Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bloggers Invade the Union League?

At some point in your life, you’ve probably walked by the Union League on Broad St. No, this isn’t where John Dougherty and Pat Eiding hang out. It’s one of the most fancy and exclusive clubs in all of Philadelphia. Membership is by invite only and useually means a person is a member of the political, financial, and cultural elite.

Anyway, I was there yesterday for a scholarship interview. I arrived a few minutes early and decided to browse the events announcement board. After almost being trampled by Lynne Abraham and her entourage (no joke!), I noticed the League’s “Media Committee” was holding an event on blogs. Holy crap! The Union League is having a panel on blogs?! Totally unbelievable. No offense to the fine people of the Union League, but their membership contains some of the stuffiest sticks in the mud in Philadelphia. And they are interested in blogs? Maybe Will Bunch is right. Blogs are totally going establishment.

Ah, but I looked closer at the announcement and saw the Union League didn’t really get it. There wasn’t one blogger on the panel! It was all editors and other media big shots from the Inquirer and Daily News. I looked closely to see if any of these people had a blog, but I think they were all traditional journalists.

Is it just me, or is this sort of like having a panel called “Black People in Philly Politics” that consists of David Cohen, Vince Fumo, and Angel Ortiz? Glad to see the Union League isn’t going too far outside their comfort zone.

Raise the minimum wage

The federal government has not raised the minimum wage from $5.15 since 1997. And, given the current climate, that is why states around the country have taken a common sense, humane approach, and raised it themselves. Included in the 13 states that have done this are our neighbors: New Jersey, New York and Delaware. So, frankly, it is long passed due for PA to act. Do you think they will? I don't, but at least 2 State Senators are trying.

From the Inquirer:
Saying the federal government has failed to act, two Pennsylvania Senate Democrats are heading an effort to raise the state's minimum wage over the next two years to $7 an hour.

Sen. Vincent Hughes joined Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione yesterday in urging their Senate and House colleagues in Harrisburg and Gov. Rendell to increase the minimum wage in Pennsylvania to match New Jersey, New York and Delaware.

.....

Hughes and Tartaglione said they were leading a coalition of community, religious and trade union groups to put pressure on state officials and the governor to take action and support the legislation.

But Tartaglione's proposal faces an uphill fight in the Republican-controlled legislature in Harrisburg. Leaders in both houses have held firm in their belief that raising the minimum wage is a federal issue.

"That's been the position of the State Senate historically, and I don't see that changing this year," said Erik Arneson, chief of staff and spokesman for Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill (R., Lebanon). "Our job is to try to find a balance, which we feel is a level playing field across the country, and that the federal government should take up this issue."

Rendell spokeswoman Kate Philips said the governor shared that view.

"The governor certainly supports raising the minimum wage at the federal level," she said. "He thinks that's the most appropriate level to raise the minimum wage so it's uniform across the nation.

"But he's willing to consider legislation at the state level, as well," she said.

Hughes said the coalition would focus on Rendell.
Frankly, although Senator Brightbill and Rep. Smith's answers are bad, if not predictable, I really blame the Governor here. He has long said that although he is for an increase in the minimum wage, he does not want to do it because it will hurt PA competitively. Well, now that our biggest local competitors have already raised it, why isn't he acting?

$5.15, times 2000 working hours, equals a yearly salary of $10,300 dollars. Not exactly a ton of money. And forget the idea that the people making minimum wage are just teenagers getting some "training": 72 percent of minimum wage recipients are 20 or older.

This is really pretty basic. And Sen. Hughes is right, he needs to go after Rendell's support, because raising the minimum wage is a basic issue, and I do not think a ton of State Reps want to run against it next year. Unfortunately, I do not get the sense that this is something that Rendell, who I very much like, really feels very strongly about. Its a shame though, because if he wanted to push it hard, I think he could get a bill through the Capitol.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

PW Explains the FOP

Kia Gregory has a great article in today's Philadelphia Weekly about why the FOP decided to back Seth Williams over Lynne Abraham. Looking for actual substance? Leave it to the weeklies.

Mini-rant: Why does the Daily News, Philly Weekly and Citypaper always have better coverage of city and state politics than the Inquirer? The Inquirer likes to think of itself as the paper of record for the region. If that's true, they might want to do a slightly better job covering local issues.

There was that great series of hard-hitting articles about Fumo and other corrupt machine politicians in Harrisburg a while back. But I remember thinking, "Whoa, the Inquirer is doing investigative political journalism? When did that happen?"

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

District Attorney and Controller Candidate Forum: Thursday

If you have some free time Thursday night, see the candidates running for Controller and DA. I think, even though this is not an official debate, that if Lynn Abraham shows up, it may be the first time she and Seth Williams are on the stage at the same time.

Primary Election Day is May 17th

Be an informed voter!

Come hear what the candidates have to say on:

Candidates Night

Sponsored by Americans for Democratic Action

Thursday, March 31st
7:30 p.m.
Trinity Center for Urban Life
22nd and Spruce Streets

Candidates for District Attorney
Incumbent,
Lynne Abraham,
Challenger, Seth Williams,
former Assistant District Attorney.

Candidates for Controller
Alan Butkovitz,
State Representative
John Braxton,
Former Judge of Common Pleas Court

This event is free and open to the public.

Refreshments will be served; donations will be accepted.

Victory in the Falls

East Falls, that is. And Nicetown, Germantown and Hunting Park, as well. The Lower Merion School District has reconsidered its decision to house their loud, slow and smelly buses in a depot in East Falls/Allegheny West/Hunting Park, whatever. The buses would clog up the Roosevelt Expressway, and when traffic was bad (which is often), they would clog up NW Philly streets. It was a bad idea.

From the Daily News:
The announcement by Lower Merion School Superintendent Jaime Savedoff was greeted by applause and handshakes among the some 50 Philadelphians who braved a downpour to attend the school board meeting in the library of the Lower Merion High School in Ardmore.

In case the decision went the other way, opponents had planned a 110-car motorcade to drive to Lower Merion at 6:30 this morning.

Majeedah Rashid, executive director of the Nicetown Community Development Corp., said she had to rush home to make phone calls to call off the demonstration.

"I'm so happy!" she said after the decision. She said she was also happy that the issue had brought the community together.

After the announcement, Ralph Wynder, leader of the 38th Ward, took the microphone and hailed the decision.

"Sometimes folks have to get into a fight before they become best friends," he said. "We received nothing but respect and understanding [from the Lower Merion officials]."
With Temple trying to pull a Penn, and help redevelop that part of the City, and East Falls ever expanding, this is not what the neighborhood needed.

Congratulations to the neighbors, to the ward leaders, to everyone who made sure, in a very civil yet forceful manner, that Lower Merion officials understood that this was not good idea. Hell, it seems like they even made some friends in the process.

It is nice when Philly and its residents win one.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Seth Williams, and the case for Philadelphia Reform

In Philadelphia, and in cyberspace, there is so much talk about "reform." The slogan most said, generally in reference to national politics, is that "I am a Reform Democrat." The idea is that, ideology aside, we in the Democratic party need new ideas, new leaders, new ways of thinking. This is not about a left vs. center slug fest, but an acknowledgement that Republicans aside, we as Democrats can do more, and can do better. Nowhere is that more apt than in Philly.

Reform. Reform. Reform. Everyone loves it. The question is, how do you put it in to place? And are you willing to take actions to help make it happen? Are you willing to go to bat for a candidate who is putting himself on the line?

I got an email from a future candidate, one who is clearly on his way up in Philly politics, who said he was trying to travel the City and start a neighborhood by neighborhood reform movement. The Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks are forming, building on the MoveOn work during the election. Philly for Change continues its effort to mobilize. This is all good... But, in the end, we need good candidates to run for office. We need officials who are going to fight against a status quo that is not good enough. And, we all need to put our money (proverbial and real) where our mouths are, and make sure that when candidates who will fight for change in Philadelphia are running for office, we support them. Well, all BS aside, we have one such person running for office in just a few short weeks. His name is Seth Williams. And we need him as our District Attorney. Now.

Why support Seth? Here are a just a couple of reasons:

How about the fact, if this tells you about his character, that when Williams was the head of the Black Caucus while a student at Penn State, he led an extraordinary 100 mile march from Happy Valley to Harrisburg, to protest PSU's investment in companies that supported apartheid South Africa?

Or, more specifically in Philly, how about changing and reforming a broken DA system?

There is not enough time to write about how screwed up the DA system is in Philly. Real quickly though: Individual District Attorney's are not connected to any specific neighborhoods at all. They are in one Center City office, away from the police stations where suspects are being brought in. Rather then being able to take a case and see it through from start to finish, many DA's see just a tiny piece of a case, which they got the file of the night before. Creativity is stifled. This is not good enough.

Seth Williams has a plan to reorganize the DA's office by neighborhood. Just as neighborhood groups attempt to have relationships with police, they would have relationships with District Attorneys. Getting DA's out in our neighborhoods, working with communities to both prosecute and to prevent crime, is a huge step in the right direction. Different neighborhoods have different needs, and Williams' plan would aim to address that. While car theft may be the biggest crime in one neighborhood, guns may be in another. A cookie cutter, wait and see approach does not work... People don't come forward in gun cases? What if they knew, and trusted a DA that answered to their neighborhood? Williams' plans do not come from pie-in-the sky theory, but from real experience that comes from ten years in the DA's office.

Or, how about making the death penalty the exception, not the rule for our courts?

