Friday, June 24, 2005

Gone fishin'

Your proprieter of back-room musings is going on a much-needed vacation and will be back after the July 4 hoardes have dispersed. You'll have to check the other Philly blogs (see PhillyFuture's aggregator) and newspapers yourself for a while, or enjoy this host of links for intellectual stimulation and time-wasting while I'm gone...

(p.s.) Feel free to use this as an open thread for alerting me to any major developments while I'm away, so I get back up to speed ASAP on July 5. Thanks!

Radical fixes for PGW debated

Young Philly Politics caught the story that Harrisburg is considering taking over Philadelphia Gas Works, first to pay off its debt and then to privatize it. Do we want a major utility run for profit? What will become of the employees (currently unionized city workers)? and other good mullings.

New Jersey news round-up

Several pieces today from our neighbor to the east:
  1. The bill to move NJ's Presidential primary from June to February has passed and is headed to Governor Cody's desk. Since he has already called for such a move, it's essentially a done deal.
    "Every election cycle, New Jersey bankrolls a large portion of presidential candidates' campaigns, even though not every candidate stays in the race long enough to be given a vote here," [Sen.] Vitale said. "This bill would ensure that campaigns would have to spend campaign cash in New Jersey to be competitive..."
  2. NJ legislators have passed a bill to protect consumers from ID theft.

  3. The Senate also passed a bill to establish a housing trust fund to look out for the mentally ill and others with special needs -- an idea of Governor Cody, who takes a special interest in mental health concerns.
    In April, the state was sued because a lack of housing and other services was keeping nearly 1,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals past their discharge dates - some for years.
    Unclear what the Assembly thinks of this bill.
Interesting doings; I wonder if PA pols are noticing any of it...

Judicial selection process -- reform on the table

Following through on intentions declared around this year's May primary, Philadelphia's legislators are attempting to reform the way that the city's judges are selected -- hopefully replacing the current payola scheme with something that will better take qualifications into account. State Senators Williams and Fumo have introduced a bill that would set up a new process, including
  • a judicial nominating commission (with inter- and intra-party balance of input)
  • allowing the governor to make the final selections from a short list
  • giving voters the option to vote to retain or oust judges after four years.
This all sounds very sane, but it apparently faces an uphill battle, requiring an amendment to the state constitution, among other hurdles. I agree with the reporter's sentiments: Long process. Long odds. Long overdue.

Call me a softie...

...but I continue to appreciate John Grogan's series collecting little heartening stories of the good side of human nature. Second installment today, next one expected on Monday [while this blog will be on vacation].

GOP looking for a viable mayoral run

Highly sourced rumors have it that the Philadelphia Republicans are courting Democratic union boss John Dougherty for a possible mayoral run on their ticket. They must think Sam Katz won't hold up against the well-connected stable of Democratic frontronners. Seems unlikely that Doc will lean their way, being pretty far up the party hierarchy, but it does make one think of Rizzo days... (and hey, isn't Rizzo Jr. a Republican already? heh.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

In other news...

A bill being considered in Harrisburg would funnel part of the tax revenues from state liquor sales into arts funding for institutions throughout the state. A drop in the bucket of what local landmarks need every year, but a little stability in the storm, perhaps. Its primary sponsor is a Republican Senator from Bucks County, Joe Conti, and it appears to have some degree of bipartisan support. Wacky.

More on legal and illegal guns

The teeth-gnashing on local gun violence gets my sympathy, but it also feels like sending smoke signals into unoccupied lands -- it's clear that there's no traction for getting anything done on the state level, where things have to happen. Even Specter's circus on youth violence included dismissals by both US Senators of any notions of working toward gun regulation.

Anyway, the Daily News has a cluster of articles on the subject today:
  1. First, a long article pointing out the negligent ease with which legal gun dealers become the conduit for weapons that are being resold illegally.
    When asked if it's normal for one person to buy 10 handguns for protection purposes, Sauers said it was.

  2. A short piece says New Jersey groups are pushing for a regional focus on gun trafficking, since Philly guns are ending up in their communities.

  3. Another short piece points out the weakness of attempts to regulate gun sellers or police their actions.

  4. The final longer piece discusses a national GOP proposal that would shield gun dealers from civil suits (such as the landmark case won by a mother in the first story).
    "As former directors of ATF under six presidents, we are appalled that members of Congress would support special-interest legislation to protect dangerous gun dealers rather than laws that would protect the American people," Steve Higgins and Rex Davis wrote in a recent editorial published in the Baltimore Sun.

    "Congress should be strengthening our laws and increasing ATF's resources, not tying its hands."
    . . .
    Opponents of the bill say gun dealers could duck liability for making sales that are legal but reckless.
    The bill looks well on its way to passage, with supporters including PA senators Specter and Santorum.
Altogether, it's not a heartening picture.

Well, that answers that

In answer to my question "Is legalized usory really what PA needs?" the State House apparently says yes.
The State House of Representatives has approved a bill legalizing the practice of short-term "payday lending" at interest rates over 400 percent, after stripping away at what its sponsor said was a key consumer protection.
The measure will go to the State Senate next. It's not entirely clear where Gov. Rendell stands on this issue -- the quote given here was "Gov. Rendell, who favored the original bill, promised a veto it if it reaches him in its current form." In what form would this bill not be about legalizing financial predation? hmmm...

Victory for gaming advocates

The PA Supreme Court ruled yesterday on the question of the legality of the way that gaming was legalized in the state (as a hundred-page amendment to a one-page bill), and found unanimously that the act was consitutional.
In its unanimous ruling, the court rejected a challenge that the General Assembly's process in passing the bill failed to adhere to the state's constitution. But the justices did strike down some provisions, including one that effectively gave the gaming board the power to overrule local zoning in deciding where slots parlors could be located.
Apparently the major basis for thier finding was that legislators have the right to make laws, and that the presumption is that they have broad rights in doing so (and thus can, in essence, never be considered to be violating the state constitution in the performance of such duties). This seems a bad precedent, allowing more stealth activity (legislation by amendment, thus often in secret), but the unanimity seems to leave little room for further questions.

(further discussion, and some details, in the DN article here.)

Trolley project back on line!

Well, a couple of Daily News stories, some public outrage, and a little back-room maneuvering, and it looks like things are back on track for the Girard St. trolley:
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who is also chairman of the Democratic City Committee, called a closed-door meeting on Monday over the stalled Route 15 trolley - and came out with a plan to get the $84 million public-works project running.

"My goal is to have the trolley operational by the end of the summer," said SEPTA Board Chairman Pat Deon, who was at the meeting.
As part of the deal, the neighborhood (and Campbell) are giving up on the illegal parking spaces they had gotten used to, and SEPTA has agreed to be a better neighbor around its Callowhill depot (including regular meetings with the neighborhood). Hooray for sanity! everybody wins.

