Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wednesday roundup (late edition)

  • The Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform has started hearings, and apparently some of our state legislators have ideas about how Harrisburg functions could be made more reasonable and open. Notably, most of those testifying are freshmen and most of the leadership is nowhere to be seen.

  • Philadelphia's City Council, meanwhile, heard testimony from former juvenile offenders about how to head off gun violence among the city's youths. More here.

  • Mayoral race news

    • Bob Brady has brought a heavy hitter on-board for policy; a member of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency, tasked with signing off on Philadelphia budgets and financial issues. She's served on that board for some ten years.

    • The Daily News offers a new poll of support for the five Democratic mayoral candidates, finding that Tom Knox's recent deluge of advertising has moved him way up in the horserace. Plenty of folks still have no clue, however.

    • John Baer makes the point that standings at this point don't mean that much, and that Knox's gains may not stand up to closer questioning on issues, etc. Dan at YPP is disturbed by the notion of obtaining the mayor's seat through outlays of personal wealth.

    • The Daily News poll also looked at top issues, finding crime, schools, and government corruption at the top of the list. (Some of the details might surprise you.)

    • The Philadelphia Weekly chips in its thoughts on the crime plans put forth by various candidates, partly serious but mostly tongue-in-cheek ("best plan name" and the like).

  • Candidates for city office are supposed to be filing electronic versions of their finance reports under new Board of Ethics regulations, but technical glitches have pushed back the deadline by a few weeks. Question: are we setting our candidates up for identity theft by putting their filings online?

  • Councilman Jim Kenney is getting behind environmental concerns for the city, and particularly the notion of promoting green roofs.

  • PA's US Senator Arlen Specter finds himself in the news again, this time asserting the shocking notion that Congress has a role to play in decisions about national defense. Crazy talk!

  • The DN opinion page is pretty pleased with Penn Praxis' approach to riverfront planning, especially the broad range of residents and experts being asked for their opinions.

  • Another DN opinion piece looks at the problem that SEPTA cops and city police can't share radio communications, noting that at least a temporary solution has been found until more substantial funds come through for upgrading subway tunnel communications (which may be a challenge in their own right).

Quick mayoral roundup

I'm working at home today, keeping an eye on some furnace guys, so I finally got a chance to finish Sunday's paper. Worth a visit for anyone wanting a snapshot of the current Democratic mayoral field is Tom Fitzgerald's front-page piece "Primed, ready for real race," which expresses the opinion that in a year when voters seem to want a change, there's likely to be more than average focus on issues. Also provided is a brief summary of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the five main candidates, in terms of their starting constituencies, experience, and other factors. Obviously much to be fleshed out in our understanding of each, but this is a pretty good summary of what we know now and what we might expect each candidate to be focusing on during the positioning phase of the race. Ah, Thom, what will we do without you?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday downpour -- semithematic edition

  • Streets and roads

  • Schools and kids

    • Dwight Evans, State Rep. and mayoral candidate, put forth his education proposals yesterday, including laptops in every classroom, shrinking class size, etc., but continued his support for state control of Philadelphia schools. More details here, including the argument that better education would help fight the causes of violence.

      Question for readers: how does Bret Mandel get to have a quote on every story in the local universe?! It boggles the mind...

    • The Philadelphia Compact is a new coalition that has arisen in response to a study commissioned by Mayor Street on helping the city's youth. Its recommendations span after-school programs to increased teacher training. More here on its goals and strategies, including helping coordinate various service agencies. (Also, Evans appears to get credit here for propelling this effort.)

  • Violence and crime

    • A new study reveals that Pennsylvania has the nation's highest rate of black homicide deaths. Various folks point to guns and/or poverty in response. The DN opinion page calls for an honest evaluation of how it came to be "open season on young black men," and especially for a fresh look at gun laws.

    • A Daily News piece points out that many of the Philadelphia mayoral candidates want to hire more police, but all are vague on how funding for such an increase would be found. A second piece notes that addition of officers takes time as well as money, for both recruitment and training.

  • People

    • Brady thinks he can run for mayor while remaining head of the city Democratic Party. Not clear that's a juggling act that's manageable, even if it's legal. In fact, his first fundraising letter went out under the City Committee auspices, rather than from his own campaign committee... Expect more such nonsense; whether pressure builds for him to pick one or the other could say a lot about whether The Machine is ready to hold Brady to a different standard from the rest of the field.

    • Perzel is bearing the brunt of cabbies' anger against the PPA, which derives from the arbitrary way that fees and procedures are being changed around almost all the time. BradyDale (the YPP poster here) notes that sometimes riders get caught in the middle.

    • Perhaps in response to Ray Murphy's announcement yesterday, another YPP poster makes the case for Michael Nutter for mayor.

    • AA Jane gives us the heads-up that newly minted State Rep. Rick Taylor is having an open house for his constituents next week.

    • PA State House Republicans have picked an academic for the Gaming Control Board, in an effort to duck the kind of controversy that greeted their last nominee, outgoing legislator Mark McNaughton. Sheep tell no tales...