Lynn Abraham's philosophy is to ask for the death penalty whenever possible. Hell, it seems like a goddamned point of pride. Personally, I dislike the death penalty and think it has no place in a civilized society. Others disagree. But, how about having a DA who feels the burden of making that kind of ultimate decision, rather than one who gloats about it?

This is just a small sample. More will come regularly...

But, this is where it all hits the fan. This is where if you are invested in Philadelphia, and care about Philadelphia, you have a chance to act on it. This is where you have a chance to be part of the solution.

What can you do? Get involved. Go to his website and sign up to volunteer. Do you have connections to some sort of community group, from a town watch to a social club to a softball league? Invite him to speak and hear for yourself. I assure you, he is the real thing. Can you give money? Lynn Abraham will have 7 figures spent by election day, Seth Williams will not. Can you donate $25 or $50 to the cause? Can you send out an email to people you know in Philly, and spread the word about his candidacy? Can you simply email this post to people who should hear about him? People respond when they hear from people they trust, and this is a race that cannot go under the radar screen. Can you volunteer on election day? Can you put a sign up in your window, or on your lawn? Can you simply tell 10 people about him at work, or at school? Can you do something, anything? Can you, and can we, start the process of changing Philadelphia with a smart, dynamic candidate who wants the very thing we all talk about: Reform?

We have less than 2 months.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Paul Vallas continues on

Via America's Hometown, check out Paul Vallas' piece on Philly schools playing in the State (PIAA) playoffs for the first time in their history.

From the article:
Our students have traversed the state, sometimes venturing outside Philadelphia for the first time, erasing cultural lines and changing preconceptions while forming new friendships.

PIAA membership is well worth the investment. Less than three years ago, it wasn't uncommon for the District to spend less than $250,000 a year on sports equipment while neglecting indoor and outdoor athletic facilities. Now, the District is spending more than $27 million to upgrade programs and implement non-traditional urban school district programs like golf and crew.

....

As we deepen our investment, we are raising our expectations of our athletes. We have toughened our academic standards so our athletes can be college bound and able to take advantage of athletic scholarships when they are seen by a wider variety of college coaches and recruiters.

Everyone at the District is pulling together to ensure that our students have the tools they need to perform at their best. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has agreed to give us the flexibility of using retired coaches to fill vacancies and to hire assistant coaches from outside the teaching ranks. Coaches will be evaluated each season by their principal and athletic director in order to keep the bar high. PIAA participation gives our coaches a chance to coach under different situations and see different playing styles. Already, non-league games are scheduled for this school year and beyond with teams from throughout the state.

....

Our students will continue to exceed our expectations- on the field, in the classroom and in their day-to-day lives as integral members of our community.
Ed Rendell thought he he was doing Philly a huge service when he brought in, and stuck by, David Hornbeck. Unfortunately, despite being a very smart man, Hornbeck had the political sense of Michael Dukakis. Now, instead, we have Vallas, who in a way is really the Ed Rendell of the school system: Smart, self-promoting, demanding changes, and pushing everyone to expect more. May he continue as School CEO for as long as possible.

Hypocrisy

I generally ignore stuff I get in emails from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), who spam me with anti-Santorum stuff all the time. But, this, though a few days old, is too good to pass up:
After breaking his promise to fight George Bush’s efforts to eliminate funding for Amtrak last week, Rick Santorum displayed what is becoming characteristic audacity today by penning an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer where he wrote that “it would be a grave mistake to cut the federal funds that keep Amtrak operating.” But he voted to do exactly that just last week!!!!

.....

TODAY, SANTORUM WROTE: “IT WOULD BE A GRAVE MISTAKE TO CUT THE FEDERAL FUNDS THAT KEEP AMTRAK OPERATING.” In a March 25 editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Santorum wrote: “As our nation's premier passenger rail service, Amtrak plays a crucial role in our transportation infrastructure. Keeping the rail lines open and the trains running should be one of Congress' priorities in the upcoming budget discussion. At a time when Amtrak is setting ridership records and as congestion at our airports and on the highways continues to increase, it would be a grave mistake to cut the federal funds that keep Amtrak operating.” [http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/11223961.htm]

.....

BUT JUST LAST WEEK, SANTORUM VOTED AGAINST RESTORING AMTRAK FUNDING CUT IN BUSH BUDGET! On March 16, Santorum voted against restoring $1.04 billion for Amtrak, flip-flopping on a promise he made to fight for that money when he was on Meet the Press. [CQ, Vote #51, 3/16/05; Meet the Press, 2/27/05]

LAST WEEK WASN’T THE FIRST TIME SANTORUM HAS VOTED AGAINST AMTRAK: Santorum voted against an amendment to the 2003 Budget Resolution to increase spending on Amtrak by $912 million. [3/21/2003, #77]

If you have got it, and want to spend it...

From Philly for Change:
JOIN GOV. DEAN IN OLD CITY

Gov. Dean in Old City Dear Philly for Change:

Join us Wednesday, March 30, in Old City as we welcome Governor Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Wednesday, March 30th
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. at Bluezette
246 Market St. in Old City Philadelphia

$50 to attend, $250 to sponsor, $500 (donate or raise) to host (this event is a fundraiser for the DNC)

Be sure to RSVP today:
https://www.democrats.org/support/oldcity.html?dsc=FNET171&solicitor=E007839

Cheers,
Simon Dicker
Philly for Change

P.S. Even if you can't make it, consider sponsoring someone else by using the Philly for Change direct link:
https://www.democrats.org/support/oldcity.html?dsc=FNET171&solicitor=E007839

Friday, March 25, 2005

Ferrick, Baer and our State Reps on Guns in Philly

Today, Tom Ferrick discusses guns in Philly, and asks what lawmakers are going to do to "... stop this river of blood." His column comes on the heels of a meeting with Mayor Street and Governor Rendell, where, among other things, they proposed to limit sales of handguns in PA to one a month. Why is this so important? Because so-called straw buyers buy ten, twenty, thirty handguns a month in Philly, and then sell them on the street for a hefty mark up. They sell them to criminals, to kids, etc.

It all seems common sense. It doesn't hurt hunters, whose rights I very much respect, because while Hunters use rifles and shotguns, drug dealers would find them hard to hide in their jacket. Criminals need handguns, hunters don't, or at least don't need more than one a month.

From his column:

Rendell said the one-handgun-a-month limit was a reasonable step. After all, he said, who needs more than one handgun a month? Or, if you are married, 24 in a year?

"We have to take a mature and sensible look at these issues," he said.

I thought: Uh-oh, he's counting on the state legislature to be mature and sensible? Then this idea is in trouble.

Pennsylvania is the land of the gun lobby, which worships the gun god. It's a religion, see, and a central tenet of the faith is: No gun-control legislation. Period.

Not even a "mature and sensible" idea such as limiting handgun purchases to one a month.

.....

Rendell said the next step is to get together with the Philadelphia delegation in the legislature to see whether members will support the handgun-sale limit or a law to give Philly the right to approve its own antigun measures.

Two legislators key to the success or failure of these measures are Philadelphia Republicans: House Speaker John Perzel and Rep. Dennis O'Brien, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

They are the guys with the power to make these ideas work - or they could (if you will excuse the expression) shoot them down.

Let's see what they do to stop this river of blood.
Unfortunately, if you want to see what exactly the State legislature is going to do, I refer you to two items from yesterday's Daily News.

First, a column by John Baer, who advises:

There'll be no help from the state Legislature.

Forget common sense arguments about how restricting gun purchases helps get guns off city streets without hurting hunters or how allowing the city its own gun laws impact the rest of the state.

When it comes to guns, Pennsylvania is beyond common sense. It's in the ionosphere. Its opposition to gun control, any gun control, is legendary and ongoing. It knows neither compromise nor retreat.

See how Congress rushed to Washington to "protect" life in the Terri Schiavo case?

The Legislature would rush to Harrisburg to protect guns.

And for the same reasons.

It's an issue of political chest-thumping with big political payoffs.
And, if you have any doubts as to whether Baer is right, check out a letter to the editor from from a few of Philly's glorious State Reps. Their answer, amidst all this carnage? To pat themselves on the back for all they have done.

We understand these programs and additional money will not alone solve the problem of violence in our city, but we believe it is a step in the right direction to stop the killing of our young people and children.
Thanks for all your help!

Yeah, I don't think help is coming any time soon on this issue.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Young Philly Politics Logo


Check out the new Young Philly Politics logo. At some point, I will even figure out how to incorporate the logo into the website. And, coming soon, Young Philly Politics gear. Posted by Hello

Bob Casey gets blogging

(In hindsight, given the confusion, I should have titled this Bob Casey reaches out to bloggers, or something like that.)

OK, well, maybe not Casey himself. And I am sure his internet outreach will never equal that of the Chuck Pennacchio Campaign, but still, good to see that the Casey campaign at least has an idea that they have to pay attention to the netroots. Either way, I got this message from the Casey campaign:

Message from the Bob Casey for US Senate Campaign:

Several recent polls confirm that Bob Casey is the Democrat in the strongest position to defeat Rick Santorum. Santorum is the third most powerful Republican Senator and the poster child for the radical right-wing in America. And, Santorum could be a possible 2008 Presidential contender. Four years of President Santorum would make the Bush agenda seem moderate…unless we beat him now!