Update: The Urban Warrior gives you a sense of what SEPTA as a bad neighbor felt like, and lauds the arrival of a compromise/truce. Indeed, kudos to all, however belated.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Mayoral speculations, next installment

The Philadelphia Public Record has a look at three of the frontrunners for the Philadelphia Democratic mayoral primary in 2007, Saidel, Fattah, and Dougherty -- particularly at their fundraising efforts and supporters.
Labor, on the whole, has yet to make any decisions as to who will be supported at this stage. Labor leaders were in abundance at all three events, with unions sending representatives to each party. The conclusion from that is organized labor, for the most part, are in a wait and see attitude, as one leader said, "It's a long two years before we have choose sides."
Fun for horserace junkies.

(via PoliticsPhilly)

A rare summit

Dem. Governor Ed Rendell and Repub. Senators Specter and Santorum are conferring today in an effort to forestall some of the military base closings planned for Pennsylvania. Will be interesting to see how well they're able to cooperate.

More chat on the new school requirement

Two weeks ago, Philadelphia announced a bold new plan to require that all students take a course in African/African-American history -- see previous stories here and here. Four stories (two each at Inqy and DN) look more closely at this decision and the strong reponses it has elicited.
  1. Historians applaud the effort to address nonwhite history, but get into a deeper discussion about how such a course should be taught and/or whether the material would be better integrated into existing history classes.
    That puts the 185,000-student district at the vanguard of a national debate on history education that turns on these questions: What will be taught? What will be emphasized? How will ethnic groups be presented? And how can the focus be kept on turning out proficient students?
    Always tricky to decide how to interpret the past, let alone turn out "educated" graduates.

  2. Some prominent national black leaders praise the decision.
    Maya Angelou called the Philadelphia School District's decision requiring high school students to take a course encompassing African American history and the history of Africa "brilliant."

    The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. said: "One must see this as an asset to truth, not as a threat to the status quo."
    One can see it that way, but obviously...

  3. On the more local front, PA House Speaker John Perzel takes a different view.
    "I would like to see them master basic reading, writing and arithmetic," the Northeast Philadelphia Republican said in an interview yesterday, referring to the district's students. "Once we have them down pat, I don't care what they teach... . They should understand basic American history before we go into African American history."
    He is partly voicing the complaints of his constituents in the Northeast.

  4. A smaller piece profiles Sandra Dungee Glenn, who apparently was instrumental in getting the new course organized and approved.
    The school reform commissioner - a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls and former chief of staff for then-State Sen. Chaka Fattah - met with each of the other four commissioners and made her case.
    She appears to be active in trying to improve much about the city's schools, as well as working on urban policy issues with a national nonprofit foundation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Is legalized usory really what PA needs?

Apparently somebody in Harrisburg thinks so, to judge from this story about the "payday loan" scam and attempts to regulate it.
Payday lenders currently operate in Pennsylvania at the edge of the law, but a bill pending in Harrisburg would legalize the practice and permit lenders to keep charging interest rates of more than 400 percent to borrowers.
Supporters of the measure say that if the market exists, it should be regulated, but their suggested "limits" don't look like even enough to make the whole business legitimate:
Such rates are illegal under the state's usury laws, but payday lenders get around that problem through partnerships with out-of-state banks. Under the arrangement, companies such as Advance America or Cash Today are technically brokers for the outside bank loan.
Why not crack down on this ridiculous loophole, and force the rates down to where they don't so easily victimize those who use them? This bill looks to me like an attempt to shield the industry from federal regulators, who have gone after similar practices in Delaware. Promoters of this measure should be ashamed! Worst, it looks to be passed without any public hearings -- unless the public notices now!

Which side are you on?

An article in today's Inquirer looks at alliances within Philadelphia's City Council and concludes that it's a lot harder to tell the teams than it once was.
It used to be there were only two ways to swing on City Council - you were either with the mayor or you weren't.

But as Council breaks for the summer after nine months of debate on issues such as government ethics, the once-established boundaries of political alliances have blurred - and the Council that has emerged is one where anything goes.
The reality of the need to get things done sometimes demands an end to grandstanding, but recent end-of-term shenanigans (ahem) leave room for new tensions between Council and mayor . . .

(This article is a good recap of recent bills and players, for those just starting to pay attention.)

Getting an early edge

The New Jersey Assembly has passed legislation which would move the state's Presidential primary from June to February, in an attempt to have more say in the selection of the final candidates. NJ currently votes last in the primary season, making them virtually irrelevant to the process -- they hope that an earlier date would improve turn-out, which has been quite low. Certainly the state is quite a bit larger and more diverse than the current leaders of the primary pack, so it might have an interesting influence on the primary outlook. PA has had some discussions about making a similar move...

Local ironies

Inquirer writer Martha Woodall must have been feeling some psychic vibes yesterday, such that her piece on Intelligent Design in the classroom preceded by one day the resurrection of the topic by state legislators:
As some of the world's leading scientists considered the latest advances in disease treatment, stem-cell research and bioterrorism response, a panel of educators, scientists and civil libertarians clashed over a recently introduced bill that would allow the teaching of intelligent design in Pennsylvania's public school science classes.
I can only recommend that anyone curious about I.D. and its weaknesses consult this excellent recent New Yorker piece on the topic. They describe the two men behind the movement and the myriad problems with the "theory" they've cobbled together.

Oh yeah: the irony comes when this flat-earth business is juxtaposed to findings that Southeastern Pennsylvania is a hotbed for biotech...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Let's all just think what we want!

I've expressed myself previously on the issue of Intelligent Design, and specifically about its discussion in the Dover school system and its promotion by our own Senator Santorum. Today's Inquirer has a piece pointing out that evolution/natural selection has been taught side-by-side with creationism/I.D. for years, in the context of the region's parochial schools -- or rather, that students are exposed to "both ideas" and generally allowed to come to their own conclusions.

In what other realm of knowledge do we let students decide for themselves whether the consensus of experts makes sense to them, with their inherently rudimentary understanding of the facts and issues? For more of my rant triggered by today's article, see this piece at JBS.

Shaking his fist

Senator Rick Santorum was in the PA news today, proclaiming his unchanged views of Terri Schiavo (despite the autopsy reports) and his own behavior in the case (see previous note here), and criticizing the media for bias in not covering his full record of successes. He also shrugged off recent polls that show him lagging his likely challenger as premature. (Hard not to disagree; he's turned around worse standings in shorter time before.)

John Baer rants/speculates about the contents of Santorum's brain.

