Friday, April 29, 2005

Quiet news day

Just some small stuff today, not really worth a whole entry each:
  • The Daily News has an interview with Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr., about gun control, police response times, and how to combat city violence. Some thoughts, no easy answers.

  • Gar Joseph reports speculations that Robert Casey is lying low to let Santorum skewer himself on unpopular issues and to stay out of the fray where intra-party debates are concerned. Of course, a sitting Senator is inherently more in the public eye than a presumptive nominee doing a different job for the next year or so... The reporter actually asks Casey his stance on several issues and gets straight answers, so check it out (although they might not be the ones you would have chosen).

  • America's Hometown reports that Center City Philadelphia has now been set up as its own school region, which may allow better support of and choice among downtown schools for residents there. Anything that serves students better and makes parents more willing to stay in the city...
Have a good weekend, all!

Former assistant DAs support Seth Williams

YoungPhillyPolitics got an email from former employees and colleagues of Seth Williams in the D.A.'s office, and it's a strong testimony to his character and qualifications -- read the whole thing.
If we are truly interested in a better Philadelphia criminal justice system, we need to find time and money to help Seth Williams.
This seems like an endorsement as telling as that of the police association. There's not much time for this campaign to catch fire, but local bloggers are doing what they can to raise awareness and support his efforts...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Quote of the month

I don't want to get Will Bunch in trouble with the DN folks, but I just loved this:
We have a firm policy here at Attytood of not endorsing any candidates. That would even be the case if, hypothetically, a machine-backed former acolyte of Frank Rizzo who hides behind the immoral skirt of the death penalty while ignoring local political corruption and using outdated methods to attack street crime were to be opposed by a fresh young prosecutor with a good resume, some great ideas and a solid record on civil rights and justice issues.
hah! hypothetically, of course...
(See more about bloggers backing Seth Williams in the D.A. primary here, and consult the definition of aphophasis as needed.)

Battle over the budget takes no prisoners

It all started with the discovery that Philadelphia's City Council had been misled about city library funding, and especially about how a new appropriation was being spent, given that Mayor Street had just announced a bunch of closings and restricted hours of neighborhood library branches. Now there appears to be a full-scale war between Council and Mayor (only the latest battle in many years of such recurrent wars) that's spreading blood across the entire proposed budget:
  • City Council is attempting to rescind a bond issue that it had authorized to fund renovation of the central library building.
    Council members said if they had known in December when they agreed to spend the $30 million that the Free Library would in January reduce hours and remove professional librarians at 20 neighborhood branches, they wouldn't have approved the bond issue.
    . . .
    "Why should the Free Library be serving lattes to Center City residents when they are not giving basic services to the people in the neighborhoods?" DiCicco asked.
    The whole Council still has to vote on this, and Street expressed confidence that the bond issue would survive.

  • Street countered the Council's complaints by warning of expected cuts in state funding, which will cause much bigger problems than library resource prioritization.
    The mayor said Council tends to focus on "hot button" issues like library funding, rather than the broader questions of managing the entire city budget, which is the mayor's charge.

    But when it was pointed out that these hot buttons were pushed when he made controversial cuts in libraries, recreation centers, fire stations and museums, Street said that he warned three years ago that the city could not keep doing everything it had been doing and maintain "an aggressive tax-reduction program."
    Unfortunately, large cuts are likely to come in some after-school programs that Street funds via state monies. But, of course, he's pretending that these decisions aren't also about prioritization, here in tax cuts versus spending needs...

  • An Inquirer editorial weighs in, defending some of Street's choices against DiCicco's attacks, specifically in trimming funding for fire departments.
    The Street administration wants to save $7 million by cutting four engine and four ladder companies (not fire houses). That has prompted DiCicco to introduce a bill calling for a referendum that would strip the mayor's office of the power to deploy fire and medical staff and give that authority to Council.
    . . .
    DiCicco's misguided proposals fall into a trap laid by Street, who is trying to to undermine the Council majority in favor of tax reform by cutting city services dear to them and their districts.
    I can only defer to that analysis. For that matter, I can barely keep up with the cross-fire here!

