Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Weeklies, blogs, and other bits of interest

Wednesday politicians

  • Philadelphia's Mayor John Street is being asked about his plans for the smoking ban, which he once swore to have approved by the end of this calendar year (see prev. here). His shiftiness on this topic could reflect a change of heart (see prev. speculation here) or practical doubts about where the ninth Council vote would come from, especially with Cohen gone.

  • Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell appears to have had a change of heart about ethics regulations in the city (see discussion of her previous solo opposition here). She now plans to vote for the independent oversight board, at least, although she is still not committed to signing onto the other Nutter bills regulating campaign contributions by city contractors. Small steps, Jannie.

  • Senator Rick Santorum appears to be the beneficiary of some substantial secret donations, as $1 million flows from a VA anti-tax organization to fund early campaign commercials here in PA (everywhere except Philadelphia). It appears to be a nonprofit acting as a PAC...

  • US Rep. Jim Gerlach is taking some flak for management of his own campaign funds, from over-reporting recent fundraising to accepting donations in amounts that are over state limits. Everything is being made right, but opponent Lois Murphy is getting a little hay out of the story.

Things about crime

  • Cracking down.
    South Philly is about to become a "zero-tolerance area" for 30 days, with swarms of police stepping up patrols and arrests in an attempt to cut off the year's increased crime rates there. Zero tolerance means jaywalking and probably loitering, so it could be a bit over-the-top, but plans are to expand the program city-wide in the new year. How much is this likely to really deter crime, versus merely creating the impression that Something's Being Done?

  • Keeping an eye on the police.
    Tom Ferrick notes the case of a police officer who clearly has problems with violence, and links the failure to discipline him more successfully with the ongoing need for oversight of how the department polices itself (see prev. here). Again I wonder about those who fear the effects of sunlight...

  • Controlling guns.
    1. The Inquirer reports a rare piece of gun-related legislation that has actually passed in Pennsylvania: a new law allowing the confiscation of guns from domestic abusers. A somewhat remarkable coalition of gun-control and gun-rights group supported the measure.

    2. Meanwhile, a group of Philadelphia activists went to Harrisburg to pressure legislators to act on a limit on gun purchases (the oh-so-burdensome one per month maximum). They want every legislator to individually go on record on this bill in the next month, presumably so that the voters can judge those views for themselves in the coming year.

  • Other bits.
    1. Continuing the theme of increasing confidence in the gambling oversight boards ensuring our future, PA's top casino regulator appears to have ripped off the previous state that she worked for. Alternatively, she's the victim of a smear in retaliation for outing some official corruption there. eep.

    2. A man in Cape May, NJ, is challenging the state's sexual offender residency restrictions, which are making it practically impossible for him and his family to relocate. It was just a matter of time -- some towns are so small that there *aren't* any houses far enough away from the public school. Such laws also make no distinction between repeat pedophiles and one-time statutory offenders, which makes them even more unfairly punishing to some of those affected.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Looking at expense accounts by themselves

PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Cappy, who drew flak for his involvement in the governmental pay-hike this summer, is now calling for a tighter cap on judicial expense accounts. However, the suggested changes are minor (e.g., not charging alcoholic drinks, rather than, say, suggesting cheaper restaurants overall).
Last year, they charged $164,000 -- an average of about $23,400 each -- for expenses including $300 dinners; a conference in the Bahamas; 34 car washes for Justice Thomas Saylor; $375 for membership in US Airways Club; and $1,766 for picture framing, a review by the Harrisburg Patriot-News found.

Those expenses still would be allowable under the changes Justice Cappy proposes, Mr. Darr said.
Why don't we consider some sort of independent commission to examine the size and scope of expense accounts for all three branches of state government (heck, let's throw in Philadelphia's City Council too), and see if we can't make a better distinction between what costs are required by work and what's just gravy being added along the way...

(via Grassroots PA)

Greener energy in PA through Rendell?

America's Hometown reports an impressive list of new initiatives that develop or make use of alternative energy sources and technologies, all of which have come into existence on Rendell's watch as governor. Not bad!

Tuesday news round-up

  • The Kimmel Center is suing its architect because of cost overruns (20%!) and delays in finishing the building (work continued for a year after it opened), which it claims were due to design oversights. Apparently mediation was tried and failed; still, you'd think the four years of acclaim would be worth something...