Random acts of kindness

John Grogan shares the first installment of his promised reports of kindnesses given and received, as an antidote to the onslaught of bad news (explanation here). For your Monday clouds, a few rays of faith in your fellow man.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Environment, meet politics

Looks like decisions over how to spend the new monies authorized by the recent Pennsylvania voter approval of Growing Greener II are already enmeshed in partisan political battles, as GOP legislators dread the sight of a smiling Ed Rendell dispensing checks, and suggest county-based grants instead. There are so many potential interest groups involved and so many different ways to view "equitable" distribution that I couldn't pick a single representative pull-quote. Looks unlikely to be settled by the end of June, anyway, when Harrisburg goes on recess, so I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about this in the fall.

Trolley woes in the news

Two bits today:
  1. Marc Stier, frequent spokesman for the Transit Coalition, describes the neighborhood problems and their history in the stand-off over the Girard trolley (scroll down to the first Opinion piece at the link).
    There are a number of serious issues this community has had with SEPTA. SEPTA acknowledges that the Callowhill Depot has been a problem for neighbors for many years, not least because SEPTA workers take parking spots on residential streets. However, SEPTA has tried a number of ways to reach out to the neighbors and Campbell to discuss these difficulties and find a way to overcome them. I also tried to contact her on behalf of the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, with the hopes that our organization could help work out the problems between the neighborhood and SEPTA. But, so far, Ms. Campbell has been unwilling to discuss these issues with SEPTA or the PTC.
    I hear that some high-level discussions may be occurring in the near-term to settle this mess.

  2. Meantime, John Street is eyeing the option of going on the offensive by towing the cars parked in the disputed zone.
    MAYOR STREET agrees: Ten parking spaces are a crappy trade for SEPTA's $85- million investment in the Route 15 antique trolley line. Illegal parking spaces, at that.
    Towing might get the trolley through, at least until the offended neighbors turned the block into a parking lot in protest. Lets hope cooler heads prevail -- the pressure added by some of Nutter's future rivals weighing in with their scorn will probably help move negotiations back up to tangible speed.

Defeat for business advocates

City Council passed a cut in the Business Privilege Tax two weeks ago, but it was presumed that John Street would veto it. And sure enough, he has.
Thwarting long-term tax-cut advocates for the second year in a row, Mayor Street yesterday vetoed a bill that would have locked in five years of incremental reductions in the city's business-privilege tax and established a schedule to eliminate the tax entirely by 2017.
The usual suspects make the usual outraged responses, but the writing was on the wall some time ago...

(p.s.) Young Philly Politics had a somewhat snarkier take on the activity of the Chamber of Commerce et al. with regard to this bill, and a commenter adds another perspective.

Updates from the budget war front

Philadelphia's City Council just voted Mayor Street's "capitol budget" (which covers physical upkeep of various city properties) for the next fiscal year, apparently over concerns about how the bonds underlying some new capital funding would be issued (not their value, but who gets to process the release).

Meantime, a flurry of somewhat mysterious last-minute bills:
In other business yesterday, Clarke, together with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, introduced legislation asking voters to decide whether the city should consolidate the Fairmount Park Commission and the city's Recreation Department. The bill is sure to spark controversy among the city's parks groups.

In a separate measure, Council approved a resolution calling for hearings on the feasibility of the Street administration's Wireless Philadelphia proposal - as well as on its potential impact to help economically disadvantaged children. The resolution was sponsored by Brown.

Also yesterday, Council approved a resolution, sponsored by Goode, to hire an outside firm to study whether banks holding city deposits engage in redlining.
Those first two make you think maybe somebody is hoping for a lot of political maneouvering over the summer...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sneak attack on the park commission?

A little something for City Hall electees to think about over their summer vacation?
Two City Council members want to dissolve the venerable Fairmount Park Commission and reconstitute it as a less powerful agency within the Recreation Department.

Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown were to introduce legislation today - Council's final session of the summer - to make the change possible.

The bill arrived like a Stealth bomber, catching by surprise most of the 17-member Council, as well as the Street administration. It seeks a change to the city charter that could go before voters in November.
Apparently the suggestion has been made before, but it still seems out of the blue to me. On the other hand, most of the world subsumes parks under general Recreation oversight, so there's no reason Philly couldn't handle this as well as NYC. Just not sure what's bringing it up now...

Two local(ish) health stories

  1. Philadelphia is launching a mental health web site.
    Philadelphia mental health officials plan to launch an ambitious new Web site today that will allow patients and their relatives to search for treatment options, learn about legislation that could affect them and create their own private medical Web page.
    This is an attempt to centralize information and resources, for both patients and health care providers, to improve the city's mental health. Patients can also keep a confidential record of their own treatment, if desired. The new website already exists and will be available translated into six languages. Check it out:

  2. Merck researchers (based partly in Montgomery County) have announced a new vaccine against the Human Papillomavirus, which causes problems ranging from genital warts to cervical cancer.
    Gardasil protects against four HPV strains that cause cervical cancer, cervical pre-cancers, abnormal Pap tests and genital warts, Merck's testing indicates.

    In clinical tests so far, the vaccine has shown to be 100 percent effective against four types of HPV. Two of the types - called types 18 and 16 - cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. And types 11 and 6 cause up to 90 percent of all genital warts and have been linked to abnormal Pap smears, which alarm both patients and doctors and lead to unnecessary tests.
    HPV infections is very widespread, and often asymptomatic, so this would probably be a recommended vaccine for all boys and girls of about junior high age (or a bit earlier). Imagine! a preventable cancer.

In other Thursday news

Lots of little tidbits and not enough time today. In short,
  • A Burlington school for at-risk kids (junior and senior high) seems to be showing some success. Some innovative ideas there, including some support for transitioning to jobs.

  • The Hope Creek nuclear plant, near Trenton, shut down in response to a steam leak for the 4th time this year. Very reassuring.

  • NJ Governor Richard Cody has an idea that might not be bad for his neighbors to the west: mandatory annual ethics training for all government employees. This follows a May move requiring training in proper accounting procedures for all executive branch employees who work with public funds and contracts. Cody hopes to increase public trust of state government. (There's a crazy notion!)

  • In more budget news, Philadelphia Mayor John Street is calling on Harrisburg to fill a budget gap in youth anti-violence measures. Apparently hole opened when some federal funding dried up, and unless the city can come up with some $10 million toward these programs, it will lose another $50 million (in "matching" funds) in state funds.

From soul-searching to action

Tom Fitzgerald's piece on the Neighborhood Networks founding conference is in today's Inquirer, apparently on the front page of the local section. On the vision, he summarizes thusly:
"It used to be that the Democratic Party stood for workers' rights and the common man, for poor people," [Gloria Gilman] said. "Not anymore."

