Sunday, July 10, 2005

Young Philly Politics Has Moved!

Young Philly Politics has moved off of blogger. Please update your site, and check us out at www.youngphillypolitics.com.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Site Maintenance

We are undergoing some site maintenance for the next day or so, in case things looks weird.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Turning PA Blue: Volunteer Opportunity Tomorrow

One of the longer-term projects that all Dems in PA have to focus on is getting the Stae back to where it should be: in the hand of Democrats. In a State where we have way more registered Democrats than Republicans, it makes no sense that we have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Majority of Republican Congressman. Turning the PA House blue will help us immeasurably with much of this, because redistricting is just 4.5 years away.

As Anne Dicker said in an email:
With the Republicans in control of the state senate and house, Democratic Philadelphians are restricted in what they can do for the city: from preventing gun crime to regulating a fairer tax structure. Winning back our state legislature is the key to helping our city (not to mention the rest of the state)! And the deficit is only 11 members in the house.

To that end, I want to let everyone know about a really great volunteer opportunity for tomorrow: Linda Minger, candidate in a special election in the PA House, needs help with phone banking. Can you spare some time?

The details:
Junco & Grouse Bookstore
Sunday July 10th
6pm to 8 pm
716 S 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

It is sponsored by the Young Democrats of PA. Check out more details here.

It will surely be a small turnout race, in a really small district. A few volunteers can make a really big difference.

Rep. Bob Brady and Seth Williams

There were two interesting items in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. Both are part of the weekly political roundup done by the staff reporters. The first is a rumor that US Rep. Bob Brady is considering a run for Mayor of Philadelphia. Brady is the chair of the Democratic City Committee and widely thought to be one of the most powerful politicians in Philadelphia.

Interestingly enough, he also the only white congressman in the entire country who represents a district that is mostly people of color. While this might seem like a meaningless statistic, I think it is actually pretty significant. A hallmark of Brady's style has been building diverse political coalitions and working with lot's of different people. If he did decide to run for mayor, it would be an earthquake on the already crowded landscape.

The second blurb is about Seth Williams and his upcoming fundraiser.
Seth Williams defied the Democratic establishment when he challenged District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham in the May primary, but there are no hard feelings.

The host committee for a fund-raiser aimed at retiring Williams' $35,000 campaign debt includes Mayor Street, party chairman and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah, five members of City Council, and the leaders of 17 wards.

Most of those on the bill publicly supported Abraham, the primary winner. "It's a testament to the campaign we ran: a clean campaign, based on the issues, with no race baiting," Williams said. "We're looking good for four years from now."

The event, with tickets at $100, $250 and $1,000, is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 28 at Finnigan's Wake, the political watering hole in Northern Liberties
What exactly does this mean? I actually think the article lays it out quite well. Williams ran a good campaign and is being rewarded for it. He is a legitimate guy who has a bright political future.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Johnny Doc Doesn't Get It

Last week, Dave Davies wrote a column in the Daily News, talking about an odd conversation that he had with John Dougherty, the head of the electrician's union, the treasurer of the Philly Democratic Party, and general Philly mover and shaker. In the column, Davies said that Dougherty both threatened him, and said that Dougherty said that he had Councilman Jim Kenney's phone records. (He likely does not really have the phone records.)

The main point of the Davies column was that Dougherty, a likely candidate for mayor, was acting like a bully. Who says they have a rival politician's phone records, and use it to threaten one of the most respected local journalists we have?

In today's DN, Dougherty responds. And, fundamentally, it is a good example of why Dougherty is going to have a lot of trouble running for mayor.

He starts the letter by saying:
IN LAST week's column, Dave Davies got one thing right. Buried deep in his attack, he acknowledged my exemplary work ethic, passion for worthy causes, and the charity and community work conducted by IBEW Local 98. Let me first address the worthy causes:
Dougherty then goes on listing his causes, and discussing his work ethic. And, hey, Dougherty does have his union do some very worthwhile things. They donated labor to Live 8, they were almost solely responsible for boathouse row being re-lit when it was. And, given how he has turned the local IBEW into a political force, I have no doubt he has a strong work ethic. But, and this is a big but, that was not that point.

Notice what Dougherty does not say in the letter? He does not say, for example, the conversation did not happen that way. He does not say, "I lost my temper, and I apologize." No, he just lists his accomplishments, and leaves it at that. But, that kind of attitude, where because you have used some of your considerable power for good, you can act like a bully, will not get you elected mayor. People are not going to vote for you because you demand they do, they are going to do it because they want to see you every day for four years, because they like you.

The considerable power of John Dougherty will undoubtedly make him a player in the mayoral race, and will get him the support of a lot of local politicians. But, unless he understands that people want to like their leader of their City, not fear him, he will not win in 2007.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Conservative Christians take on the Statehouse

Evangelical and conservative Christian organizing in Pennsylvania is nothing new. However, the Christian right has apparently formed a new Pastor's network to target our beloved General Assembly in earnest. According to a tucked-away piece in Saturday’s Inquirer (which you can read in its entirety here):

The new Pennsylvania Pastors' Network already has signed up about 100 ministers, most from the Philadelphia area. It was created by Let Freedom Ring, a West Chester nonprofit, with assistance from the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Urban Family Council.

Former Chester County Commissioner Colin Hanna founded Let Freedom Ring last year to promote conservative causes.

The pastors' network furthers Let Freedom Ring's work during the 2004 presidential campaign to equip pastors to speak out on social issues while abiding by tax rules that require churches to be nonpartisan.

Pastors in the new network will get alerts and material so they and their congregants can press legislators toward conservative stances on abortion, same-sex marriage, gambling, and other issues, said Deborah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Let Freedom Ring.
Luckily, the left has great people like Rabbi Carl Choper of Temple Beth Shalom in Mechanicsburg on our side who has been working to reinvigorate the statewide Interfaith Alliance. This national group has chapters in many states and Rabbi Carl is trying to get Pennsylvania’s progressive faith community organized. So far this year they have worked to influence Senator Specter on the filibuster issue and will hopefully delve into state level politics soon.

Progressive faith-based organizing is sometimes a low priority of the PA and Philadelphia Left, but when Focus on the Family is funding the other side to influence our state’s policies and laws it should be a wakeup call for all of us to get in touch with Rabbi Carl at the Interfaith Alliance and figure out how we can help.

More on Michael Nutter and Trolleys

I received an email from Jim Foster, author of the previously discussed op-ed on Michael Nutter and trolleys.
As the author of the opinion piece regarding the Route 15 trolley, Michael Nutter and SEPTA, let me clarify a couple of points that may be missed in reading the abbreviated version of my commentary. (For those interested google Chestnut Hill Local and read the two separate opinions on this issue in my columns “Off Center” by Jim Foster. They were printed June 2, and June 29.)

The larger issue here is that $84 million was spent on a transportation system that was well researched, planned, and completed with testing and operation already de-bugged. It was also one whose operational start date was advertised well in advance to the neighborhood. SEPTA knew full well that the street in question (two blocks of 59th Street) had been illegally converted to both side parking by the neighbors and Nutter admits it has been used illegally that way. SEPTA, not without a history of poor community relations, did try and get Nutter to have the street made one way in essence to help legalize an existent non-conforming use, a typical process in Philadelphia usually accompanied with political influence. Campbell saw this as an opportunity to blackmail SEPTA by waiting until a day or two before the publicized start date and went on record that the neighbors would not move the illegally parked cars and they would not accept a one-way street. This was all carefully choreographed with Nutter part of the plan. He denied being a part of that process in a recent phone call, but a reading of his quote in the City Paper last October 6, tells a much different story.

The point is not that ward leaders or councilmen should not deal with local issues, they should. But here they had years to work out their differences with SEPTA regarding the depot at 59th and Callowhill, and no less than a year advance notice that trolley service was to resume. The trackwork had been long completed and the announcement that the newly rebuilt cars were being supplied to SEPTA began in 2003. The Inquirer published photos of the cars, the station at the Zoo and related data and now those involved say they were caught off guard - - - not a chance. This was a political power play pure and simple, crafted to have maximum impact. Councilman Nutter had a larger responsibility to take the bull by the horns, get the system operational, and then preside over resolution of other local issues. That is called leadership and prioritizing. It could have been a win-win if he had the guts; but he does not. Campbell runs the show out there, and he does what he is told.