  • An Inquirer notes that while Mayor Street gets lots of criticism for his role in the federal investigation and other missteps, he gets none of the credit for things that have gone right during his tenure.
    If Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president, Street seems to be the reverse, the Velcro mayor. "All the bad stuff sticks," said Phil Goldsmith, Street's former managing director, "and the good stuff doesn't."
    This has always perplexed me a bit too. It may be largely a reflection of Street's disdain for public opinion.

  • The John Baer at the Daily News offers a Specter overview update, looking at the Senator's health, opinions, and plans for the future. Lively and hard to pin down as ever. No word on T.O. here...

  • Above Average Jane chips in on the TABOR debate (locally called TFA), providing some good links to opposing views and also opining that our legislators haven't really proved that they are likely to have our best interests at heart in choosing from among places to cut spending.

Repealed isn't the same as dead

The pay-hike, that is. Two bits today keep the corpse twitching:
  1. John Grogan continues to hassle a particular legislator who had claimed inability to refund any of the unvouchered expense money because it was already sunk into a new water heater. Grogan lined up a team when the guy said "the state would have to send somebody to remove it," and continues to ask for a timeline for getting the voters' money back. I have to admit, the latter section kind of made me giggle.

  2. Meanwhile the lawsuit challenging the legality of the unvouchered expenses continues even after the rollback. The plaintiff makes the point that future raises will bring up similar questions, which should thus be settled now. The defendents are seeking to have the case dismissed.

Two names I never expected to see in one headline

Arlen Specter and Terrell Owens. No, really. [Inquirer front-pager here.] Because apparently there's not much going on in the Judiciary Committee or elswhere on Capital Hill to keep our illustrious senior Senator busy, and instead he thinks maybe a hearing on the handling of sports labor disputes is just what the country needs. Perhaps he was sleeping during the multi-season tantrum that has been Owens' career to date... (Oops, is my bias showing?)

Update: as expected, D-mac delivers the snark on this one...

Monday, November 28, 2005

More of that "Sixth Borough" crap

The New York Times waxes poetic about the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. I'm afraid that they kind of lost me at the headline "A Philadelphia Neighborhood Wears Its Grit Well" (heh), although it's mostly a restaurant teaser.

(via Philadelphia Will Do)

Misc. Monday bits

  • LIHEAP (see prev. here). There's been much concern that this winter's combination of cold snap and high fuel costs could mean many low-income households going without heat. Making matters worse, the feds have cut support for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Pennsylvania has been one of the few states not to contribute toward this program, but is now considering legislation to change that.
    The legislation, which Gov. Rendell called for last month, passed the Senate earlier this week and must now be approved by the House. It would set aside a portion of the annual gross-receipts tax paid by Pennsylvania's utility companies for the state's emergency energy assistance fund. The money would then be disbursed to low-income residents to help them with their heating costs.
    Lawmakers hope the new funds would help keep some 20,000 families from being cut off. The House will consider the bill when it returns next Monday; Dan at YPP urges them on...

  • TABOR (see prev. here). Friedman at America's Hometown wonders about other ways to control spending and/or suggest desired cuts, and points out that some open debates on such issues would be a welcome development.

  • East Falls construction debate: the city is getting involved, bringing a lawsuit against the developer that cites a breach of the zoning allowance contract.
    Construction to expand the complex by 263 units began in January. According to the complaint, Winther and the general contractor, Tocci Commercial Corp., applied for a zoning change for the project in July 2002. The variance was granted only after Winther committed to using union labor for the work that was to be of the highest standard, the complaint says.

    But when work started on the new units earlier this year, Winther hired Tocci, an open-shop contractor that hired largely non-union workers.
    You mean those plans and stuff are supposed to be for real? Dan professes embarrassment over his fascination with the legal technicalities of the case (e.g., does the zoning board have any authority to require such concessions?). Never fear, you're among geeks here.