    • Harrisburg gadfly Gene Stilp is filing suit to find out about some stealth bonuses quietly given to Democratic staffers recently.

  • Other bits

    • The Daily News opinion page applauds plans for a new city sewage treatment project to help with odor complaints from the current "biosolids recycling center."

    • The PA State House has adopted temporary rules against ghost voting, meaning legislators must actually be in chambers to cast votes now. Imagine!

    • Marc Stier notes the quiet closing of banks in poor neighborhoods (of course replaced by usurious check-cashing joints), part of a trend that adds to the difficulty in breaking the cycle of poverty. He notes some recent proposals by Wilson Goode, Jr., that could help and are being considered by Council tomorrow.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The politics of hope

Marc in actionAs long as we're coming clean with early picks, let me say I strongly support Marc Stier for City Council At Large. It's not just because I've enjoyed his lengthy chewy blog posts, but because I've been able to see him in action on the Neighborhood Networks Steering Committee (and on several critical early subcommittees), and he's one of the most impressive folks working in the political and activist realms right now, and extremely dedicated to the principles he propounds. He seems to work 36 hours in a day, and yet still bring a sense of humor to difficult discussions, and all of those things mean that causes in which he is involved simply make progress faster than they would without him.

Marc seems always to be incredibly well informed on every issue facing the city (he picks the brains of the experts and seems to take in and synthesize what they say), he knows local politics well enough to be a good judge of where pressure can be applied and change can be started, and he is a good speaker capable of changing people's minds and pulling together coalitions of people who might not have thought that they had interests in common. Sounds a lot like a real leader, no?, and he's a true progressive trouble-maker as well, extremely unlikely to suffer ideal-rot once in office. Anyway, if you want to know his stances, a bunch of issues are addressed here, but if you really want a good overall sense of the man and his vision, it's worth investing the 7-8 minutes to watch this video (currently the lower of two on that page) from his speech at this summer's NN conference.

There are several other strong progressive candidates this year, so there's room for quite some excitement (and need for volunteers!) on many fronts; I hope to give space to some others as events or announcements merit. I'm unlikely to stump continuously for Marc in this space, but I do intend to work for his campaign, so I wanted to make my plug now and encourage others to consider giving some time and energy to him. For that matter, set aside a little time just to find out who's running in your District Council races, as well as to get a sense of the field of At-Large candidates (see some introduction here). These are races that get a fraction of the votes that the mayoral primary attracts, and yet City Council can have a huge effect on the future course of our city on many fronts. This is a good year to work (and vote!) for positive change.


Monday bits

From the papers:
  • Who knew there was an asbestos waste dump near Valley Forge Park?! Well, apparently it's about to be cleaned up, after ten years of arguments....

  • Also in the realm of things I didn't know were on the docket: a new state law to regulate end-of-life decisions for those without a living will or other directive.
    Under the new law, if a person has not designated someone in advance, the decision-maker will generally be a spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling, adult grandchild or close friend, in that order.
    If that doesn't sound like the ranking you'd want, better get it in writing.

  • A strike at a Red Cross center in Southwest PA could interrupt blood supplies in six states, although preparations have been made for the initial strike period.

  • The Inquirer does a round-up of mayoral bits, including Ward fights already underway.

  • The Inky editorial page notes the amount of money dredged up to buy the Eakins painting recently, and contrasts that with the shortage of funds to help with child sexual abuse victims. The same could be said about many of our direst social needs...

  • Signe has a visual commentary on Councilman Frank DiCicco's last-minute package of anti-casino bills.

Around the blogs:
  • The YPP discussion on ideas for healthcare is ongoing and has generated a flurry of comments. I don't know when the related CityPaper piece will be written, but now seems like a good time to make sure your thoughts get taken into account.

  • A bunch of folks from Philadelphia went down to DC this past weekend for the anti-escalation protest, and you can see some video clips of what participants were thinking.

  • A new YPP poster raises some cautions about community benefit agreements with casinos, using the example of how Atlantic City funds are increasingly going back toward "beautifying" parts of the casinos themselves, rather than blighted areas nearby.

  • AAJane reports from a local forum with state legislators at which a number of audience questions were addressed on issues likely to resonate with readers here.

  • State Republican legislators vow to keep Rendell in check on his ambitious plans for his second term. wheee.

  • Ray Murphy has made his choice for mayor: he's working for Chaka Fattah and gives his reasons (as well as his expectation that he'll be a bit less present on Young Philly Politics for the duration).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday... it's Friday? who wants to blog on Friday!

  • Tax heads-up: if you just got a PA Dept of Revenue mailing (and I did), it was wrong -- they used the numbers from the previous year. Hopefully they'll mail corrected versions, but double-check against your records.

  • Pennsylvania considering moving up its Presidential primary to March.

  • Apparently we may find a school tax reform measure on the May ballot, which would switch part of school funding from property to some type of income tax. But wait, isn't the casino revenue solving all of our problems? (clap louder!)