  • Finally, a Daily News editorial claims that Time Magazine didn't go far enough when it tarred Street as a poor mayor, arguing that, in fact, both Philadelphia's mayor and its City Council need a good drubbing. (Of course, the writer has Council aspirations himself.)
A little flak for everybody.

When will Pharoah bend?

A somewhat amusing piece in today's Daily News reviews the numerous plagues that have beset the Feds in their attempt to punish city corruption, from the discovery of their City Hall bug, to the death of their primary target, to this week's eviction of a juror for intransigent bias. What with this week being Passover, it's hard not to imagine clouds of locusts on the way (or maybe that new movie fills the bill)... heh.

More on the judicial primary

This week's CityPaper has a piece (Patel's Political Notebook) on the bevvy of judges running in the May 17 Democratic primary -- who's endorsed and who's not, more on the woes of convincing ward leaders to recommend them, why it's in some ways better to run in a microelection year like this one than a bigger draw year where billing is more critical... A little information on some of the contenders, although not quite enough to guide voters working from scratch.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What's fair is fair

Tom Ferrick has a column today that gives an overview of Pennsylvania's disclosure rules for candidates for public office, and bemoans a recent example that indicates that their enforcement may fall far short of the ideal (and threatens to defang them entirely).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More choices colored by choice

PA Senate races aren't the only ones in which the abortion issue comes into play. In the New Jersey governor's race (which will be this year, in contrast to the PA Senate and governor races, both in 2006), a prolife organization has endorsed a Republican candidate, Bret Schundler, in a move which is thought to improve his primary chances but damage his general election profile.
"An endorsement by pro-life groups could cost him support down the road from swing voters he needs in the general election," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "But he's got to get through the primary first, and he can't do that without the support of social conservatives. He needs to solidify his base before he does anything else."
Schundler is in a tight primary race with businessman Douglas Forrester (with 5 other candidates trailing the leaders), so he can't afford to disregard key GOP constituencies. Presumptive Democratic nominee Jon Corzine will be glad to make much of this endorsement in November, however.

Taking from the poor

A week ago I blogged the story of Barbara Landers, assistant to State Rep. Rieger, and her siphoning off of funds intended to improve her blighted neighborhood. The City Paper has a cover story on this scandal, and more importantly how it has hit the region involved, where some had hoped to see small improvements, and how the neglect of representatives can lead to a downward slide in an already troubled part of town.
"When you look at the monies Mrs. Landers allegedly misused, it's a small drop in the bucket. It wouldn't go very far considering the devastation we have here, but far enough to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the poor," says [Neighborhood Advisory Committee director] Griffin, whose group has been trying to reverse bad trends here since 1989. "Of course it's frustrating. It could have been used for housing, senior assistance, people could use it to assist with youth programs, overall neighborhood beautification, changing behaviors."
Seems these folks can't get a fair shake, either in Harrisburg or around the corner.

Payment for their labors

Philadelphia City Council is getting a 4% raise this year, putting them over the 100k mark for the first time. It's noteworthy that our Councilfolk make more than our state legislators (!), as well as more than City Council members in just about any other major city (New York included). This must mean that they have less than incentive than usual for nepotism and graft, right? Oh, wait...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sometimes you can't please anybody...

While Democrats bemoan the (presumptive) nomination of Casey for Senate, decrying his prolife view and worrying about his father's right-leaning tendencies, conservatives point out that Casey is a liberal and thus to be feared (I presume). So, um, somebody sort it out...

(via pstupidonymous)

Race to be first

The Montgomery County Democratic Committee goes on record as the first to officially endorse Bob Casey for Senate in 2006, adding their drops to the anticipated flood. yippee.

