Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Around the city

Several neighborhood and smaller news bits of interest today:
  • Northern Liberties calls for more cops to patroll its local streets after a recent spate of violent crimes. Crime stats aren't really up, but a neighborhood crime newsletter is bringing each incident to light, leaving residents unnerved.
    "If not for being a member of the Northern Liberties Townwatch e-mail list, I personally have not seen any crime in years," said Mitch Deighan, a longtime resident and former head of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. "Back in the '80s, I was constantly on the phone to 911."
    An unexpected drawback to the improvement of neighborhood communication. Of course, that doesn't mean that crime can't be further reduced...

  • The wealth gap between Philadelphia city and its surrounding counties has widened. A striking 25% of the city's residents live below the federal poverty line, set at an already shockingly low $$9,827 for a single person ($23,497 for a family of 5). Don't let the housing boom in Center City fool you that everybody's boat is lifting...

  • Philadelphia has joined a list of cities attempting to enlist more fathers and grandfathers to walk their children to their first day of school. It's just a part of the ways that the school system is trying to involve parents more directly in the education process, a goal that proceeds in fits and starts, as described here.

Approaching New Jersey primary levels

The recent NJ Republican gubenatorial primary featured a full "Seven Dwarves" worth of contenders (prev), and PA's comparable contest next spring is starting to look equally packed with today's addition of Jim Panyard, a former journalist and business leader, who expressed disdain for the operations of all three branches of government. He joins state Senator Jeffrey Piccola, former Lieutenant Governor William Scranton, and Steelers football star Lynn Swann (see previous overview of those three here). Not much time for others to dive in, so maybe we'll stick with the "Four Horsemen" on our side of the river . . .

Who watches the watchmen?

In voting casinos into existence in a virtual regulatory vacuum, Pennsylvania may have wandered ill-prepared into a hornet's nest. The latest sting: regulators and applicants can meet privately with no record of what takes place, as happened this week.
"I wouldn't want to say exactly what was said," Croce said, "but we talked about what the board would look for, the various players and locations. We touched on all facets."
Some board members have said they hope to have some record-keeping requirements for such meetings in place soon. Good, because, you know, the state really needs more behind-closed-doors activities...

Help for Casey from other big names

Looks like John Kerry and Teresa Heines-Kerry are planning a gold-ticket fundraiser in western PA for presumptive Senate nominee Robert Casey. Casey stumped for Kerry in '04 (and PA went "blue" in that election), so perhaps he's returning the favor by bringing some visible support in the midst of Santorum country.

(via CapitolWire)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not so fast!

In July, Barbara Hafer let it be known that she was considering a run against US Rep. Tim Murphy for his Pittsburgh-area seat (see this), and she went so far as to form a campaign committee and file papers with the FEC. Now it looks like she's decided to bide her time for other possibilities, with today's announcement that she's out of contention. Official reason is that she wants time to develop her new consulting business, but it's hard not to wonder whether she has other offices in her sights...

(via CapitolWire)

Around the opinion benches

Quiet news days, so a few bits from the column and letter zones...

Tuesday news bits

  • Rendell "vows" Willow Grove base will stay active.
    Rendell pointed to Fort Indiantown Gap, once a U.S. Army base that was converted to a National Guard base when the state took over in the late 1990s. Rendell said the federal government still provides most of the funding.
    The feds will likely remove their planes (see more discussion of that issue in the Daily News article here), but there may be some from another state unit that could be used there. I suspect that there's still election good will to be milked from the discussion...

  • Santorum's claim that he had raised questions about the Iraq war (see story here) have apparently now been substantiated. I don't know whether "concerns about tactics and decisions" meets Casey's standard of "asking the tough questions," but at least his staff has proven their mettle.
    "And in my opinion, it was not the right call, but you know what? That's not my decision," Santorum said in the Sept. 21 news conference. At another point, he told reporters that too much "Monday morning quarterbacking" of military commanders would not help the war effort.
    My, that *is* fearless!

Battle for the 6th

The Christian Science Monitor has an article looking at Rep. Jim Gerlach's 6th Congressional District as a bellwether for the midterm elections, given the area's mixed party affiliation and the likely close battle against Lois Murphy. The district is a messy and meandering one (see map here) just northwest of Philadelphia, apparently designed with Gerlach (then a state senator) in mind. Lots of anecdotal reports of Republican voters turned off of the party by Bush Administration policies . . .

(via Atrios)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Not strictly *about* Philly, but relevant

rowhousesAmidst all the discussions about how to encourage but direct/control development of city neighborhoods, one thing often goes unspoken: that the low-rise "character" of Philadelphia, with its row-houses of 2-4 stories, represents a long-term constraint on growth and modernization of the city as a whole. All the more reason for the city to make some central plans about neighborhoods to protect, regions where taller buildings would fit in better, areas needing complete redesign, and the like.

Anyway, was made to think of these issues while reading this Harvard news article, which reports that experts think that density is critical to urban vitality.
If not enough people want to shop or eat out, there won't be many good stores or restaurants. If the audience for music, theater, or art is small, these activities will not flourish. If the tax base is scanty, schools and municipal services will be substandard. Even parks need people to use them, and if the parks are deserted, they will not receive the upkeep they need to remain attractive.

Density is also considered good for the environment because it is easier and cheaper to provide heating, electricity, sewerage, and other services to people living in concentrated groups than to those in single-family homes in suburban areas. As a result, the impact of dense populations on the surrounding environment is less harmful.
Thinking like that should certainly give pause to anybody who wishes that everything downtown were office space, or who wails against the first highrise housing to challenge the skyline. Interesting stuff.

(via kottke)


A letter-writer takes Sen. Santorum to task for an inaccurate claim about the vote tallies on the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. In a nutshell: more Democrats than Republicans supported both. Pesky fact-checkers! Twice in one week!

Of pay-hikes, recriminations, and more

The Inquirer letters continue to be full of anti-pay-hike venom, with this week's batch including comparisons to Terrell Owen's demands for a more glittery contract, among others. More interesting is a Pittsburgh opinion column that manages to cover a billboard company's unwillingness to carry ads highlighting the salary-hikes of some prominent legislators (from both parties); some western PA pols getting challenges from upstarts riding the outrage; questions of whether Republicans may yet feel their leader's wrath in a manner comparable to DeWeese's demotion of nay-voting committee chairs (see previous story here); and a few smaller unrelated bits.

(latter via Edico)

Nonprofits keeping the region healthy

A Sunday story reported that Pennsylvania has an unusually large amount of employment in the nonprofit sector of the economy:
Nonprofits now employ about one in 10 working Pennsylvanians, among the highest rates in the nation, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies said. Philadelphia itself is almost off the charts, with one in five workers in the city employed by nonprofits at the end of 2003.
This has the advantage that many nonprofits are less susceptible to shifts in the larger economy than are most industries, making their jobs secure, but the disadvantages that they tend not to export goods or services (and thus don't really bring new money to the region) and that many of their activities are tax-exempt (lessening their contributions to the local tax base). Only time will tell whether a healthier local economy eventually lures more traditional for-profit firms as well.

(via YoungPhillyPolitics)

Willow Grove, considered

First, here's the link to the full Inquirer article from Saturday. The result is quite odd:
Willow Grove Naval Air Station will close, with the loss to the area of as many as 1,200 jobs, but Gov. Rendell claimed a victory of sorts because the base's National Guard unit will survive, though without airplanes or a mission.
No idea what those Guardsmen will be doing now, or where there funding will come from. However, the decommissioning of the Naval and Marine corps on the base will happen over a couple of years, so there may be transition time to figure it all out.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers this rumination over who won and lost in the base decisions. Senator Rick Santorum has been criticized for putting-down Willow Grove in the past, and thus could take some blame in its closing, but will probably garner praise closer to home for his defense of the Pittsburgh base (which will be expanding under the new plans). Also mentioned are possible impacts on the re-election campaigns of Governor Rendell (D) and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R).