As I stated in my piece, politics in Philadelphia is hardball without gloves. Councilman Nutter is proving he is not ready for that game.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Kudos to John Street

I am not one to pull punches when I disagree with someone, as should be pretty self-evident for most of our readers. That said, when a politican does something that deserves credit, I try and note that too.

In that vein, I just want to say congratulations to Mayor Street for the 4th of July weekend. First, Live 8 went off without a hitch. (Unless, you, like me, think Rob Thomas, Josh Groban and Keith Urban are big hitches. But that ain't Mayor Street's fault.) The City, and all City workers, did one hell of a job getting the Parkway ready, keeping the peace, and cleaning up when it was done.

And, while I doubt that the City truly broke even on the event, I think it was certainly worth it. First of all, it was simply a big showcase for a City that can use a little publicity to our friends around the Country and around the world. But, more fundamentally, it was worth it because Philly played host to an event, that trying or not, probabaly did more to raise awareness about Africa than anything else this side of Blackhawk Down. Having Will Smith, with an audience of millions, snapping his fingers every three seconds to symbolize a child dying from poverty, is an unmeasurable good, and I am proud that Philly hosted it. Could it have done better? Yeah. Hyde Park, all singing along to U2, and Paul McCartney seemed to "get it" more. But, strictly in terms of the city itself, I am happy with our contribution.

Secondly, a few lines from this article, which was pretty useless, caught my eye:

The gala and concert's goal was $2 million - $1 million guaranteed to John's AIDS foundation, and $1 million to stay locally for AIDS education.

Tickets for the ball cost from $500 to $2,500.

About 600 guests ate pasta, poached salmon, turkey breast and grilled vegetables, and drank from an open bar. Singer Rufus Wainwright warmed up for John, who stood with tennis great Billie Jean King and acknowledged Mayor Street, Segal and Fumo. "This is an incredible step for a city to go through," John said. The city in effect turned over its annual July Fourth Parkway festivities to an AIDS benefit.
So, again, forgetting the party, the parade and fireworks, etc, Mayor Street turned July 4th into one huge benefit for AIDS charities.

Cheers, Mr. Mayor.

PA Budget Deal Reached: Some Medicaid Cuts Reversed

In their annual, "oops!, we forgot we have to pass a budget" session, the PA legislature and the Governor agreed to a budget deal late last night. And, the deal looks to reverse at least some of the draconian cuts that were being made to Medicaid:
Rendell said the deal would restore close to $200 million of the $383 million he proposed eliminating from the Medicaid budget in February. House Republicans, however, said last night that the number was closer to $150 million.

With federal funding drying up, higher health care costs and increased enrollment, Rendell said he had no choice but to impose limits on services this year.

The agreement would lift all caps on prescription drugs and hospital access for women and children, and mean no increase in co-payments.

"This is a tremendous victory for the people who are most medically challenged," Rendell said.

Health care advocates were concerned that the cap on doctors' offices would remain at 18 visits per year, which could be devastating for the disabled or chronically ill.

"If you keep the limits, they will end up in the hospital," said Jonathan Stein, chief counsel for Community Legal Services. "You only hurt the sickest people."

Rendell said he would meet with health care providers and advocates throughout the summer to identify ways to save money.
On the face of it, this looks like a clear victory. But, I guess I am curious as to what the full agreement spells out. Eliminating the caps on how many times really sick people can go to the doctor is such a basic thing.

My question, where is the other 180 million dollars coming from? Is Rendell going to find another source of revenue for the program, or are there still cuts that we are not seeing?

The problem with late night budget agreements is that no one knows any of the details, including most of our glorious State Reps.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Politics and trolleys: the rest of the story

Ben pointed me to a great Op-Ed in the Chestnutt Hill Local about Michael Nutter’s role in the 15 Trolley debacle.


My commentary in the June 2 edition of the Local focused on a bizarre political situation that has been festering for over a year, the outgrowth of a most unusual conflict between a West Philadelphia neighborhood, SEPTA, an $84 million taxpayer investment and a high-profile councilman who walked away from an important decision.
Michael Nutter, self-appointed dragon-slayer of all social ills, could not seem to bring himself to override the wishes of a ward leader in his district, even though those wishes include an illegal conversion and use of a street, and a costly reversal of progress for a surface transportation project fully funded, paid for and potentially operational. That project is the Route 15 Girard Avenue streetcar system that was to initiate similar upgrades and restoration for two other routes, one of them being our own Route 23 on Germantown Avenue. The start date for Route 15 was June 2004.

--snip—

The real story is that Carol Campbell, ward leader and secretary of the Democratic City Committee, sitting at the right hand of U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, is so powerful that she is seen as the kingmaker or career breaker in the next mayoral election. She is reputed to control so many inner city wards that a few phone calls could end or start careers. Nutter is genuinely afraid to cross her, and Brady will hide in the corner if told to do so — and he did so.

--snip—

The current SEPTA management seems to want to do all it can to remove itself from any obligation to run trolleys again, and for that reason has not taken a very aggressive position in trying to remedy the stalemate on Route 15. No wonder a full year has passed since the announced start date. Some feel that by keeping the spotlight off that trolley line, it precludes SEPTA from having to explain not only why the two other routes have languished, but why the agency has begun selectively dismantling the infrastructure it was supposed to maintain. Most of this “unofficial sabotage” began the month after the Route 15 startup was put off.


I think that we all know that Michael Nutter is eyeing the Mayoral seat in 2007, and one does not get there by pissing off party bosses. But I don’t think that it is necessarily that simple. First of all, Nutter, if he is as independent minded as people make him out to be, will never get the support from the party in the primary over Chakah Fattah and John Saidel, although I don’t think that Campbell is in the Chakah Fattah cheering section. But more importantly, believe it or not, this is how the Ward structure is supposed to work. Nutter has been known as one of the only District Councilmen to defer to their Ward Leaders about issues of the sort. In most districts, the old system where Ward Leaders actually controlled the destiny of their Wards is virtually non-existent.

I think that we also must note that this is not just about parking spaces. SEPTA has made it clear that they do not want to maintain Trolley lines. If you were living in West Philly, would you want to park somewhere else only to have that street have abandoned Trolley tracks that turn into blithe?

Nutter does not just have to worry about the Mayor’s race here. If he decides to back out then he will have to defend his Council seat. You don’t stay in office by pissing off your constituents, no matter how wrong you think that they are.

Race and Education in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is an excellent source of information on the School District. Their summer report (found here) on racial inequities in the District is very interesting.

It is an analysis of new demographic data released by the District. The Notebook article finds that there are still “persistent inequities in resources and achievement” based on race in the Philadelphia's schools.

Among other important facts mentioned in the article is this:
A 2003 study conducted by Research for Action found that over a three-year period, gaps in the percentage of uncertified teachers between the District’s predominantly nonwhite schools and schools with more White students had actually widened. A recent analysis updating these trends found that gaps in certification, turnover rates, and teacher experience persist.

School CEO Paul Vallas is implementing an array of new programs, which he argues will “lift all boats,” but take a look at this article and see how much more slowly progress has been achieved for students of color.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

It is confirmed

I walked up and down the Parkway, there really are not enough Johns.

But, in reality, I was just at the Art Museum, because I was watching the relighting of Boathouse Row (which was really cool). The preperations for the concert are going on everywhere. With all the trucks going everywhere, I thought, we are either preparing for a huge concert, or we are getting ready to invade New Jersey.

I am excited. I know most people are turning out for the concert itself. But the fact is that hundreds of thousands of people are turning out as a way to raise consciousness about debt relief in Africa, not the sexiest topic in the world. I am happy to be in the city that it is hosting it.

Live 8 Philly.

The Price is Right

Yesterday, I expressed some concern in this post about the cost of Live 8 to the city. Today however, it was reported that Mayor Street and his team came through for Philadelphia and negotiated a $350,00 payment to the city for the concert. The Mayor was quoted as saying that this dollar amount will easily allow the city to break even. You can read the article from today's Inquirer here.

Seems like a good deal to me. The most interesting part of the article on a somewhat tangential note was this:

In addition, cellular telephone companies were taking steps to make sure they would be able to handle the expected volume of calls on Saturday.