The power of incumbancy

John Baer has an editorial in the Daily News about the Santorum-Casey matchup for Senate, and cautions against reading too much into the polls showing Santorum weakening. He points out the vast resources available to incumbents, not only of finances but of in-kind services and the hesitancy of voters to pass up a representative with leadership clout for a freshman replacement. All good points to keep in mind as we get closer to reality space in this campaign.

Gambling watch

The Daily News, self-proclaimed watchdog for the developing gambling trade in the Philadelphia area, seems to have a special issue today that reprints a variety of their past coverage (much from Feb and March) about legislative maneouvering, design competitions, and other ideas about slots parlors or full casinos that are due to be built here somewhere. There's also at least one new suggestion about where such a casino might best leverage other tourism potential. I can't tell whether there's some current announcement that's spurring all of this revival, but if I bump across it, I'll update here -- it may be an attempt to prepare the public to participate in a series of hearings that are scheduled to be held in early May...

Williams gets ink

I read the story online, so don't know where it appeared in the paper, but the Inquirer has an article today about Seth Williams campaign for D.A. This one notes that the establishment has taken notice of him, but the article itself is focused more on Williams' background and personal history than on his plans for the prosecutor's office or his endorsements. This nice bit toward the end though:
Williams points out that he has more prosecutorial experience than Gov. Rendell did when he was elected district attorney in 1977 at age 33 - and, for that matter, more than Abraham herself did when she was first appointed to the job in 1991.

"I'm not just some angry black guy yelling through a bullhorn," Williams said. "The D.A. wants people to think I'm some disgruntled employee. But my vision of how to fix that office is right."
So, some good stuff here, but readers are still having to parse together a picture of this guy from a lot of incomplete tidbits spread across time. Perhaps it will coalesce as we get into May.

Friday, April 22, 2005

In other news

Another quick news round-up:
  • A developer has bought the grassy lot at 20th and Market in Philly and will build condos there. I guess it's sort of good news and bad:
    Paul Levy, head of the Center City District, said Opus' decision to build residential units will help connect the Rittenhouse Square to the Logan Square area. On the downside, it signals a lack of confidence in future downtown office job growth.
    Well, grass isn't doing much for the area, but some good ground-floor commercial stuff could be very interesting.

  • There's apparently a battle going on over the election for Ward leader in Ward 6, with charges thrown over Committeefolk excluded from the proceedings. Even the small dogs can make trouble, given enough leash. (This article skims a few other local political rumors as well.)

  • An Inquirer editorial expresses dubiousness about the lobbyist disclosure measures discussed here yesterday.
    A cynic would say senators approved this legislation because they know it will die in the House. And a cynic would have good reason to say it. House Majority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) and Speaker John M. Perzel (R., Phila.) are cool to the issue, saying the public doesn't care.
    Meanwhile, we continue to be the only state in the nation that has no regulations concerning lobbying activity. yay.
Onward into the weekend!

Two views on overhaul of the judicial system

As I noted in a rare Sunday post, there is a movement afoot to change the way that judicial candidates in Philadelphia get endorsed by the Democratic party. The current system involves an astounding amount of cash, paid to the party officially and to virtually every Ward leader in a semi-acknowledged manner. This is obviously a recipe for getting a selection of candidates for reasons other than their qualifications and judicial philosophies, and several powerful leaders have declared their intent to change the process entirely.
  • Tom Ferrick opines that a top-down merit system would be an improvement (actually, he thinks any reform would be a miracle).

  • Meanwhile, this letter to the editor points out that appointments are open to influence games as well, and suggests that the proposed change would just export the hijinks (and the money) from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.
As with all the pay-to-play problems in the city, from City Hall to construction inspections, it's much easier to recognize the problem than to fix it. Every bit of daylight helps.

Strange days indeed

I'd sure love to know what's behind this: Santorum has introduced legislation that would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing weather forecasts for free online. That's right, your taxpayer-financed information would be embargoed, I guess so that private companies like AccuWeather could charge you for the same service. Except, of course, for hurricanes -- then the web site would rise like a phoenix to serve the public good. Crazy.