  • Brady announcement official, with promises of piles of new police officers and putting the BPT on the cutting block (and mockery with those with broader ambitions). Also, um, a promise that we'd have elephants in the zoo again, but I don't think that's under the mayor's control. Dan at YPP thinks Brady's announced goals had some holes, not least the fact that you can't slash the budget and increase spending at the same time.

  • More open to complexity than Brady, the Next Great City Coalition released their 10-point action plan for a cleaner, better-functioning Philadelphia. Nutter, Fattah, and Evans have already signed on to these rational suggestions.

  • City Council takes aim at trans fats.

  • Fattah suggests free annual checkups for the uninsured. And who pays if some problem is uncovered?

  • The head of Penn Praxis gives a prognosis for the Philadelphia riverfronts and invites the public to an expert panel discussion on the subject.

  • Apparently Young Philly Politics will be collaborating with the CityPaper on some election coverage features. The first topic is how health-care in the city can be improved, and ideas that come out of YPP discussions will be woven into a piece for the CP next week -- a good time to add your two cents!

  • Albert is frustrated about the inadequacy of city 911 service capabilities.

  • The Daily News offers some cheerleading to those opposing the arrival of casinos in Philadelphia, even if all they achieve is to re-engage the citizenry.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thursday round-up

  • The Inquirer speculates about Bob Brady's entry into the mayoral race (official announcement fest tonight), as a test of his personal pull and the strength of The Machine. The Daily News focuses on his everyman pull.

  • This year's elections also features some interesting judicial races, including some for the State Supreme Court; these posts are getting more scrutiny after the pay hike furor of 2005... (More on the ratings offered by the Bar Association here.)

  • The PA state legislature is getting some reform activity underway: O'Brien's Reform Commission started meeting yesterday, talking about setting hours for legislative deliberation, a minimum period between introduction of bills and voting on them, and other sanities. (More here.) One young freshman Democrat isn't waiting for broader transparency rules to be enacted; he's putting his legislative expense accounts on the web for public inspection.

Quick Bits

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Almost missed it

Apparently this blog has been doing its stuff for some 2 years now. I think that's like a 10-year marriage (or maybe even longer, given the intensity and obscurity of local blogging). Anyway, I appear not to have the sense to give it up, so perhaps I'll still be typing away here in another two...

Wednesday deluge (!!)

  • Independence Mall security

    • The controversial 6-foot security fence behind Independence Hall (irony, be damned!) has been scrapped in favor of a simple hip-high system of posts and chains. Other details, such as reduced screening procedures, are also included in this story.

    • Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky approves of the new plan, opining that it better respects the dignity of the historical site.

    • The Inquirer editorial page agrees, describing the proposal as "step toward sanity, at no real expense to security." Imagine!

  • People

    • Well, Brady may be in, but Doc is officially out of the mayoral primary race, although not ruling out a future run. More on the story here.

      who's in and who's out?

    • The Inquirer devotes a second article to pointing out that Doughtery is still a huge force in local politics as head of a very active union (although they poured their fortune into some losers the last time around).

    • Bob Casey is doing an Inquirer Q&A forum, so now's your chance to press him on his plans and priorities.

    • Mayor Street continues to spar with City Council over needed capital repairs, refusing to spend some $30 million explicitly authorized for police, fire, and recreation departments.

  • Casinos, casinos (tired of them yet?)

    • Debate continues over whether to ban all smoking in Atlantic City casinos, with an apparent compromise to allow smoking on some percentage of gaming floors.

    • Sure enough, DiCicco offered his anti-casino bills in City Council yesterday. No mention of other supporters. (I swear this is the identical article to the one I linked previously, but with every "today" changed to "yesterday." But maybe I'm just too dubious to read the whole thing...)

    • Apparently the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is about to run out of money to do its job, leading to wrangling with casino operators over getting an early dip into their tills...

    • The Philadelphia Weekly offers a lengthy look at the new anti-casino effort that is centered around a charter change measure to be added to the May ballot, which would prohibit authorization of any gaming facility within 1000 feet of residential structures or a variety of public resources. Those pushing this measure hope to get 20,000 signatures and 9 council votes to allow it to be put to the public. A fascinating, if long-shot, effort.

  • Other news

    • The Seaport Museum ex-chief being sued for defrauding the institution was shocked, just shocked to find himself the object of legal action. After reading the litany of slime in yesterday's story, I find myself without sympathy.

    • The DN's Jill Porter appears to side with Nutter in claiming that Street should be cracking down on crime-ridden neighborhoods. She admits that it's an intrusion on the personal freedom of residents there, but argues that many people are already prisoners in their own homes, afraid of being caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

    • An arbitrator upheld the School District's end of a dispute with the Teachers' Federation over how/when payroll checks get cut. (Um, this is an older story, but I can't find when it first came up...)

    • A mural on 15th St. is endangered by a permit controversy (it was a private notion of the building owner, not part of the Mural Arts program). The neighborhood loves this mural, but for some reason Pierce College takes exception. Perhaps it loved the former grafitti and prostitute combination??