Neighborhood Networks plans to offer a competing vision, focused on such issues as mass transit, the minimum wage, and the end of pay-to-play politics, leaders say. They will inject intra-party competition, and in some areas members will run for committee and ward leader positions in the party.
And on the conference, this:
At the first meeting, half of the city's 66 wards had at least one representative - with the highest concentration of members in traditionally liberal areas such as the Ninth Ward in Chestnut Hill, the Eighth and 30th Wards in Center City, and the 15th Ward in Fairmount. About 25 people came from various West Philadelphia wards.
. . .
Attending the first meeting were labor activists, people from neighborhood associations, bloggers, fans of former presidential candidate Howard Dean's, opponents of the Iraq war, even a few Green Party members.
A sad commentary on the way the current leaders have lost their way was provided by the following quote, intended as a critique, but probably a point of pride for those who hope that volunteers driven by actual values can transform local politics:
City Commissioner Edgar Howard, leader of the 10th Ward in Northwest Philadelphia, said that the group would be limited by the absence of patronage jobs and money to reward loyalists and punish dissenters.

"You have to be able to deliver goods and services to the constituents or else why should people stick with you?" Howard said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: Do they have staying power? It's a big, big city."
NN logoHe's right that it's one thing to mobilize for a single campaign and quite something else to build an organization for the long haul, but nobody in NN has any delusions about that, or about the internal dissent that has plagued the left for decades. But mobilization around even a small number of consensus issues would mean a real impact, and the motivation is high to get things underway.

Update: the article has sparked some interesting discussion over at Young Philly Politics...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Budget brou-ha-ha

PA legislators and governor Ed Rendell differ on how the state's budget should be made to balance. Republican Congressfolk called for a vote on his proposed cuts to Medicaid today in a noisy show of disdain for his suggestions. Dems claim that this wasn't a proposal in isolation, but as a starting point for negotiations; their accusation that the Repubs are trying to shame Rendell is somewhat borne out by the speedy press release put out by the PA GOP... There may be substantive negotiations underway as well, but it's a bit hard to tell through the smoke.

Update: John Baer offers his assessment of Wednesday's show, as well as prospects for other solutions to the budget problems and health coverage for the poor.

Unpacking the lingo

Charles at Young Philly Politics offers some thoughts on the question What is a Ward Leader, anyway? They certainly get mentioned a lot, without anybody really explaining how the parties are structured or why...

Update: more ward analysis, of a political-leanings sort, here.

SEPTA news: talks extended

It's hard to tell whether any progress is being made on the key issues, but both sides are apparently willing to keep talking, for some unspecified time (SEPTA suggested another six months, but TWU countered with an indefinite extension, keeping their strike options open). I just hope they're actually talking during all this time, rather than just posturing (as in the quotes chosen for the articles). They do say that the distance between them is narrowing, which can only be good.

Santorum fundraiser brings friends and foes

President Bush made an appearance in Bryn Mawr to raise funds for Senator Rick Santorum, and the event brought out about 1000 donors (who chipped in close to $2 million) and about 200 protesters (kept a mile away!), according to the news reports. Not much else surprising there, although I liked the Casey staffer's quote about GOP bigwigs "circling the limosines" around Santorum...

Get that trolley moving!

A Daily News letter-writer chastizes Philadelphia's leaders for the scandal of the Girard trolley (investments made, ready to go, held up by a Ward leader's concern about parking on her block (and her Council rep.'s unwillingness to override her); see previous note here).
If Carol Campbell and Michael Nutter believe that this city can afford to flush an $82 million investment down the toilet, they don't deserve to be in City Council, or to consider a run for mayor, because they obviously have no respect for other people's money or how to handle investments.
You tell 'em!! It's hard enough to get money out of Harrisburg without giving them evidence that we squander whatever we get . . .

  1. A description of the project, including cute pictures of the restored historic trolley cars.
  2. A City Paper description of the problems that halted it just as it was about to go live last fall.
  3. Hallwatch is hosting a petition to get the project back on track. (unsure whether this is continuing)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Senators discuss youth violence

Well, the Senate Judiciary Committee field trip to Philadelphia that so perplexed me has now occurred. The Inquirer's summary of the testimony boils down to this:
If every child had good parents, did well at school, and stayed off drugs, Philadelphia would have gone a long way toward preventing youth violence, a variety of experts said at a Senate hearing here yesterday.

Otherwise, bringing the hammer down by targeting specific law-breakers in specific neighborhoods is the best way to prevent young people from shooting each other...
One of the themes running through testimony about local efforts was that even successful programs were limited by their funding shortages:
Hart said successful approaches include "systematic analyses" of high-crime areas and intensive coordination among police, probation, courts and prosecutors. Disrupting illegal gun markets also is important, she said.

Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal and local effort in West Philadelphia, uses all those tactics, but there is no money to expand it throughout the city. A similar program in parts of North and Southwest Philadelphia is the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, but it, too, cannot expand because money is lacking.
Unfortunately, this is just one hearing, to be followed by others in DC (says Specter), so no programs or new solutions were discussed. Further, many folks will be unhappy with this tidbit:
Tougher gun-control laws, long sought by city officials, were dismissed by Specter and Santorum.
Indeed, the Daily News report of the occasion notes that the whole notion of these "field hearings" outraged many locals, especially anti-gun activists, who dismissed the event as a mere photo op.
"This guy who is owned by the gun lobby comes to Philadelphia to put on a dog-and-pony show about youth violence. His job is to make laws, but he does nothing about taking guns off the streets."

Howard, Miller and others in their camp pointed out that both Specter and Sen. Rick Santorum, R. Pa., who participated in the hearing at the Constitution Center, voted in 2004 against renewing the federal assault weapons ban, which expired last September.
It goes on from there. Yeowch!

Update on school history plan

As discussed here previously, the Philadelphia school system has taken a bold and controversial step in deciding to require that its students take a class on African and African-American history. However, a Daily News piece from yesterday mentions a few details that I didn't hear anywhere else, including this:
The 2005-2006 school year will be the first time the district will have a standardized curriculum in social studies. From kindergarten through 12th grade, there will be lessons, or modules, about ethnic communities that are part of Philadelphia - Asian, Latino, Jewish, to name a few.

Our kids will know more about their neighbors, schoolmates and the world. They will understand better than their parents, for example, reasons for the starvation and civil unrest in Africa, or why some Mexicans will risk death to come here.
That seems like it goes a long way toward answering many of the objections that were raised to the highschool course, and helps put it into a context that could lead to useful discussions and even a sense of shared adventure. I'm certainly willing to wait and see how things develop.

(via The Rittenhouse Review)

Transportation changes in the wind

Philly cab drivers may get a raise, and passengers get better-trained drivers and cleaner cabs, if a proposed taxi fare hike gets approved. The Parking Authority folks will discuss it at the end of June. Fares have been unchanged for almost fifteen years.

On the SEPTA front, with the next negotiation deadline being midnight tonight, nothing has been solved. However, the transit workers say that they are open to another extension, so probably no strike in the immediate future.