Friday, August 26, 2005

Willow Grove news, parts I & II

The judge in Rendell's National Guard-based case about the Willow Grove base (see prev. here) has ruled in the Governor's favor!
The Pentagon lacks the authority to deactivate a Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit without the governor's approval, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Of course, as Pstupidonymous points out, the feds could cut off funding and throw it back in our laps, but an interesting twist.

Still to come today, the official decision of the base-closing commission.

* Update: * looks like the decision is in and news is bad.

Scant Friday news

  • Citizens protest the possible storage of volatile compressed natural gas close to densely populated parts of Philadelphia.

  • John Street wanted high minority representation among the vendors at Live 8, and apparently there were many more than his target percentage. Also, more than half were from the city.

  • A trio on the pay-hike and its ongoing fallout:
    1. John Grogan tracks the rapid back-pedaling and damage controlamong legislators caught off-guard by public outcry. He also reiterates his suggestion that legislative pay should be linked not to federal pay rates but to median state income, to make sure that politicians remain focused on their constituents' wellfare...

    2. John Baer continues to obsess about hypocrisy among those who did or didn't support the pay-hike, are or aren't taking it for themselves, and the like. Might be time for some new material over there.

    3. The issue of ongoing recriminations for no-voters is raised in an Inquirer article depicting Rep. Greg Vitali working with an "empty larder" for funding constituent events and other services for his district.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Perzel keeps a low profile

From Harrisburg, an article ask where state House Majority Leader John Perzel is, having left his colleagues amidst the firestorm of anti-pay-hike outrage. Certainly seems a convenient time for an around-the-world tour. While he's away, however, some of his underlings are rebelling, baking up bills that would repeal the pay raise entirely -- makes you think that Minority Leader DeWeese's form of "presence," demoting committee chairs who voted against the raise, isn't what the GOP pols are hoping for . . .

(via PoliticsPA)

Future prospects for Pennsylvania

A site/publication called "Issues PA" (supported by the Pennsylvania Economy League) has a current issue about the quality of life in PA, with looks at demographic trends of all kinds, and attempts to extrapolate to their future impact and what kinds of policy adaptations might be needed. Many interesting bits for a slow news day...

(via Above Average Jane)

Another mayoral candidate?

The CityPaper's "political notebook" (link good this week only) reports that former City Solicitor Nelson Diaz is being encouraged to consider throwing his hat into the ring with the other four billion contenders for Philadelphia mayor in 2007. If he did, he'd be the city's first latino mayoral candidate. I don't know this guy, but he has an interesting background, from state judge to federal HUD lawyer, and working for both parties.

Not a groundless worry

The prospect of shipping of liquid natural gas (hypercompressed) on the Delaware River worries not just the Homeland Security types, but a lot of other folks...
Experts have said that an explosion or terrorist attack on an LNG ship could unleash a pool of fire on the river with heat so intense, it would blister the skin of people a mile away.
Tricky (economic and regulatory) decisions likely to be involved, but I hope that decision-makers keep this image in mind.

"I'm sure I would have"

Apparently Sen. Rick Santorum claims that he has been a rigorous and skeptical supporter of the US involvement in Iraq, but he can't support those claims:
Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's office acknowledged yesterday that it cannot locate public statements of the senator questioning the Iraq war, despite the senator's claim last week that he has publicly expressed his concerns.
This arose during an attempt to rebut challenger Robert Casey's claims that Santorum has "failed to ask the tough questions" on Iraq. Of course, Casey also admits that he would have voted to authorize the Iraq invasion himself, but argues that PA guardsmen now deserve a more inquisitive representative...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Inside a local hero

The Philadelphia Weekly has an interview with Philadelphia schools czar Paul Vallas. He comes across as principled and realistic, a good mix.
After three years here, what grade would you give the district?

"I give us an A for effort and an incomplete."
Fair enough. Onward, ho!

Other Wednesday news bits

  • The fate of Pennsylvania's Willow Grove military base continues to be uncertain (see background on the story here). However, the commission making the decisions is starting to hand out results, and their recommendation is due on Friday. Meantime, Gov. Rendell's suit (see prev.) continues.

  • Gov. Rendell has agreed to add more hybrids to the fleet of state cars. It may be slow going, however, as the state is not allowed to purchase any cars built outside of the US, which narrows their options in a tight market.

  • On the education front, an Inquirer piece reports that increasing requirements and wider offerings are making it difficult to generate workable schedules for individual highschool students. I don't envy the parental complaints!

  • A historic 300-year-old inn in Merion that had failed in several incarnations as a restaurant will get a new lease on life as a synagogue and Jewish community center. Everybody wins.

More spice for the stew

An interesting new element to the recently discussed controversy over the use of an empty nursing home in West Philly and its possible development as a city homeless shelter (see previous story here). It turns out that before Councilwoman Blackwell made this proposal, the University of Pennsylvania had expressed an interest in using the same facility for their elderly-daycare program. (Their approach was to the owner, while Blackwell was using a legislative route to get the city involved in making use of the mouldering property.)

They are waiting for the Blackwell idea to get worked through before taking further action; however, it might be worth asking the neighborhood whether this option might represent a compromise, at least insofar as part of their concern was about the size of the homeless population to be housed there -- maybe the two uses could be combined? Another public hearing is planned in the next month or so, so perhaps there's room for discussion of more possibilities.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Taking back the streets

The Inquirer today features an editorial entitled "Safe Streets: The sequel" which expresses the hope that new Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross will have more than words to offer the goal of decreasing city violence in Philadelphia.
Ross, promoted earlier this month from captain of the homicide unit, is Johnson's choice to oversee a new strategy that includes the reassignment of up to 700 officers. Plainclothes narcotics cops are being ordered back into uniform to work alongside highway patrol officers at selected high-crime locations.

The officers' focus will be to lock up criminals before they get a chance to shoot someone. Because federal laws for gun violations are tougher, two U.S. attorneys are being assigned to work with police in each of the city's six detective divisions.
A short overview of past efforts is provided along the way.

School news bits

  1. Great joy [in all news outlets] at the news that Philadelphia students have had improving scores on standardized tests in each of the last four years.
    The overall improved scores were largely attributed to the implementation of full-day kindergarten, a standardized curriculum, the expansion of early-childhood programs, and increases in the professional-development hours for teachers and in the length of time some students spend in math and language-arts classes.
    Still more progress to be made, but positive outlook.

  2. An African-themed charter elementary school in West Chester that found itself homeless at the last minute (see previous story here) has now found a home.

Other pay-raise and related venting

  • An Inquirer report traces the history of attempts to challenge the use of "unvouchered expenses" as a way to get around the requirement that all pay-hikes begin only in the next term.
    Pennsylvania courts have held that unvouchered expenses are constitutional, in essence because the General Assembly said they were different from pay and because the plaintiffs were unable to prove otherwise.
    Opinions differ on whether a more convincing argument could be made today than previously.

  • John Grogan is on vacation, but encourages his hometown citizens to keep angry, informed, and active as the story of the pay-hike circulates around the country and legislators start to scramble to rationalize or back away from it.
    In what might be the funniest math since Reaganomics, [Rep. Daylin] Leach rationalized the 16 percent pay raise (leaders got 34 percent) as "hardly outrageous" because, if averaged over 10 years, it would come out to just 1.6 percent a year. What he glossed over was that lawmakers have been giving themselves a cost-of-living raise every year for the last decade.
    Yeah, I noticed that too.

  • The pay-hike controversy has brought a lot of attention to how PA government works. For example, while critics frequently complain about our pols now being the second-highest paid, it's also true that they're among only a handful of states (four, in fact) that have full-time legislatures. A piece from Harrisburg notes, however, that some of our full-time politicians manage to maintain secondary careers as well, ranging from law practice to construction oversight. The article argues that Pennsylvania's government should scale back its operations to allow part-time public servants; I'd take the opposite tack and say that the complexity of our state's operations justifies full-time employees, and especially at the new ("attract good workers") rates, they should all be required to give up their other jobs.
    (via Edico)

But it's probably only in my head

An editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review warns that legislators may try the sneaky maneouver of trying to divert attention from their recent pay-hike by taking action on the minimum wage. Preposterous that such a linkage should be suggested. If you'd like to encourage just such a "diversion," feel free to sign (or even distribute!) Neighborhood Networks' petition . . .