    • A brave YPP poster shares what it's like to live without health coverage, when every cut or cough fills you with fear of bills you can't afford. Hardly a rare story, but one we need to hear again.

  • Visit our new location (no, not mine)

    • The House panel on legislative reform has set up a new email address for those wishing to share their ideas.

    • Marc Stier plans to stop blogging at his personal site, at least for the duration of his City Council campaign, but will be blogging at his campaign website from now on (, but I'm not sure it's been updated yet) -- and he promises shorter entries!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tuesday deluge

  • Casinos

    • The new casino at the Chester racetrack is open for business.

    • Anti-casino activists who had been arrested for trying to get better disclosure of Gaming Board documents were acquitted yesterday, with the judge issuing a rebuke to the Board for denying access to public information, as well as for locating their offices in a privately owned building. More here and here.

    • Philadelphia City Councilman DiCicco will introduce today a package of new regulations for the planned riverfront casinos, ranging from attempts to challenge the Gaming Control Board's site deicisions to alterations to relevant zoning code. (One of the latter is the restriction on casino developments to locations at least 1,000 feet from any residences, as discussed yesterday.) DiCicco's district includes both approved sites and is the site of much unrest over the decisions; he also faces a probable challenger in the Democratic primary who has made fighting casinos one of his central aims...

  • Politicians

    • Is anybody surprised by this? Brady announces for mayor, or, um, says he will on Thursday. (I guess Stu might be surprised...) John Baer bucks the conventional wisdom on how a Brady candidacy might play out, especially in an era where voters feel the need for change.

    • Gov. Rendell shuffles cabinet personnel.

    • Dwight Evans (state Rep. and mayoral candidate) plans to introduce two bills on Philadelphia-related issues: one authorizing the city to set its own campaign-finance laws, and the other allowing the Public Utility Commission to take over PGW. More on the latter notion here.

  • Guns

    • A new report announced at City Hall shows that area gun dealers sell to straw buyers and others who then pass guns along into the illegal market. Dealers protest innocence and inability to tell good buyers from bad.

    • Mayor Street joins a slew of mayors in DC today to press for gun control.

    • In related news, the Daily News opinion page calls on the city to collect more data on homicide victims and perpetrators, to help with formulation of better policy to reduce such crimes.

  • Ethical/legislative reforms

    • Republican state legislators are calling for a broader open records law as part of more transparent government. Their suggestion would open up records of legislative spending (by the body, not just its members), as well as judiciary expenses and outlays by state colleges, and would improve turnaround for information requests.

    • Apparently State House Speaker O'Brien has named the two-dozen members of his Legislative Reform Commission; Jane seems to feel that's a bit too many.

  • Other stories

    • The Independence Seaport Museum is accusing its ex-president of embezzlement to the tune of some $2 million. The FBI is investigating, and a lawsuit is attempting to freeze his assets in Massachusetts.

    • More on Philadelphia's plan to put high-tech public toilets in high-traffic pedestrian areas. They will cost the city nothing, as whoever runs them will have exclusive rights to advertising displays on the new units as well as on new bus stops, news stands, and trash cans (in places undescribed). whoop?

    • The Inquirer notes that its Great Expectations forum series continues, with some upcoming meetings to take place in the suburbs. They also have the results of participant brainstorming posted online. I went to one of these held downtown and found it both invigorating and challenging; if every group came up with the level of creative suggestions generated by my small group, there should be some great fodder here for improving the city.

    • A YPP poster suggests a book that might make good required reading for mayoral wannabees, depicting the underground economy among the urban poor. I'm gonna read it myself!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday round-up

A bit of a quiet news day, so some esoteric bits.
  • Part of Center City's recent boom is made up of young families moving here, which will keep up the pressure for the city to improve schools and services. YPP starts a discussion of how to move any success outward to the rest of the city's neighborhoods.

  • Stu Bykofsky is unimpressed by Michael Nutter's calls for a police state of emergency in crime-ridden areas, opining that a white candidate could never suggest such a dire stop-and-frisk intervention into largely black neighborhoods.

  • Local streets projects:

  • Of politicians and their proposals

  • Latest installment of casino-related troublemaking is a move to get a May charter-change measure to prohibit casinos within some distance of residential properties. Petitions are already circulating, and a heap of Councilfolk will need to be won over (the piece points out that a council no-vote would empower many primary challengers!), but it could put a halt to the recently approved riverfront developments, and at least buy time for the city to plan its own future a bit more carefully. I missed this piece last week, so thanks to YPP for putting an article to the rumors I started hearing this weekend...

  • Marc Stier has a new piece laying out his political philosophy and how we can use politics to connect us to each other and our deeper values.