Verizon Wireless reported that it had upgraded its permanent cell sites around the Parkway and added a COLT, an acronym for "cell on light truck." The COLT, which increases the capacity of the Verizon network by 40 percent, weighs 25,000 pounds and has two 50-foot antennas.
Who knew?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Need a Reason to Oppose PGW Privatization? Here's One.

Ben earlier told us that John Perzel, et. al. are eyeing PGW, with the intent to take Philly’s troubled utility, and privatize it. In a way, given how mismanaged and corrupt much of PGW is, this sounds reasonably appealing to many in Philadelphia, such as Michael Nutter. And, considering that PGW is in debt to the tune of 500 million dollars, it is easy to understand why. But, if we needed a reason NOT to privatize PGW, we got it today.

In the energy bill passed today by both the House and Senate, there was a quiet repeal of PUHCA, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935. What is PUHCA? Why should you care? And why must we keep PGW from being privatized? Read on....

First, what is PUHCA? Via Kos diarist Tocqueville, we turn to PUHCA for Dummies:

Q. What exactly does PUHCA do?

A. PUHCA: (1) limits the geographic spread (therefore, size) of utility holding companies, the kinds of business they may enter, the number of holding companies over a utility in a corporate hierarchy, and their capital structure; (2) controls the amount of debt (thus, cost of capital), dividends, loans and guarantees based on utility subsidiaries (so the parents can't loot or bankrupt the utility subsidiary), and the securities that parent companies may issue; (3) regulates self-dealing among affiliate companies and cross-subsidies of unregulated businesses by regulated businesses; (4) controls acquisitions of other utilities and other businesses; and, (5) limits common ownership of both electric and natural gas utilities.

Q. (Sarcastically) Is that all?

A. Actually, no. PUHCA also limits the activities (and campaign contributions) of officers and directors of holding companies, has control over their accounts, books and records, and regulates them in a number of other ways.

Should Billionaires and Huge Oil Companies Own Our Public Utilities?

Q. Why do Warren Buffet and ChevronTexaco want to get rid of PUHCA?

A. PUHCA does not allow them to own and control utilities unless they give up their other businesses. (They can passively invest in them now.)

Q. Are you kidding? ChevronTexaco would have to give up its oil business? Buffet would have to give up Berkshire/Hathaway?

A. Correct. PUHCA was enacted because huge holding companies were using secure utility revenues to finance and guarantee other, riskier business ventures around the world, and 53 utility holding companies went bankrupt from 1929 to 1936 after the banks called in their loans.

Q. So PUHCA protects the financial health of public utilities that supply our electricity and retail natural gas?

A. Yes, by controlling their parent companies. Of course, PUHCA was also designed to reduce over-concentration of economic power in just a few companies. The top five oil companies now control 50 percent of oil production in the U.S. If they also controlled public utilities, they would be too powerful for any government to regulate.

Hmmmmmm. And, if you need some proof as to the power of this law, consider that a small 1992 repeal of one part of PUHCA “created power marketers, and ultimately the electricity deregulation debacle in California, the Enron bankruptcy, and the bankruptcies and huge debt of numerous utilities all over the United States.”

Well, that does not sound too good. Many people forget that we lucked out, when Enron tried, but failed to takeover PECO. Would you like another Enron controlling your energy? Or, as the same Daily Kos authors points out, would you be comfortable with say, China, controlling the energy of Philadelphians? Or, what about Haliburton or Texaco?

And get ready to start paying your power bill to Halliburton because some of the companies best positioned to take advantage of this deregulation are oil companies: "The top five oil companies now control 50 percent of US oil production. If they also controlled public utilities, they would be too powerful for any government to regulate," said Hargis.

We must figure out how to reform PGW, how to get it out of the patronage mill, how to get people to pay their bills. We must not, however, turn our biggest public utility over to private companies, just as it becomes exponentially more dangerous to do so.

Keep Haliburton, China, Chevron or a new Enron from controlling heat in Philadelphia. Say no to PGW privatization.

Live 8: Where is the Stinkmeister when we need him?

OK, some quick math...

Let's just start with the assumption that a million people are coming to Live 8. That is a lot of people standing around on a hot day, drinking lots of water... Yeah, you know where I am going with this. The city has ordered 440 port-a-johns for the occasion.

1 million people/440 johns

That is roughly one toilet for every 2,273 people.

Ewwwww.

Is Live 8 worth it?

I haven't come to a conslusion of my own yet, but is the expenditure on the part of the City to host Live 8 worth it? Elmer Smith of the DN says yes in this piece and here's why:

What are we supposed to get out of this other than an additional burden on a strained city budget to defray the millions of dollars in police and Streets Department overtime and related costs?

"You can't buy this kind of publicity," the mayor said last month, when he announced the "good" news that the city had been selected as one of the sites for the multi-venued international aid for Africa concert.

You can't. In fact, contrary to local lore, this town comes up big when we gussy up for the public. We do big stuff as well as any major city.
I guess I agree in general, but how do you quantify the benefits of the concert in terms of additional tax revenue, wages for workers and long-term growth?

There is also the argument that the city does little to address income inequality for African-Americans who live here, so why spend so much additional city $ on a free concert for Africa when so many people would have paid a nominal fee to attend?

What do you think?

Slouching towards 20,000

Quick! What is the significance of the number 20,000?

A) Average season attendance for Phillies games if the losing streak continues.

B) Number of small puppies Philadelphia Forward has threatened to drown in Love Park if City Council doesn't repeal the Business Privilege Tax.

C) About half the votes needed to win an at-large City Council seat or double the amount needed to district seat.

D) The number of unique readers Young Philly Politics will have by the end of the week!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

MoveOn Shows Its Hand: Casey Endorsed

One of longshot Senate candidate Chuck Pennacchio's best bets was to get a group like MoveOn to jump on board with his candidacy. In 2003, MoveOn held an online primary, that while not garnering any candidates an official endorsement, helped continue the momentum Howard Dean was riding.

MoveOn held another online primary this week, and basically, it was rigged for Bob Casey. They sent out an email to their members, giving a description of the Senate candidates. However, when they made no issue of choice in their description, they made clear that what they were after was a quick endorsement of Casey. And, according to an email I received yesterday, they got their endorsement.

First candidate is Bob Casey, Jr., Pennsylvania's state treasurer who is currently leading Rick Santorum in polls of the race for the Senate. Casey has fought for improved long-term health care, made child care more affordable, and supported women- and minority-owned businesses. Howard Dean calls Casey "a tremendous friend of working people," 2 and Pennsylvania MoveOn members overwhelmingly supported Casey in our online primary. With President Bush's help, Santorum has raised millions of dollars so far. But even so, this race is our best chance to replace a key player in the far-right Republican leadership with a strong Democrat. Early support from MoveOn members will be a big boost to Casey's campaign.
Chuck may be known among bloggers, but I would guess that amongst MoveOn members that his name recognition is very, very low. Couple that with Casey's name recognition, and this was a done deal.

I feel for Pennacchio, but I don't see where he goes from here. I know he has caught the fancy of many in the Philly blog community, but, I have not been particularly impressed. With this move, his odds just got a little longer.

When MoveOn held that early primary, Dean came out swinging, getting something like 50 percent of the vote out of a ton of candidates. When Paul Wellstone started his longshot campaign, he immediately had the support of party activists, labor unions, etc, that helped him pull off a win at the Minnesota DFL party convention. I guess I am wondering where the same reaction is for Chuck? I guess we will never know whether Chuck could have done better if this were simply held later, because MoveOn quickly moved to cut him off at the knees.

I am all for longshot candidates. But, I just have not been impressed by Chuck. He seems like a great guy, but, I am not feeling it. I remember when I first saw Wellstone speak, and I was blown away. I have not felt the same way after seeing Chuck. (Maybe it is unfavorable to compare Chuck to Wellstone, but, it is a comparison his supporters keep bringing up.) Either way, this is a clear sign that Chuck will be fighting on without the support of any of the big liberal groups such as MoveOn.

See Chris' take on the endorsement here.

Philadelphia’s Economic Future: Part 1

Young Philly Politics is a space for young, active Philadelphians to write about the issues that matter most to them and the future of our city. Most of the contributors to YPP, including myself, are life-long Philadelphians and our passion comes from a generations long attachment to Philadelphia and the region.

Because we are not members of the mainstream media, we are able to spend more time writing in depth about ideas of importance to the city and exploring not just the who, what, when and where that the papers and TV do so well, but also the WHY that is often left out.