Watch out, Philly Dems

Chris Bowers of MyDD is tired of the unresponsive, ineffective Democratic party, particularly as exemplified in Southeast PA and his hometown of Philadelphia. He has a heartfelt post today on city corruption, apathetic Ward leadership, and the potential for "reform Democrats" to turn things around. A follow-up post is promised, highlighting problems in Bucks County.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Celebrating good news

John Grogan has put out a call for stories of good news and small acts of meaningful kindness -- just some way to counter the barrage of bad news about arrests, murders, and the other grey skies of big city life. If you have a few, drop him a line.

Poor prospects on reimpowering the people?

Daniel at YoungPhillyPolitics reports on efforts to undo the damage done by the stealth legislation that removed citizen rights in many zoning and similar land-use decisions in their own neighborhoods. It was sneaked in as an amendment on an unrelated measure -- see previous story here -- and many legislators claim not to have realized what they were voting for. Anyway, Dan seems pessimistic that the counter-measure will pass; I hope he's wrong.

Update: here's some photos from a press conference at which some local figures and many concerned citizens gave speeches in support of Cohen's bill or silently expressed their dismay at being silenced.

Demanding fairness from financial institutions

Philadelphia City Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. is taking a strong stance on the lending and investment policies of area banks, insisting that they do a better job of supporting minority-owned businesses and struggling neighborhoods. Goode was behind the recent bill requiring that banks come clean about past profits derived from slavery, and probably thus the spur for Wachovia Bank's decision to issue an apology last week for its historic involvements. His use of the word "reparations" in his current bill, which is more about fairness of lending, may get some attention but may not win the maximum number of allies. However, insisting that banks return deposited monies to some of the same communities from which they are derived seems more than reasonable.


The Daily News has a piece today about the waves being made by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's possible mayoral aspirations. It's not clear whether he's declaring, but he appears to be flexing his muscles locally, either testing the water or at least making sure he'll have some say in the decisions to come.
Fattah said he'll lay out a sweeping "agenda for the city" early next year, and his fund-raiser tonight is hosted by an all-star lineup of Democratic money men and political heavyweights.
The fundraiser is for his congressional campaign fund, so officially none of the players who show up are taking a stance on majoral prospects, but it's another of those clear sabre-rattling events (like Saidel had this spring) that get everybody busy.
Meanwhile Fattah said he plans to advance an agenda of change through his allies in City Council early next year.

"Ordinance by ordinance, I will offer my proposals for moving Philadelphia in a new direction on critical issues including crime, education, tax policy, and housing," Fattah said.
Will be interesting to see whether his proposals are helpful or just grandstanding, and how much of a toehold they get in fractious City Hall discussions. As for the mayor's race, Fattah is now planning to withhold his decision until spring...

Some shorter news bits

A number of smaller news items worthy of note this morning:
  • For those who've been trying to forget, the next SEPTA talk deadline is Wednesday. The two sides have had months now to look over proposals on the deadlocked health coverage issue, but so far "congenial meetings" aren't reporting substantive progress. Let's hope they agree on another extension, at least.

  • A Sunday Inquirer article points out a surprising split among Jewish Democrats, with many supporting Santorum because of his visible stance on Israel. This seems to be the only thing that right-wing evangelicals and any Jewish liberals have in common, but it can be a definining issue for some, and Casey appears to be courting their vote as well with planned trips to the Holy Land.

  • John Baer does a spoof of Deep Throat, using it to raise the most cynical possible motives for recent actions by Ed Rendell (among others). Both amusing and dispiriting.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Fumo weighs in on gambling

U.S. Senator and local Big Dog Vincent Fumo has suggestions about the way PA handles slots and other gambling.
In a letter to the state gambling control board yesterday, the Philadelphia Democrat recommended that casinos not cash personal and government checks or check advances for gamblers. He also urged the board to require casino applicants to submit a plan to address compulsive gambling when they apply for a license, and casino operators to post gambling treatment information in advertising and at casinos.
It's good to see the addiction problem being addressed, as well as the whole legislation given a closer look.

Bold cultural move for city schools

In a move that will make it unique among the nation's school systems, Philadelphia has announced plans to include a course on African and African-American history among its requirements for graduation.
Yesterday, district officials confirmed that they would mandate a combined African and African American history course in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds African American. The course becomes one of four required social-studies courses, just as important as American history, geography and world history.
This is apparently a very belated response to a school board mandate from 1968. Of course, the decision has met with a wide range of reactions, including concerns by other minority groups that their own stories will become even more overlooked. However, for the time being, their numbers don't carry enough clout.
"I guess the ideal I would love to see is a rich, diverse, textural and contextual history of all those who make up the fabric of America," Nevels said. "Short of that, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Some of the debate is summarized in a second article here. Only time will tell how successful the courses are, and whether they serve more to unite or divide the student bodies.

I honestly don't know what to make of this. It's a bold move. Obviously, anything that makes students feel like they have more of a personal stake in their school experience is good, but this can only be a slice of the pie. It might be more effective to combine the African/slave/civil-rights portion into one solid semester course, and then have a second semester which compares the black experience in America to the stories of other immigrants -- say, Indians and Pakistanis who came during partition, or Europeans escaping wars or famines, or Latin Americans hoping for a better life. Such courses are quite difficult to plan and execute, but could lead to fascinating discussions and a wealth of additional understanding.

But maybe these sorts of discussions are just what could happen when students study national (or world) history and then study the African-American experience -- what do the other students know of their parents' or grandparents' lives and choices? History classes so often stop long before anybody we know was even born; looking at periods closer to our own and thinking about these kinds of questions could bring the whole educational experience to life . . .

New recreational outlets replace closed ones

Mayor Street, who had been about to go down in history as the mayor who tried to balance the budget by shutting city swimming pools, yesterday softened his reputation by opening the first of four new city "spraygrounds" on the site of an old city pool in West Philadelphia.
They look like great fun, and I can imagine they're both cheaper and safer for the city to run. Neat idea!

Press takes on Neighborhood Networks

A smattering of short articles this week on last weekend's NN conference and on the group's prospects for the future:
  1. The Daily Pennsylvanian (U.Penn's student newspaper, on summer schedule of one issue per week) wrote a simple factual account of the meeting and its spirit.

  2. The Daily News had a short column about the "crazy dream" of a political structure run on ideals and volunteers, not connections and cash (skip down to the Shadow Party heading).

  3. The Inquirer also had a short piece (a teaser for a longer article?) on the "show of spirit" that recalls the anti-Rizzo campaigns of the 1970s, which spawned a generation of leaders from outside the machine.
Look out this Sunday (hopefully) for a longer write-up by Inquirer reporter Thomas Fitzgerald, who stayed for the whole event last Saturday, followed up with interviews, and should have a more in-depth take on the whole organization.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A closer look at the Nutter ethics bill

It's due to be signed into law today (contingent on voter approval in the fall), but just who is and isn't covered, and what other unintended consequences will be discovered once it goes into effect? The Daily News looks at those questions. Most surprising to me: unions aren't covered, because they don't get city contracts directly. Seems like a big hole...