  • City life.
    1. A local college student notes that cabs in Philadelphia are shameless in their racism against potential fares and specific neighborhoods as destinations.
    2. A new performance space on Broad is on the way, according to a University of the Arts press release. The space will include two theaters and be located atop a building at the corner of Walnut and Broad.
    3. Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky is embarrassed by the local papers' outpourings of grief over their own fates. How much of his rant is intended as reality-check versus biting commentary is a bit hard to tell...
      Update: Will Bunch has a choice response to this piece. (via Philadelphia Will Do)
    4. America's Hometown notices an alternative energy pilot program underway in a smallish town in Masschusetts, using technology that could link heating your home to generating its electricity. No word on what happens during the summer...

Random bits about people

  • Tom Knox, declared Dem. candidate for Philadelphia mayor, got a bit more fleshing out yesterday by the Inquirer's Tom Fitzgerald. PoliticsPhilly catches an interesting bit in passing here.

  • A Daily News letter somehow blames Mayor Street for not being the one to fix the SEPTA strike. okaaay....

  • Tom Ferrick says something or other about mayoral candidates in another edition of his perplexing columns pretending to be John Street's diary. Is there anybody that this structure works for?

Codey bows out

Despite huge in-state popularity and polls showing him in strong contention, acting New Jersey Governor Richard Codey has said he doesn't want Jon Corzine's US Senate seat. He may have not wanted to run against popular NJ scion Tom Kean next fall (he actually chauffeured for the Kean family as a teenager! see here), and as president of the state Senate, he's got plenty of power and more time to spend being a "regular guy" and actually seeing his family. Of course, this leaves plenty of interested contenders for the seat, upcoming battle to keep it or not. Corzine is expected to make a choice in the next couple of weeks and has expressed an interested in picking a candidate who shares his progressive views.

Update: let's not forget (or fail to discover, as the case may be) the Bruce for Senate option...

PA Congressman injured in Iraq

Rep. Tim Murphy, of PA's 18th District (in the southwest portion of the state) was injured when a vehicle carrying him and several other visiting reps flipped over. He was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, but is expected back in Pittsburgh today, wearing a neck brace but in good spirits after spending a bit more of the holiday abroad than originally intended. None of the others with him was seriously injured.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Quick Wednesday round-up

Office closing early, so quick notes only. Additional posts unlikely before Monday.Have a great holiday weekend, all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Other items of note

  • Pittsburg's public transit agency just staved off a strike by agreeing on a new 3-year contract deal. The terms are remarkably similar to those in the recent SEPTA/TWU contract (3% annual raises, contributions to healthcare at 1% of wages), which probably reflects the same combination of practical realities and Rendell wheeling and dealing as happened here -- the mention of "$25 million in savings" made me think that they must have replicated the Blue Cross discount bonus that was uncovered during the strike in Philly (see prev. here), but I couldn't track down that level of detail.

  • More discussion of TABOR can be found in the current issue of the Philadelphia Weekly -- I had previously missed it in the deluge of holiday shopping tips, but Gwen Shaffer tends to write articles that really get to the core of her subject, so this is a piece not to miss. [I was alerted to it via this rant by Dan at YPP.] Unfortunately, it focuses a bit more on who's advocating and fighting against the bills than on practical examples of the trouble they can cause -- however, one point to note is that, in years when the state's economy does well, the spending caps prohibit investment in long-term projects, requiring that the extra cash flow be returned to taxpayers instead. An odd kind of leash.
    [For those not already saturated, another opinion piece here.]

Tuesday politicians

  • The Daily News opinion page applauds Rep. John Murtha for speaking the plain truth (see prev. here if this slipped by you).

  • GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Lynn Swann continues to play coy about his interest in the race, refusing to officially commit.
    "I am still in the process of exploring" a candidacy, Swann said when asked about his political status at a downtown Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon. "But some people say if it walks like a swan, looks like a swan... ."
    ha ha. What's the trick? Be certain you're going to win the thing before entering? Get donations while you're still unlimited? Something else that I'm missing? Surely the nine months that he's had a political committee have been time enough for considering the actual job...

  • PoliticsPhilly notes that Nutter is still working his smoking bill, even if it's far from clear how the votes can be cobbled together. Perhaps New Jersey's example will provide some ammunition. And/or, perhaps some of the issues surrounding membership in City Council (Cohen, Mariano) need to settle down a bit before taking up contentious bills.