  • Finally, I'll end on a goofy note: somebody sabotaged Mayor Street's Wikipedia entry, adding an apocraphyl stint as Bozo the Clown. [Space left here for a wisecrack from Albert about Street's hairstyle...]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday news roundup

  • Well, this is just heart-warming: half of the freshman class in the PA State Assembly are choosing free lease-to-own cars paid for by taxpayers. Notable from the greater Philadelphia area are Reps. Rick Taylor (yup, "we only have one car and I don't want to strand my wife") and Brian Lenz (nope, "vowed to put voter interests first"). I think this also leaves Babette Josephs as the only regional Rep. who takes public transit to and from Harrisburg...

  • The Inquirer looks at the current Philadelphia mayoral field and wonders about the health of the GOP here. Even potential party-switchers probably judge that it's the wrong year to be running on the Republican ticket...

  • Our own Sen. Arlen Specter appears to be behind the disappearing US Attorneys around the country (being replaced without Senate input), via a clause he sneaked into a bill at the last minute. Some moderate.

  • A profile of the Granny Peace Brigade and their visit to Washington, which doubles as a reflection on the changing roles of older women.

  • An opening on the School Reform Commission has been filled with a Rendell appointment of a local foundation executive.

  • DN columnist Elmer Smith looks at recent candidate proposals to combat violence with increased policing levels, and argues that increasing probation/parole officer numbers would be a more cost-effective way to reduce high rates of recidivism. Surely nobody working 175 cases is giving them all what they need to find a better way of life.

  • The DN opinion page feels cautious optimism about Gov. Rendell's ambitious health-care agenda. Some folks over at YPP seem excited too.

  • AAJane caught Rendell speaking on a local TV call-in show and offers a rough transcript of the discussion, including a smattering of detail about his health care proposals (and a diss for single-payer solutions) and other issues/programs.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday lightning round

Headlines only, loosely grouped:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Ugh, late start, so late blogging. Also, quickish.
  • Rendell re-inaugurated yesterday, lays out agenda including ambitious goals like widening health-care coverage while reducing costs, improving transit funding, and "making government more accountable." (More quirky take on the speech via John Baer here.) Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • Nutter challenges Mayor Street, calls himself "an outraged black man." More on his anti-crime proposals here.

  • Fattah talks of improved ethics in city government, but rather vaguely. Stalberg of Seventy reciprocates with lukewarm praise.

  • O'Brien pledges that his rein as Speaker of the State House will be a nonpartisan era. Part of his deal involves not raising money for candidates of either party. Also notable is the creation of a new Deputy Speaker post, to be held by Democrat Josh Shapiro (who helped find O'Brien for the post); AAJane boggles at the rapid elevation of this wunderkind.

  • Opinion pages:

    • The Inquirer grumbles about yesterday's per diem story, and hopes such excesses are covered by Rendell's reforms.

    • The Daily News wonders who's watching over the police these days, since the ousting of Office of Integrity and Accountability head Ellen Green-Ceisler.

    • A freelancer at the DN looks at the national budget as a moral document, as recent legislation looks to help out the disadvantaged after long neglect.

  • A YPP poster looks at Chester County as an example of the idiocy of gerrymandering legislative districts, and suggests that average folks have to fight for a better system.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tuesday round-up

Lots of interesting stuff, not terribly much time...
  • Why you won't get rich on slots. Insert snide remark here...

  • What people did on the Martin Luther King day of service. It boggles my mind to think he'd only have been 78 -- already he's receded into distant memory, become a modern icon, and but for a bullet he'd have been here to chastize our current leaders... YPP alerts us to some showings of Eyes on the Prize, which traces the history of the Civil Rights movement, complete with discussions with folks who were there.

  • Michael Nutter talks about his anti-crime plan, including declaring a state of emergency in some neighborhoods. More here, and probably much more tomorrow, since the press conference was late this morning. Ben Waxman worries there's too much about police here and too little about economic development.

  • Three outgoing Republican state legislators file a fortune in per diem claims for their commutes from within a 30-mile radius of Harrisburg. Lovely.

  • The Daily News looks at Councilwoman Blackwell's one-person block on a Youth Study Center that the city would like to build in her area, and explains the tradition of "councilmanic privilege." Dan UA points out that Blackwell's stubborness is also blocking the planned relocation of the Barnes Foundation to Franklin Parkway. In related news, Carol Campbell is also making her first move in Council an obstructionist one, keeping a school from getting fixed up.

    [Edited to remove my brain fart... Thanks to SS]

  • A Daily News columnist reports how Amtrak is frustrating attempts to remove graffiti from a very visible wall. Senseless.

  • John Baer reviews the mayoral contenders for the spring primary.

  • An Inquirer editorial looks at how the candidates might address gun violence in the city.

  • Three from AAJane:

    1. State House Speaker O'Brien convenes a bipartisan commission on legislative reform.
    2. Recent mentions of our Congressional Reps. in the Wall Street Journal.
    3. A brief report of Allyson Schwartz's victory party.

  • Ben Waxman thinks the Philadelphia region should look into creating more jobs through embracing the production of alternative energy and other green prospects.