What am I missing?

Citing the problem of youth violence, Arlen Specter is bringing the Senate Judiciary Committee for a rare "field hearing" in Philadelphia on Monday. Whazzup with that? I just spent a swath of time listening to activists list issues of concern to them, and while guns, drugs, and poverty all came up, not a single group mentioned "youth violence" as a current priority. It's not really a Santorum-booster either; while he'll be there, so will Democratic Committee members Feinstein and Biden. Perhaps Specter is working his visibility lately? Or maybe he's really concerned about this issue personally, and just using his current high profile to bring it some clout. Mystifying.
Juvenile violence has been identified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a "health problem." In his capacity as head of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, Specter said he would explore the possibility of "earmarking," or designating CDC funding for programs in Philadelphia and other parts of the state.
All efforts to help keep local schoolkids from getting gunned down in their own neighborhoods is certainly welcome...

Anyway, you can go check out the hearing, if you're free Monday morning, June 13, at 9am. It will be at the National Constitution Center at 6th and Market.

Housing boom just a start

An Inquirer letter/commentary makes a good point that Philadelphia's housing boom has been happening while city jobs have continued to slip away. In the future, city planners will have to both keep counter-commuters' needs in mind and work to bring more jobs downtown, to keep Center City from becoming a "bedroom community" for businesses further out (an odd image).

Who is this guy?

Dan at YoungPhillyPolitics asked Chuck Pennacchio (would-be Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate) where he's been for the last 15 years or so. And Pennacchio answered in full. Maybe it's all on his website too, but this does help satisfy the curiosity of those who felt they should know anybody who's been active locally over the long haul.

Looking back at NTI

One of Phila Mayor John Street's most important priorities when he came into office was "improving the neighborhoods," and one of his first big programs was the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (or NTI). It is just starting its fifth and final year, amid some celebration and the departure of its longtime chair. U.Penn. researcher and Daily News columnist Mark Alan Hughes looks back at the program's tenure and concludes that the emperor has no clothes.
NTI was a pile of money, and its only strategic imperative was to be spent. Without a core strategy, NTI was little more than a story told by the mayor about the effects of absentee landlords and boarded-up windows.

... without core values, NTI absorbed any good idea that came along. The problem began when Mayor Street decided to sell NTI as program for every neighborhood, changing it from an anti-blight initiative into a giant municipal entitlement.
Instead of being the equivalent of Street's car-towing campaign, catching the city up on many years' backlog of derelict and dangerous properties, NTI started funding sidewalk sweepers, community gardens, and a host of small distributed items that could never combine to really transform anything in a substantial way -- and half the crumbling houses are still standing.

You can only please all of the people some of the time, John, and the bleaker neighborhoods were hoping for more.

(via America's Hometown)

Update: The South Philly Review also gives its take on the successes and failures of NTI.

(via Politics Philly)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

You can never start too soon (?!)

There has already been plenty of speculation about Democratic candidates for Philadelphia mayor in 2007, with several prominent possibilities already raising funds and quietly solidifying their support (see, e.g., this post). However, premature rumors are one thing; the appearance of campaign schwag two years in advance is quite another!
Bright yellow "Saidel for Mayor" stickers are plastered on No Parking signs and utility poles in Queen Village. "Dock 07" messages have spouted up on everything from bartenders' T-shirts to football-shaped stickers distributed at an Eagles' pre-Super Bowl rally.

Even though the mayoral primaries are two years off, not-so-subtle political messages are already evident across Philadelphia. Though neither Jonathan Saidel, who didn't seek re-election as City Controller, nor electricians' union head John Dougherty have officially declared, behind-the-scenes fundraising and rallies have them at the forefront of the race to replace Mayor Street.
This City Paper article has speculations on just about every name that has come up over the last six months, so good fodder for political junkies. They also point out that, with jockeying starting this early, the 2007 primary may well be headed for an alltime record in campaign spending.

Hafer on Casey

Barbara Hafer stepped out of the Democratic primary race for Senate when Casey emerged as the establishment choice several months ago, and now she has gone on the record with her reasons for supporting him -- and they're not just about "getting rid of Santorum." I've heard some similar things from Babette Josephs, who credited Casey with real compassion concerning women's shelters and other issues important for "everyday folks," and called him a "good Catholic Democrat." There's been so much furor over Casey's views on abortion (and Pennacchio chimes in here with more of the same) that it's been hard to get any view of the rest of the man and his record, so every bit of informed input helps.

Rendell under the microscope

The Daily News announced the results of a recent poll, showing Rendell's approval rating at a notable low, with almost half opining that "it's time for a change." Bad recent press about the failed property tax/school funding/slots measure may be causing a dip, but I'm sure it makes him unhappy, especially with the consequent discussion of possible challengers in the primary and/or general elections.
"Rendell remains personally popular - people who know him and hear him like him," Madonna said. "But his policies aren't as popular, and people don't think he's delivered, particularly on cutting taxes and creating jobs."
(The same poll also showed Casey with a new lead over Santorum for next year's Senate race, largely because of a drop in Santorum support over his recent activities.)

John Baer takes both the Governor and the legislature to task for proposed cuts to health care for the poor.
I just find it maddening that the place politicians look to save money is so often the very the place society is most noble in spending it.
He has, of course, some other suggestions of better places for belt-tightening.

More looks at the beleagured smoking ban

More roller-coaster:
  • Nutter and Street have made up, which means that one level of threat has been removed. (But can Street convince more fence-sitters to sign on?)

  • Street projects confidence about a ban "by the end of the year," leaving some uncertainties about how much the eventual measure might resemble the current Nutter compromise effort. Colorful columnist-speak of the day:
    But the means of getting there from the current impasse in City Council is as murky as a neighborhood tavern during “Monday Night Football.”
    DiCicco sounded much less optimistic...
Maybe Street will be happy enough to have upstaged Nutter on the issue that he will bring some clout to the table. Only time will tell.

Update: looks like it's tabled until the fall. (I refuse to keep posting incremental news!)

June spotlight: PA minimum wage

With Philadelphia's having just approved an increase in the minimum wage for city contractors, there is increased interest in bringing the remaining employees under similar coverage, both in the city and throughout the state.
  1. A group of Democratic state legislators is proposing that the state minimum wage be increased by $2 over two years. (See more here.)
    "When you adjust for inflation, Pennsylvania's minimum wage earners are bringing home fewer real dollars than at any time since 1949," Veon said. "Someone who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year at minimum wage still comes up $5,000 short of the poverty line for a family of three; even a single parent with one child comes up nearly $2,000 short.