(via Atrios)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

News roundup

Lots of news today, so combining a bunch of highlights in one (monster) post:
  • Eleven underperfoming Philadelphia schools are targeted for sweeping reforms by the school district. There will be an outside audit to make suggestions, but local planners are already thinking big.
    [S]chool district officials, buoyed by powers granted under the federal No Child Left Behind law, have a growing list of measures they have already identified for implementation:
    Expanding the school day by perhaps an hour, lengthening the school year to 11 months; changing curricula; partnering schools with behavioral health organizations; converting schools into public charter schools; and even closing some schools.
    Not all of the schools are equally excited about the plans, so I hope that the district will do a better job of seeking their input.

  • A gun buy-back program has netted a lot of weapons already, but experts doubt whether that will result in any drop in local crime.
    "The people who are really at risk of using a gun in a violent crime don't give their guns back," Kennedy said. "The guns tend to come from older folks, from folks outside violent neighborhoods. It usually looks like people are essentially cleaning out their closets."
    One can only hope they're wrong...

  • More kerfluffle over Santorum's funding sources and their linkage to his policy initiatives. Which comes first: disrespect for low-wage workers or support by crappy employers?

  • An appeals court offered no sympathy to bribe-taking plumbing inspectors, despite the fact that such "tips" were common in the Department of Licensing and Inspection. I can still recall a big article in the Inquirer on this (focused around the guy who blew the whistle) -- a clean inspector would almost be forced to take money, with people sliding it under his front door, clipping it to application forms, sticking it in his coat pockets... I hope it all got cleaned up with these extortion convictions, but that's a pretty deep culture.

  • Despite Philly's failure to put a lid on pay-to-play, some small blow has been struck, in Harrisburg, of all places, where legislators have at last required that all lobbyists disclose their monetary activity.
    "For too many years, we've been the nation's laughingstock," Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow (D., Lackawanna) said before the 47-0 vote. "We are a state perceived as the Wild West of the East, the North and the South - where spoils go to special-interest groups carrying the biggest gun."
    The bill is through the House, but Senate consideration is still pending, so this too may fall short...
Never say I'm not watching the news for my readers! That should keep everybody busy for a while! :)

More on the land of rocks and hard places

The Phila Daily News calls on Arlen Specter to save the Senate from itself by voting against a rule change threatened in that body (ending the filibuster; the so-called nuclear option). Of course, everybody can count the votes, so the heat from the spotlight on the handful of moderate or undecided Republicans must be getting fairly intense. Conscience, or political survival? Best of luck, Arlen.

Philly bloggers promote Williams for D.A.

Young Philly Politics lays out the case for voting for Seth Williams for District Attorney in the May 17 Democratic primary, as part of an "Online day of action" for his candidacy. There's also a list there of other bloggers lending their support and their voices to Williams' effort. I must say that, knowing nothing about him a month ago, I've been increasingly impressed by what I've read and heard about his plans and him personally, and Lynne Abraham looks less and less on top of her job by comparison. Given how little the press are covering Williams, this blog coverage could be critical to his chances.

Update: There's an excellent point-by-point argument at PhillyFuture, comparing Williams and Abrahams on many issues and their views of the job. A great primer for those who feel they don't know why they should vote in this race. In off-year elections like this one, every vote has a huge impact. This is a race where you can make a difference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New poll on Casey-Santorum

A new Quinnipiac poll shows Casey with a substantial lead over Santorum for the 2006 Senate race, apparently benefitting from a lot of negative response among Santorum supporters to his positions on both Social Security and the Terri Schiavo circus. Of course, it's a long long time until the actual election. Santorum may well be taking some calculated risks to endear him to his most conservative supporters, trusting that everybody else will have forgotten these issues by 18 months from now. Casey's positive numbers are pretty soft, given the high percentage of voters who claim not to know much about him yet.