  • Finally, I somehow missed this Inga Saffron piece from Friday on the latest Zoning Board mess, which overrides city law to allow a tower into the historic neighborhood around Betsy Ross House. More arbitrariness is described from there. (via )

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday news

  • I will admit that I didn't see this one coming: Bush, Sr., to head Constitution Center (see more here). Certainly good for the national profile of the Center, which is good. I guess it's less of a surprise, given this context:
    He helped organize its national honorary committee in 1996, narrated several videos on its behalf as it was getting off the ground, and made several visits here for center-sponsored events. On each occasion, his interest in the enterprise was well beyond the perfunctory.
    Bush will not be expected to fundraise for the organization as part of his duties.

  • Pennsylvania farmers to be hurt by limits on immigrant labor? Something tells me that if you paid better for pickers, you'd have a line of domestic applicants. Perhaps food prices should reflect the cost of production!!

  • The Turnpike Commission suggests making I-90 into a toll road, as an alternative to raising bucks by leasing out the current system of turnpikes to a private company.

    Update: This story may be about I-80... (sigh)

  • Why do we never hear about the state of our citywide wireless network anymore? D-Mac notes a free trial being offered by Earthlink, which implies that the extended Center City portion (their "proof of concept area"), at least, is complete. What % of the rest of the city is even underway? Wasn't this about information access for low-income folks?

  • Harrisburg lobbyist gets 18 months for embezzlement. Sounds like a great prod to better lobbying oversight, but it's really a dull story of one man's gambling addiction. Expect to hear more of those, starting next year.

  • A Gar Josephs miscellany column in the Daily News includes a humorous ratings system for mayoral candidate street cred, as well as rumors of Brady's impending announcement and other tidbits.

  • Two Inquirer opinion pieces: an editorial bewailing the cuts to the PHA, and commentary suggesting that the recent enforcement of the smoking ban should be just the start of regional efforts to discourage the habit entirely.

  • And Ray Murphy asks everybody to share their favorite thing about living in Philadelphia. Some warm fuzzies for grey days.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thursday late edition

  • People

  • I guess they meant it, at least for now: health inspectors drop in on bars, give out some tickets and citations.

  • The developers of the proposed 47-story tower that caused such a controversy in the Springarden neighborhood (see prev. here) appear to have reached some kind of compromise with the neighborhood that might allow a smaller tower complex to be built. However, Vince Fumo (currently on vacation) might still stand in its way...

  • The head of the state House GOP suggests doing away with proxy voting in that chamber. Sounds civilized, but why only now?!

  • The CityPaper provides an overview of Philadelphia's DHS and its current struggles to reform itself.

  • A Daily News opinion piece compares the budget cuts at the PHA with a Katrina-like disaster for the region.

  • A YPP poster has been to a Great Expectations discussion and found it hopeful. I look forward to taking part this weekend!

  • Supermarket chains' desire to offer beer and liquor in PA considered an uphill battle.

  • Two from Inga Saffron: one about a new piece of public art headed for the Parkway, and the other about the ins and outs of life with SEPTA.

Posting will be latish today.

Short work day. Will probably blog from home around 7-8pm.
Many, many tabs...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wednesday round-up

Shhh.... Blogger is sleeping. Don't wake it!
  • Politicians

    • Perzel not to sink into obscurity following his defeat in the State House Speaker election: Republicans create a new post, Speaker-emeritus, to keep him happy (and, I guess, close to the action in case of another power shift).

    • Two pieces on new State Speaker Dennis O'Brien: John Baer gives us a peep inside the room (at Ed Rendell's house) in which the deal was made that led to his election, and Jill Porter admonishes him to reconsider his stance on gun regulation (or at least on whether the legislation deserves a hearing).

    • Chris Carney hoped to take his opponent's Appropriations seat, but will have to make do with other committe assignments for now, namely Transportation and Homeland Security.

    • I'm sure that lots of City Council candidates are starting to have websites, but two that I've been made aware of in the last week or so are Irv Ackelsburg and Marc Stier, both of whom are candidates I'm pretty enthused about off the bat.

  • Philadelphia Housing Authority shake-up

    • PHA announces plans to lay off around 22% of its staff because of decreased funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (its own budget slashed by the Bush Administration).

    • Mayor Street is headed to D.C. to find a new source of funding, hoping that the Democratic majority will have more mercy on the plight of city functions.

  • Other news

    • A Philadelphia Weekly article notes that the recent Inquirer layoffs have decreased diversity of the paper's staff.

    • In contrast, a high % of death row inmates are still minorities, especially in Philadelphia.

    • In another PW piece, Gwen Schaffer takes a closer look at the CSX agreement to provide safe pedestrian access to the Schuylkill River Park (and to park its trash trains elsewhere).

    • An Inquirer editorial argues that a PGW rate-hike might be justified, especially by the need to pay down past debt.