(via Edico)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Gerrymandering and its consequences

Dan at YoungPhillyPolitics has a post on the possible consequences of past gerrymandering in PA (redrawing legislative districts to ensure stable seats for one party), which originally benefitted the Republicans mightily but could now make some of those seats vulnerable to Democratic opponents. Specifically, he muses that Bush's low approval rating and Kerry's relatively good showing in some Republican districts may be evidence that tides are shifting...

Clouded judgement on smoking issues?

A Daily News opinion piece today takes on Mayor John Street's apparent backing-off from the proposed smoking ban (see recent story here).
Unfortunately, much of the information he received on his recent tour of area bars and restaurants, sponsored by the lobbying group opposing a smoke-free workplace, came from individuals and establishments who oppose clean indoor air legislation and was either misleading or incorrect. While some of the compromises and exemptions discussed in an article covering these visits may seem reasonable at first glance, there is a reason most cities that have considered ideas like ventilation systems have rejected them.
Some pretty credible sources are cited here for their technology point and for the experience in other big cities that smoking bans did no financial harm to businesses.

City recycling -- in need of fresh ideas?

Philadelphia only recycles about 6 percent of household waste of its residents, despite years of trying to increase that toward a goal of 35 percent.
[City Controller Saidel] and recycling advocates point to the $58 or so spent to dump each ton of trash at a landfill as a source of mega-savings. They maintain the city could save millions by such steps as enforcing the recycling ordinance; picking up additional materials, such as plastic, heavy cardboard and yard waste; and extending weekly recycling pickups across the city, where many neighborhoods still recycle every other week.

But the Streets Department insists it isn't all that simple. Officials say it costs more to collect recyclables than trash, potentially cancelling out future savings on landfill costs.
It's amazing to me is that chunks of the city still has recycling pick-up only biweekly. I can tell you from personal experience that that means that much more stuff gets dumped in the trash -- imagine one rainy pick-up day and how much paper you'll have after 4 total weeks of accumulation, or one forgotten recycling day and the smell of your old cans -- and statistics bear that out.

In fact, a new trial incentive program was launched this past spring (see previous story here), which has tripled participation in the regions affected. However, it appears that plans haven't yet been made to expand that approach more widely. Part of the debate is whether the rebates could be funded by city savings in waste-dump fees (offset by the higher cost of collection). I hope that this, and the simpler suggestions, are all followed up.

Keeping families in the city

Everybody knows the phenomenon: a couple that loves city life relocates to the suburbs as soon as their first child is born, citing back yards and school systems. Philadelphia can't do much about the former, but it is trying its best with the latter. Schools in a new "Center City Region" (extending to Poplar and Washington, beyond the traditional CC boundaries) is due for some pumping up to help retain professional couples and others looking to better their children's futures:
Some changes will be cosmetic, such as catchy Web sites and improved lighting and landscaping to give the schools "curb appeal," as one executive calls it. But new educational programs and community partnerships are also in the making.

"This is looking at capturing and preserving and creating a middle class in Center City Philadelphia," said School Reform Commission chairman James Nevels.
Chinese language classes will be added to the Chinatown highschool; gifted programs and magnet schools will be added; charter schools will be co-run with the Constitution Center and other cultural institutions. Great ideas for more than just the tony center of town. Best of luck to them and the city generally.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Unexpected pay-raise fallout (judicial-style)

PA Chief Justice Ralph Cappy has taken some flak from columnists and others for his apparent disbelief that the public was upset with the recent state governmental pay-raises (see this). Now it looks like the karma has come back to bite him, as he may be in trouble for having lobbied the legislature on the issue.
Political activist Gene Stilp has requested that the state Judicial Conduct Board determine whether Cappy violated ethics rules in advocating for pay raises for the judiciary and in holding secret meetings with lawmakers toward that end.
And, of course, lawsuits concerning the matter may come before him. eesh.

Political petulance

Slow news day, so reporters are apparently filling in with coverage of political childishness in Philadelphia. Chief in that department is this article about Nutter and Street, which adds nothing to the stories from earlier in the week except a sense of playground stand-off, as councilman and mayor each say, "well, it's *his* fault; so THERE!" with regard to the current poor prospects for a smoking ban. Meanwhile a quick snip catches Rizzo, Jr., throwing class issues into the face of planners worried about the negative effects of redesigning the Franklin Parkway to allow for car races to be held downtown -- he reassures them that attendees would be more like Paul Newman than Daisy Duke. [I'll take non-sequiturs for $200, Alex!]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wireless plan proceeds to next step?

A Daily News article reports that Philadelphia is about to start serious negotiations and planning discussions with two consortiums who hope to build and run the city's wireless internet infrastructure.
Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization created by Mayor Street, hopes to pick a builder for the network over the next 30 days and finalize a contract by the end of next month.

"Because of the dramatic difference in the nature of the two proposals, we've decided that the best way to make a final selection is negotiate business terms separately and concurrently with both teams," said Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer and chief architect of Wireless Philadelphia.
The firms in questions are megaliths Hewlitt-Packard and Earthlink. A third monster tech company, Intel, may chip in some support under their "Digital Communities" program, largely in the form of discounted computers and related training for low-income homes.

Early-stage opposition

Despite Bob Casey's being promised an unopposed primary for the Democratic Senate nomination (see previous drama in two acts), he still has Chuck Pennacchio (and the even more obscure Alan Sandals) nipping at his heels. Now it looks like incumbent and conservative giant Rick Santorum is in the same boat, as John Featherman announces the intent to run against him in the Republican primary next spring.
The state GOP organization is poised to give Santorum its endorsement and, as a two-term incumbent, he is an overwhelming favorite for the nomination. But Featherman said he wants to offer moderate Republicans an alternative to Santorum's socially conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage.
Featherman ran as a Libertarian candidate in the general election in 2000.
Thought: he certainly has no chance, but any publicity that he gets is likely to paint Santorum as a party extremist, which might have an effect on perceptions in the general election to follow...

Life is beautiful all the time

The cover story in this week's City Paper is an amusing gripe about the constant extolling of Philadelphia's relative cheapness (see, e.g., the NYTimes article calling us the new NY borough).
Sure, maybe we have it a little better here. But that's no reason to throw fiscal responsibility out the window with the bathwater, or whatever. Besides, maybe the reason things are so (relatively) cheap here is because we, as a stubborn, pigheaded populace, refuse to pay any more than we do.
They appear to be dedicating the issue, back-to-school style, to a host of tips on money-saving options for every aspect of life in Philly (including some amazing ways to score freebies of all sorts). And hey! the paper is free!

Mayoral speculations, next installment

Two pieces on frontrunners in the rumor horserace:
  1. A Daily News piece looks at Johnny "Doc" Dougherty -- specifically at the unusual resource he has in his large union and its generous PAC. Local 98 spent almost $3 million in the last two years on the campaigns and wellfare of local politicians, which could be investments in good will for Dougherty's own ambitions.
    That's more than twice the spending of the carpenters or laborers, two politically active local unions that are more than twice as large as Local 98, and nine times that of the much larger Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in 2003 and 2004, according to state campaign records.

    In fact, Local 98 with its 4,000 members spent far more than statewide unions like the Pennsylvania State Education Association, with 170,000 members, or AFSCME District Council 13, which represents 65,000 Pennsylvania workers.
    (Pretty amazing that all those electricians are such political activists -- surely they aren't expecting any quid pro quo...?) Need evidence that all that giving has had any results for the leader, rather than the union? Well...
    The union spent more than $200,000 on Gov. Rendell's campaign in 2002. Rendell appointed Dougherty to the Delaware River Port Authority, and made an official of Dougherty's union a deputy secretary of labor and industry.