And then there were three?

Apparently another long-shot is considering entering the fray for Democratic nominee in the 2006 Senate race. Alan Sandals is a class-action lawyer who hopes to increase publicity for rational approaches to Social Security, among other topics. I have no idea who he is or whether he could raise any funds or interest whatsoever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Speaking of random endorsements

Above Average Jane goes back in time to find out more about Seth Williams, starting with his activism in college and working her way forward. Since there's so little in the media to work with, every bit of insight is useful. If somebody wants to do the same for Lynne Abraham, just let me know (although The Scorecard at right already links to a chunky bio. of her from the papers).

A strong endorsement

Noblesse Oblog makes a strong statement in favor of Pennacchio for Senate in 2006, not just as a candidate of protest, but as "the guy to get the job done." I find it hard to take a position on this, but those looking for more fodder for a decision might find her post worth reading.
It's going to take someone with breathtaking conviction and pitbull determination to bring down Senator Man on Dog. Bob Casey doesn't have it, the PA Democratic Party never had it, and Ed Rendell can't transmit it. Every other candidate in the field has withdrawn sooner than risk the wrath of the powers that be. That leaves one man standing who won't back down. The choice is clear; the time is now.
I never mind a good profession of principle...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Self-fulfilling coverage

In an irony apparently lost on their editors, the Sunday Inquirer titled an article about Seth Williams "D.A.'s rival fighting a quiet campaign". Um, if you guys would occasionally discuss him, then there'd be awareness, yes? oy.

It should be noted that this is almost entirely meta-coverage, discussing the difficulties Williams is having in getting noticed, but giving almost no space to description of how the two candidates differ or anything else (e.g., endorsements) that has happened in the last few months. In fact, there's almost more discussion of Lynne Abraham's previous opponent, who created a flurry of coverage by making outrageous accusations. Meanwhile, Williams has made such a good suggestion for reforming the DA's office that Abraham has actually said she's considering adopting it herself...

One defining issue?

There's more to Bob Casey than his position on abortion, but to read the coverage -- from both friends and foes -- you'd hardly know it. His being prolife is unlikely to win him any Santorum backers (other than those put off by the latter's extremism on all topics) and it's creating all kinds of rifts within the Democratic party, including efforts by Barbara Hafer to cut off funding to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (for the sin of recruiting Casey), attacks by other women's groups who feel snubbed by the party, and mutterings among voters who feel they're being given a "lesser of two evils" option again.

Babette Josephs, a rare progressive State Rep. from the Philadelphia region, has spoken in support of Casey, citing past encounters around supporting women's shelters, labor rights, and other old-fashioned liberal causes, as well as his work to fund daycare and maintain access to contraception, even when then-Governor Ridge's policies made such things difficult. She also said that he intends to have no abortion-related litmus test for judges, being more focused on finding "folks who aren't interested in repealing the entire New Deal."

I hope that in the course of the next year and a half, we can in some degree get past coverage that focuses on the Democratic party's internal wranglings about the (never-to-be-settled) abortion question and can hear about some of the other issues facing potential Senators. Further, I hope that Casey can develop some proactive positions that will give voters something to vote for rather than just against. Remember that Casey only announced a few weeks ago; there must be time to learn more.

A bad Time for Street...

Philadelphia's Mayor Street took a drubbing from Time Magazine, which dubbed him one of the three worst mayors in a US big city. It appears that they are basing his rating less on his overall performance in the city than on the difficulties caused by the FBI investigation and trials of his associates, despite the fact that Street himself has not been charged. Talk about adding insult to injury . . .

Update: the Daily News editors argue back, "Our Mayor does not suck!"