Thanksgiving pause: share the wealth

A national holiday that centers on a family meal highlights the fact that many can barely feed themselves on a daily basis. Those of us who live comfortably can take this as an opportunity to give a bit back to those not so well off.
  1. You can donate in money/goods: the Daily News provides a list of organizations taking food donations and points out that gifts of Thanksgiving turkeys are running way behind this year. The United Way, Salvation Army, and groups like Philabundance are particularly grateful for money donations during this busy time (most of their food drive periods are past).

  2. You can donate some time, especially in the next few days: Old Pine Community Center (at 401 Lombard) is serving as the clearing house for some 50,000 cans of food donated to food drives around the region, which need to be sorted for distribution to a number of food cupboards and other charities in the greater Philadelphia area (which will run off this bounty for some time). They need hands starting this afternoon (the truck pulls up probably as early as 2:30) and extending late into the evening (a second shift starts around 5-6); work will continue all day Wednesday (starting at 9am) and possibly Friday if there's still stuff to be done.
    Help them be done by tomorrow!
Update: The Old Pine sorting got finished by a real deluge of volunteers. They'll be loading up cars from the various agencies this morning (Wed), but it could imaginably all be done by lunch. Thanks to everybody who helped out!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Center City -- Residential Development Report

An interesting new report put out by the Center City District folks takes a look at building and redevelopment in downtown Philadelphia. Titled Residential Development: 1997-2005 (link is to a pdf), the report's subtitle better reveals its chewy center: "What's being built? Who's moving in? Can it be sustained?" Lots of good tables and maps, for those interested in this topic, as well as encouragement to the city to continue building the amenities and infrastructure to support an ongoing boom.

(via Washington Square West Civic Association)

TABOR trudging forward

A Republican-led effort to cap state spending has been underway (mostly under the radar) for a few weeks now (see prev. here), working via two simultaneous routes, legislative and constitutional. The Inquirer looked at these so-called TABOR measures over the weekend:
[T]he governor's office released a lengthy analysis arguing that a state cap could lead to increased local taxes to maintain programs, particularly in education.

The analysis also says that inflation is a bad measure for the needs of state government programs. The inflation index is based such consumer costs as food and housing, while state governments fund services like health care and education.
The efforts may be moving faster than they would otherwise because of leadership desire to shift attention from the pay-raise furor. Much of the debate right now centers on Governor Rendell, who could veto this measure if it gets approved, but might fear pressure over the issue in his re-election campaign next year.

There is much local concern that this measure could be a disaster, requiring slashes in government services and investments in the future; many point to the experience of Colorado, which is now repealing its similar legislation after feeling the pinch. Dan at YPP is sounding the alarm, and blog-mate BAM made the argument earlier here, also noting that these bills were rushed through without any public hearings. Expect this to get a bit more notice in coming days.

I missed this piece in the Phila Weekly about this topic -- a good overview with consideration of the pros, cons, and concerns. (via Dan at YPP)

The citizens' work is never done

A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial from yesterday applauds the (belated) rollback of the legislative pay-hike, but argues that meaningful reforms are needed in the way that Harrisburg handles its business. Among those listed are lobbying disclosure (we're alone among states in not regulating lobbying outlay), legislative reform (several types mentioned here) --
For starters, lawmakers must forbid late changes to legislation in the Rules Committee. They must adhere to the constitutional principle, only fitfully enforced by the Supreme Court, that utterly unrelated amendments should not be attached to bills.
-- open government, and campaign finance. Maybe even nonpartisan redistricting, to avoid the embarrassing snakes that are gerrymandered legislative districts.
This stuff may seem boring, compared to storming the ramparts over a pay raise. But it is these gaps in ethics and process that enable the sleazy culture which in turn fosters abuses such as the pay raise. "It's the power game that controls the things they care about," says Kauffman.
All good stuff. Time to do more than make amends -- time to mend the system. One hopes that the newly awakened public will continue to create pressure for meaningful change.

Primary speculations

A former city councilwoman from Pittsburgh, Valerie McDonald Roberts, has announced her intention to challenge current Lieutenant Governor Knoll in the Democratic primary. Roberts would like to broaden the role of the LG to more than chairing the state Senate, including using the podium to advocate for affordable health care and women's pay equity. However, Knoll is expected to be a shoo-in for state party endorsement. (For newcomers, PA has separate primaries for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, expecting the respective winners to learn to play nice after the fact.)