    The union spent nearly $500,000 on the campaign of Mayor Street, who made Dougherty chairman of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

    Dougherty is treasurer of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The union gave $110,000 to the party in 2003 and 2004 alone.
    And it's not just the big fish that have been getting buttered up:
    In 2003 and 2004, Local 98 gave $5,000 or more to 42 candidates and nine political committees. Seven were Republican candidates, who got a total of $75,000.
    None of the other mayoral hopefuls have spread the largesse to any comparable degree; only time will tell whether the final outcome rides on friends or other factors.

  2. In a smaller note, the CityPaper's "political notebook" raises an interesting question about Fattah's mayoral considerations (see the second of two bits at the link): would his wife have to give up her lucrative job as a local news anchor if her husband were one of the major local newsmakers (instead of a distant US Rep)? A nontrivial question to weigh into the equation!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wednesday news round-up

A number of stories of interest here:
  • In response to proposals that Philadelphia institute a big car-race on its city streets (similar to the Indy 500 and sponsored by Paul Newman), critics worry about the associated changes that would be required to some of Philly's characteristic boulevards, most notably the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
    "We truly believe that the idea of widening roadways and reducing public space is completely contrary to the vision we all hold for the Parkway," states a letter the Parkway Council Foundation sent recently to several city officials and the Fairmount Park Commission's chairman.
    The city has been trying to increase the pedestrian-friendliness of the area, and it sounds like the race modifications would undermine those efforts.

  • John Street's recent hand-waving about the proposed city smoking ban (see previous story here) hasn't gone unnoticed by the ban's other big proponent, City Councilman Michael Nutter -- it looks like their brief detante is coming to an end.
    Based on Street's actions, Nutter said Street appears to be "on the verge of selling out the interests of health advocates for the interests of the tobacco industry."
    He dismissed (with data) Street's recent claims about the adequacy of ventilation and other compromise measures.

  • A favorite program of mine, PhillyCarShare, gets some coverage as drivers battered by recent gas prices turn to their short-term hybrid rentals for relief. They may find that being able to grab a car for groceries makes them able to leave their need for a private car behind...

  • Meanwhile, Pennsylvania feeds the paranoia files by refusing to release data on its red-light cameras such as how many tickets were given out in the program's first two months. Good for the privacy rights of offenders, but bad for the public's ability to determine whether these systems are actually worth their cost by reducing accidents as claimed.

  • Finally, in the Failing to Get a Clue department, a Philadelphia City Council staffer (and Republican ward leader), apparently immune to several years of nonstop ethics and payola scandals, suggests that new hearing officer positions to oversee liquor licensing be filled by patronage -- throwing a little legal work to past supporters. A ruckus ensues. Eesh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gambling on foresight

After a quiet stretch, Mayor Street's Gaming Advisory Task Force is today reporting the conclusions of its first study of possible casino locations in the Philadelphia area. They appear to have considered such factors as traffic burden and profitability in weighing the proposed sites.
The most profitable scenario, the report says, would be to split the locations, with one on the Delaware River waterfront and the other near the intersection of the Schuylkill Expressway and Roosevelt Boulevard.
The article includes a list of some anticipated costs and benefits, from increased police presence to the creation of construction jobs, and a map showing the 11 sites considered. Actual recommendations will wait for the final report, due out in about a month -- who gets final decision power is a bit unclear at the moment because of a recent court decision.

New political entities

Southern Chester county has had enough growth recently that they are planning to subdivide some current voting districts in time for this fall's election. Residents look forward to having more say in how their townships are governed.

I wonder about Philadelphia, which appears not to have redrawn its Ward maps in a long time (the census-driven City Council and legislative districts are just overlaid on the more static local divisions, since the latter are somehow inventions of the parties). With the recent surge in population in Center City, I suspect that the current Wards and Divisions aren't as well balanced as they once were -- even a single high-rise can radically alter the population of the latter, which aim for sizes of under a thousand. Perhaps it doesn't matter, as long as there are enough voting booths in each Division to account for the possible turn-out, but it would be nice to see some reshuffling from time to time...

Incremental updates

Small changes in stories already covered recently:
  • An Inquirer piece cites many locals who think it's too soon to return control of the Philadelphia school system to the city's hands.

  • Yesterday's Fattah exploratory commission news yields two stories today fleshing out his intentions, now rated as "very likely to run for mayor." In part he wants to check that he can fundraise beyond pesky federal restrictions, which also raises questions about how the new City Council ordinances apply to exploring-but-not-yet-declared candidates...

  • A couple more legislators decide not to take unvouchered expenses as a way to an early raise.

  • More discussion of planned base closings; now the commission is questioning whether the proposed closings would even save the amount of money that planners are projecting.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Strong feelings on the smoking ban?

Give your opinions at the city's online poll. I doubt its scientificness (especially since there's one question that has two different parts for which you must perplexingly choose a single answer), but at least it's a rough measure of the loudest grumpers...

(via PoliticsPhilly)

Fattah update

PoliticsPhilly has unearthed evidence that Fattah is officially considering forming an exploratory committee to look into his running for mayor. The post asks the key questions about how his current office would fare if his interests moved back here . . .

Two bits on the education front

In yet another attempt at creative approaches to the district's troubled schools, Philadelphia has announced plans for two single-sex schools, to run from grades 6-12.
For-profit Victory Schools, which manages six schools in the city, is converting FitzSimons High - a traditional, albeit underachieving, school in North Philadelphia - to a 750-student boys school, to be known as the Young Men's Leadership Academy, for grades 6 through 11. A 12th grade is to be added in the fall of 2006.
. . .
"We'll be able to personalize our education to that population. Everything we do, everything we walk, talk, sleep and drink is all about African American boys, to save a nation of kids who are being lost," said Benjamin Wright, who runs Victory's Philadelphia operation.

Also in September, the company will convert nearby Rhodes High to a girls' school, Young Women's Leadership Academy, offering a similar intensive focus. It will be the city's second girls school, along with Philadelphia High School for Girls, a magnet school. Victory also will run single-sex classes in two of its three elementary schools and its middle school.
There are other plans for gender-segregated schools as well. Again, not something that everyone will be excited about, but prospects for reaching a group of students that aren't being well served by the current system.

Meantime, Mayor Street is continuing the battle to get Philadelphia's schools back under the city's care and away from state control. However, extra money continues to come into the system from state coffers, and many worry about a disruption to the progress of recent years, so the time may not yet be quite right.

Other news stories of interest

  1. In the wake of the announcement that the military base in Willow Grove was slated for closing, Governor Rendell has filed suit claiming that such a move is illegal because National Guard troops based there cannot be moved without his prior permission. In an unsurprising move, the Justice Department is siding with the Pentagon in the case, for which a hearing will be held next week. PA's politicians have also pursued the persuasion track; only time will tell.

  2. US Rep. Fattah has managed to funnel some money to Philadelphia, in a form that conveniently results in its being disbursed by a foundation that he created.
    According to language in the bill inserted at the behest of Fattah, city government will get $3.2 million to "work in conjunction" with the not-for-profit American Cities Foundation "for neighborhood transportation enhancement and pedestrian safety projects."

    But the city Streets Department, the mayor's office and SEPTA say they don't know anything about the grant or the project it supports.
    Pet projects aren't unusual in large bills, but it *is* unusual to also specify who gets to handle the funds. Of course, nobody is thinking about raising their profile just before a mayoral race . . .

  3. A Daily News story reports the apparent use of Philadelphia Housing Authority police by Councilwoman Blackwell to harrass or intimidate her private foes. eesh.

  4. In a western-PA kerfluffle, a newly merged newspaper company that used a faux political ad as part of its self-promotions is getting flak for giving a candidate free publicity. Specifically the national GOP is accusing the Scranton Times-Tribune of campaign-finance violations for the fake banner headline "Casey to run for Senate." That it's made such waves is a symptom of how hot the 2006 Senate election is expected to be.

More input for controlling development

As a nice follow-up to my previous story on how Philadelphia neighborhoods are having to fend for themselves in the midst of sudden pressure for new development, America's Hometown yesterday noted a publication aimed to guide design of development for communities statewide, focused on ending up with better conservation of green space, shaping of communities, and shepherding of historic sites and other existing resources. (Note: the report itself is a book-length PDF; ascertain your interest level accordingly.)