To that end, I would like to start a series of posts on Philadelphia’s economic health now and into the future. I think most Philadelphians want to believe in a future that preserves the character and style of our city and is full of opportunities for all. Yet, for those of us who live outside of Center City and a few other neighborhoods, we wake up every morning, look around and see signs of decay. Even for those of who in live in neighborhoods that have already “made it,” we worry that the comfort and security that has been achieved in our communities won’t last.

Philadelphia’s job market, like the nation’s, has become more and more stratified with higher wage earners earning more and lower wage earners earning less. It used to be you could graduate high school or college and be able to pick a career and maybe even a company that would last your entire career. Of course, for people my age this idea is a fairy tale. I am 26 and after graduating from college, I have already had 4 different jobs. Ask anyone under 30 who is not a doctor or lawyer and they will tell you something similar.

Our political leaders have no long-term vision for the city. Even beloved former Mayor Rendell, who some credit with the revitalization of Center City and the self-esteem of the city as a whole, did not have a comprehensive economic development plan that addressed income divisions and job market gaps. These leaders don’t lack vision because of corruption or similarly mundane reasons, they lack vision because it is pretty hard to see that far into the future. Our local and national economies are at a really pivotal moment in time as the last vestiges of the 19th and 20th century US industrial economy are quickly slipping away and no one really knows what's next.

So, with income inequalities, limited quality-job options and an absence of political leadership, what substanative steps can we as a city and as a region take to solve our structural economic problems to solidify our tax base and provide opportunities for all?

That is the question I plan to address over the next few weeks and I guess it is worth saying at the outset that my answer will never be to cut taxes alone. I can already hear it coming and I don’t want to waste a lot of time rehashing the same old debate.

The purpose of my posts will be to look at alternatives to tax-cutting as a solution to structural economic problems. I am taking on this role largely because I think that the role of reduced taxes in spurring economic growth has already become obsolete. Tax reduction alone can not create the number of jobs, encourage the number of industries or create enough of the polices needed to create a high-road economy in Philadelphia that has a tax-base sufficient enough to support citizens and businesses well into the future. There is a role for discussing tax fairness and making sure that city tax policy doesn't worsen income inequality by imposing flat or regressive taxes.

Today’s installment is intended to serve as a brief introduction to the ideas I would like to explore in the coming weeks. I plan to write in more depth about high-road economic development ideas, race and class in Philadelphia, the role of government in spurring economic development, the impact of education on the city’s economy, the role (if any) of tax policy on the city’s economy and practical, progressive solutions that will produce a Philadelphia economy that works for all.

I would also like to invite all readers to use the comment section below to tell me what you would like me to cover in terms of the viability of Philadelphia’s economic infrastructure.

The Awful Daily News Homeless Article/Pictures

My computer has been on the fritz, which has kept me from writing in a timely manner. But, even though it is now a day old, I need to say something about the awful DN article on the homeless. Or, really, an article about why homeless people smell.

First of all, generally the DN treats a really serious problem like a stupid joke, as Ben and Ray pointed out. And, while I am not as inclined to believe this was part of a grand scheme, I think this was brutish, stupid, cruel and insensitive from the paper that bills itself as from the people.

Basically, what I want to talk about are those stupid goddamned pictures.

For those who didn't see them, in the "Stinkmeister Column," Dan Geringer, dressed in a full scale gas mask, goes looking for really smelly things. Yeah, it seems childish and silly, but this is the DN.

So, what does he find to pose for a picture with? A homeless man. So, basically, Geringer snuck up behind a sleeping homeless man, put on his gas mask, and snapped a picture of himself behind the sleeping homeless man. And, to be very honest, although I know it is nothing similar, the image the picture quickly evoked in my head? Private Lyndie England, posing in front of her "friends" at Abu Gharaib.

Basically, what you have is a paper and a reporter, each of whom has done a lot of good work in the past, thinking it is great news to use a homeless man, someone who is at best in very dire straits, and at worst, severely mentally ill, as a goddamn prop for his gotcha picture.

I guess what really, really gets to me is that it is the sense that this homeless man is pretty much subhuman. The picture that is right next to it, has Geringer with his next "find," a steaming pile of trash. So, the symbolism of these two 'awful' things, a pile of trash, and a homeless man, really infuriates the living hell out of me.

Put it like this, what if Geringer took off the gas mask, and instead posed as he snuck up behind the homeless guy and took a big whiff. What about a picture of Geringer standing behind the sleeping man, with his nose pinched?

Some days, I don't feel particularly articulate, and this is one of them, so I am not really explaining my anger well. But Christ, what the hell was the process like for taking the picture? Did they drive around and say, "Oooooh, there is a smellly one! And he is sleeping! Perfect! He will never know!"

Put it like this: What if instead, we had a columnist who was doing a story about kids failing standardized tests. Would it be cool to sneak up behind a few children, grab of a couple of text books, and pose with a big smirk, and unwittingly take and publish their picture as a symbol of failure. Sorry, kids, you suck!!! How about doing a column about foreclosures, and sneaking up behind a family who just lost their home, and posing behind them with the deed to their home? Nice pic!

The problem is that when journalists try and insert themselves into the news, and try and make news, you get cruel shit like this. And, although I am not voicing it well, the pictures make me incredibly angry at what the DN did, and incredibly sad that this is the path it may be going down.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Geringer’s Folly: What is the Daily News’ Real Agenda?

Dan Geringer is a veteran Daily News writer who used to cover education and schools for the paper (very well I might add) prior to the Vallas regime. Since then, he has become the DN’s Stinkmesiter and Joltmeister monitoring the city’s potholes and smelly places. Today, Geringer brought the stink onto himself.

Read my fellow contributor Ben Waxman’s summary of Geringer’s sensational pg. 5 article on Philadelphia’s homeless on Ben Franklin Parkway.

Why would a good writer like Geringer write this kind of yellow journalist-style drivel? First and foremost, Geringer likely wrote this piece because his editor asked him too.

It can not be a coincidence that this piece was published just five days before Welcome America, Live 8 and Elton John and tens of thousands of concert-goers will converge on the Parkway. This kind of article is what Donald Rumsfeld would likely call “propaganda” if printed in an Iraqi insurgent publication. Geringer's article, unwittingly or not, lays the groundwork for the City to clear off all the homeless from the Parkway before next weekend which according to some homeless advocates is an annual event.

Geringer’s piece is also reflective of the fact that most people still just don’t get it when it comes to dealing with the issue of homelessness and lack of housing. Yes, feeding people on the Parkway and giving money to panhandlers does not address the systemic problems that cause homelessness. However, a more responsible piece of journalism would explore the underlying issues and provide constructive solutions to the problem rather then shamelessly sensationalizing very serious and real problems.

It's not as if there isn't a lot to report on.

Philadelphia is nationally recognized for its homeless outreach and prevention programs. Service providers and advocates have been working very hard to finalize the “10-year Plan to End Homelessness,” which would address the economic justice and mental health issues that lie at the root of many individual’s homelessness. According to the city’s homeless czar, Rob Hess, in a November City Paper article, Philadelphia could “be the first city in America to end the need for anyone to sleep on our streets.” Wouldn't you like to know how this plan is going in the context of this year's bare bones city budget?

Beyond city politics, take a look at the Daily News since January and you will not see one story about the federal budget resolution already passed by Congress earlier this year that will cut homeless and housing funding for Philadelphia. How can the DN ignore such an important story with real impact on the city’s budget, fiscal health and moral responsibility while devoting so much space to offensive articles like the one that appeared today?

If Geringer and the Daily News’ editors want to do Philadelphians a real service, they would publish real news stories about homelessness and other economic issues affecting the city’s ability to move forward rather than stereotyping, sensationalizing and propagandizing issues of importance.

A sampling of national recognition for Philadelphia’s success in reducing Homelessness:

San Francisco

Colorado

Pittsburgh

Seattle

PDN takes aim at the homeless

Ah, nothing like turning a serious social problem into a series of punch lines and potty jokes.
WEARING HIS trusty gas mask, the Daily News Stinkmeister, voice of the pee-and-poop-plagued public, was strolling through Logan Circle when he saw hordes of homeless men converging on the Ben Franklin Parkway, turning Center City's crown jewel into a campground of chronic despair.