The bottom line: Bob Casey is the Democrat who can take down Rick Santorum. Please see data from a recent SurveyUSA election poll: (http://www.surveyusa.com/client/PollReport.aspx?g=45925278-98fe-4060-b496-b4dfbaf01f7c). Even if we all don’t agree on every issue, we must all recognize the importance of this race: A Democratic victory in Pennsylvania could very well tip the balance of power in the Senate for the Democrats. By returning control of the Senate to the Democrats, we’ll be able to stop the far-right agenda being imposed on our nation by Rick Santorum and the Republican leadership in Washington.

When elected, Bob Casey will work ensure that all Americans have access to quality health care and will fight to create opportunity for middle-class families throughout Pennsylvania.

We are going to have to mobilize, energize, and activate the grassroots in order to elect Bob Casey in 2006 and we need your help. Please visit www.BobCaseyforPA.com to get involved in this campaign and to take your stand against Rick Santorum and the far right-wing.
As a policy, I am trying to resist having this site "endorse" any candidate. If any individual writer wants to state their case for a candidate they like (i.e., Alex for Anthony Zinni, myself for Seth Williams, etc), they are free to do so. But except in cases where it is Democrat v. Republican, "Young Philly Politics" as a site will take no sides. At least that is the policy until I am convinced another approach is best.

That said, it is good to see Casey online. Their online people will be hard pressed to match the efforts of Tim Tagaris, but I wish them luck, and look forward to seeing how they reach out to all of us.

Process vs. Substance

Well, I finally got around to reading the local section of the Inquirer website. Low and behold, there is an article about the DA's race. And guess what? It's a process story!

What do I mean by "process"? It's a story that is about an election, but barely deals with the issues. Instead, it focuses on endorsements and the horse race. Today's article is about the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) endorsing Seth Williams over Abraham.

Now, this is actually a pretty interesting story. A longtime DA, who almost never prosecutes police officers for misconduct, gets passed over for a challenger. Why? Apparently, the FOP thinks Williams has some innovative ideas for changing how the office is run.
Police officers are concerned that a high percentage of felony arrests are dismissed in Municipal Court because prosecutors are not ready, Blagmond said. He added that Williams, who served as an assistant prosecutor under Abraham for 10 years, "had some good ideas" for improving the process.

....

Williams has centered his campaign on a plan to base prosecutors in neighborhood police stations, streamlining the preparation of cases so that fewer are tossed in court.
In a nine paragraph article, only a sentence or two are dedicated to actual issues. The FOP claims they are supporting Williams because cops think he has some good ideas for fighting crime. However, a reader would never know what those ideas were, because they are talked about in an extremely limited way. This is exactly the problem with process stories dominating the coverage of local politics. All I know from this story is that the FOP is supporting Williams-- not why. What is more important for voters to know, who is supporting a candidate or what the reasons for that support are?

Santorum and Abraham

Everyone knows Rick Santorum is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. Particularly on social issues, Pennsylvania's junior senator is one of the most conservative in the nation. That's why his recent statements about the death penalty are so interesting.

Santorum's ultra right-wing politics are out of step with the mainstream of Pennsylvania. So his movement on this particular issue isn't that surprising. Neither is his recent attempt to reposition himself as a champion of minimum wage workers. In both cases, the actual public policy with be nonexistent or regressive but allow Santorum to claim a populist mantle.

Speaking of politicians out of step with the mainstream, what about Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham? She proudly claims to be "one tough cookie", but that cookie might crumble if Philadelphians were more familiar with her stances on specific issues. Both the Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia Citypaper have given extensive coverage to her positions on the death penalty. Here is a money paragraph from one article:
Here, like elsewhere in the country, juries are more likely to convict minorities as well as the poor, who can’t afford the kind of representation that guarantees you a fighting chance. But Philadelphia stands out. Here, assistant D.A.s seek the death penalty wherever they can legally get away with it — which is generally regarded as 85 percent of all homicide charges. Philadelphia offers up a greater death-row population than 30 states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s Paula Bernstein. Though no one represented by a Philadelphia public defender has gotten the death penalty since the Public Defender’s Office starting handling death penalty trials in the early ’90s, only one in five defendants are lucky enough to get assigned one, so most must take their chances with a court-appointed attorney. Pennsylvania provides no money to fund defense, and Philadelphia County, with the third-largest death-row population of any county in the nation, provides funds that are shabby even by shabby national standards. The issues are complex — and alarmingly simple: If you’re poor, you’re much more likely to go down. That’s nothing new, but the idea that Philadelphia is perhaps the biggest offender in the country, and that there is growing support for a change in approach, may surprise a lot of voters.
Now, I've never actually seen a poll on Philadelphian's attitudes towards the death penalty. We're a tough town, but I doubt this blue oasis has much support for capital punishment. So how does a candidate so far outside the mainstream get reelected over and over?

The first has to do with machine politics. Abraham has a lot of power and patronage at her disposal. Many community development programs in various neighborhoods count on her support to keep their doors open. She is pretty good about sprinkling resources around into drug treatment centers and other institutions. This builds relationships that translates into electoral support. Abraham is also semi-independent from the traditional power brokers of Philadelphia politics. Because she has developed an independent base of support, she can weather all kinds of political storms.

However, Abraham is vulnerable because of her stances on the issues. So why can't a guy like Seth Williams, who is smart and experienced, get any traction? He has real ideas about how to reform the DA's office. You'd think that in this time of heightened concern about crime, people might be interested in what he has to say.

Sadly, the media only likes to write process stories. Every single article I've seen about the race for DA has been about which ward leader is backing Abraham and how Williams doesn't have a chance in hell to beat her. Fundraising and endorsements are important, but ideas matter too. No politician will ever be able to break the strangle machine politics has on this city unless they put forth a compelling alternative vision that excites voters. And this vision can never reach the public if all the media writes about are stories about who has lunch with who.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More on DA property theft

On Sunday, I wrote about the District Attorney's awful, cruel, and misguided policy of asset forfeiture, in drug cases where no one was even accused of a crime. I think, because this is such a bizarrely bad policy, it has struck a chord among fellow bloggers. (For example, A Smoke Filled Room, Attytood, and Rowhouse Logic all are spreading the word.) I think this is a situation, where, given that we are in an election year, and Lynn Abraham has an articulate, smart candidate running against her, we can win on this issue.

Another gem of a scenario from the civil forfeiture policy of the DA: (Broken Record- our locally elected, Democratic DA.) Lets say the DA seizes someone's home in North Philly. They then put it up for Sheriff Sale. A low income person sees a home for a reasonable price at Sheriff Sale, and buys it up. Well, guess what? Hopefully that new buyer realized that in the case of civil forfeiture, the original homeowner's mortgage is still valid, and is owed by whomever the new owner is. So, you have cases where low-income people buy a home, only to realize they are screwed by the fact that they are already in debt for it. But, for the DA, it doesn't matter, they already got their cut, and their dedicated revenue. They couldn't care less what happens afterwords.

Let's keep spreading the word. If we create a critical mass of noise about this practice, we will win.

Sharif Street Lobbies for Predatory Lenders

Go read the Daily News.

Also, check out tomorrow's Philadelphia City Paper for all the info on a smackdown happening in the 2nd Ward.

(From Dan- Check out the Center for Responsible Lending's Fact Sheet on Payday lending to see just how repugnant the practice is. Sharif should be ashamed.)

Feds Looking into Gambling Deal

On cue from Ben's post yesterday, the Daily News is reporting today that the Feds are going to take a look at the land deal that could net State Sen. Michael Stack and his family millions:
Gov. Rendell yesterday confirmed that his administration received a federal subpoena for records of a land deal that could add up one day to a jackpot for a state senator and his family.

The subpoena was issued after the Daily News detailed two weeks ago that state Sen. Mike Stack III and his family own part of a 46-acre riverfront plot in Fishtown. A Las Vegas casino company that wants to build a slot machine parlor there holds a $40 million option on the land.

...

Rendell defended the state's nascent gaming industry, saying it is not "mired in controversy and scandal," as suggested in a recent Washington Post editorial.

....

"Frankly, if you asked me for records, I wouldn't have anything to give you," Stack said. "I'm a small shareholder."

Stack and his four siblings each own 4 percent of Beach Street Corp., one of two companies that own the 46 acres.

His father, 58th Democratic Ward Leader Michael Stack Jr., owned another 20 percent but last month gave that stock to his wife, Municipal Court Judge Felice Stack, because he is facing felony forgery and conspiracy charges in an unrelated matter.
I will not be shedding tears for the "small shareholder." He and his family own 40 percent of a company that will make millions off of a gambling deal. Can you say, conlict of interest?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The PA Elections Are Going To Be Tight

I hope the PA Democratic Party gets scared by this poll (via acbonin @ Kos):

Key findings:

  • First off take all this with a grain of salt: the results were not adjusted for turnout. If you'll flip to page 16, only 20% of the sample was Philadelphia or SE PA. 33% of 2004 voters were from the region, and it's a highly Dem region. (I have confirmed that no adjustment was made, because it's too early to predict 2006 turnout models.)

  • Santorum over Casey 44-43 in h2h. Not nearly as favorable as other polls, which generally had Casey up 6-7 points (see previous diaries of mine), but Keystone's always not that accurate (was off by 6 points in Specter-Toomey with a week to go).