Over on the Republican side, the current contenders for the gubernatorial primary are being stacked up as opponents for Rendell next fall. The party is unusually divided over which player offers the best prospects. The official party endorsement won't come until February, but regional groups are already taking their own stands. Some are hoping to avoid a contested primary, but if the current level of disagreement persists, it's hard to see how that could be arranged.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Give your opinion!

Do you feel strongly about city aesthetics? About the comfort of your tush? Then weigh in on the Fairmont Park Commission's choice of a new bench style for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. You can look at the picture or go and sit on both of the finalists yourself.

Business tax cuts in the pipeline?

City Council is again moving on measures that would trim Philadelphia's business taxes, especially the Business Privilege Tax. However, Mayor Street vetoed a similar measure last spring for budget reasons -- however, some hidden funds appeared after the budget was finalized, which may fuel his opposition this time around. Some of the proposals would lock in a tax cut, while others would only commit to a short-term decrease (note that the city budgets on a five-year plan). Also at issue is the unknown degree of linkage between tax cuts and actual job creation.

Always more ethical considerations

  1. The Inquirer has an editorial today scoffs at the belated legal opinion from the Street folks that bond deals should be exempt from the new contribution/contract regulations. They hope that the mayor follows through on his promise to fix the hole by executive order.

  2. The Daily News opinion page follows up on Dan's post yesterday (here) about the Philadelphia Police's Office of Integrity and Accountability, encouraging the mayor and police commisioner to prioritize finding a new director for the office.
    No one expects a big-city police department to be without problems. But having a clear-eyed view of where those problems are is critical. And the citizens of a democracy have a right to expect that those problems don't remain hidden from view.
    Indeed, and now more than ever.

  3. In case we needed a reminder that vigilance is always needed, even in law enforcement, there's a dust-up in the Sherriff's office over unseemly linkage between real estate transactions and office contract work. The Daily News has apparently been pursuing this story, and presents two parts today: first, the suspension of sheriff staffer Darrell Stewart, who may have been trading in properties acquired through sheriff's office sales; and second, a look at Sheriff John Green himself, who has had personal real estate dealings with folks who get no-bid contracts with his office. Does no-one even have a sense of appearances, let alone propriety, anymore?

Casino developers not so hot on Philly

It could be the lure of the Poconos, or the fear of the power of Street's gaming task force and its recommendations, but apparently the casino folks aren't so excited about getting dibs on Philadelphia locations.
City locations are hard to find and expensive. Big-city politics can be difficult to navigate. Powerful unions can drive up the cost of construction and wages for service employees.

Then there is the competition for customers. Four casinos, two in the city and two in the suburbs, will all compete for the same local gamblers. Just an hour away is Atlantic City, where casinos pay lower taxes - about 9 percent compared with Pennsylvania's 54 percent of gambling revenue - and can offer card games and a dozen locations.
So far only two wobbly companies have shown interest, with others initially drawn but then having second thoughts. Ok, let's skip the whole thing!

Around the politicians

  • The investigation/trial of Phila. City Councilman Rick Mariano has taken another turn with another guilty plea from one of those involved. More on what he's admitted to here.

  • Also in City Council news, President Anna Verna, while making no decision about whether to have an election to fill David Cohen's empty Council seat, is officially closing his office. Probably a bad sign for those who might have hoped to continue that office's work (such as chief of staff Bill Greenlee, or widow and past staffer Florence Cohen).

  • Angling for the Phila. Mayor's office took a new direction, below the radar, as Councilwoman Tasco proposes a new definition of "candidate" that might hurt Fattah's fundraising (and favor someone she prefers).

  • Meanwhile, State Rep. Dwight Evans takes issue with the previous newspaper characterization (see here) of his and Mayor Street's anti-violence plans as being in conflict. He points out that he actually collaborated in the development of Street's initiative.

PA Congressman takes a strong stance on Iraq

Rep. John Murtha represents the far South-west corner of Pennsylvania (PA-12). He's a decorated war veteran and longtime foreign policy hawk. But he startled leadership of both major parties by being the first Congressman to call for an immediate withdrawel from Iraq after their elections in mid-December.
"Our military's done everything that has been asked of them," he said. "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home."
The administration was quick to fire back, accusing centrist Murtha of being aligned with bogeyman Michael Moore and "extremist" Democrats, but I'm not sure that the 60% of the public that no longer supports the war will appreciate being characterized as crazy.