Troubled waters in Germantown

Two pieces in the Daily News today look at the Central Germantown Council, a neighborhood development agency that appears a bit beleagured in the wake of the departure of Steven Vaughn, its former head, recently convicted of defrauding the city in other matters (see previous short takes here and here).
  • The first piece looks at the council itself, and the amazing confusion about who's in charge, what (if anything) they're spending their money on, and whether they're having any effect on the area. It's remarkable how little seems to be on paper concerning anything about this group and its business.

  • The second piece focuses on Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who appears to be the driving force behind whatever it is that the CGC is or isn't doing. This snippet gives a sense of the chaos:
    Miller said that she was sure that Vaughn had resigned but that she had no idea who is chairing the board. Betty Turner, the CGC's acting president, said she had no idea, either.

    At a CGC board meeting in mid-June, several board members said they had been told that Germantown businessman Keith Coleman was chairman of the special-services district. But Coleman is one of the listed board members who was never approved by City Council.

    Asked about his status, Coleman told the Daily News, "I don't know what my role is."
    About the only thing that anyone can point to is that trash is getting hauled away... Wow.

Monday pay-hike chat

  • An opinion piece in today's Inquirer, written by a Pennsylvania legislator, complains that the coverage has overblown this issue and portrayed it unfairly. He makes several good points, including that the raise was part of a complicated budget negotiation in which many other good things were achieved, that much legislation is finalized in the wee hours of the day (and thus that this was hardly an attempt to sneak a pay-raise through in dark of night), and that the pay raise received plenty of discussion beforehand. He ends the piece thusly:
    Despite all the hard political lessons I've learned in my life, I'm still naïve enough to hope that someday the news media will become as obsessed with, say, people living in poverty or the flaws in our criminal justice system as they are with legislative salaries.
    Fair enough point -- I can hardly disagree.

  • Despite the above, the public continues to feel hard-done-by, as evidenced by the brief letter at the bottom here, which cites some old aphorisms in its condemnation of governmental greed.

  • Finally, John Baer chips in some more, this time appealing to the political self-preservation instincts of the Republican leadership to repeal the current-year portion of the raises in response to the rising consciousness of the outraged public.

Quick note

I've bookmarked about a dozen stories to blog here later today, but thought I'd just mention meantime that I've updated The Scorecard (always available in the sidebar at right) to include the Wilson Goode father & son under Philadelphia's "legacies" . . .

Friday, August 12, 2005

More debates over the definition of "progress"

Close on the heels of debates over the changing fate of West Philadelphia (see here), another neighborhood is greeting prospects of new development with mixed feelings: Brewerytown. Concerns about emininent domain and hungry developers are again running up against the lure of rising property values and neighborhood revitalization.
Hanna admits that Alston, the antigentrification activist, raises legitimate concerns about displacement and rising property taxes. Black residents have historically been bullied out of their homes to make way for stadiums and condos for the rich, Hannah says.

Councilman Clarke has introduced two bills to address those fears. One would allow longtime homeowners to defer paying property taxes if they rise due to gentrification. Another would cap the percentage by which property taxes can rise in a year.
The themes of these stories feels similar, although each plays out in a different way.
(See Grey's Ferry story here.)

Keep your eye on the money

It's easier to keep track of the flow of money in PA politics with the creation of a new campaign finance database that will track sources of money to politicians, and also where the money of big donors is headed. Good stuff! (direct link =

In other Friday news...

A couple stories that range from the intriguing to the bizarre...
  • New Jersey is going beyond mere neighborhood registries for sex offenders to implementing a program to continuously track their whereabouts via satellite. Who's going to man the screens day and night through hundreds of dull trips to the library and laundromat? Feels cosmetic to me.

  • In an article that wins the award for Most Misleading Headline, the Inquirer reports that a state court upheld Allentown's right to include protection of gays in their anti-discrimination laws (in housing and employment). Some fine points of "home rule" included in the discussion.

  • US Senator Rick Santorum was recently embarrassed by a flap over his charging his district thousands for virtual schooling for his children while not actually living there. In response the school district appears to have changed its rules, allowing payment to residents who are called away by employers...

Ethics in need of some gravitas

An Inquirer piece today calls on John Street to buttress his Ethics Board to help restore public faith in government.
When it comes to advancing ethics reforms, Street suddenly has accepted the role of a tired and broken leader, shirking the responsibility to restore public confidence in his office. He has conceded that he just couldn't get City Council to pass legislation that would allow voters to decide whether an independent Ethics Board should be created. He obviously felt otherwise when it came to getting Council's support for his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and the Safe Streets program.
The interim board is still working with almost no staff, little funds, and wobbly credibility. With all the recent scandals, the city deserves better.

Latest bits on Philly politicians

  1. The Daily News reports that Mayor John Street may be rethinking his own smoking ban.
    "You know, I'm allergic to smoke," he says. "But when I encounter a restaurant that puts in expensive exhaust systems and goes out of its way to make nonsmokers happy, it's a problem for us to say, 'We don't care.' You hate to punish the good guys who have put these systems in. And you know? We wouldn't be having this discussion if everyone put in these ventilation things."
    . . .
    "I've been thinking about this issue in terms of the Constitution. Smoking is not illegal, it's highly taxed, so how far do we go in micromanaging what people will or will not decide they want to do?"
    . . .
    As the restaurateurs told Street over and over again, their bartenders and wait staff like to wait on people who smoke. Smokers drink more. They tip more.
    Seems like he's floating some possible arguments for a position shift in the fall...

  2. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah continues to make moves that look like he intends to run for mayor.
    When we asked him about it, he confessed, "We're focused on building not only financial support for my political future, but any kind of support that might be necessary."
    Meanwhile, in that same article, PA House Speaker John Perzel was confronted by minimum wage advocates:
    ACORN, the ubiquitous low-income protest group, scored a win yesterday. House Speaker John Perzel emerged from his Northeast Philadelphia office to accept a pair of "minimum-wage worker's shoes" from the group. The idea was to get Perzel to "walk a mile in those shoes," to encourage his support for an increase in the minimum wage.
    Turns out he actually worked for minimum wage a few years back, so perhaps they picked the wrong guy. Intriguingly, however, he claimed support for a minimum wage:
    Perzel said he would support a bill to boost the current $5.15-an-hour minimum. There are several competing bills and our guess is that he'll back fellow Republican Rep. John Taylor's boost to $6.15 rather than the more generous versions offered by Democrats.
    The "more generous" bills are asking for a dollar more, putting PA in line with NY, NJ, and DE in the region -- however, nobody would sneeze at $6.15 if it could actually be brought to pass. Stay tuned.

Nerves getting a bit frazzled?

Wasn't sure I'd link the latest pay-raise outrage story until I saw the first sentence of the story:
Amid the latest fallout from the pay-raise vote, the Democratic leader in the Senate apologized yesterday for telling a 72-year-old man who complained about the issue to "get a life."
Geez. Apparently citizen input to legislators no longer welcome.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A land of extremes

PoliticsPhilly reports that Pennsylvania can boast one contender each in the lists of Top 20 liberal (Philadelphia) and conservative (Allentown) US cities . . .

Thursday news roundup

Time is tight today, so here are just some quick pointers to the articles that caught my eye today:
  • Philadelphia's school principals got to pick more of their teachers under the new contract this year (rather than assignments coming by seniority).

  • The end of the year apparently brings a deadline for many areas to revamp or replace their voting systems, to accord with the Help America Vote Act. It's more about preventing hanging chads than about making sure that voters have a record of their ballot, so unclear whether it will achieve meaningful improvements, even if all the counties can get stuff done.

  • Mayor John Street has officially picked a new education secretary, who just happens to come from the stables of US Rep. Chaka Fattah. (Plenty of fodder there for those looking for alliance-building for 2007.) They hope, in part, to reclaim control of the school system from the state.

  • An Inquirer article points out the dangers of identity theft and suggests simple precautions to keep your information more secure.