  • Rendell's trouncing all his relative unknown opponents, but his internals (job approval, favorability) are not in a safe zone. Santorum's are comparable with Specter's at this point in his last reelection cycle.
Finally, Pennsylvanians hate Bush's SS reform. While by a 50-40 margin they approve of diverting some money into private accounts, when asked "do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the Social Security issue?", they said:
5% Strongly APPROVE
16% Somewhat APPROVE
12% Somewhat DISapprove
44% Strongly DISapprove
13% Do not know
I personally could care less what any of these polls say. PA is going to be hotly contested and anyone out there who found comfort in the polls where Casey was shown to be way ahead is fooling themselves. Underestimating Santorum and the Republicans is suicide.

That's why I really can't believe that the PA Dems are trying to anoint Bob Casey Jr. as the challenger to Santorum.

By avoiding contention within the party, the Dems are really losing a golden opportunity for some relatively cheap publicity. Even if the news seemed contentious it would keep the contenders names and faces in people's minds and conversations. It was noted in the Kos diary that though all the news surrounding Santorum is negative, at least on an issue-to-issue basis, his approval ratings remain pretty high. This shouldn't surprise anyone- very few people make the connections between issues affecting them and political figures, especially on very complex, abstract, or ambiguously political issues. This means that we must use any and every opportunity to get our candidates into the news, and a primary will do just that.

Also, if we were able to agree from the outset what the arguments would be and which differences between the candidates that would be emphasized by each campaign than we could seriously push the frames that will help us win. For example- I'm trying to push Anthony Zinni as a candidate. Why? Because I want the argument to be about how to reverse the weakness and insecurity that the Republicans are bringing to our nation. If we could get the candidates to argue over how to reverse this trend then our frame is promoted no matter who wins (unless one of the candidates is stupid enough to say that the President was right- cough-Joe Biden-cough).

Besides getting our candidates into the media, we're going to have to run an incredibly strong ground game, I would say much stronger than the Presidential election, since that got way more attention than this election could hope for, amongst other reasons. We are going to have to motivate residents of every community in the state to get out there, talk to their friends, and work to make sure that we defeat Santorum. Does it really seem that wise to have a bunch of politicians in Harrisburg decide for us who we will connect and identify with, or who will best be able to motivate Pennsylvanians to take ownership of this race?

I can't think of a worse strategy than the one the Dems are currently employing in Pennsylvania. Hopefully the party, and maybe more importantly the party's financial backers, will look at these numbers, realize that their course of action is in err and make the necessary changes to insure a Dem victory in '06. Maybe a lightbulb will go off in Rendell's head and he'll realize "hey- bringing in outside candidates like Chuck Pennachio, and reaching out to potential candidates like Anthony Zinni would be great strategic moves for Democrats in the '06 races." More than likely they'll be blinded by their own confidence and their personal/political/business ties to each other. Which is why it's up to us in the activist and blogger world to make sure that we make this primary competitive- victory depends upon it.

How not to run a Council office

Hallwatch sent out an email when the pay-to-play ethics bill was up for a vote, asking people who lived in the district of on-the-fence Councilmembers to give them a call. Some of the people who did call reported back on what they heard from the staff members of the office. Some of the answers are pretty crazy, and a pretty good example how not to run a Council office. (Check out all of them here.)

The best exchange is from Darrell Clarke's office:
Several constituents reported instances where Clarke's office appeared uninformed about the issues and the Councilman's position on them. Was staff playing dumb? This constituent reconstructed his surreal exchange with Clarke's office from memory:

Whoa! Holy Cow! I spoke with Clarke's [aide]...the guy was totally clueless!

He said that the councilman didn't feel we should rush into anything, and there were things he wanted to see included in the bill.

"Oh, really, like what?"

"Uh...[long uncomfortable silence]...y'know things that the Councilman wants to see included."

"I am very interested in this issue and have been following it closely, so I am wondering what those things are."

"Um, uh...[another long pause]...we need to wait for the State."

"Wait for the state?"

"Yeah, we need to wait for the State."

"Is there any legislation before the State legislature right now?"

"Um, uh...[another long pause]...it will be noted that you called."
Woo boy.

More Philly Corruption

If you read the Daily News or Inquirer, you've heard about the saga of State Senator Michael Stack. The Philadelphia lawmaker has become embroiled in a controversy involving the sale of land to be possibly used for a casino.
The firm, Beach Street Corp., paid $100,000 for state water rights to part of a 46-acre tract it previously owned in Fishtown and later optioned the land and water rights to Ameristar Casinos Inc. for $37 million.

The 2003 transaction sparked a controversy in Harrisburg early this month after it was discovered that the House and Senate passed a bill allowing Beach Street Corp. to buy the rights at a reduced price. At the time, the company was owned by Stack's father, four of Stack's brothers and sisters, and developer James J. Anderson. Another Anderson company, Dyott Corp., also participated in the deal.
Personally, I am opposed to the use of gambling to raise money for government services. I guess I support people's right to throw their money away, but I don't think it is a solution to the long term budget problems that all cities and states seem to be facing right now. It seems like a easy way to generate some revenue, but it's actually not a zero-sum equation. Legalized gambling leads to all kinds of things, particular greater addiction. The state will have increase funding for certain social service programs to deal with the negative side effects of gambling.

The real point of this story is how nothing can ever be done simply for the benefit of the taxpayers. Stack (who ever heard of him before this story) and other legislators always want to figure out how to get an edge.

Sharif Holds Fundraiser

I'm sure everyone has seen this already, but it's a nice addition to the last post I did about the young people thinking about running for Philadelphia City Council.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rendell Blasts Plan to Cut Vets' Benefits

Ed Rendell slammed the Bush Administration this weekend over Bush's proposal to cut Veteran Health Benefits.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - While states are spending more to extend benefits to their National Guardsmen called to duty, the Bush administration is reducing benefits, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor said Saturday.

"While we the governors do all we can for our vets and our returning soldiers, our federal government has the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of our veterans," Gov. Ed Rendell said in his party's weekly radio address. "And that's why I find the president's budget cuts for critical veterans services to be unconscionable."

In his budget, President Bush has proposed charging certain veterans a $250 annual registration fee and raising from $7 to $15 the copayment those veterans pay for a 30-day supply of prescription drugs. The budget also would cut $293.5 million by limiting the veterans whose care in state-operated veterans homes is reimbursed by the federal government.

"During this time of war, it is absolutely the wrong time for our federal government to step back from any of its commitment to our veterans," Rendell said. "To do so would be penny-wise but pound-foolish."
I think that it's great that Gov. Rendell is speaking up for our veterans and against the Bush Administration's reckless national security policies-- I obviously think that the myth of the "strong Republican" needs to be attacked at each and every opportunity. But why not try and find a candidate to run for Pennsylvania's Senate seat who has military credentials that embody the Democrat's national security strengths? Does Rendell really think that words alone will alert the American public to the weakness being propagated by the Republicans and their irresponsible and ideologically driven national security decisions?

I for one feel that it is insufficient to simply state that the Republicans are weakening our country, while Democrats are looking for ways to strengthen it. We must put forth candidates who can quickly frame the Democrats as the strong and secure choice and the Republicans as the party of lies, ideology, and weakness. This is why I feel that we need to try and convince Anthony Zinni to run for PA's Senate Seat as a Democrat, but for now Rendell seems more intent on avoiding a primary and anointing a challenger to Santorum than thinking outside the box and finding a candidate who can effectively challenge the Republicans on national security issues.

War on Drugs in Philadelphia: Local Effects, Awful Policies

This weekend Penn Law School held its annual Edward Spaer Symposium, organized by students in the Penn Public Interest Law Program. For those dedicated to public interest law, the Symposium, totally organized by students themselves, provides an amazing array of public interest practitioners, speaking about areas in which they specialize. This year, the entire Symposium was dedicated to the War on Drugs, and the legal issues the arise from it, all the way from the purchase, to the sentencing, to post-sentencing, etc.

I sat in on two of the Symposium's sessions, each of which were interesting. Particularly interesting was one speaker in particular- Penn Professor Louis Rulli- who spoke on the policy of asset forfeiture, where the Government can literally take your home if 'it' is involved in a drug deal. (I put "it" in quotations, because the seizing of someone's home is many times dependent on essentially giving a piece of property a personality, as if it had committed a crime independent of a person. So, the house can be guilty, and therefore must pay the price- being seized by the DA, and then sold. More on that absurdity in a minute.)

Quick rundown of how this all works: Many people have probably heard stories about the DEA or FBI seizing the mansion, yacht, and Porsche of a Miami drug kingpin, and then selling off the property. It is a seemingly efficient sounding way for agents in the War on Drugs to pay for themselves… That is on the federal level, where shows like 20/20 have featured enough horror stories about innocent people's property being seized that Congress passed civil forfeirture reforms. But, here in Philadelphia, this same policy of seizing a home to then sell it is alive and well, and the consequences are ridiculous.

Professor Rulli (a long time public interest lawyer, and former director of Community Legal Services) knows a lot about this process, because he started a clinic where his law students represent poor people who have had their property seized. He assured the audience that each of the four cases that he discussed were chosen totally at random, not picked because they were especially awful. And, after hearing the cases, I can tell you that they are a damning indictment of our current District Attorney, and the way she does business.

And, as you will see with just one case, this practice of the unfettered seizing of homes has two main problems: First, it is unfair, inhumane, and cruel. Second, it is simply short-sighted, stupid public policy.

One case that professor Rulli discussed involved a poor, elderly woman from North Philly. The woman was pretty ill- she used paratransit to travel to the Doctor’s office three times a week to spend the entire day hooked up to a dialysis machine. Luckily for the woman, her neighbors really took care of her. In fact, they looked after her to the point where she actually left her door unlocked, so that the neighbors could come in and out, and make sure she was doing O.K. Here is where the fun begins….