Noting that there was not a single toilet in sight, the Stinkmeister immediately issued an Urgent Barefoot Alert to the at-risk million Live 8 and "Welcome America!" visitors ready to invade the Parkway this weekend.

The city has banned Live 8's hordes from sleeping on the Parkway, but hasn't changed its let-it-be attitude toward homeless, toiletless campgrounds there.
It is true that many homeless people do congregate on the Parkway. Given that hundreds of thousands of people are going to cram themselves there for Live 8, it's certainly worthwhile to raise the question of how these two groups will interact. However, both the author of the article and Councilman Frank DiCicco come across as heartless at best.
"It's almost like they're feeding stray animals. Put some food out and the animal will come back," said City Councilman Frank DiCicco. "They think they're doing good, but the only thing those feeders are doing for the homeless is perpetuating their lifestyle.
Like feeding stray animals? Really? That's a pretty outrageous thing to say. I understand that city officials and business leaders are concerned about the image of Philadelphia when so many out of town visitors will be gracing our streets. However, the solution to homelessness isn't criminalizing poverty or cracking down on people with mental illness. As groups like Project HOME have proven, the best way to deal with the issue is to provide outreach and support. The article does include a small quote from someone from the Street administration who shares this view.
"Last year, Project HOME and other outreach groups got 60 chronically homeless people off the streets, where they had been living for an average of 10 years, and into housing," Hess said. "That outreach was based on establishing trust.

"By allowing the homeless to sleep on the Parkway, we know where they are and our outreach people can work on that trust. When homeless people are living in abandoned buildings where we can't see them, that's when they tend to get hurt or die."
The article ends with a cheeky round-up of the various places homeless people sleep in Philadelphia, called "2005 Homeless Campgrounds of Philadelphia." It's filled with obnoxious descriptions and potty jokes. What's the purpose, besides scoring some points with juvenile humor?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Dead Cat Paradigm

Thinking about the media coverage of the cop dying at the protest the other day, I couldn’t help but remember one of the episodes of HBO’s fabulous miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. It was an episode where a Geology Professor was trying to teach astronauts how to find the kinds of rocks that they needed from the Moon. He said that every rock has a story, and thus comes the paradigm of the dead cat. If you see a dead cat on the side of the road, then all you know is that there is a dead cat on the side of the road. In order to find out what really happened, what you need is context. Were there skid marks in front of the cat? Did it have any broken bones or serious wounds? Hopefully, from these facts, you can find out what happened to the dead cat, or in his case, what the story of the rock is.

When I heard the story on the news about the cop dying at the protest, they did the normal thing. They repeated over and over again that a cop died in a scuffle at the protest. I, for the longest time, until I heard the whole story, thought that the cop was beaten to death. It makes it no less of a tragedy that he died of a heart attack, but it does give us a little more context. It tells us that we need to investigate the matter further before jumping to conclusions. I mean if the news reported that there was a dead cat on the side of a very busy and dangerous road, then I would assume that it was run over.

Whenever my conservative friends (yup, I have a few of them too) tell me that the media has a “Liberal Bias”, I want to rip my hair out. The reason that I get so mad is that I may not agree with their politics, but they are smart good people who have common sense. When smart people start buying into this “Liberal Bias” meme, then we are all in trouble.

The question that I have is, how do we take our media back? When I say we, I mean all of us, as Americans. We all deserve the truth, and we all deserve the whole story, whether it be of the dead cop or the dead cat.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Inquirer: Republicans Eying PGW

The Philadelphia Inquirer has an important scoop this morning. Republicans in Harrisburg are planning to put forth a bill that would put the Philadelphia Gas Works under state control. PGW is a debt-ridden city agency that has been the center of controversy in recent years. The state would issue a bond to pay off the $1 billion in debt PGW has accumulated. Then, the agency would be privatized.

I'll let Councilman David Cohen and Michael Nutter debate the bill.
City Councilman Michael A. Nutter, chairman of the transportation and utility committee, said he "eagerly awaits" details of the proposal.

"Clearly there needs to be a solution to PGW's financial and operational crisis," Nutter said. "I would like to see how a new gas entity would be structured to address service to low- and middle-income users and seniors, how it can be cost-competitive and reduce overall utility costs."

Nutter said city officials have been discussing a sale of PGW for a decade but knew that, with its debt load, it would be unattractive to a private utility.

But Councilman David Cohen said he was concerned that a bottom-line-oriented private utility would be quicker to turn off heat for those who couldn't afford it.

"This would destroy the very purpose of PGW as a public service," he said. "It would be much better if they devised a system of healthy payments to Philadelphia so that more of its citizens could get heat."
I think PGW has been lax in previous years with debt collection and certainly could have been better about making customers pay their bills. At the same time, this is a public utility. I am deeply concerned that a essential service like heat could be turned over to a complain for private profit. The goal of an institution like the Philadelphia Gas Works shouldn't be to turn a profit. The purpose of this utility is to provide heat and power to all of our citizens. That won't be the goal of any company that decides to buy PGW. They'll be interested in making a few bucks and I think that shouldn't be mixed with such essential services.

Of course, that doesn't even begin to address the question of what happens to the PGW employees. They are currently city workers and almost all unionized. They enjoy decent pay, healthcare and other benefits. privatization would jeopardize all of that. Does the de-unionization of city workers impact everyone? You bet. High union density in an economy is one of the best indicators for high wages and benefits across numerous industries. Period.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

From Across the River: NJ to move up Presidential Primary

In a move that I am very much pleased with, the New Jersey Senate voted to move up their Presidential primary from June to February.

From the article:
Under the legislation, the next primary would be held on Feb. 26, 2008 - a week before the crucial "Super Tuesday" primaries.

With an early primary, New Jersey would likely become a key battleground, bombarded by major media campaigns from New York and Philadelphia.

....

New Jersey has 15 electoral votes, compared with four in New Hampshire, which holds the earliest primary. More important, the move could give New Jersey voters a chance to decide from a wider field of candidates.

While candidates often do drop out after New Hampshire's primary and Iowa's caucuses, more might stay in the race with New Jersey looming on the horizon. Racially and economically diverse New Jersey stands in stark contrast to the largely homogeneous New Hampshire and Iowa.


Great. I wish PA would do the same. Anything to lesson the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire... Fundamentally, I actually think a longer campaign season is a good thing. But, there has to be a more sensible way of choosing candidates then simply getting the winner of Iowa or New Hampshire, places that are far from representative of America.

What would be better? How about a rotating system that has a mix of big and small states?

Creating A Progressive "Commons" In Philly

During the 2004 campaign, I became a full-fledged political activist, in no small part do to an organization called Music for America (MfA). The idea behind MfA was pretty simple- the best way to engage young people in politics is through culture. Culture is political, and our job as volunteers for MfA was to help other young people make this connection at the concerts we worked at.

I may be biased in my assessment, but what I saw working MfA shows was incredible. For the first time in my life I saw young people who probably wouldn't otherwise think or care about politics taking the time to ponder the political direction of the country. I saw kids not only accepting that politics matters, but embracing and getting excited by it. I saw the beginning of something which could have a huge impact on our nation- the cultural connecters and leaders converting their social spaces to political spaces, which I still feel can be our answer to the Right's politicization of their churches.

However, while working at shows all over Philly, I realized that there was a problem with the model of political organizing that MfA was basing itself upon. The culture which we were working through and with is under attack. DIY concert producers, who put on the small-medium sized shows that MfA worked at, find themselves in direct competition, and often open conflict, with the major entertainment companies such as Clear Channel and TicketMaster. These small companies, such as Philadelphia's beloved R5 Productions, find themselves in a precarious situation- not only do they have to compete with huge corporations, but they are constantly in search of places to put on their shows. And so, at just the moment when progressives are starting to pull together culture and politics, the culture itself is increasingly struggling to survive. (For example, in Philadelphia the last major independent venue, the Trocadero, recently signed a booking agreement with the large corporate House of Blues.)

Recently, I began working with a group called Cosmopolity, who are best known for brining us Drinking Liberally. One thing that we've been talking a lot about within this community is that in order to further the progressive cultural movement we need to create permanent physical homes, i.e. "Commons" or "Club Houses," where culture and politics can interact and thrive. In my first blog post on the Cosmopolity site I have proposed using Philadelphia as a test city for building these commons. Philly seems like the perfect place to start building commons- we have some great local show producers (and Sean Agnew happens to be a very politically minded- and a generally awesome- person), an emerging activist base, and connections to the national blogosphere. All that seems to be missing is the space.