State legislator screws home district

If that's too generic, the story concerns State Rep. William Rieger and his assistant Barbara Landers. The latter managed to siphon off tons of money intended to improve the district, while the former apparently turned a blind eye (or even helped in the sneakiness).
Landers was charged last week with skimming off more than $68,000 in state grant money. The money came from taxpayers' wallets and was meant to improve the blighted neighborhoods in Rieger's hard-luck North Philadelphia "home district."
. . .
The money was entrusted to Landers in her capacity as head of a nonprofit community group.
The article also mentions some past blots on Rieger's record, including missing most of the votes of the committee he heads and paying rent for "office space" in Landers' barely accessable basement. His constituents deserve better.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Judging the system

A fascinating article in Sunday's Inquirer about how judges get nominated in PA (and especially Philadelphia). The current system is truly frightening, apparently requiring substantial payments by the judge-aspirants just to appear on the ballot, let alone get Ward or other local endorsements. It's amazing that any reasonable candidates come out the other end of the pipe. Apparently the folks in power in the Democratic party are now interested in trying to reform the system in some way -- this is a rare instance when appointed judges might serve the people better. Will be interesting to see how their attempts play out.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Smoking ban shelved?

Apparently there's just too much other stuff to consider, and Street says he's not going to strong-arm City Council on the smoking ban, which appeared one vote short a few weeks back. Will it rise again in the fall, or are too many local pols too scared of the bar owners down the block?

Local votes on the bankruptcy bill

Daniel at Young Philly politics reports on the vote of Philadelphia's US legislators on the anti-bankruptcy bill. In a nutshell, Brady and Fattah voted against it, but Allyson Schwartz voted for it. Commenters there are apparently asking Schwartz's DC office to explain her position. Ah, where are you now, Joe Hoeffel?

(I gave my own opinions on this legislation here.)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bringing history to life

In a good way: a new series of Philadelphia historical lectures and storytelling, paired with an astounding display of the archaeology resulting from the excavation of the Constitution Center site, will make up an attempt to make history vivid to visitors via a program called Once Upon a Nation. The new effort will be based in the former Visitor's Center at 3rd and Chestnut, renamed the Living History Center, and will involve free events (such as public storytellers and reenactments) and ticketed shows. This seems like a good addition to the current array of museums, sites, and tours -- something to help link it all together and especially to engage kids.

Transit reprieve

In case anybody missed it, the SEPTA strike deadline (originally tomorrow) has been put off for 60 days so that they can talk a bit more about the issues at hand. Basically, the union has only had a few days to look over the massive new proposal for restructuring health benefits, and would like to mull the repurcussions and explore other options.
"While our local is ordinarily reluctant to seek or grant an extension of this length, in light of the complexity and extent of the issues in these negotiations, I believe that this extension is reasonable and will promote public stability," Brooks said in his letter.
The new date at least gives a break to schoolkids who ride public transportation to class every day. Anyway, let's enjoy it while it lasts!

Santorum's Wal-Mart connection

Apparently Wal-Mart has become one of Rick Santorum's biggest supporters -- they lent him the jet that he used to make fundraising trips to Florida this winter, have contributed extensively to his campaign, and seem to favor a lot of the policies he's been pushing in the Senate (or is that, he's been pushing their favorite causes?). Depending on your view of Wal-Mart and its tendency to exploitation of its employees (and, for that matter, its customers), this may further color your sense of PA's junior Senator...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The "me too" defense...

Lynne Abraham is responding to the growing threat from primary opponent Seth Williams by announcing the intent to adopt his proposal for restructuring the DA's office. I guess this means that the city wins, no matter who gets elected, but if it's a good idea, how come she never made a move in that direction during her 14 years as the city's top prosecutor?

[Note that neither this question, nor proper attribution of the proposal to Williams, was raised in the Inquirer article.]

NJ wage hike official

With Governor Cody's signature, a $2 wage increase (spread across the next 18 months) became law in New Jersey. As noted previously, this is NJ's first wage increase in a decade, and puts them well ahead of minimum wage here in PA. Similar legislation has been discussed in Harrisburg, in addition to the more limited measure under discussion by Philadelphia City Council -- maybe they'll be spurred to speed things up by the prospect of stiffer competition from across the river.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Wireless plan flawed?