Of course, North Philly being North Philly, there were drugs being sold in her neighborhood. And, one day the cops caught people selling drugs outside of the woman’s home. I suppose because they knew the neighborhood, the suspects immediately turned and ran from the cops, straight through the unlocked door, into this woman’s home. The cops arrested them on the spot. And then, despite the fact that the elderly woman did not know the suspects, and despite the fact that they never accused the woman of having anything to do with anything (remember, she is a sick woman on dialysis), they filed a motion to seize her home. (Here is where they are acting like the home has a personality, and therefore should be subject to “punishment,” because the owner clearly did nothing wrong.)

So, the District Attorney, a locally elected official, is going to seize the home of an innocent, sick woman, and sell it at Sheriff Sale? Why, you ask? The answer, besides total stupidity, is money. The DA gets 100 percent of the proceeds of each home it seizes.

The DA cannot be getting a ton of money for a seized home in a struggling N. Philly neighborhood. But, assuming they get enough, the money does not go into the general Philadelphia revenue pool. It is, in fact, put in a dedicated funding stream straight back to the DA’s office themselves. In other words, they have a great financial incentive to seize people’s homes, whether that person has committed a crime or not, because they get extra cash outside of the normal city funding process.

As I said, this practice is unfair and inhumane. The government is going after the homes of those who cannot afford to defend themselves, and despite the fact that they are not even being accused of any crime whatsoever, their home is taken. In this case, because the woman’s file made it to the Penn clinic, her home was eventually saved. Those who are not so lucky? Too bad, they are simply poor and screwed.

But, lets forget basic moral questions for a second, and think about the public policy ramifications. We have a City with many struggling neighborhoods, that have abandoned homes, unstable populations, a plethora of mortgage foreclosures, and all the problems that stem from those issues. And within that context, we have the DA, the locally elected DA, helping to push these neighborhoods further into decline by taking long time residents out of their homes?

In the end, of course, the whole thing must actually cost Philadelphia money. Forget the real, but still somewhat abstract monetary effect that a Sheriff Sale has on a neighborhood (some estimates have been that it knocks $15,000 off of the property value of its neighboring homes). Forget the psychic cost to a population that sees a longstanding neighborhood resident forced out of her home by officials elected to represent the interests of Philadelphia residents. How about some very basic costs? Where, for example, do you think people are going to go when this happens? How about a homeless shelter ($$$)? How about public housing ($$$)? Can this really be justified?

On a national level, there has been some bipartisan reforms of federal seizure laws, which for example, provide funding for the legal defense of these people and their homes. However, since most people in Philly have their property seized at a much more local level, reform is needed in Harrisburg. But, that said, what the hell is our District Attorney, again, our locally elected, locally funded District Attorney doing? If we do not get one piece of reform passed in Harrisburg, it should not matter locally. Our District Attorney should not have affirmative polices in place that harm Philadelphia residents, and Philadelphia neighborhoods. And what for? A dedicated revenue stream that undoubtedly costs the City plenty of money in other areas. In the annals of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” this has to be way up there.

Philly and its residents have been delivered too many body blows for the past generation, and more are coming as Medicare and Community Development Blocks Grants are going to be slashed in the Bush budget. The last thing we need is our own elected officials doing their part to inflict blows on those who cannot hit back.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

City Council: Who, us reform?

Blech.

Obviously, its old news, but City Council rejected ethical reforms.

Tom Ferrick had a wonderful column about the whole fiasco:

The bill, introduced by Councilman Michael Nutter, was a shadow of its former self by the time it came up for a vote yesterday. Still, Council wouldn't buy it.

Originally, the bill banned nepotism. Nutter took that out after Council members told him they couldn't support a bill that banned nepotism, because they were in favor of it.

Originally, the bill put a ban on outside employment by city workers, including Council people. That came out after Council said it wouldn't vote for a bill that banned outside employment.

Originally, the bill set up an ethics commission - with investigative powers - to oversee the operations of city government. That came out because City Council said it didn't like an independent ethics commission.

What was left was a bill that, in effect, limited the amount of political money firms that do business with the city could give political candidates.

Not enough votes

Nutter had hoped to muster the 12 votes he needed to get the legislation on the May primary election ballot - it needed voter approval because it would have changed the City Charter.

He got 11 votes. There were five "nays," and one Council member (an ailing Joan Krajewski) was absent.

....

Members complained that the bill had been amended so much it must be bad legislation.

They conveniently forgot that it had been amended so much because they insisted on the amendments.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco, one of the "no" votes, said she was unhappy because the bill covered nonprofits and the reporting requirements might impede their mission in helping needy children.

It's about the kids, see?

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, another "no" vote, said she was worried that the law might apply to the little old ladies who volunteer for nonprofits and force them to report all their contributions.

That's absurd, but you've got to remember: Miller is dumber than a stick and that's the best excuse she could come up with.

Councilman Darrell Clarke, another "no" vote, said: "I'm for ethics. I'm for reform."

Just not the ethics and reform in the Nutter bill.

Clarke then said: Hey, I have an idea. Why don't we form a committee to look into drafting a new ethics bill!
The only way we are going to get real ethics reform is going to be to force every legislator to sign a pledge before the election, along the lines of the "no new taxes" pledges the Club for Growth people brutally enforce with Republicans.

Our Government shouldn't be a joke. But, unfortunately, the punchline rages on.

(Quick update- OK, I think it is probably a little mean of Ferrick to insult Donna Miller as he did. He was obviously furious, which I very much appreciate, because it comes from a passion for the City. Still... a little harsh.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"opportunity to rethink the relationship between schools and community renewal"

This has the potential to be quite interesting.
Info about what to do if you want to sign up is at the bottom.

As you may know the School District of Philadelphia and the School
Reform Commission have a $1.5 billion capital improvement program. This
program offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink the
relationship between schools and community renewal. A new series of
public forums will provide Philadelphians with the opportunity to
participate in a robust public conversation about the community building
opportunities presented by this unprecedented investment in the city's
schools.

I would like to invite you to take part in the first forum of this
series, called the Franklin Conference, to be held on March 28th from
3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the World Café Live, 3025 Walnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19104 (www.worldcafelive.com), in West Philadelphia.

President Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania is scheduled to
kick off the series that afternoon. A panel of national experts in
school design, planning and pedagogy will speak during the evening -
including Frank S. Kelly, FAIA of the SHW Group in Houston, Bobbie Hill
and Steven Bingler of Concordia, Ruth Nield of the Graduate School of
Education at Penn, and Patti Smith of The Education Alliance at Brown
University - followed by table and plenary discussions. The event is
free and open to the public and a light supper will be provided. Seating
is limited.

This project was first publically announced in Chris Satullo's editorial
from last week
(http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/11060770.htm).

In addition to your attendance at this first event, we also ask you to
join our team in our effort to spread the word for this pivotal event.
Please find the attached flier on this email and either distribute it to
your students, neighbors or display it in a visible location at your
offices. As central members of our educational and civic community, your
participation is vital to the success of our endeavor. Those interested
should RSVP to school@design.upenn.edu or 215-573-8720 with name,
organization, contact information and neighborhood. Availability will be
confirmed as soon as possible.

The Franklin Conference on School Design is a civic engagement program
of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. The program is sponsored by
the William Penn Foundation, the Penn Institute for Urban Research and
World Café Live.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Can Philly still be shrinking?

So, as most people know, the City of Philadelphia has been shrinking dramatically for the past 50 years or so. While we once had 2.5 million, we now have about 1.5. (To put that in perspective, we have lost more people in the past 50 years than Boston has total.)

Yet lately, there have been some signs that maybe the flight has stopped. For example, the Daily News had a story today about the amazingly booming condo market, where people are paying anywhere from a few hundred grand to a few million dollars to live in a development in any number of neighborhoods in the City. The idea that people are willing to pay that much to live in Philly, rather than outside it? A wonderful thought.

And, frankly, the Condos seem more like the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that existing homes are going for more and more all over the city. Think for a minute, of all of the booming neighborhoods in Philly. Besides the obvious ones, ie. Northern Liberties and Old City, there is:

Fairmount, which is busting at the seams, expanding into Brewery Town on one end, and North Philly on the other;

Southern Kensington, or, "North of Northern Liberties" as well as Fishtown; or

East Falls, with new restaurants and coffee shops going up constantly, and booming home prices; or

A variety of South Philly neighborhoods, including Bella Vista, "South of South," and now, "SoWa," South of Washington; or

West Philly, where a simply shell of a home anywhere reasonably close to Penn goes for ridiculous amounts... And the list could go on.

There is, without a doubt, a certain amount of a housing bubble going on, much like the tech bubble in the 90's, and it will pop at some point. (Hopefully, Philly, which has been undervalued for so long, will see less of a fall than other locales.)

But that said, with so many people willing to spend so much money in so many different neighborhoods in Philadelphia, is it possible that we are still shrinking? I simply cannot see it... And I am pretty sure that when the new Census population estimates are released in July, Philadelphia may in fact see something it has not seen in over 50 years: Real, measured growth.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Murders in Philadelphia: Some Perspective

When I was in college, like many American kids, I studied "the troubles" of Northern Ireland. Maybe because Ireland has such a mythical place in the consciousness of so many Americans, or maybe simply because they speak English and have an "interesting" conflict to study, the province is run over with Americans looking at murals, ethnographically interviewing people, and writing a thesis or two about why so many of these people who seem so alike kill each other so often. (In fact, so many Americans study there that there is a common joke: Q:What is the typical Derry family? A: A mother, a father, two kids, and an American doing peace and conflict studies.)