Update: video of the speech available online here.
(via dailyKos)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mayoral race begins

Tom Knox has Philadelphia's first official mayoral campaign website. A chance to get a first glimpse of the man and what he hopes to achieve. The site also includes a blog, with posts by Knox and campaign staffers Will Wittels and Joe Trippi -- will be interesting to see how often they update it, with a full two years before the general election. How much news can there be, this far out? Only time will tell.

(via PoliticsPhilly)

It's official!

Ding dong, the wicked pay-hike is dead, the repeal officially voted in and signed by Rendell. Even the Inquirer's reporters got a bit giddy:
The legislative pay raise that bludgeoned approval ratings, gave birth to a populist revolt, and knocked a state Supreme Court justice off the bench died yesterday, succumbing to a severe case of political expediency.
It doesn't require that lawmakers give back the thousands they've already collected in unvouchered expenses (sssss), but many are considering that move; others remain defiant, or say they gave the money to charity.

Following this news, John Baer wonders whether the newfound responsiveness of Harrisburg to PA voters will outlast this repeal. He notes that there's room for further reform. For her part, Above Average Jane thinks it's time to look at pay issues in a rational way, discussing their merits and what conditions might be attached, such as restrictions on outside employment and investments. In net, she says, "If they want a federal salary, let’s have federal rules." That would really be some meaningful change!

A pleasant surprise

Regional blog heavyweight PoliticsPA has named A Smoke-Filled Room among its Best Political Blogs of the state (Top 11 list, apparently). Fellow Philadelphians (and daily reads) Above Average Jane and Young Philly Politics are also there, along with an eclectic mix varying by type, political viewpoint, and regional focus. Thanks to PoliticsPA for both the recognition and the links to new statewide resources.

Ethics reform: good news and bad news

  • Good news: Philadelphia's City Council committee approved the next round of Nutter ethics bills (also here), which would expand the recently approved limit on campaign contributions to contractors engaging in competitive bidding for city work, and would separately set up an independent Board of Ethics to oversee government operations.
    "Everyone who does business with the city now has to make a decision," Nutter said. "You either want to do business with the city and play by the same rules everybody else plays by, or you don't want to do business with the city and you want to make massive campaign contributions. But you're not going to be able to do both."
    There are a few amendments to be considered, but the full Council could vote on these measures as soon as early December. One suspects that they'll be markedly less controversial than the first round of discussions!

  • Bad news: Mayor Street says the ethics bill already passed will cost taxpayers $1 million to put in action.
    About $500,000 will be spent on a massive overhaul of the city's computerized system for tracking contracts, said deputy managing director Susan Kretsge. Other money will be spent on consultants and materials to educate vendors, the public and city staff, she said.
    Well, paperwork is what it is...

  • Good news: Philadelphia's new Inspector General looks like an excellent choice to both the Inquirer editorial page and the Daily News opinion page.
    The inspector general's job is likely a mystery to most Philadelphians, but that person has the important task of ferreting out wrongdoing by city employees. A recent probe of the Keep Philadelphia Beautiful program by that office uncovered alleged misspending that led to indictments.

    A Georgetown University law graduate, Williams worked in the district attorney's office for 10 years. In his election campaign, he stressed the need to crack down on government corruption and white-collar-crime.
    The right man at the right time to help restore the city's faith in its leaders.

  • Bad news: The Daily News also points out that not everybody is on board with the desire for ethics reform. Ms. Blackwell may still have time to see the light, before her disgruntled constituents giver her a first-hand demonstration of their feelings.

Update: Bad news or just perplexing? Dan at YPP looks at backlash against the independent auditor's office at the Phila. police department -- it's found real problems but taken nothing but flak along the way, and now critics want to let the top position lapse. Can that be right? (Are we still in the Rizzo era?!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rest your eyes

PhillySkyline made excellent use of the SEPTA strike to wander the city and capture the combination of slanted light and gorgeous trees that characterized that spectacular week of fall. Go along for the wander, and remember why it is you like living here (or wish you did). Even the first page is a full meal.