A new report casts doubts on the feasibility of the plan for citywide wireless service in Philadelphia. It's conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt, as the report was prepared by a think tank with ties to cable and telecommunications folks (who would like to keep this business for themselves). However, it does mirror some of my own negative reactions to the recently announced details of the plan, which intends to sublease bandwidth to private suppliers.

Somehow these mixes of public and private enterprise never seem to go as envisioned. However, it could be that the right analogy is to phone or electrical service, where the government invested in a lot of the infrastructure but then let business take over the service; this works as long as the upkeep of the wiring et al. can be managed well by the city. I guess only time will tell...

Monday, April 11, 2005

The scandal over crime stats

Does the DA's office keep statistics on cases and convictions, or doesn't it? And if it does, what would such numbers mean, given the wide diversity of case types and circumstances? The answers to both questions are somewhat up in the air, and also at the heart of the latest jabs between D.A. primary candidates Lynne Abraham and Seth Williams. Voters might well fell they'd like more than sporadic press coverage as the basis for a major decision like this . . .

More on Rick's opportunism

Rick Santorum decided to cancel a Social Security promotion tour through Florida "out of respect for" Terri Schiavo's family, but then he went down there on his own for a televised visit with her family and managed to pick up $250k in campaign funds. Not bad for one round-trip fare (on a corporate jet)! See the snarky details here (and more on previous discussions of Santorum opportunism here).

Strike worries loom

The SEPTA contract negotiation deadline is the end of this week, which has many people watching the current round of negotiations with bated breath. Relevent stories:Notable to me is that SEPTA pays almost $1k per employee in health alone, and that that number is up more than 70% in the last four years; on the other side, TWU employees are not paid for sick leave (three days unpaid, then 50% of subsequent leave). I have no idea how these two factors offset one another, but it seems reasonable to me that concessions on the one might require some bending on the other.

On the horizon

It's not your father's political organization.

Neighborhood Networks<br>Connect with your neighbors . . . Change the world!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Spending some to get some

A striking report shows that PA spent a nontrivial sum on Washington lobbyists, in attempts to get more money for the state through various programs and legislative decisions. I suppose that's just how things work these days -- you want somebody in there arguing your case on a variety of fronts -- but still, the numbers are striking.

(via KeystonePolitics)


Ed at Hallwatch sat in on a City Council hearing today about the fate of Philadelphia's libraries. There was quite a bit of heat exchanged, especially in light of revelations that many budget figures over the last year or two have been fudged by Library administrators in ways that led the Council astray in its efforts to improve matters.
"Are there any other numbers you would like to reveal to us in this hearing?" an outraged Nutter wanted to know. "Is this the real budget?"
Check out the whole thing.

More transportation threats

A recent measure appears to be poised to put Philadelphia's taxi companies under the jurisdiction/control of the PPA (parking authority). This strikes me as a bit bizarre, since presumably licensing oversight could be used to acheive some of the same ends (cleaner cabs, payment of parking tickets, etc.). But I seem to be coming into this after the fact, so I may have missed something deeper. On the good news side of things, the PPA may try to get a better distribution of circulating cabs by using GPS to coordinate calls. On the bad news side, the cabbies aren't too excited about this takeover (scheduled for Sunday) and are threatening to strike. (Lawsuits are also a possible route of protest.)

Am I the only one looking at this post and the last one and dreading getting around the city during the remainder of the spring?

To SEPTA's health!

As surely as taxes, the next potential SEPTA strike deadline is coming due April 15 (a week from today). A big issue will be whether transit employees have to start contributing toward their own healthcare, an emblematic story in today's economy. It seems inevitable that someday they will join the rest of us in ponying up, but I don't blame them for resisting -- nobody has much money to spare. But nobody wins in a strike, either. Let's hope some kind of compromise can be found...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Digging for China...