Part of what makes studying in Northern Ireland so appealing is that it is small enough so that everyone is very accessible. So that when I did a study of Loyalism, I sat down for a two hour interview with the former head of the UDA, the largest Protestant paramilitary, and someone who had ordered the deaths of countless people. And, on a day their Government was on the verge of collapse, the Chairman of Sinn Fein sat down and talked to us for an hour.

Much of what makes it so accessible is simply its size- roughly 1.7 million people. In fact, when I thought about the type of interviews I was getting, I had a habit of comparing it to having a whole part of Academia studying Philly, because at 1.5 million people, we really were not that different in size.

Anyway, here are the murder statistics, by year, for those killed in the troubles:

1969 16
1970 26
1971 171
1972 476
1973 253
1974 294
1975 258
1976 295
1977 111
1978 80
1979 120
1980 80
1981 111
1982 110
1983 85
1984 69
1985 57
1986 61
1987 97
1988 104
1989 75
1990 81
1991 96
1992 89
1993 88
1994 64
1995 9
1996 18
1997 20
1998 54

The average year in Northern Ireland, the place famous for murder, saw 115 people killed. If we look at 1971-1980, the ten worst years of the troubles, the average number of people killed is 214 people.

Now, lets look at the murder rate for the past ten years in Philly, a similarly sized place:

1995 432
1996 423
1997 418
1998 338
1999 292
2000 319
2001 309
2002 288
2003 348
2004 330

The average number of people killed? 350. So even in its worst years, Northern Ireland, the place studied by countless students, the recipient of millions upon millions of dollars in aid, had about two-thirds of the murders that Philly has had in the past ten years.

Anyone else think that we need a new approach to crime prevention?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Does Rick Santorum run a boarding house?

Well, man, you would think he does, considering that the home he "lives" in, outside of Pittsburgh, is supposedly inhabited not only by Santorum, his wife, their six kids, but also by two people who are.... renting it from him. Why is this relevant? Because, in fact, Senator Santorum does not actually live there. He and his family are residents of Virginia. Why does that matter? Well, here are a few reasons, from the Chuck Pennacchio campaign blog:

1.) Penn Hills (PA) school district paying $38,000 a year for his children's cyber schooling.

2.) His wife won a $350,000 civil suit against a chiropractor. The claim was filed and the judgment was awarded in Virginia. (Umm, yeah, Santorum is trying to limit these types of judgments to $250,000 -- she filed for $500,000 and Rick Santorum testified on her behalf)

3.) The Pittsburgh Post Gazette wants to know if Senator Santorum (R-VA/PA) is behind the recent push-polling done against members of the Penn Hills School District.

...

And we are supposed to believe that his family lives here instead of their $757,000 home in Leesburg, Virginia? Come now.

But here is the ironic twist in the story:

In his initial House race against Rep. Doug Walgren in 1990, challenger Santorum attacked the incumbent from Mt. Lebanon for buying a house and raising his children in McLean, Va. Now Rick Santorum of Leesburg, Va., is saying that he is and he isn't a resident of Pennsylvania.

Rick Santorum needs to convince the voters of Pennsylvania that he lives among them and not just an out-of-towner who used to live here when he was first elected.
Read the rest of the post, it is great. And, after seeing something like this, as well as the "hey hey, ho ho, social security's got to go" they captured Republicans chanting that was disseminated everywhere, anyone who says Chuck Pennacchio should not be running is simply not paying attention.

Center For Progressive Leadership: Drafting the PA farm team

I earlier wrote a little about the Center for Progressive Leadership, a new organization aimed at finding and grooming young progressives to run for office. They recently sent out an update, here is most of it:

OUR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT VISION...
The success of developing Pennsylvania's farm team of emerging leaders and future candidates relies on our collective ability to funnel the state's progressive talent through CPL's leadership training programs. To reach our vision of building PA's political talent pool, all of our efforts will be concentrated on one near-term goal:

To recruit Pennsylvania's smartest, most driven, still untapped,
emerging leaders to apply for our PA Political Leaders Fellowship.

THE FELLOWSHIP...
CPL's Fellowship model does something completely new by providing ongoing, comprehensive leadership development support through a 9 month fellowship that includes group training, one-on-one coaching, mentoring, and networking. This part-time fellowship - that connects emerging leaders to political experts and to each other - helps them build the skills and tools it takes to be a successful candidate or activist. Twice a month for 9 months, Fellows will work intensively in groups and one-on-one to learn how to:
- Network
- Fundraise
- Deliver a message
- Speaking Publicly
- Build a campaign team
- Work a room, knock on a door, make an impression on an elevator
- Prepare themselves personally and politically now in order to be able to someday run for office

OUR PLAN TO GET THERE...
- Building the Team: More Recruiters means More Leaders
In order to build a deep talent pool, we must first find strong recruiters. Our recruiting team - which includes you - will represent every corner of the progressive coalition. To build a sustainable program, each of us must continuously search for both more recruiters and potential Fellows. Wherever you are, look around the room - at work, in meetings, neighborhood events, rallies, fundraisers, parties, bars, in line at Wawa... Our next generation of political leaders are all around us. It is our job to find them.
I strongly agree with the sentiment of the last few sentences. Future leaders are everywhere and anywhere. The more we expand our sights, the more talented people will emerge.

- Two Regional "Pre-Trainings": Training More Recruits means Recruiting More Fellows
In June, CPL will hold two 2-Day Pennsylvania Pre-Trainings - one in the Philadelphia area and one in the Pittsburgh area. These short-term, high-impact trainings provide us three opportunities:
1) To teach up to 200 emerging leaders political skills that will help them speak publicly, network, and fundraise.
2) To attract the most eager among them to apply for our 9-month Fellowship.
3) To test our reach, hone our recruitment skills, and assess PA's interest in serious leadership development.

Two successful June trainings will be our best tool to market our Fellowship and reach out to potential applicants. This is our chance to immediately start teaching political skills to an expanding talent pool in PA.

- Expanding our Email Reach: Exponential Growth
Assuming each of us represents 5 people who would be interested in learning about CPL, recruiting Fellows, applying for the Fellowship, or just spreading the word, we alone can expand CPL's reach fivefold in the next month. Who are the five people you can bring in?

.....

ACTION ITEMS... Put these on your To-Do list:
1.) Forward this email to 5 of your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family - from inside and outside traditional political circles. We'll only be able to reach untapped talent if we reach into untapped sources. (CC me on your forward, if you can)
2.) Email me your list of 5-10 email list additions, if you haven't already.
3.) Create your list of potential nominees. Who are your 2-3 top targets to apply for the Fellowship? Are you thinking about applying? Contact me if you have questions about the kinds of people you should be looking for.

Between this and the Neighborhood Networks, we are starting to see positive effects of the PA outreach for the 2004 election. Thankfully, people have not just gone away.

To get involved, either send me your email address, or go to their website and sign up. Frankly, given that Dems hold an advantage in party registration, there is no reason PA is so Republican dominated. Having a farm team of progressive leaders, trained in methods of running for office, is one important step to get us back to where we should be.

Neighborhood Networks goes online

From a comment by Marc Stier, elevated to give it a little more notice:

The Neighborhood Networks website just went on-line. It will be expanded soon, but we thought we would provide just a page with some more information about our aims and a place for people to sign up. Got to http://www.phillyneighborhoodnetworks.org
Sign up if you are interested...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

City Council: Who (young) is Running?

Well, now that Casey had officially declared and the race for U.S. Senate is heating up, it's time to talk about the thing that really matters: Philadelphia City Council. Sure, the Democratic Primary is still over two years away, but that doesn't mean people haven't started positioning themselves.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Andrew Hohns is rumored to be eyeing a run. Coming off two consecutive failures to unseat State Rep. Babette Josephs, Hohns is a proven fundraiser with an ability to organize volunteers. Frankly, City Council makes a lot more sense to me for Hohns. I've always had the impression he is more interested in local issues.

Another person I think might be considering a run is Sharif Street. Although he recently made headlines for lobbying City Council, it's well known he has political larger political aspirations. Like Hohns, he failed to unseat an long-time incumbent the last election cycle. Like Hohns, I think he has a better shot at winning a Council seat than beating a longtime elected official. Of course, Wilson Goode Jr. shows how a Mayor's son can get elected.

Anyone else? I'm all ears......

The Senate race: Pennacchio getting mentioned, and why we need an open primary

While I am happy that Bob Casey, Jr is running against Rick Santorum, there is no question in my mind that an open primary, especially if it is conducted the right way, will only help the Democratic party. How so?

1) Let the party have an honest, open debate with its members about who we want to represent us in the general election.

2) Gain lots of free publicity for our candidates as they debate. Santorum will win his primary, and it will be barley covered. If we have a competitive primary, it becomes a huge national and statewide story. Which leads to....

3) More candidates bashing Santorum on a daily basis. Put it like this, without Chuck Pennacchio's campaign, we would not have had the video of Drexel Republicans shouting 'hey hey, ho ho, Social Security's got to go." Instead, that video was disseminated across the internet, mentioned in the NY Times, and is helping to stop Dubya's social security destruction. And, I am pretty damn sure it will come in handy as an attack ad against Santorum in the general election, whomever the candidate is.