  • A Harrisburg legislator is introducing a bill, with Rendell's support, to roll back the "unvouchered expenses" route to an early government pay-raise. Good luck.

  • Santorum continues his feisty book tour, delivering a condemnation of liberals during an appearance at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (a conservative think-tank) yesterday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Who shapes a city?

Today's Inquirer has a piece on a statewide program attempting to empower communities in their own redevelopment.
The Blueprint Communities program, announced by Gov. Rendell in the Capitol yesterday, will provide technical assistance, financial training, planning support and grants for community groups so that they may become more involved in redeveloping their areas.

Under this approach, communities - not banks, governments or outside developers - will take the lead in the rebuilding process, said officials with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, which created the program.
This reminded me of another article from this past Sunday, which looked at Philadelphia's recent housing boom though an uncommon lens: that city planning is essentially defunct, and that local communities are having to take much greater steps to ensure that development is controlled and directed in the most productive ways.
"There is so much development going on, and it's happening so fast, we just had to have a plan," explained Matt Rubin, president of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, which recently engaged Interface Studio to undertake a wide-ranging neighborhood planning study, paid for with a $25,000 state grant.

Before the current boom, Northern Liberties was a fringe neighborhood of modest rowhouses, small workshops and acres of vacant lots. A factory renovation was considered a big project. But, nowadays, the civic group finds itself routinely evaluating plans for 1,000-unit housing developments. At the current rate of construction, Northern Liberties could see its population double in less than five years, according to Scott Page, cofounder of Philadelphia-based Interface Studio.
In part the lack of central planning may derive from the decrease in federal funds to propel such efforts; it's ironic if such funds coming back again in the more dispersed form represented by the new Blueprint program (or even Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative).

In looking for the Sunday article, I also found a commentary piece in today's paper, concerned about the lack of oversight of the building boom. It gives a list of questions (assembled by the volunteer Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia) that zoning boards and neighborhood planners should consider in evaluating a development proposal, ranging from effect on the character of the neighborhood to logistical concerns like effect on light to surrounding buildings. Not a bad start, but still no replacement for a strategic vision for growth.

Wednesday pay-raise chat

Not dissipating, just diversifying.
  • Governor Rendell stops hedging and goes on the record criticizing the move to take pay-raises early via "unvouchered expenses." Currently 149 out of 253 state legislators are slated to take the early dose.
    Lawmakers are receiving the added pay now as reimbursement for expenses, though they don't have to provide proof that they ever spent a dime out of their own pockets. The so-called unvouchered expenses are the same as salary in all respects but name. They are identical in amount, are taxed the same and count toward pensions.
    Rendell cites a deluge of outraged correspondance and his own [belated] sense of propriety. He also got booed at a recent appearance...

  • William Bunch decries the vote-linked demotions as an immoral form of extortion being exercised by party leadership. He doesn't hold out much hope for plans to make such moves illegal, however.

  • An Inquirer comment piece says we should thank the legislators who voted for this raise for getting people reinterested in politics at a time when they're usually more focused on firing up the BBQ than in civic activism.
    It's a great day when Pennsylvanians can rattle off a legislator's car allowance (up to $650 a month), legislative session per-diem ($128), and annual salary ($81,050) as easily as they can recite Donovan McNabb's passing stats. Why? Because when Election 2006 arrives and incumbents want to say what they are doing for us in Harrisburg, we can ask why we should be doing this for them.
    Hard to argue with that.

  • John Baer reports that it's not just the cranky guy on the street who's upset about the pay-raise, but he's even hearing from disgruntled legislative aides and other insiders.
    I get a note from a legislative aide in a leadership office saying that the size of the pay raise (at least 16 percent, twice that for many) is "sickening" given that staff just got a 3.5-percent cost-of-living increase and Gov. Ed once froze wages for 80,000 working-class state employees.
    . . .
    I understand a throw-the-bums-out mentality; it's easy from a distance to damn the damn politicians.

    But when people who know and work closely with them grouse, people inside the system, then something's going on.

    And what's going on is sustained anger against so-called public servants putting themselves ahead of the public they supposedly serve. What's going on is the realization that politicians often powerless to find funds for mass transit, Medicaid, and increased minimum wage show all sorts of power when it comes to finding money for themselves.
    He also reviews the wide range of citizen actions and groups growing out of the sense of misplaced priorities.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

They weren't kidding!

PoliticsPhilly reports breaking news that more federal indictments have been handed down today in Philadelphia's ongoing corruption probes (see yesterday's promise that they weren't done here). A former Streets Commisioner and a current Recycling Program head are the targets.

The need to engage our youth

Philadelphia City Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr., posts on Young Philly Politics to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and to emphasize the need for young people to be engaged with all levels of politics.
The issue now becomes whether this generation can change it quality of life and remain removed from the political process. For too many, the right to vote still doesn't give them a reason to vote.
Politically engaged folks need to help the young people around them recognize that political events and issues have repercussions in all parts of their daily lives. Get involved!

Regional green fuels initiatives

An Inquirer story reports that drivers should expect to see biofuels popping up at some of their local gas stations in the near future, partly as a response to a change in federal regulations and incentives.
In New Jersey, a group of farmers and other investors is on the verge of buying land in Gloucester County to build an ethanol factory. And in Kensington, a research-scale facility is under construction that would make biodiesel from the grease of Philly cheesesteaks and other fatty victuals.
. . .
All diesel trucks and buses can run without modification on biodiesel, which is made by chemically treating vegetable oil or animal fats. All new cars can run on gasoline that contains up to 10 percent ethanol, an alcohol fuel made from fermenting sugars from plants, including corn. And, unknown to many owners, more than 3.5 million newer cars can use an ethanol blend of up to 85 percent.
Love the idea that it could use grease; the article also discusses crop options other than corn, of which PA doesn't grow much. Look for your first opportunity to gas up with alternative fuel at 12th and Vine around November.

(I'd like credit for not having written "cropping up" in the first line here... ;)

Even *I'm* nearly tired of this topic

  1. The Inquirer continues to track individual PA legislators who decide not to take the new pay-raise, especially those who are changing their minds in response to public griping. Most interesting to me here is that a group is planning to introduce a bill to repeal the raise, and they claim 23 co-sponsors. Won't go anywhere, but a good sign that the Assembly is feeling the chilly constituent winds -- perhaps they'll pass some conscience bills this fall...

  2. For late-comers or those who can never get enough outrage, the Inquirer now offers a standing list of all their articles and columns on the subject, tied to the final vote talley. (I don't know if the URL will change will additional updates.)
Enough griping -- let's start working on changing things, both for more just economic outcomes (minimum wage, anyone?) and more transparent government processes. Sign the Neighborhood Networks petition, pass one around at your office. Onward, ho!

Monday, August 08, 2005


One of Republican Doug Forrester's appeals for New Jersey primary voters was his large personal wealth, which would allow his campaign to be relatively free of big-money influence. Only, it now looks like it might be illegal for him to donate to his own campaign...
Forrester holds a 51 percent ownership interest in an insurance company that sells most of its policies to governmental clients in New Jersey.
. . .
State law expressly bars insurance companies and other regulated industries such as banks, utilities and casinos from making contributions to candidates or political organizations in New Jersey. The law also covers individuals with a majority ownership in those companies.
That should throw a wrench into the next few months of New Jersey politics! My sympathies.

(via Atrios)

Green innovation in New Jersey

PA's neighbors to the east are turning farmers into power companies the friendly way:
The farmers are putting solar-power systems over barn roofs and fields to make electricity for their homes, farm buildings and irrigation systems while reducing pollution with a clean, renewable energy source.
. . .
Barely a year into the Power Crop Initiative, two dozen New Jersey farms have new solar-power systems or will soon get them, and dozens more plan to do so.
A variety of funding and credits are encouraging farmers to join up and helping cover their initial costs. Beyond what benefits the farmers themselves see, the state expects to decrease its greenhouse emmissions by millions of pounds of CO2.