    • Dan at YPP looks at the Committee of Seventy's ethics agenda, and what it does and doesn't ask of mayoral candidates.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bloggered Tuesday

It's not just been unstable, it's been GONE. Attempts to create a post have led me to Google notices my about blocked virus-like activity, etc. Anyway, "scheduled maintenance" allowing, perhaps these news bits from the day will arrive eventually...
  • Liquor Control Board recriminations
    As a reminder, in mid-December Governor Rendell undertook a bit of bipartisan patronage, finding outgoing State Senator Joe Conti a cushy landing pad as CEO of the Liquor Control Board, a newly minted post; see announcment here and outraged responses here.

    • After first complaining about the move to the Governor, LCB chief Newman resigned in protest effective Friday. [This link is to a public online Q&A, with lots of pithy discussion of what the LCB does and how politics intersects with that. Also, lots of praise for the reforms that Newman instituted at the Board.]

    • John Grogan had a column yesterday saying that he initially was suspicious of Newman's appointment, but came around to being impressed by his dedication and reforms. A review of how much can be done by one person with vision. "Senator water-heater" will have some big shoes to fill.

    • The Daily News adds its editorial disapproval to the dismay greeting this act of patronage. Cartoonist Signe adds another layer of grump.

    • AAJane just finds the whole thing fueling her frustration with Rendell. She notes that he's doing a call-in show next week; get your questions and criticisms ready for some airing!

    • In marginally related news, outgoing State House Speaker Perzel's attempt at finding another colleage a soft landing (at the Gaming Board) is now in question because he was still in office when appointed. I'm sure the extra two weeks made Conti's appointment *much* cleaner... More on the story here, including the note that this could result in the first test of new Speaker O'Brien's loyalty, with different names proffered by majority and minority leaders.

  • Reactions to Fattah's gun plan

    • The Inquirer remarks the breadth and ambition of Fattah's proposals, while noting that how he'd fund this deluge is unclear (but supposedly to be spelled out later). My favorite line noted here was a bit off the main theme: "It is not illegal guns, it is the absence of opportunity which is at the heart of" Philadelphia's crime problems. Much truth to that.

    • The DN coverage notes some holes in the proposed approaches, including improving relations between the community and police, as well as suggestions here that have had little results elsewhere.

    • From the Department of Eesh: both Fattah and Evans claim first-hand experience with shootings from their youths.

  • In other news...

    • Philadelphia's smoking ban goes into effect for real starting today. Some 20 health inspectors are set to make the rounds, with $300 fines threatened to violators, and instructions on compliance have now been mailed to thousands of bars et al. (More here.) I expect the papers will be doing some re-sampling of places where they found prior disregard of the new rules.

    • Police Chief Johnson wants additional cops to oversee the Delaware Ave. "entertainment districts" that currently include many nightclubs and will eventually encompass the two new casinos.

    • Former US Sen. Rick Santorum has found a new home at a DC think tank with religious roots, where he will play out his alarmist fantasies through a project with the poetic name of "America's Enemies."

    • Dan U-A at YPP frets about Lynn Abraham's plans and what they might mean for the city.

    • Finally, Inga Saffron rounds up some city planning developments and meetings on the horizon or just past, from official Riverfront Planning to the South Street bridge and other projects.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Monday highlights

Just the top gleanings of the day:
  • Chaka Fattah announces a plan to reduce illegal guns today, including components ranging from more dedicated police to use of surveillance cameras.

  • An Inquirer story profiles the head of the city Planning Commission, gearing up to overhaul Philadelphia's creaky zoning code.

  • The Daily News reprints the Committee of Seventy reform proposals that are being presented to all mayoral candidates and endorsed by some. Included are provisions to increase fairness in city hiring and contracting, as well as transparency of government activities.

  • If you followed the discussion this past fall, you might be interested to hear that FEMA has yeilded to the more scientific flood maps drawn up by Temple, rather than worrying that they were (ahem) too accurate. Expect much hysteria as neighborhoods find themselves in flood plains for the first time...

  • Daily News opinion page tired of childishness between mayor and district attorney, calls for them to get serious about serious problems.

  • Ray Murphy challenges local thinkers to come up with alternative uses for the old Budd plant property in East Falls, the location of the Trump casino proposal. He also offers his own modest entry to help benefit the neighborhood and the region.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Burst of new-year news (Friday round-up in disguise)

A little round-up of today's news, with some context of stuff that went on during the last week when I was elsewhere (experiencing winter)...
  • Abraham-Street clash

    • Philadelphia's District Attorney Lynne (Death Penalty) Abraham decided to close out the year by trashing Mayor Street for the surge in homicides, saying that he should have reached out to her to help find a solution. Apparently her anger was sparked by planned cuts in her budget for next year.

    • Street fought back in the publicity war, calling her statement a "temper tantrum."

    • Meanwhile, over at YPP, there's speculation that Abraham might be positioning herself for a mayoral run, as well as some simple enjoyment of the spectacle that Tough Cookie serves up.

  • Mayoral horserace

    • Party boss Bob Brady continues undeclared, but makes more moves that suggest the intent to join in: he signs onto a plan for cleaner government written by the Committee of Seventy. Is the consummate insider really the most credible source for reform? Or is he the one who knows best what can be achieved?