4) Above all else, the people should decide. Backroom politics in PA have gotten us nowhere. We constantly lose every state race except Governor. And, in fact, by the logic of a closed primary, Rendell himself would never have had a chance to take the message of change to Pennsylvanians, and kick the ass of the then sitting Attorney General.

To that end, it is really annoying that Pennacchio consistently fails to be mentioned in any story about the race. In fact, reporters say over and over again that the primary is over. Well, guess what, it isn't. And, finally, Pennacchio is at least getting mentioned. From an Inky article about Casey, and his risks of running for Senate:
At a media briefing last week, Reid dismissed a question about whether a Casey candidacy represented the party's effort to reach voters who oppose abortion. The pull was Casey's polling numbers, Reid said, which show him beating Santorum, a two-term senator.

"Obviously Casey's the best candidate," Reid said.

Some abortion-rights advocates are not happy that Casey was anointed, and he faces a challenge from the left in the Democratic primary from Chuck Pennacchio, the history program director at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Pennacchio has raised about $15,000, according to the latest campaign-finance filing.
Again, I am happy Casey is running. But, at the same time, I am also thrilled that Pennacchio refuses to make this a coronation. And, now, he is at least getting mentioned.

Ferrick on Philly schools

It is always nice to hear optimism about the Philadelphia public school system. Lately, with many of the moves by CEO Paul Vallas, there seem to be more and more reasons to be optimistic. On that note, Tom Ferrick summarizes some of the more recent attempts to improve the schools, all aimed at keeping the "aspiring class" satisfied, and in Philadelphia.

From the column:

CEO Paul Vallas' announcement last week of an expansion in programs for high-achieving and gifted elementary school students. It will include more classes geared to these kids in existing schools and three new schools to serve gifted kids, which could enroll as many as 1,200 students.

A district plan to expand its magnet high schools. It has 12 today, serving 7,600 students. It plans to open nine more, creating room for 3,600 more students. The plan calls for them to be modeled after similar successful magnets here and elsewhere - another high school for Creative and Performing Arts is one example.
And, just in case you think this is about improving lives for middle-class kids only:

Let me also note that nearly half the students currently enrolled in existing magnet schools come from poor families.

As I said, aspiring parents come in all shapes and sizes.
The reason I like Paul Vallas is that he both demands and expects more from students (for example, even in sports, where the public league is now playing in the state playoffs for the first time) while also providing more to make those demands a reality. And, unlike old school chief David Hornbeck, who was also an incredibly smart man, Vallas has the political skill necessary for this position. (For example, unlike Hornbeck, he probably will not go up to Harrisburg and call legislators racist.)

One good thing about John Kerry losing: He did not take Paul Vallas out of Philadelphia. We need Vallas here as long as possible.

Vince Fumo in trouble?

Vince Fumo, the all powerful State Senator from Philly, (also called the Vince of Darkness by some), had his computers seized by federal agents as part of an ongoing probe into the Senator's dealings.

From the article:
It couldn't be learned what information federal authorities were seeking. But the sprawling investigation has already touched on many areas, from Fumo's free use of an expensive museum yacht to his moves to obtain six- and seven-figure donations for nonprofit groups run by his aides and consultants.

Prosecutors previously subpoenaed records from those nonprofit groups. They have also subpoenaed records from Peco Energy Co. and Verizon Communications Inc., both of which Fumo approached for donations to the most well-funded of his nonprofits, the multimillion-dollar Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods.

Verizon rejected Fumo's request for money, but Peco secretly donated $17 million to the nonprofit as part of deals in which Fumo dropped his challenges to its deregulation plans and its merger with a Chicago utility.

....

This person said the probe, broadly speaking, was looking into whether Fumo had misused his official position - which Fumo says he never did.

"I did nothing wrong," the legislator said last year in a radio interview. "I sleep well at night."

Last year, prosecutors subpoenaed records from Peco after The Inquirer disclosed Fumo's secret deals with the utility under which it gave Citizens Alliance $17 million.

As part of those deals, Fumo dropped legal challenges to Peco's objectives. The utility also agreed to cut rates and to fund solar and wind energy and keep jobs in Philadelphia.

Directed by a Fumo aide, Citizens Alliance has worked to improve the Passyunk Avenue business area. It also supports a charter school, cleans streets, plows snow, and operates a parking lot on land that Peco gave it for $1. Fumo has called the group "my nonprofit" and said it has done much good for the community.
Will Vince be caught? My guess is no. He is, whatever you say about him, one smart cookie. I doubt he would do anything that he knew could get himself convicted of anything. On the other hand, he may have become a little too bloated with largesse and got lazy, who knows.

Fumo is one of the more interesting people in Philly politics. I do not think he is joking at all when he says he sleeps well at night, because I think in his mind, if he makes out like a bandit while still pushing money around the community, then everything is working out perfectly. So, to him, the fact that he extracted 17 million from Peco just meant more power, and more largesse to spread around. And his pork has brought (bought?) him many, many friends where you wouldn't really expect it. (For example, liberal-do-gooder and consumer advocate Lance Haver, who started an urban fish farm, got 250k from Fumo for his project.)

It will be interesting to follow.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Another PA Draft

It looks like I have some competition for drafting candidates to run for Santorum's senate seat (if you didn't read it below, I am advocating Drafting General Anthony Zinni to run).

This time the draft is aimed at Hardball host Chris Mathews (via GrassrootsPA). The Mathews drafters give five reasons why they think he should run:
  • Has remarkable depth and breadth of experience
  • Authored four best-selling books
  • Spent 15 years in politics and government
  • Is unafraid to stand up for what is right
  • Is a Philadelphia native
I have to say- I'm not a huge Chris Mathews fan. Outside of his "duel" with that psychotic geezer Zell "spitball" Miller, I have never seen Mathews actually play hardball with any of his guests. I also don't think that Mathews could have the ability to reframe any of the prominent issues in favor of a progressive candidate, in the way that I believe Zinni could reframe the national security debate.

But, regardless of these misgivings it is very refreshing to read Pennsylvanians thinking outside the box when it comes to choosing Senatorial candidates. The losers in the PA Democratic Party haven't fielded a winning Senatorial candidate in a general election in over 40 years. Shit, even the Eagles have won a championship in that time. It's time for some fresh ideas and fresh faces to enter into the PA Political scene, and I think that both of these Draft movements, as well as Chuck Penachio's campaign, are a move in the right direction.

It's time to lose the losers and choose some candidates who will actually win!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

19 Democratic Senators who can kiss national aspirations goodbye

Here are the traitors, who voted yes to the Bankruptcy Bill:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Conrad (D-ND)
Inouye (D-HI)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Stabenow (D-MI)

Oh Joe Biden, remember when you thought you had a shot in 08? Nah. And, do me a favor, stay out of PA.

Evan Bayh, my non charismatic friend. You were so neatly positioning yourself as the next great, safe, boring alternative for Democrats in 08. Now? Ha.

Debbie Stabenow, remember when you were seen as a down-to-earth, working class woman doing good? Sorry.

Ken Salazar? Remember when you voted for the torture guy? Ok Ken, you always sucked.

Harry Reid. OK, in all seriousness, Senator Reid, this one hurts. People were really starting to believe in you... Now I just wish Dick Durbin had been elected majority leader instead of you.

I know this is not a local issue, per se. But wow, this is just so awful that it needs to be talked about.

And, as a final thought- the bill is going before the House next week. We need to make some calls to our three Congresspeople to remind them to keep on voting in the interests of Philadelphians, and not MBNA.

Call Santorum and Spector TODAY

Today, the Senate has a final vote scheduled on the awful bankruptcy bill. This is the most vicious, anti-everyday American, anti-everything bill that has been proposed in years. (For more on the bill, see here. For more on the effort by bloggers to spread the word, see this.)

Call our Senators, today. Jam their phone lines. Tell them that you are a constituent, and you will remember when it comes time to vote, that they sided with MBNA over down on their luck Americans.

Indentured servitude is not the American way. Let them know.

And if you have a blog, conservative, liberal, whatever, spread the word, and start calling.

Spector's number is 202-224-4254.

Santorum's is 202-224-6324.

The vote is today. At the very least, make them think a little bit.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

East Falls hit with a double whammy

OK, so first, East Falls/Hunting park/ Allegheny West gets hit with smog from 99 Lower Merion School Busses that decide that while Lower Merion is too nice for loud, smoky busses, Philly is just fine. And then, today we find out this:
Woman's Medical Hospital is closing six months after a nonprofit organization led by cardiologist Nancy Pickering took over operations of the money-losing facility in Philadelphia's East Falls neighborhood.

Pickering told workers at a meeting this morning that she met with the hospital's board of directors last night and they made the decision to close because of the hospital's poor financial condition and prospects, according to a worker at the meeting.

"While we had hopes of rebuilding this community hospital with its rich heritage, there just wasn't enough patient revenue to support and maintain the operation of an acute-care facility," Pickering said in a statement.

She told hospital employees that some would continue to work until Friday, while others would need to stay longer to allow for the safe transfer of patients to other hospitals, said Beth Cantor, a mammography technician in the radiology department
.
As someone from that area, let me just say that this is an awful, awful thing. MCP was/is a part of the neighborhood. And, just out of curiosity, if you get really sick in West Germantown or the border of W. Mt Airy, where does an ambulance take you? Temple is a long drive in a life and death matter...