The Insider has an article on the Republican hopefuls for the 2006 PA gubenatorial race. It's hard going up against a popular incumbent, but there's some interesting stuff here about the people and issues that are likely to get some air along the way.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A strange story

In the Inquirer today, there's an odd little story about Philadelphia's plan to provide city-wide wireless service. Titled A survey finds mild backing for Internet proposal, it seems to tell the tale of cable agencies trying to find out how popular this plan is, in preparation for a campaign to fight it, if not here, then nationwide (where Philly's example is being discussed). But somehow the poll also seemed to be trying to get some political information -- for example:
The first question asked respondents whether they supported "the City of Philadelphia's plan to provide wireless internet access," while the second asked whether they supported "Mayor Street's plan to provide wireless internet access."
In essence, I got the feeling that these cable guys were trying out a variety of possible messages that could be used to interfere with this plan at various stages, and/or priming respondants with negative information (push-poll style). A little creepy and way below the public's radar.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Philadelphia report card

The Philadelphia Weekly gives an overview of the results of a report on the state of downtown Philadelphia, put together by the Center City District.
A recent report on Center City notes that the housing market continues to boom and that residents feel safer here. But a glut of empty office space signals job loss, and "self-inflicted wounds" are causing the Convention Center to bleed revenue, according to the "State of Center City 2005," released last week by the Center City District.

Philadelphia needs to become more competitive with the suburbs by lowering taxes, improving the quality of schools and providing more efficient public transportation, says Paul Levy, president of the Center City District.
A number of other issues are discussed, including transit, education, and development of public parks. The whole report is also available online (line at the bottom of that article).

A little respect

A major new development is going into the Chinatown area, and apparently not only will it bring some growth in an area that has lagged a bit, but is doing so in a way that respects and supports its neighbors. The residents appreciate somebody who treats them as citizens of the region, rather than merely obstacles to city expansion (as with the ball park proposal and others).

Monday, April 04, 2005

Santorum's softer side?

An article at PoliticsPA argues that Santorum is not the extremist that his opponents often claim him to be -- that he is less the most conservative Senator than one of the most opportunistic.
...Pennsylvania’s junior senator consistently shifts toward the center in those years just before his reelection. Santorum may continue to talk like a conservative, but he’s voting like a pragmatist. Last year, for example, according to the Journal, Santorum was actually narrowly left of the Republican center, with his votes placing him closer to Arlen Specter than to his more conservative colleagues.
This could be simply a fuller picture than we get from the news, or a warning to liberals who dismiss him without paying enough attention to his broader activities.
...focus on Santorum’s high profile rhetoric has been myopic, causing his adversaries to miss much that is important. In particular, insufficient attention has been paid to Santorum’s unflagging work at his party’s grass roots; how he’s established comprehensive constituency services; how he’s worked tirelessly for Republicans--ask Arlen Specter about this--and how he has joined Specter in the Pennsylvania pork brigade. And far too little notice has been given to how he has blended his conservative zealotry with political pragmatism.
Clearly he's been in the spotlight on just about every high-profile partisan issue in the last couple of years, but that doesn't mean that there aren't moderates who might take him seriously. Nobody can presume anything about the 2006 Senate race, on either side!

Friday, April 01, 2005

City wage boost?

A bill has been offered in Phila City Council (by Wilson Goode Jr.) that would set a high minimum wage for the city (150% of the state or federal minimum wage) for any company that does business with or gets substantial support from the city itself. An interesting narrow niche, but one that apparently has appeal, as 12 of the 17 councilmembers have signed onto the bill already. A striking contrast to attempts in 1998 to set a "living wage" for the city (sponsored by Angel Ortiz and David Cohen), which were unsuccessful -- perhaps the narrowness of the current measure protects the Council from the wrath of local businesses who might not be up for a $2.50 increase in their minimum wages.