More Santorum in the news

Two articles in the Inquirer, yesterday and today, look at recent moves and mysteries of Senator Rick Santorum and next year's elections.
  1. First, his battle for the suburban voter near Philadelphia, which he previously carried easily but are (a) becoming more liberal and (b) not too wowed by his recent book. Of course, the power and prestige of incumbancy should not be overlooked, nor should the reams of supporters lining up at his book-signings.

  2. Second, how Santorum is the focus of larger strategic and tactical decisions being made by both parties for control of the Senate and possibly for future Presidential considerations.
    Republican pollster David Winston, who works with Santorum and the Senate GOP on policy issues, said the other day: "This is the race of 2006, with huge long-term national implications. If Santorum, for the third time, can win as a conservative in a blue state, if he can demonstrate that his brand of 'compassionate conservatism' can play well, that clearly would tell us that Pennsylvania will be in play for us" in the next presidential campaign.
    . . .
    "Santorum is priority one for a couple reasons," [national Democratic strategist Jenny Backus] said. "If our message is, 'The Washington Republicans are abusing power, and pushing an agenda for a select few,' Santorum is a good poster child for that. He gives us a chance to play offense."
    Santorum may have loud opponents, but he also has loud supporters, and so far, the same can't really be said of Robert Casey. This article also looks at some closely watched races in Ohio, Montana, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Today's corruption news

Two articles on SE Pennsylvania's ongoing investigations and payola woes:
  1. First, the US Attorney, Patrick L. Meehan, claims federal probes are not yet out of steam in Philadelphia after the convictions related to City Hall and recent indictments of Norristown's Mayor and City Councilman Mariano. There are still agents pouring through state Senator Vince Fumo's computer files, others are tracing more links to wiretap target Ron White, and there are investigations into a host of major and minor contracting shenanigans from the airport to Penn's Landing.

  2. Meantime, former City Treasurer Corey Kemp is settling into his jail sentence, but apparently still a little unconvinced of his own wrongdoing. At best, he was far too naive for his job; at worst, he completely deserves his ten years for influence peddling. Hard to work up much heartbreak.

Make of it what you will

Chris Bowers at MyDD provides evidence that the regional political site PoliticsPA is actually owned/underwritten by a right-wing partisan organization and thus may not have at heart the interests of balanced regional news...
I find their layout near-unreadable, so no particular loss here.

Update: this might be a retraction of the above, or at least of its certainty. Color me no longer following this...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nice to meet you

PoliticsPhilly notes that the Philadelphia Record has an occasional feature called "Meet your Ward leader" that offers mystefied voters a glimpse of the folks that organize their neighborhoods. First two installments:
  • Matt Wolfe, 27th Ward Republican (S part of W. Philly)
  • Lester Brown, 24th Ward Democratic (N part of W. Philly)
(For reference, see the city ward map here.)

Jane on Casey

Above Average Jane doesn't know what to think of Bob Casey, 2006 Senate hopeful, but she doesn't think too much of his website. Content, positions, leadership, anyone?

Odds and ends

In other political news,
  • Norristown's mayor pleaded not guilty to the variety of charges against him (see previous story here). His trial is set for October.

  • Philadelphia's mayor John Street is apparently playing nice with Councilman Frank DiCicco (of South Philly) this summer, in constrast to their usual relations. A counterweight to Nutter, or just a new relationship derived from the budget negotiations this year?
The latter link also includes quick bits on red-light cameras and on other figures moving between government and private employ.

Two birds with one stone

An encouraging report today of a new program in Philadelphia which is solving two problems at once: beautifying abandoned lots with lush plantings and helping prevent sewer overflow during rainstorms. It's gratifying neighbors and impressing regulators.

Update on West Philly debate

As mentioned here yesterday, there's a bit of a debate in W.Philly over the possible creation of a homeless shelter in an abandoned nursing home building. Today I know quite a bit more, after both an article in the Inquirer about the dispute and a summary of last night's community meeting by Ray Murphy. It turns out that the shelter used to exist (in a smaller form) only two blocks away, until a lightening strike ruined the space, and that the planners are taking elaborate pains to make the shelter a good neighbor and an asset to the community, including limiting residents to families (no single men), hiring staff locally, and making computer and daycare facilities open to neighborhood use. That's pretty much stacked up against abstract fears of crime risks and housing value impact. (Ironically, the need for shelters has gone up in part because of homelessness caused by rising housing costs.) I hope that they can work something out -- both for this project, and as an augur for future citywide handling of the conflicts between the succesful and the down-and-out.

A reprieve for Philly's schools?

I'd heard some previous rumors that Philadelphia's school chief, Paul Vallas, might have ambitions to higher office. But I guess I hadn't realized where or how soon until today's headline indicates that he's just had his hopes for Illinois Governorship quashed by a residency ruling. Apparently he ran a primary campaign there once before. Similar story in the Daily News here.
In his petition, Vallas argued that he is still an Illinois resident. It describes his move to Philadelphia as a "temporary relocation," and notes that he rented rather than bought a home here; continued to see an Illinois physician and Illinois dentist; and maintained "contacts with individuals, media and professional, as well as personal relationships within the state of Illinois."
Of course, meantime he's repeatedly denied any intention to leave...

Obligatory pay-raise update

  1. Front-page article in today's Inquirer reports the following:
    (a) that DeWeese is standing firm on his demotion of committee chairs who voted against the legislative pay-raise, and, in fact, that some are suffering more punishment.
    Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware), who was stripped of his position as chairman of the subcommittee on energy, said yesterday that a $3,700 request to cover postage for his quarterly constituent newsletter and a separate request for salary for a part-time staff person were denied on July 28, the day he was quoted in an Inquirer article about the reassignments.

    Vitali, who has been in office 13 years, said DeWeese had orally approved the requests only days earlier.
    (b) that a petition drive is underway to link the pay-raise issue to the need for an increase in Pennsylvania's minimum wage.
    Members of Neighborhood Networks, a Philadelphia-based group of liberal activists, gathered 350 signatures in 90 minutes of petitioning outside City Hall to demand that the legislature raise the state minimum wage as penance for its pay raise.

    "The legislature raised its pay 16 to 34 percent, and the minimum wage hasn't gone up since 1995," Marc Stier, an organizer of the group, shouted through a bullhorn at passersby. "It's time to tell our state legislature: No 2 a.m. raids on the treasury."
    (see petition here)

  2. Meantime, John Grogan weighs in again with a column on hypocrisy, focusing on legislators who voted against the pay-raise but now are taking it (including the extra year via unvouchered expenses).
Update: from Pittsburg, a snarky look at the legal fate of the pay-raise, given that the judges got a boost as well... (via GrassrootsPA)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Thursday news round-up

Blogger is a bit cloggy today, so just quick summaries of several interesting news stories:
  • As Ardmore continues embattled over the use of city emininent domain to redevelop its city center, towns in New Jersey have just won the right to use the same power to limit sprawl.
    A state appeals court ruling that Mount Laurel can use eminent domain to acquire land for the use of open space could give towns across New Jersey a weapon in their battle against development.
    Few folks love sprawl, but I'm sure this will lead to much worrying about expanding government powers.

  • Fairmont Park commission has a new acting director, who appears likely to be confirmed as the permanent guy for the post by the full park commission this fall. he'll face some immediate challenges, not least City Council legislation aimed at disbanding the Fairmont Park Commission and rolling it into the recreation department (see previous story here).

  • Philadelphia Mayor John Street just officially signed the city's new Housing Trust Fund into existence -- see announcement of its creation and transformational potential in the previous story here.

  • An article discusses Philadelphia's recently formed special "region" of low-performing schools (see previous story in first item here), which will be the focus of much effort and experimental intervention this fall.

  • In a move that appears to have caught many by surprise, SEPTA is set to allow plugging of alcoholic beverages by its advertisers. Officials claim financial incentives, but opponents point out that glamorous liquor ads are tied to increased experimentation by youth.

  • As part of the national GOP leadership, Senator Rick Santorum has been in a possession to support the campaigns of many of his colleagues. Now, as his own re-election looks to be an increasingly fierce competition, he is garnering the support of many of those same colleagues, contributing to his 2006 warchest. The article also takes a look at Santorum's largest sources of past financing, and draws parallels with his top issues or areas of influence.