    "Someone who works hard for 40 hours per week should at least be able to say they are above the poverty level."
    Polls have found very widespread support for such a measure too.

  2. Philly unions are planning a rally in support of the issue in Harrisburg on June 22, and encourage supporters to lobby their representatives on that day as well (get the contact info for your legislators here). Neighborhood Networks is also sponsoring this issue, encouraging its members to distribute minimum wage info as part of their first contacts with their neighbors.

  3. Governor Rendell has weighed in on the importance of minimum wage, warning state legislators that he won't approve any increase in their wages unless they get serious about the needs of their poorer constituents. The Majority Leader insists that the issues should be considered separately, but he may not want to face a veto, if it comes to that.
Good to see such a confluence of interest and efforts. This is a major opportunity for PA to pull itself in line with wages in its surrounding states (NY, NJ, and DE all have minimums $1 over the federal), as well as to undo the injustice of the abysmal value of today's minumum. I agree with Veon, above -- "Someone who works hard for 40 hours per week should at least be able to say they are above the poverty level." Let's get this thing done.

What is political courage?

Larry Kane had an editorial yesterday praising U.S. Attorney Meehan and Phila Councilman Nutter for their courage in pursuing cleaner government for the region. However, Ben Waxman at Young Philly Politics counters with an example of Nutter's caving to ward politics on an important local transit issue. Nobody's perfect, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't hold politicians accountable for their slips...

(hat tip to staffer RM)

New Jersey round-up

Our neighboring state to the east had its primary elections yesterday, so a bunch of news from that direction, for those with interest:
  • Of the "seven dwarves" in the GOP gubernatorial primary, gazillionaire Forrester got the nomination, edging out second-place Schundler (percentages not given). He will face Democrat (and fellow gazillionaire) Corzine in the fall.

  • Incumbency took a blow in Atlantic City, where a life-guard new to politics bumped the incumbent from the Democratic mayoral ticket.

  • And party loyalty problems are proved not to be limited to Philadelphia, as a popular Cherry Hill city Councilwoman, snubbed by the Dems, gets on the ballot as an independent. Apparently the council President resigned in protest over her ouster, so there might be a veritable independent ticket, come fall...
Will update if I unearth any other tidbits.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tuesday news bits

A few newsbits caught my attention today:
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art is planning to undertake a major expansion, involving hollowing out its hillside for new galleries (adding 60% to its total space) and parking. There will be quite a long fundraising trail ahead, however.

  • PA state Senator Michael Stack has taken some flak for apparent conflict of interest over some land he's involved with that appears prime for casino optioning (see previous story here). Well, I guess he's off the hook, and also out of luck, as the Las Vegas casino company has decided to pass on that tract in favor of other locations.
    "There was obviously some controversy over Sen. Stack's involvement," Kanofsky said. "We don't know if he did anything wrong... but in light of the controversy we felt we were best served by moving away."
    Good thinking . . .

  • The Philadelphia Housing Authority is to be the recipient of $17 million from the federal government, which will go to build housing on vacant/abandoned lots in North Philly starting next spring. More description of the project is presented here. Good for the city, good for the neighborhoods, and apparently good for Senator Rick Santorum, who was there for the photo opp, handing off the check.

  • An Inquirer editorial congratulates the Germantown civic group who ousted their president, Steven Vaughn, who was convicted of defrauding the city (in a different context) out of tens of thousands of dollars. Well, one successful clean-up, anyway.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Neighborhood Networks conference wrap-up

Well, after weeks of pestering my readers to show up for the NN launch this past Saturday, and months before then helping plan and brainstorm for the organization and the event, I finally got to be part of the conference itself. I have to say that from our point of view, it was a huge success: we had over 200 people in attendance, representing half the wards in the city, and everybody who came seemed ready to get down to business -- thinking about the organization itself and how it might function, putting forth issues and ideas that mattered to them, getting to know the other folks from their neighborhoods and developing working relationships.
NN logo

The heart of the meeting was a 2-hour break-out into small regional groups, who then brought their ideas and priorities back to the general session, where they will serve for the basis of (much longer) discussions by the interim Steering Committee (for which they also picked delegates). There were also a slew of presentations, from general cheerleading (by Tom Hughes of Democracy for America, and by Hoeffel, Pennacchio, and Ortiz, more locally) to discussion of specific causes that can be given more leverage by grassroots involvement (by representatives from labor, the women's movement, and poor-empowerment organizations who have had local successes). People in the room seemed upbeat about the level of interest in a long-term attempt to rehabilitate the term "liberal" and to make elected officials responsive to the issues that matter to us. There was also enthusiasm about getting active immediately, with the result that many will start to contact their neighbors immediately, both with a general introduction and with a call for involvement on the issue of the statewide minimum wage.

There will be much more work needed in reaching out to the unrepresented neighborhoods, in figuring out how to structure the organization and identify its priorities, and in developing constituencies for action. But for a one-day starting point, based on the hopes and efforts of a handful of motivated bodies, this was a mighty heartening outcome. Onward, ho!!

(p.s.) for some other takes on how the conference went, see these two responses over at Young Philly Politics.

Update: another participant's viewpoint has sparked some interesting conversations...

Quiet news day

But John Baer has a rant about our national and state legislators, the amount of show versus substance that they undertake each session, and monetory priorities (like pay raises for themselves while they cut health care for the poor).
A Pennsylvania Democratic consultant who prefers to be unnamed suggests future candidates for governor run against the Legislature on the slogan, "Cut their pay and send them home." That's a campaign I'd like to cover.
Why wait for governor? Let's start holding their feet to the fire...

Post-mortem on Act 72

A column at PoliticsPA does an excellent job of summarizing the history of Act 72, from the widespread desire for reduced property taxes, through legislative wrangling, to the unwillingness of school boards to give up autonomy for questionable gains.
Property tax relief has been the most elusive policy objective in modern Pennsylvania history. For a generation, candidates for governor have routinely criticized the inequity of the property tax, but none could successfully tame the monster. In the argot of economists, the dilemma was about “ tax shifting”: inevitably the burden of shifting two billion in local property tax revenues to the state meant raising some state tax--either the income or sales--so much that neither a governor nor legislators was willing to gamble on the wrath of the state’s voters.
This column includes discussion of topics that news coverage tends to sidestep, like the moral element to accepting funds from gambling enterprises. Not as long as my summary makes it sound, and very informative.

(via Above Average Jane)

Friday, June 03, 2005

NJ governor's race hopefuls

For those following the Republican primary race in NJ (with the seven graceful dwarves competing), Politics NJ offers a run-down of the current odds. (See the complete coverage, with poll results and endorsement tabulations, on their main site -- permalinking not possible...)