My question is- do you think that working to create a space where art, music, and politics can interact and thrive is essential to the continued growth of progressive politics? If so, don't you think that Philly would be a perfect place to build a "Commons?"

Abraham is at it again: overcharge, overcharge, overcharge.

Our favorite DA, Lynne Abraham, is at it again throwing any and all charges at the wall she can in an effort to maintain her "tough cookie image." Yesterday she announced that she was going to pursue an aggravated assualt charge against a Biotech protester in connection with the death of Civil Affairs officer Paris Williams. According to the Inquirer, here's why:
She said Braceland chased Beaulieu and a scuffle broke out between police and protesters. Williams was one of the officers involved.

"This is the genesis of this event," Abraham said, adding that "the resulting punching, shoving and pushing... caused Officer Williams to suffer his cardiac event."

Williams, a 17-year veteran, was trying with other officers to prevent protesters from nearing the entrance of the Convention Center where the BIO 2005 conference was under way.

Abraham said four others were charged with resisting arrest, conspiracy and disorderly conduct. She identified them as Caroline Colesworthy, 25, of Newport Beach, Calif.; Brenton Hall, 21, of Bangor, Maine; Mark Garcia, 19, of San Antonio, Texas; and Charles M. Sherrouse, 46, of the 1400 block of Elbridge Street in Northeast Philadelphia.
Officer Williams' death is obviously a tragedy and I have no affection for out-of-town protesters who prioritize showboating over real grassroots organzing as a means to achieve their goals, but doesn't the DA's prosecution seem (typically)overzealous?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Blogger Interview with Joe Hoeffel

Ben has discussed having a series of interviews on Young Philly Politics. Albert, of Dragonballyee, has started himself. Check out his interview with Joe Hoeffel.

(Via Rowhouse Logic.)

The PA House Rebukes Santorum

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that Rick Santorum, the man who rode to Congress by attacking his opponent for living in DC, lives in Virginia. You also probabaly know that despite living there with his family full time, Santorum made the Penn Hills School Disrict pay about $100,000 to educate his children.

Today, the PA House rebuked Santorum. The GOP controled house passed a measure essentially aimed at embarassing Santorum.
Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, said his proposal, which was attached to an education bill, seeks to clarify that school districts do not have to pay cyberschool tuition for students whose families live out of state. Cyberschools would be allowed to charge tuition for students who do not meet the new residency requirements.

DeLuca said he introduced the measure in response to a dispute over tuition that taxpayers in the Penn Hills School District paid for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's children to be educated via computer at their Virginia home. The state has yet to rule on whether the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School must refund the tuition.

Few questions:

1) Who would vote against this?
2) How did Perzel, et. al, let this come to a vote?

Time to be heard

I am, from here on out, turning anonymous comments off again. I am thrilled that YPP is becoming more and more known, with more and more comments. But, it just is not worth the hassle or the few extra comments we lose, to have people saying annoying things, without having to answer or even respond to them.

If you are that interested in being a troll, sign up for a blogger username.

2006 is also another chance to beat Perzel

The Speaker of the PA House, John Perzel had this to say about the School District's plan for a new required high school course on African and African American history (thanks to A Smoke Filled Room for highlighting this from today's paper first):

"They should understand basic American history before we go into African American history."
OK then...

For more white racist sentiments, read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, remember that Perzel is the most powerful Republican in the state House and possibly the whole state. Locally, he controls the Philadelphia Parking Authority, holds a lot of sway over the PA Convention Center and a large role in the management of the School District via his Republican cronies on the School Reform Commission (remember that the SRC is run by 3 Dems and 3 Republicans even though the city is 75% Democratic or more).

So, in short, let's dump Perzel, as well as Santorum, in 2006.

Shakeup in Mayor's Communication Office

Joe Grace was chosen to replace Acting Director, Deborah Bolling, as the Mayor's Communications Director yesterday .

I liked Bolling and had a chance to work with her on a rally earlier this year. She was also one of the best reporters the City Paper has had in recent memory.
Grace is also good. He currently serves as the Mayor's liason to Council.

I wonder what this is really about though- is it something Bolling did, or a desire to give Joe a better platform for his potential 07 Council race? Or both?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Paris Williams (1953-2005)


An officer who died while protecting our First Ammendment Rights.

Biotech and Tragedy

As most people have already heard, a police officer died of a heart attack today while monitoring one of the protests against the biotech conference.

Details are unclear at this point, but it appears he suffered a heart attack. There was some kind of scuffle, although I'm not sure if he was involved or just trying to break it up. Anyway you look at it, this is a complete tragedy.

It's good to see the police commissioner isn't rushing to judgment and so far reaction has been pretty muted. However, I have to say I'm not particularly inclined to be look favorably on the protesters at this point. Even before I heard what happened, my impression from media coverage and personal experience was that many people (particularly the skate boaders) were just trying to cause chaos. I know there were many people who only participated in nonviolent actions and well-planned protests. However, once again, the violent few have cast a shadow on everyone.

I'm not saying the officer died as a result of the demonstration. That isn't clear and most likely will never be clear. However, the fact that there was a physical altercation casts a shadow over the entire thing.

Of course, I suspect some people will claim the violence was caused by instigators, the police deserve what they get, whatever. But this is just horrible and I think the protesters might do well to accept at least some of the blame.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Rendell comes around on the minimum wage

I didn't see it when the story first came out, and actually saw the AP article at conservative blogcenter, Grassroots PA, but, it turns out that Ed Rendell is reading the tea leaves, and now supporting increasing PA's minimum wage.

From the article:
As his primary-election opponent Robert P. Casey Jr. pushed for an increase in Pennsylvania, Rendell countered that Congress should raise the minimum for all states. Rendell argued that a higher state minimum would put Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage for attracting new business.

But the governor made an unexpected U-turn this month when he told reporters that he would demand a minimum-wage increase from lawmakers if they asked him to endorse a legislative pay raise. He said he favors gradually boosting Pennsylvania's minimum to $7.15 an hour.

Rendell's press secretary, Kate Philips, attributed the shift to two factors: an increase in the number of surrounding states that have a higher minimum wage, and Congress' failure to raise the current rate of $5.15 since 1996.

"The governor still believes it should be increased at the federal level, but we can't wait for leadership from the president on this any longer," Philips said.
Probably, as the article says, a lot more to do with 2006 elections than with a real change of heart, but, good news nonetheless.

Party, Party, Party!

Come to this party!
We invite you to our party celebrating Philadelphia activism.

Tuesday, June 21, 7:30 - 11:30
L'Etage, 624 South 6th Street
(corner of 6th & Bainbridge)

For over 30 years, Bread & Roses has been the one foundation supporting community organizing for racial and economic justice in the Philadelphia area. Since 1971, it has distributed over $7 million to groups that share its vision of a society in which power and resources are distributed equally. Over 75% of its budget comes from individual donors who give anywhere from $5 to thousands.

Party Hosts:

Hilary Aisenstein, Heather Shayne Blakeslee, Amadee Braxton, Amy Laura Cahn, Gloria Casarez, Mitch Chanin, Inja Coates, Sara Zia Ebrahimi, Nava EtShalom, Sofia Ginzberg, Jethro Heiko, Daniel Hunter, Adam Horowitz, Mytili Jagannathan, Marissa Johnson, Dan Kessler, Elizabeth Sarah Lindsey, Nicole Meyenberg, Emily Nepon, Arun Prabhakaran, Kavita Rajanna, Hannah Sassaman, Jennie Sheeks, Chy Ryan Spain, Ben Waxman and Alix Webb.

DJ, Snacks, and Good Folks
Requested Donation: $5 - 200
(whatever you can afford to give)

For more info call Bread & Roses at 215.731.1107 x 206
or email jennie@breadrosesfund.org

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Keeping the Liberal-Do-Gooders

The City Paper cover story this week is titled: "They're young, bright and want to cure what ails Philly. Why can't we keep them?" Essentially, the article asks, how come Philly cannot attract and keep liberal-do-gooders, be they teachers, social workers, non-profits, etc.

The article first discusses the ever-posed question of how much of a brain drain Philly has. (Answer: unclear). But, more specifically, why isn't Philly a place that liberal, social justice types necessarily see as a place to settle, and put down long-term roots?