In the bad news column

...put word that Bread & Roses is only one of hundreds of charitable institutions forced to sign a loyalty oath promise that they don't support terrorists before getting United Way funding, under a little-noticed application of the Patriot Act. I agree with the perspective of the author, who writes,
The parallels between the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s and the antiterrorist hysteria of today are, unfortunately, very real.
Let's not forget our civil liberties in our rush to obtain a sense of [false] security...

(via Young Philly Politics)

Some brief celebrations

  • New Jersey's acting governor Codey celebrated the effects of his focus on mental health in the state. Other states wonder how they could catch their own governors' attention.

  • An Inquirer editorial shares my joyous reception of the news that Independence Mall may reduce its heavy barricades.
    For visitors to Independence Mall, it's a huge, practical victory. For the cause of liberty, it's a symbolic high-five long in coming.
    . . .
    In shifting to less-intrusive security measures, historic-area visitors should be treated more like guests, less like terror-suspect detainees being processed for internment.
    Amen to that! They also advise that the city continue to watch how future plans are shaped, both practically and aesthetically.

  • Meanwhile, the transit union quietly ratified their new SEPTA contract last night, which should be cause for celebration for anybody who commutes in the region or worries about its image. The smaller suburban union (see prev. here) has also reached an agreement, which they hope to ratify this weekend. SEPTA's board is expected to approve both contracts tomorrow. Onward and upward!

Ripples in the world of city ethics

  • The Inquirer takes a closer look at Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who stands nearly alone in her opposition to ethics reform in city government, including the recent bill regulating no-bid city contracts. She actually invokes McCarthy when talking about this. amazing.
    In an interview last week, Blackwell insisted her goal was not to protect dirty dealing. Rather, she believes, real crimes - like those that earned former City Treasurer Corey Kemp a 10-year federal sentence this year for selling his office - are already illegal.

    Despite their good intentions, she said, new laws would only gum things up, hampering politicians' ability to help constituents, particularly poor people and minority businesses.
    It's notable that she has also opposed anti-nepotism regulations (successfully). Apparently anything that prevents rewarding good pals, supporters, and relatives is oppressive in her unusual (cough) view. In my view, neither charity nor good constituent service should be impeded by sunshine.

  • Seth Williams, former city prosecutor, becomes new top integrity enforcer.
    Williams, 38, said he was not taking the job to further his political career and would handle it in an impartial manner. "Eliminating fraud and municipal corruption is nonpartisan," Williams said.
    The previous Inspector General left under a cloud when his city residency was questioned (see here); Mayor Street said of that, "When you're the inspector general, you can't live by the letter of the law. You have to abide by the spirit." Onward and upward!

  • The Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia's nonpartisan election/government oversight group, has named a star-studded new board, which they hope will increase their resources and signal business support of ethical overhaul of the city's political culture.

  • Meanwhile the Daily News notes a curious exception to the coverage of the new ethics bill authorized by the ballot measure last week: the new requirements don't apply to lawyers and others who work for the city on bond deals. They note that Ron White would have been included in such exemptions.
    "That's ludicrous, given that the impetus for much of this came from scandals that emerged from bond lawyers getting no-bid contracts," said Brett Mandell, executive director of Philadelphia Forward, one the groups that supported the contracting reforms.
    I'm not sure how authoritative the Street administration's interpretation of the new rules really is, but I suspect further tinkering may be required before the full intent of the law is realized.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A tale of two interviews

PhillyFuture brings overdue recognition to Above Average Jane and includes a short interview with Jane herself. In return, Jane works up some extra treats for her visitors, starting with an interview with Joe Hoeffel.

Tuesday round-up

Always a short day for me, so pulling them all together:
  • Politicians:

    1. Senate hopeful Casey attacks incumbent Santorum over links to lobbyists (and specifically pressuring lobbying firms and trade associations to hire more Republicans). He was in DC to announce proposed ethical reforms in disclosure of lobbying activity. Santorum staffers counter with a debate offer...

    2. First hints emerge of how union boss and mayoral hopeful John Dougherty is involved in the Mariano investigations: he loaned him some money to help with his debt (although it didn't end up used that way). Said he about news that Mariano had accepted help from somebody in his district,
      "I didn't think it was illegal; I just thought it was stupid," Dougherty said. "So I felt it would be easier to lend him the money personally to resolve this. I'd rather have him owe me than someone else."
      Draw your own conclusions about how few strings any Big Dog loan would carry...