Come have a beer, tonight... McGlinchey's, 6pm

I need a drink.

Yesterday was surely a day for justice in the Senate! Wooo!

Strangely though, while I was depressed yesterday, today I am mad, and determined to try and figure out a way we can win. Anyone else want to daydream/strategize about how to use this to our advantage?

Anyway, I know drinking liberally was yesterday, but, I need a beer. Does anyone else in the liberal-do-gooder blogosphere want to come? After work, like 5:30 or 6?

McGlinchey's or some place else really cheap?

Nothing makes angry people more cheery than alcohol, after all.

Let me know...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Jonathan Saidel makes me go, "hmmmmm"

On Friday afternoon I went to a Democratic Senate Social Security Pep Rally that was held at Penn. In attendance were all our local Congressmen- Bob Brady, Chaka Fattah and Alyson Schwartz, along with 4 Democratic Senators- Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Kent Conrad (ND), the terrific Dick Durbin (IL) and Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV). It was a good show. However, on the day when the Senate just passed the long-awaited bankruptcy bill, the most disgusting, venomous, immoral piece of legislation aimed at everyday Americans in a long time (maybe ever), I don't feel like singing any Senatorial praises. (For the record, all the Senators in attendance voted the right way today. PA's "third Senator," Joe Biden, on the other hand, was largely responsible for getting the bankruptcy bill passed. He should be ashamed.)

Anyway, the reason I write is to comment on some of our local politicos. First, there was Rep. (and Philly Dem Party Chairman) Brady, warming up the crowd when everyone else was late. Say what you want about Brady, and about the way he runs the party, but you have to give him credit that he is not a politician that put on airs. I think the crowd genuinely appreciated the fact that he did a little MCing while we were waiting for the main attractions to show up.

During Brady's riffing, he started introducing other local politicians in the room, including former Congressman Joe Hoeffel, labor leader Pete Matthews and current City Controller and future Mayoral candidate Jonathan Saidel.

The reason I bring this up is that I had never seen Saidel speak in person, and frankly do not know a lot about him. But, I would have to say, his speech very much surprised and impressed me, mainly for the fire with which it was delivered. And then, when talking to someone about the speech, I heard another story about Saidel, which made me think about his candidacy a little more. It is all second-hand, but, still...

There is a large, very community minded mosque in N Philly. (OK, I am sure there is more than one, but, this story is about one in particular.) And, immediately after 9/11, they were really worried about a few nuts doing something stupid. And so, at that point, Saidel, a Jew, went with a few others from the City, and essentially stood guard outside the Mosque, to make sure that peace reigned and no misguided retributions took place. It was a very simple, very powerful way to show that in that even that awful moment, Philly was together, and protecting all of its citizens. Maybe because I was three thousand miles away during that period, I never heard any of this. Or maybe it was because he did not publicize it. Either way, it was a bit of decency and strength that we want in our political leaders.

In a field of candidates who I am at best skeptical about, this story, along with Saidel's performance on Friday at least made me consider him as a viable choice. My research begins...

Monday, March 07, 2005

SEPTA Workers Authorize Strike

A year ago, the union representing SEPTA workers negotiated a 1-year extension on their current contract. With that extension about to expire, a newly elected leadership is battling with SEPTA management to keep healthcare costs down and maintain good wages for SEPTA workers.
The key roadblock has been whether SEPTA would succeed in forcing veteran union workers to contribute weekly for the first time for health care and retiree prescriptions. According to the union, SEPTA has also proposed taking away maternity leave and family medical leave.
...
"The costs of health care at SEPTA and across the United States are rising," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said. "Everything's on the table when we sit down to negotiate a contract - wages, benefits and work rules."

The tough negotiations come right after a $412 million bailout by Gov. Rendell to stabilize transit agencies in the state until 2007.

The governor has warned the union that a city transit strike on the heels of SEPTA's financial crisis and the state bailout could anger lawmakers who he hopes will provide permanent funding for SEPTA.
In my mind, these negotiations are just like those undertaken by AFSCME DC 33 and 47, as well as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Negotiations between public employee (government workers) unions and the City of Philadelphia are never about improving the situation of workers. They are always focused on cutbacks, because local and state officials are unwilling to provide decent funding for public services.

I also want to draw attention to this part of the article:
Less than a mile away on Columbus Avenue, Jamie Harris, 29, had just gotten off the Frankford El.

He said he understands not wanting to pay more for health care or lose maternity leave. He and his wife are expecting a baby in May.

But Harris, who makes $9 an hour doing inventory for Philadelphia-area companies, said the strike would hurt many Philadelphians.

"It's going to be tough for a lot of people," he said. "We have to go to work. Every day we're taking SEPTA."
It would be nice, just for once, to see a news article covering a labor dispute that doesn't end with how striking workers will screw over the working people.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Neighborhood Networks

A few days ago, I mentioned the idea that one of the speakers at the Philly for Change meetup brought up his plan for starting what he called "Neighborhood Networks." Basically, it is a way to keep up the energy that many people felt getting involved during the 2004 election, and turning that ambition inward, towards our own City. And in a place as in need of real reform as this one, it is a wonderful idea. We need a not so silent army of volunteers in every ward and division in the City, pressing new ideas and new candidates to the forefront of the local election process.

I have since received a few emails detailing the vision for the Neighborhood Networks. So, here are some of its basics:

Neighborhood Networks will celebrate, formalize and organize its official Citywide existence at an all day conference to be held on June 4 this year. Please hold the date, and look soon for the exact time and place.

Why Neighborhood Networks, what will we be doing on June 4, and what will happen between now and then?

I will answer in broad terms only, because the details are still to be worked out, hopefully with the participation of many of you.

For those of us who were involved in MoveOn’s Leave No Voter Behind Campaign, “Neighborhood Networks” will readily be seen as the logical successor to that effort. In LNVB, over a thousand precinct captains and volunteers in the Philadelphia area knocked on tens of thousands of doors of the people who were our neighbors to bring them out to vote against four more years. Most of us worked on the very blocks on which we lived and those right around them. Some helped neighbors in other parts of the city and region get in touch with each other. Others made phone calls to our friends, while still others greeted them at the polls. Whatever our exact role, the experience left many of us exuberant about what can be accomplished by neighbors working with neighbors to bring about progressive political change. Election day itself, with our friends and neighbors pouring from their homes to exercise their democratic will was for many of us like a festival, a day that we will always treasure, despite the awful result nationwide.

We have decided that participatory, democratic political activity, based on where we live, shall not perish from this city. And we will make our work even more meaningful than what it was last year.

Neighborhood Networks will be built around the precinct organizer, at least one of whom will be located in every political division in this city where we can recruit a volunteer. Our precinct organizers -- and the helpers they attract to them -- will not simply distribute information, but they will be collectors of the sentiments, needs and political hopes of the thousands of voters they collectively contact every year...

....

Each neighborhood will be supplied methods -- and develop its own -- to sustain a genuine two way, and even multiple way, conversation to express its own voice. From these local networks will grow larger regional, district-wide, and then citywide networks in which the commonalities among all of us will be translated into a powerful area-wide voice for honest, progressive and committed political action.

In short we are committed to living out our progressive political values in the method by which we do politics -- house to house, precinct to precinct, and ward by ward -- as well as by the substantive values we expect that politics to promote.

Neighborhood Networks will be the democratic voice through which the people of this city can reclaim the political power that belongs to them. And hopefully the Networks will soon extend even further, to the five county region and beyond so that the government of the state of Pennsylvania, and its Congressional delegation, will represent who and what we really are.


OK, so how does this sound so far? (This is where everyone says "terrific!")

And, to make it all happen, there will be a conference to figure out the nitty-gritty of how this will all work. What happens at the conference? Well...

The main work of the conference will be done in small, geographically based groups, organized by ward where enough members of a ward are present, or in other larger geographical groupings. Then we intend to pose a variety of questions to those groups. Questions such as:

-- How should candidate endorsements be made? Should voters be polled, division by division after distribution of candidate information? Should such polls be mandatory or advisory given that precinct representatives may have the advantage of face to face contacts with candidates not available to all members? Should all areas be bound to support the candidate receiving majority support? Should there be a minimum vote which would be binding citywide? Who should be empowered to endorse in races that are only district wide, rather than citywide?

.....

So we need you to arrive at the conference with your thinking caps on. This will not be a conference for observers, but for doers. Each small group will designate a reporter, as well as at least one representative on the Steering Committee. Reports from each group will be taken to the Steering Committee which will then consider all the input in reaching a set of final recommendations. Then that Committee will take those recommendations back to all of you in a final poll.

And then we will try out whatever model emerges. We will test it, evaluate it, mold it as necessary, and, hopefully, perfect it as an engine of democratic participation and democratic power such as has rarely if ever been seen before outside of a New England town meeting.

Some people say such an organization is impossible. Not enough participation is possible today in a world filled with distractions and the pull of the market place as the answer to all that ails us. But we think that’s wrong, that people are hungering for the ability to regain their sense of community and to express that sense effectively to take back their government.


I have a few ideas myself. Either way, the conference is June 4th. If you are interested at all in participating (I think about 300 people are signed up so far) just post a comment, and I can hook you up with more info.

We have to figure out a way to get off the computer, out into the streets and into an effective force for change (and, of course, use the internet as a powerful organizing force). I hope this conference, and this network of reform minded, progressive people can do it. I hope you will join me, as well.

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