"There is not money coming into Philadelphia to build up organizations that can provide young social justice activists with a living wage," says Christie Balka, the executive director of Bread and Roses, a public foundation that distributes funds to groups working in the Delaware Valley.

A 2005 study done by Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator, found that of the 25 largest metropolitan markets in the country, Philly nonprofits reported the third lowest total contributions received. Some other cities that are considered liberal hot spots, such as Seattle and San Francisco, ranked only slightly higher. But Philly also has the highest concentration of arts nonprofits in the country, which means an even smaller proportion of local donation money goes to social service and social justice outfits.

Balka believes that philanthropists avoid giving in Philly because "they're convinced that change here is impossible."

Sherisse Laud-Hammond, a 26-year-old who recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, says that this lack of funding translates into lower pay for people like her.

"Philadelphia doesn't pay social workers well," she says. Laud-Hammond is spurning the opportunity to stay in Philly and make between $28,000 and $36,000 to move to Washington D.C. and start out at $45,000. It's not that money is the most important thing to her — she left a lucrative job at a for-profit firm because she didn't feel she was making enough of a difference there — but, she says, "I'm coming from Penn. Do you know how much my loans are?"

....

"It's unbelievable how inefficient everything is," said Rachel Kahn, a 26-year-old from Central Jersey.

In Philly, they said, bureaucracy — one described it as "mediocracy" because of the bureaucrats' indifference — takes precedence over public service, and a social worker's primary responsibility is to make sure her client attends appointments, not to rehabilitate. Kahn drew this in stark contrast to Seattle, where she worked for two years.

....

"Burnout in Philly is very high," Kahn said. "For a lot of people, going to a part of the country where the system allows them to get things done is the most important thing."

OK, so, these are mainly interviews with young, middle-class kids who Philly needs to keep. But, doesn't this sound pretty similar to this:
All they want is that feeling of empowerment in their own communities. People will do anything for that.
That is from Charles' post on Friday about empowering Philly communities. To me though, that is what this is all about, and the way we can make the biggest changes. It is not sexy to call for good government or responsive government, and maybe empowerment is a much better word to us, but fundamentally, that is the issue that can unite all Philadelphians, from the Far Northeast, the far Southwest.

Why does a family decide to leave Philly for a suburb? Or, even for a safer neighborhood? Given that they many times move to suburbs with unimaginable property taxes, it is not a pocketbook thing. Fundamentally, it because they want what is best for their family, and they don't think they can see real change in Philly; that their efforts will simply be washed away in a sea of bureaucracy, patronage and waste.

Whether it is a parent deciding whether to cross the City line, a social worker deciding between Philly or somewhere else, or simply a long-term resident of Philly deciding whether to fight for change, one side of the equation always stays the same: can I make a difference by staying? Too many times, the answer is no. That is where we can unite, at a point where we all say, no matter what ideological beliefs are, the way our City fundamentally operates is wrong, and, if we can fix that, as Charles also said, then everything else falls into place.

......

As an aside, the article talks about something else, and it really, really irritates me: The Philly is such a great City cause it is so "gritty" argument. As a life long resident of the City, I hear that and I want to pull my hair out. (The passage includes a quote from Ray, though what he says isn't what really bothers me):
In fact, she says, she wouldn't want Philadelphia to be more appealing to people like her.

"Trying to make Philadelphia into some sort of white liberal happy-land would be creepy and fucked up," she says. "That's not a city I want to live in."

This sentiment comes up time and again among Philadelphia activists. Ray Murphy warns, "A scene that is defined by young people can be revolutionary and fun, but might not get much done … There's an argument to be made that Philadelphia is not Portland or Seattle. A lot of us are thankful for that."

....

Elizabeth Sarah Lindsey, a 25-year-old Swarthmore graduate who works for the nonprofit Maternity Care Coalition, thinks that the brain-drain conversation is "coming from a pretty middle-class perspective. … Having people come in who don't know this city, people with class or race privilege — I don't necessarily know if that's a good thing."


I am born and raised here, and I love Philly, and how generally unpretentious your average resident is. But that "Gritty" shit? It makes me want to throw up. Why? Because I suspect if you asked an average, non-hipster Philadelphia resident, they wouldn't say jack about the “gritiness" of Philly. They would want the same things everyone else wants: clean streets, safe schools for their kids, good paying jobs, things to do. I don't think they would say, a City that still looks like it is out of Rocky. Honestly, I cannot quite type how awful I think this statement is. Maybe it isn't meant this way, but it is like we are some goddamned residents of a zoo, to be preserved as "gritty" because that seems to have a lot more cache than drinking a coffee at Starbucks on 42nd St in Manhattan.

Nah. Fundamentally, people in Philly want to see their City grow and prosper. They want their homes to be worth money. They want their kids to go to good schools. Now, of course, they want to experience this without feeling like they are being kicked out of the place they have lived in, but, still: there is something about middle-class kids romanticizing things like this that makes me ill. Sort of like, if they don't like it, they can always move away in the future, as our little "gritty" exhibition is here for them to visit once in a while.

Rant over. But, check out the article, because, aside from that little part that irritates the living hell out of me, it is pretty interesting.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Empowering Communities

In Ben’s great post a few weeks back, he talked a little about finding out what Black issues are by going into communities and getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. This got me thinking. I’m a Black person. What issues are important to me?

Then I remembered why I liked Howard Dean so much. He talked about the fact that social programs are for everyone and that people were voting against their economic interests because of racism or the culture war. Jobs, Healthcare, and Education aren’t Black issues, or poor issues, but American issues. Then I remembered what I learned over the past year, both in politics and in life. There is more that unites us than divides us. It sounds so corny to say that, but it is true. We all want the same things. We want the ability to get a good job, send our kids to good schools, and to walk the streets at night without constantly looking over our shoulders wondering when we are going to get mugged. And what do we all want from our Government? We want to feel a sense of empowerment. We want to feel that we have control over our own destiny, and that isn’t a Black thing or a White thing, but a human thing.

David Cohen said, “We don’t need bigger Government. We don’t need smaller Government. What we need is better Government.” He is talking about a Government that responds to the concerns of communities. I think that we need to, at times, get out of this issues based mindset. Where people stand on the issues is important to all of us. But at the end of the day, all anyone wants is a partner in their struggles. You would be amazed at the power of fixing a streetlight, adding a tree to a park, organizing a neighborhood party, and getting someone’s heat turned back on. That’s why Old School politicians got away with murder. Because at the end of the day, if you take care of people’s needs, then they don’t care if you are a “Liberal” or “Conservative”. They don’t care about your voting record on “insert issue here”. Heck, they don’t even care if you a are crook. All they want is that feeling of empowerment in their own communities. People will do anything for that.

A perfect example of this is the issue of LaSalle trying to close 20th Street. I think that it is an extremely complicated issue, and thus, I don’t really have a position on the subject. To the people, mostly old women, however, the issue is everything. For over a year, 5 days a week, in the cold, the snow, the rain, or the heat, they have protested the closing of 20th Street. It may sound crazy to us, but to them it is everything. Why is it everything? They feel kicked around by LaSalle and their local representation. Their community is rundown and riddled with crime. Their Councilperson does not respond to their concerns or help build the community, and the police are non-responsive to their needs. To them, it isn’t a street, but a symbol of the loss of control in their community.

This is something that total proponents of gentrification do not understand. Even if the people in the community could still afford to live there, it isn’t their community anymore. They feel kicked around by Developers coming in and changing things without addressing their concerns. Then people move in who, in general, have no interest in being apart of the community. They are just there to be in the new hip neighborhood. It isn’t about race. It’s about community. It’s about power.

So, when we ask ourselves what kind of candidates we should support, or what issues are important to this person or that person, I would say that we should think differently than normal. We should support people who we know will empower communities, and I think the rest will just fall into place.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Who's afraid of Neighborhood Networks?

Just a few of the movers and shakers in Philadelphia politics:
City Commissioner Edgar Howard, leader of the 10th Ward in Northwest Philadelphia, said that the group would be limited by the absence of patronage jobs and money to reward loyalists and punish dissenters.

"You have to be able to deliver goods and services to the constituents or else why should people stick with you?" Howard said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: Do they have staying power? It's a big, big city."