    • A DN story expands on this, noting that two candidates have endorsed the reform package in its entirety -- Brady and Dwight Evans -- although all of them (that is, also Fattah, Nutter, Knox, and Doc) say that they are committed to ethics more generally. Some of these folks plan to put together their own lists of reform goals.

    • A new poll looks at some combination of name recognition and political preference, finding Fattah on top by a dozen points or more, although a few others make it onto the map, and also noting that response patterns crossed racial boundaries. Anything could happen to those numbers once the campaigns (and intense coverage) get underway starting next week. [Also note, far down in this story, the line "Brady's supporters said the congressman would officially enter the race in three weeks." So much for undeclared...]

    • Also, via Above Average Jane, a substantial Philadelphia Magazine profile of Michael Nutter, seemingly focused on how his reformer orientation dovetails with his mayoral aspirations, but also giving lots of great background on his interests and political career. I hope this one stays available online.

  • Newspapers

    • The Inquirer lays off 68 newsroom staffers. Blinq paints the grim scene of desks being packed up, while PhillyFuture rounds up the coverage, including the statistic that this is some 16% of news staff.

    • The Philadelphia Weekly discusses Tierney's reign at the Philly papers, including a crack-down on criticism of management in the wake of challenging contract negotiations. Also described are the changes that resulted in those contracts and their likely repurcussions.

    • Dan at YPP notes the departure of some key regional columnists and reporters, not least Tom Fitzgerald, who receives much deserved praise in the comments as well.

  • New legislatures/legislators

    • A Daily News opinion piece looks at the new state legislature/leadership and wonders whether recent changes are likely to lead to meaningful reform, and anticipates that handling of three proposed constitutional amendments may reveal the answer. Can anybody tell me why these aren't regular laws, instead of amendments?

    • AAJane went to DC for the Congressional swearing-in (I barely missed joining in, sigh) and offers a report from the halls and party rooms.

    • Daddy Democrat offers a similar report from Harrisburg festivities (held a couple of days earlier), including a sense of how bizarre the real-time wrangling was leading up to the Speaker vote.

    • AAJane catches a news conference with Rendell, DeWeese, and O'Brien, and gives us the gist of a seeming love fest for "bipartisanship"...

  • Other news

    • America's Hometown summarizes the stats on gambling problems among those who try their hand. Get braced...

    • A lengthy post from Marc Stier on regionalism and tax issues is worth a read, suggesting a novel idea for how Philadelphia could work better with its suburban neighbors to address regional needs while reducing tensions between them.

    • Inga Saffron offers an architectural top 10 developments for 2006, encompassing planning changes and other trends as well as specific buildings and proposals. These aren't her favorite ten things, but those with the greatest significance for the city as a living, changing organism.

    • And, speaking of architecture, PhillySkyline has a contractor's-eye view of the Comcast Center in progress, from scaffolding to the overlooks from some scary heights. spiff!
      (via Albert)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Holy crap!! (Speaker circus edition)

For those of you who, like me, might have been away from local news over the last week, here's what I've been able to put together about one of the biggest surprises to come out of the state legislature in some time:

1) Perzel, as expected, was working the back room deals, and managed to find a Democrat in his last term (Caltagirone) willing to vote for Perzel for Speaker. That guy was also willing to advertise his intentions, giving the Democrats a heads-up that their takeover might be about to hit a brick wall.

2) In fact, two other Dems (Philadelphia locals Cruz and Youngblood, about whom you can expect to hear me say more in days ahead) planned to join the turncoat action, because of grudges that they had against Dem. leader DeWeese.

3) Democratic leaders approached Philadelphia-area Republican Dennis O'Brien, whom they considered a relatively fair and moderate member of the minority party, and made an agreement to back him as an alternative to either Perzel or DeWeese.

4) Somehow a number of "reform-minded Republicans" (presumably ready to see Perzel out aftr his bungling of the pay hike mess, among other things) were brought aboard, six in total, thus outnumbering the Dem turncoats and making the Dem-backed O'Brien the winner.

5) Details of the full deal are not clear, but O'Brien (a) doesn't intend to change parties and (b) intends to let the Democratic leadership handle the majority logistics, such as committee appointments, legislative agenda, and most other critical functions.

Obviously, only time will tell how this all plays out, but it's certainly an interesting twist. Given a staunchly Republican Senate, the House is probably well served by a cooperative bipartisan approach to the next few years, but I presume that the Democrats will have some new initiatives and/or partnerships with the Governor along the way... My favorite quote from coverage of this story was clearly this one:
Perzel, who had said that he would rather resign than serve in the minority, deftly deflected questions about his future soon after yesterday's vote.
Anyway, for more serious info, here's a profile of O'Brien, who is known as a champion of kids and a friend of unions as well as a law-and-order guy, and an Inky editorial applauding this choice as representing a bipartisan commitment to change in Harrisburg.