A neighborhood attempting to reinvent itself

The cover story of this week's CityPaper is about the Gray's Ferry neighborhood -- its history, sporadic woes, and need for revitalization. Lots of racial tension heightened by sensational news coverage, bad effects of absentee landlords, but plenty of residents who refuse to give up hope. Long and chewy . . .

Sometimes a rising tide drowns those under the bridge...

Ray Murphy has a thoughtful and difficult post over on YoungPhillyPolitics, in which a potential downside to gentrification is pointed out: increasing defensiveness of incoming upper-income residents against mixed use development, and the possibility that tolerance for diversity in population and values will decline. Of course, the original/former West Philly residents may look particularly noble in the golden light of nostalgia, but it's certainly true that high-end developers, at least, aren't always the most civic-minded nurturers of community.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More Streetlights

The Philadelphia Weekly has a feature article on Sharif Street, son of Philadelphia's mayor, who is raising funds for a future campaign without saying what office he might be seeking. He's eying both City Council and state legislature, presumably waiting for final word on what seats may open up in either or both.
No question, Street has name recognition in this town. He grew up with Democratic ward leaders and community activists bouncing him on their knees. As for Sharif's own political ambitions, some people may question what he brings to the table beyond the fact that he's the mayor's son.

As one guest at the July 27 gathering wondered aloud, "Will powerbrokers in this city bother returning Sharif's calls once his dad no longer rules City Hall?" No elected officials were among the guests snacking on jumbo shrimp and bruschetta.
Will be a little while before we can answer that question.

Clashing visions

A small house on the east side of Washington Square in Philadelphia has become the focus of larger debates about historical preservation versus city development. It's kind of an odd choice, because the house was built in the 1950s (unlike many of its neighbors which are a century or two older) and appears to derive its significance more from its first inhabitant (civic revitalizer and Society Hill pioneer Mayor Richardson Dilworth) than from the structure itself. Anyway, a developer would like to replace the undistinguished three-story house with a 12-story condo building by a laureled modern architect, so folks are rallying to both sides in the matter. The city Historical Commission will have final say in the matter next Friday, when it decides whether to alter the building's historic designation.

The million things that fill up a day...

State Rep. Mark Cohen periodically provides brief summaries of legislation under consideration in the PA House. The latest batch give a good sense of the amazing minutiae of a legislator's life -- not so many bold policy statements, but instead small tweaks to everything from taxes on wireless phone service to regulations for farming of antlered animals.

Lots of head-scratchers in this list (for the average layman), but also recognizable small bits on helping the families of deployed servicemen, regulating the provision of long-term care, fishing licenses, and the settling of a variety of small property and oversight or regulatory disputes. Remarkable that anybody can keep on top of it all.

(via Above Average Jane)

Not losing steam

The outrage express, that is. Continuing the pay-raise-complaint coverage, today we have:
  • A second piece by Will Bunch, this time profiling Operation Clean Sweep, which wants to replace everybody statewide who voted for this legislation (via primary challenges), as well as reviewing the other ongoing fallout.
    One remarkable aspect of the opposition to the pay hike is that - unlike most political efforts nowadays - this one cuts clear across the great liberal-conservative divide. Critics on the right say the raise is another example of runaway big government, while on the left they note the money - some $23 million - could have restored some cuts in social programs.
    Pesky citizen groups!

  • Another rather pointed Signe cartoon implying that legislators are going to get burned by this one.

  • Neighborhood Networks now has its petition drive up and running NN logo(to delay the start of the pay-raise and tie it to a bump in the minimum wage), with an official launch event planned for downtown tomorrow. Anybody who wants to circulate and return petitions is encouraged to do so, and neighborhood groups will be trying to coordinate systematic coverage of their regions as well. More volunteer effort always welcomed in all parts of the Philadelphia area.
Update: another Editorial at the Pittsburgh end of things calls on legislators to have an open debate on their raises and then vote again. (via Edico)

Update 2: PhillyFuture has a double-header, with a rant about the whole state of affairs and a list of those promoted and demoted in the recent PA House whip-cracking.

Testy friendships

SEPTA and the free Metro newspaper (popular with commuters) have renewed their contract, which appears to benefit both. However, they also appear to have a number of claims and lawsuits against each other for fees owed or distribution agreements not upheld . . .

Promoting bad science (or miseducation, anyway)

Pennsylvania's senior Senator Arlen Specter appears to be signing on to the Bush/Santorum push for teaching of Intelligent Design in the nation's schools. [See this for Santorum's previous promotion of ID as part of No Child Left Behind, this for some debunking of the theory's seriousness, and this for previous claims that Specter and Santorum are a bit more like two peas in a pod than many think.] Likely to be behind this announcement is Santorum's recent support for Specter's ideas on other fronts (i.e., investigating torture), which might be eliciting a return favor, and Bush's having ramped up discussion of this topic (Specter also owing the White House a bit of a bone over the torture business).

Anyway, as for Specter and ID, he claims that there's no problem in teaching various theories and letting the consumer decide.
"My own instincts are to teach everything and let people take their choices," the Pennsylvania Republican said, responding to questions on the topic. "My instinct is not to object to people hearing all sides of all issues, no matter how much I disagree with them."
This is a point on which I feel quite strongly -- see this post elsewhere about why students aren't the right people to assess the validity of scientific theories or any of the rest of the information that they are expected to master. Specter claims to be "with Darwin," but is willing to let good pedagogy fall by the wayside in the education of others. Sigh.

Anagram for the day: "Intelligent Design" --> "Listening, deleting"
(via Drinking Liberally, back in May)

Ground shifting

Tom Ferrick looks at the effects of the investigation of Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano -- how things look and which sharks are circling.
In politics, as in life, you know you've got a problem when people begin to refer to you in the past tense.
I imagine so...
There's also a footnote at the bottom of the column following up on his previous story of a Drexel lawsuit brought by its own students (see item 4 here), which the school has judiciously decided to settle, after some pressure from Fumo.

Update: America's Hometown points out that the feds are increasing their corruption investigations, and that they have a mighty high rate of success in getting convictions... Sorry, Rick!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Miscellaneous political news

  1. As expected by many, Ginny Schraeder has made official her intent to run for Congress in 2006 in a rematch (contested primary allowing) against 8th district rep. Michael Fitzpatrick. Her stated agenda includes health care, national security, and accountability in the Iraq war, and she intends to eschew PAC money in favor of small grassroots funds.

  2. An Inquirer article follows up on yesterday's editorial by looking into the effectiveness of Philadelphia's newly activated Ethics Board:
    After almost a year of guiding city employees on what's right and what's wrong, Mayor Street's Board of Ethics still struggles against criticism that it is beholden to his works and wishes
    Street hasn't even kept all the seats on the board filled, but he claims that this group is only a fill-in until an independent oversight board can be written into the City Charter.

  3. Two pieces make much of the return of a former Street aide as a private-sector consultant, specifically working with the region's black business association.
    As of Monday, Christmas' new title will be president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, an organization with 750 members in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
    Apparently the group has been without a head for several years.

  4. Columnist Mark Hughes peers ahead at possible issues in the 2007 mayoral race, and about the degree to which issues (as opposed to connections, race, and other bellweathers) even determine outcomes in Philadelphia.
    If I could impose one rule on the coming chatter about mayoral issues, I'd demand that candidates tell us about the choices, most of them difficult, they'd make in office. It doesn't help us as voters to know that candidates are against blight and violence and taxes and corruption. We don't need an abstract position on an abstract issue.

    INSTEAD, WE NEED candidates to answer real questions. Who are you going to blame for violence, and what do you choose to do about it? That's as real as it gets.
    . . .
    Being mayor isn't about being smart enough to solve problems. It's about solving problems by making decisions under conditions of permanent uncertainly and limited power.
    Hard to disagree with that last bit, but I suspect many would take issue with his approach to the former. Interesting mullings, anyway.