions. The new material will become a set of weekly lessons within the social studies classes of middle schoolers throughout the Philadelphia school system starting this fall. Only time will tell whether teachers can handle the topic well and what students make of it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Mayoral prospects III

No new announcements today, but this article in the South Philly review a week ago summarizes many of the major contenders right now, giving more coverage to some of them (such as union bigwig John Dougherty and several City Council folk) than I have previously here.

Blogs: the flashmobs of journalism?

The Personal Democracy Forum has an interesting article on how blogs are affecting local politics, in particular, by bringing attention to little-covered stories and eliciting public response to potentially harmful or ill-constructed legislation. Certainly MoveOn has managed this nationally, as did the bloggers who publicized the Sinclair scandals just before the election. I'm in no position to generate primary data (by going to Council meetings or on other info-gathering forays), but I hope that this blog will help interested neighbors keep abreast of stories that would otherwise be lost on the inside pages of local papers . . .

(via Young Philly Politics)

Casey's Senate bid gets big-league consideration

State Treasurer Bob Casey has been considering (or at least considered for) a run against arch-conservative Rick Santorum in 2006, and his candidacy has attracted a lot of attention because of the breadth of support he received statewide in achieving his current office. Now he's apparently meeting with top Senate leadership about his prospects, which would surely require their support, given the nationwide interest in unseating Santorum.
The opportunity came suddenly for Casey, who was sworn into his new office just two weeks ago. He was not mulling a Senate bid until his strong showing in November got the attention of national Democrats struggling to figure out how to appeal to the rural and small-town voters who trampled Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
It's interesting that he's working the national prospects already, given that several other names have come up as competitive prospects for this same race. This next might help explain the jump:
Casey, 44, has said he is considering running. But his family has endured five election campaigns during the last eight years, and he also has said he is concerned about the toll a Senate race might take on them. Casey has told some state Democrats that he would prefer an uncontested primary if he were to run against Santorum.
Barbara Hafer and Joe Hoeffel aren't necessarily going to step aside without a fight, although it's possible that early unity could be negotiated by one of the region's big hitters (such as Rendell, mentioned explicitly here). Fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

An opaque choice for schools

This commentary sounds like it's based on much more information than *I* have about the proposed option for school districts to decrease local property taxes in exchange for a bite of the slot-machine income pie. And if so, it sounds like a hopelessly tangled piece of legislation that leaves schools in the position of having to take a blind leap by trading a known revenue stream for unknown potential income encumbered with increased restrictions and difficulty in turning back... bleah.

Legislating in absentia?

The PA State House has officially changed its voting rules to let legislators cast votes while not actually present in the chambers -- they may turn their proxy over to a party leader, as long as they are somewhere in the vicinity.

How can this be good for voters? Will votes be cast without anybody hearing the arguments that might be presented from the floor? Will those making votes that they might be ashamed of hide their faces and/or blame their superiors?

If this is really about legislators needing to get out of the chambers during a long session, then I'm with John Grogan: let's legislate potty breaks!

Tough Cookie embraces Big Brother

In an announcement that surprises nobody, Lynne Abrhaham confirmed her intent to run for reelection to city District Attorney. Her big innovations to come? Surveillance cameras in high-crime areas.
"We need cameras all over the city in the hot spots," Abraham said, adding that such a system would enable law enforcement to trace gunfire.

It was a signal that Abraham, who embraces her "Tough Cookie" nickname, was not about to back off her hard line on crime. She celebrated her 64th birthday with a pep rally in the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall that featured testimonials from much of the city's Democratic leadership.
I'm sure it's just coincidence that "high-crime areas" so often translates to "black neighborhoods," isn't it, Lynne?
"You can't tell me that a terrorist has the right to be secure from surveillance, and you can't tell me that urban terrorists on the city streets of Philadelphia have the right of privacy when they're ganging up on the corner selling drugs and shooting at each other or at our children," Abraham said. "No way."

The American Civil Liberties Union pointed out that surveillance cameras would bring a host of sticky issues, including whether the images would be subpoenaed in divorces and civil lawsuits over car accidents.
Well, even the black boxes in cars (intended to collect data on safety devices) have been turned against their owners (to show speeding, failure to brake, etc.), so one can only imagine the post hoc uses for an all-seeing eye...

Updated 2/5 to soften the snide remark by me.