And on the financial front

While Street, Nutter, and Councilfolk galore were having their smoking smack-down, Council managed to take some moves on things financial:
  1. They passed the budget: see the concise Daily News summary for details.

  2. They approved a cut in the Business Privilege Tax, but by a margin too narrow to withstand the likely veto by Street.
    Street said he sees merit in the chamber's claim that a lower tax would one day lead to more tax money for the city.

    "We just don't know how much," Street said. "And I've always taken the position that I'll spend that revenue when I start seeing it."

    Street sees the issue as tax reduction versus tax reform, which he described as decreasing taxes in one place and increasing them in another to even out the books.
    And you know, everybody loves to be behind a tax increase...
Well, at least a few things to show for this Council session. Probably good that they couldn't do more damage along the way, but man, it seems hard to get anything done.

Leaders have to lead . . .

Ward 27, in West Philly, just had a minor revolution: the Democratic Ward leader there had been shirking his duties, and they pushed him out. The Committeepeople would get together to decide their endorsements and plans, and then the promised materials (showing their recommendations) for voters, as well as funds for fliers and coffee, never materialized -- in fact, pollwatchers didn't even have the certification they needed to do their jobs. The Committeepeople started a recall drive, but the Ward leader preempted them by resigning.

Good for them; we need people who actually do these jobs -- advise and listen to voters, help oversee fair elections, etc. -- not just take the money and run, an all too common occurrence in Philadelphia. Ward leaders citywide, take note!!

Word on various fronts

Short updates on a number of stories we're watching:
  • The smoking ban appears to be back to wobbly condition, with the vote delayed and recent supporters now questioning the bill as written (and amendments they worked on). It appears that 9 votes weren't there, with DiCicco backing out over the categories of bars that can qualify for the delay. Also, this mayoral hissy fit:
    And even if he had [gotten the votes], he still would have to get a blessing from Mayor Street, who yesterday said in no uncertain terms that Nutter's personality might ultimately be the biggest stumbling block to getting the legislation approved.
    Further discussion is underway, but there are only a couple more sessions before Council breaks for the summer...

  • State Sen. Vince Fumo lost his appeal concerning the right of the FBI to search the computers that they seized from his office (see previous note here). We're not allowed to know much about the investigation, since a grand jury is involved, but I'm rather with columnist John Grogan, who argued a month ago that since Fumo is a public employee, his office computers are citizen property, and there's no reason their contents should be hidden from view. Transparency tends to lead to better government...

  • The Inquirer notes tomorrow's Neighborhood Networks conference (third of the short pieces on the linked page) with the phrase "a revolution may be brewing"...
    Many of the founders were inspired by the neighbor-to-neighbor activism of, which mobilized anti-Bush voters in last year's presidential election. They say they want to push for ethics reform in Philadelphia politics, and also to help nominate candidates in Democratic primaries who will support "social equality" and "economic justice" in office.

    But the details are to be left up to the members, and that's where the conference comes in. Those who show up will break into smaller geographic groups to discuss principles and draft the blueprint for the new organization.
    Hope to meet a bunch of you there, and find out what you want to see happen in our city over the coming years.
That's it for this round-up!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Busy elsewhere...

John Baer takes a look at the PA delegation to the US Congress/Senate, and comes away with the feeling that so many of them have worries of their own (from cancer to scandals to re-election) that none of them is likely to be doing the best job of fighting for the interests of the state. It is a rather alarming list, even though plenty of other reps are keeping their heads down and working...

Also on the line today a bill about the Philadelphia Business Privilege Tax. This bill may have become a card in the budget negotiation game, so there is uncertainty about what the final vote will be, as well as whether Street would sign the current legislation if passed. More realm for rivalries and other nonsense.

(Note: There has been so little substantive coverage of this convoluted issue, let alone the specifics of the bill as currently written, that I have no position on its passage.)

No news yet on smoking

Nutter has said he would bring his smoking bill for a vote today, but both Philadelphia dailies suggest there's a lot of uncertainty about whether enough votes will be there to see it through. The Inquirer's short piece includes some history of past votes on amendments, etc., for those who want to try their hands at handicapping the players....

looks like the vote has been delayed. Sounds like more defectors...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Spotlight on Nutter

Two pieces take a closer look today at Phila City Councilman Michael Nutter:
  • Tom Ferrick documents signs of Nutter's increasing power, in light of various recent successes on legislative and budget negotiation fronts.
    Nutter, 47, in Council as a staffer since his early 20s, as a member since his early 30s, may be the most effective member of that body since... well, since John Street.
    Despite this comparison, Ferrick thinks that Nutter more resembles Gov. Ed Rendell, as a smooth operator and compromise-broker. Good speculations there about how the primary battle in 2007 is likely to play out, with Street dancing with Fattah in preference to his local rival...

  • The Daily News looks at the smoking ban legislation, which somehow still has hoops to jump through (final vote tomorrow?). Still some uncertainty about some South Philly Councilfolk, as well as whether Street will oppose the bill because of the changes made to bring extra votes aboard. The story implies that a delicate dance is still required to bring this bill to pass, but notes widespread support outside City Hall. Stay tuned!

Fantastic new resource for PA legislation

A new blog sponsored by State Rep. Mark Cohen keeps track of legislation working its way through the machine in Harrisburg, and provides brief explanations of the issues involved. This is a great service, as it's often hard to get news of things in progress, let alone sort out everything that might be covered in the inscrutable legalese. Will be keeping my eye on this one.

(via Above Average Jane)

Note: there's another new blog in a similar vein, Plogress, providing records of which legislation your U.S. legislators have sponsored or supported. They recently added uploading of roll call votes, so you can find out which way your reps voted on bills that matter to you. Progress for democracy!

Philly residents look askance at government

The new Inquirer blog, Blinq, reports on a recent survey showing that 80% of Philadelphia citizens expect the worst from those in government, either some or most of the time. In the suburbs, almost half the residents express some hope or trust, but that still leaves a lot of cynicism out there, not surprising in light of the recent corruption trials.

Break the trend, take back the government for those it supposedly serves. Help elect people we can trust, and help pressure those in office to pay attention to the governed, not the contributors. Now is the time...

A goad to action

With all this opportunity, this comedy and tragedy, how near all men come to doing nothing! It is strange that they did not make us more intense and emphatic, that they do not goad us into some action. Generally, with all our desires and restlessness, we are no more likely to embark in any enterprise than a tree is to walk to a more favorable locality.
Henry David Thoreau
Journal entry of May 29, 1857
Don't wait any longer -- now is your chance to get involved in changing the way that local politics happens. Come to the Neighborhood Networks founding conference this Saturday to learn about what can be done, and to participate in getting things going in the right direction.

** Register right away! **