Others say liberals should be wary of hurting a city party that advances their goals by providing the big vote margins crucial to Democrats in statewide races.

"Why weaken something that works?" said Vernon Price, leader of the 22d Ward in Mount Airy and Germantown. "I believe they may have real issues they are passionate about, but they should... try to work with the party."

Democratic media adviser Larry Ceisler said Neighborhood Networks can generate enthusiasm that will help turnout in the 2006 U.S. Senate race and beyond.

"The only threat City Committee should feel is that these people are not motivated by money, but by ideals," Ceisler said.
The article is sort of weird, because it comes almost two weeks after the founding conference of Neighborhood Networks. Still, it's nice to see the Inky providing such positive coverage. I think the interesting thing about this article is how clearly the organizers of NN are throwing down the gauntlet to the power structure in Philadelphia. They aren't being coy about their intentions at all.

In some ways, I wonder if this is the correct strategy. Will the party bosses deploy their resources to try and quash Neighborhood Networks before it begins? They were never trying to keep the entire thing secret, but now the opposition knows who they are and what they are trying to do. The entire strategy was laid out on page B1.

Where is the Grassroots Effort?

With the 2006 elections coming upon us quicker than we think, the question of paramount importance is this: where is the grassroots movement to keep the Democratic momentum in Philadelphia moving forward? I believe that Philadelphia, in particular, plays a major role in national politics, particularly in 2006.

Our gubernatorial race is critical, considering that Rendell is interested in the VP slot (he won't run for president, too many skeletons in the closet), as is our Senate race against the Prince of Darkness himself Richard J. Santorum (no one seems to use his whole name anymore). And because we have those two on the ballot, and Bobby Casey as well, Democrats should be planning to take the entire state over in a sea of blue. Particularly in Philadelphia County and the entire SE of the state, we need a monumental turnout to change the leanings of the Commonwealth and the nation shall follow.

PA as a state is the perfect mix for a statewide politician wanting to seek national office. A state that leans Democratic in a conservative way, however, contains a plethora of vastly different interests. Agriculture is key in this state, military installations and a high veteran and aging population makes PA politically interesting. Add to the mix metropolitan and largely Democratic cities such as Philadelphia (clearly the cradle of civilization) and Pittsburgh, you have a state that is as dynamic as it is different.

A conservative state legislature and a centrist Democratic governor are a terrible mix, particularly when the governor is Ed Rendell. Nevertheless, it is key to realize the only way to extend our power in the state is to have the kind of grassroots effort that caused the solid turnout in the urban centers of our state in 2004. It must begin now. We must establish Philadelphia as the preeminent model for grassroots activists. We must rally the troops, and we can afford to start early because we are in a unique position. We have three consecutive election years! In 2006 we choose US reps, state reps (some state senators?) and our governor. In 2007 we choose our mayor and city council, and 2008 everybody else. We can do this, we must do this if we really are interested in addressing the underlying economic issues facing Philadelphia. How do we do it? I have some ideas, but I'll leave that to the bloggers.

Brief aside, Ray Murphy is the man

Omar

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What Ward Leaders Do

When this blog was started, Dan asked me to do a post about the Ward structure and what Ward Leaders actually do. With all this talk of Neighborhood Networks and the fraud known as the judicial elections, I thought it was about time I did that post.

I live in a working/middle classed diverse neighborhood, which is rare here in “the city of neighborhoods”. I have known my Ward Leader all my life, but I have only been working with him for the past year. I keep the specifics of which Ward I am in private, because I don’t want anything I say on here to be construed as coming from a particular Ward Leader or Candidate. I think that it is important to note that there are actually good guys who are Committee people and Ward Leaders, even if they are few and far between. I think that it heightens the fact that we need reform and we need more good guys to step up to bat.

So what does a Ward Leader do? Well, as has been noted before, around election time, they get out the vote for the candidates that they support. They hold little fundraisers to pay the Committee people, buy literature, and sometimes just to do something fun for the Ward. They help the committee people put up posters and do lit drops before the election. On Election Day, they coordinate the efforts in the more or less 20 divisions in the Ward by dropping off food, literature, and paying people at the end of the day. They often do what can best be described as musical chairs by driving campaign workers and Committee people from one division to the other, depending on who is under and over staffed.

When it isn’t election time, they pretty much devote their efforts to staying Ward Leaders. This includes doing anything that they can to keep their Committee people happy, or trying to get new people to run to be a Committee person. They usually do this with patronage jobs as well as services and free tickets. When you help get people elected, they usually help you in getting your people jobs or giving you a few tickets to a concert or a Baseball game. Also, if the Committee people have problems, like their heat doesn’t work, their child needs a job, or they need help with something in the neighborhood, they often call their Ward Leader to help them out.

In theory, when you have a problem in your neighborhood, like your street light doesn’t work, you need a pot hole filled on your block, or you got your heat cut off without reason, you talk to your Committee person, who then talks to your Ward Leader, who then talks to your District Councilperson. How often it works this way, of course, depends on your Ward Leader and District Councilperson. City Council controls the budgets for the city organizations, so if you ever get the run around, it is always good to have a Councilperson call on your behave. Ward Leaders also do a lot of things to get in contact with the neighborhood, like organize cleanups and attend every neighborhood, Rec Center, and block meeting under the sun.

Seeing what it takes to be a Ward Leader, I have to tell you that I would not wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. There is prestige involved in it, and you do get to rub elbows with people in power and get free stuff from time to time, but it is not for the faint of heart. So the question arises, who in their right mind would ever want to become a Ward Leader? Well, either you want to run for something or you want to get a nice cushy job at some do nothing quisi Governmental organization that does “Community Development”.

I think that we need to change all that. I think that we need more people involved in the political process who are in it for doing good and not in it to get a job or be a power broker. I urge everyone to ask around about their Ward Leader. If you hear good things, then get involved or maybe even run for Committee Person. If you hear bad things, then do what you can to get their butts out of there. You have no idea how appreciative some Ward Leaders are of go-getters who are willing to pull up their sleeves and do some work. They need all the help that they can get. While I think things like Neighborhood Networks are good, I also think that some of us need to try and change things from the inside. It is hard and isn’t as fun as sitting around with like-minded people trying to change things from the outside, but it is necessary.

Ali down for the count

Shamsud-din Ali, a prominent Muslim cleric with close ties to the Street Administration, has been found guilty of corruption charges. He is the second major figure to be successfully prosecuted and convicted by the U.S. Attorney General.
The jury convicted him on 22 of the 34 counts in the indictment, including the racketeering charges. The jury found him not guilty on four counts and were undecided on eight counts.

A co-defendant, businessman John Johnson, charged with extortion and attempted extortion in two alleged schemes to shake down waste-hauling companies seeking city contracts, was found guilty across the board.

But a third co-defendant, John Christmas, a one-time assistant to the mayor's chief of staff, accused of aiding in a property tax collection scheme and lying to a grand jury about his role, has been found not guilty
An interesting discussion has begun over at Attytood about what all of this means for Philadelphia politics.

Daily News Covers SCRUB legislation

First on Young Philly Politics and then in the Daily News:
Yesterday, Cohen unveiled legislation that would amend Act 193 and give all Philadelphia taxpayers the "standing" or right to appeal an offensive decision by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Prior to Act 193, any person aggrieved or any taxpayer could appeal a zoning board decision. The new law is pretty straightforward: only an aggrieved person who can show that he is "detrimentally harmed" can appeal the decision.

Flanked by leaders from community groups from all over the city, Cohen said the law was slipped into an unrelated bill at the last second by friends of the billboard industry.

In a statement, Cohen said the law was a "cynical attempt to take away the right of citizens to have meaningful say in neighborhood zoning decisions."

Cohen and his 22 Democratic co-sponsors face an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled legislature. A spokeswoman for House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said the speaker had not yet seen Cohen's bill and could not comment.

"I assume there will be quite a bit of dialogue with Republican legislators in the city and the suburbs," Cohen said. "I'm hoping that people will see that zoning isn't a partisan issue. It affects all communities. It makes no sense to take a tool away from community groups who are trying to protect the quality of their neighborhoods."
I'm glad to see this issue move from Young Philly Politics into the mainstream media. Rep. Mark Cohen has been active on a number of important issues lately, from the minimum wage to this anti-billboard legislation. He was also the only elected official to show up at the recent Neighborhood Networks conference.

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