  • The rest of life:

    1. I've always taken the blockades around Independence Hall quite personally, so I welcome the news that the area may become more accessible in the near future, due largely to the Park Service's new willingness to set up two separate security screening areas.
      Once the dual screening facilities are up and running, visitors will be able to walk about the mall largely unimpeded by bicycle-rack security barriers. They will be screened to visit the bell center and also to visit Independence Hall.
      Money has also arrived to allow the landscaping of the whole Mall to be completed. Yay!

    2. A New Jersey study on smoking in restaurants and bars has concluded that indoor smoke poses a risk to workers, with smoke levels exceeding federal pollution safety limits.
      "The air in several of the places visited were what the EPA deems hazardous," he said. "This is their worst category of air pollution. This is seldom seen except for forest fires and volcanic eruptions. That's about the only time we ever see that in outdoor air."
      Scary! The findings are expected to energize anti-smoking efforts in NJ, and might influence the ongoing debate over a smoking ban in Philadelphia.

    3. Apparently the state Senate is looking at the mechanism for selecting Lieutenant Governors in PA.
      Senate Bill 170, carrying bipartisan sponsorship, allows gubernatorial nominees to name a running mate the same way presidential candidates do. At present, Pennsylvania voters pick running mates in primary elections. The governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket in the fall.
      The move may be driven by a desire to embarrass the current LG, Catherine Baker Knoll, for some controversial remarks made earlier this year, but it also addresses a logistical oddity by which political opponents often end up as teammates in the executive branch. Rendell supports the concept, as does columnist Baer, and it makes great sense to me (as the current system doesn't really).

Looks like they're really going to do it

Repeal the governmental pay-hike that is: the state House just approved a compromise bill, and the Senate is expected to approve it tomorrow. I repent my cynical ways...
Yesterday's compromise essentially will roll back all salaries to pre-pay-raise levels, including those for the state judiciary. For lawmakers, that means returning to $69,648 annually. However, legislators are still scheduled to receive a smaller cost-of-living increase in two weeks.
They hope to finesse prohibitions on cutting judicial salaries by spelling out clearly that their legislative intent is to keep prior (current) salary levels. The Nigro defeat should make it hard for the courts to say otherwise.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Well, I didn't foresee this!

But it seems good for all concerned: Seth Williams to be city's next Inspector General (Dan has it from the horse's mouth). Looks like the next time he runs for DA, he'll not only have experience and ideas, but even name-recognition! And maybe he can get some good stuff done meantime.
The OIG's mission is to enhance the public confidence in City government by investigating complaints of fraud, corruption, and abuse; and by recommending programs/policies which educate and raise the awareness of all City officials/employees.
I think there's room for some of that stuff around here!

Update: here's the official news story.

More from Tricky Rick?

Santorum calls for a debate with Casey, a full year before the general election (and well before Casey becomes the official candidate through the primary). Lively speculation on dailyKos about whether this indicates desperation; I think Santorum could be looking to (1) make a clear break with Bush policies now, so that he's not still running against them next year, and (2) demonstrate his superior public speaking skills (which have been remarked by many) and thence better qualification for the job. Casey unlikely to accept for those reasons and others, not to mention that there's still the technical involvement of Pennacchio and Sandals on the Dem side...

[Note: I also don't know what to make of the source linked by kos -- insider info, or pure fabrication? how is one to know?]

Santorum discovers science

Or perhaps he noticed last Tuesday's results in Dover. Anyway, Senator Rick Santorum has reversed his position on Intelligent Design. "Science leads you where it leads you." I guess the evidence of voter frustration is clear enough for even the lowest student to work through the statistics.

(via Atrios)

[This would have made a good third story]

Ben Waxman has a post at Young Philly Politics titled "why blogs matter," but it's really about the interesting notion that focus on ethics could be distracting us from much larger problems in the city and elsewhere. (He hopes that blogs can help keep other perspectives in view of the mainstream media and the citizenry too.)

Three other stories

[look, sometimes there's just no theme, ok?]
  1. An Inquirer editorial looks at two different plans to reduce gun violence among the city's youth, one proposed by Mayor Street (expanded Youth Violence Reduction Partnership) and the other by state Rep. Dwight Evans (Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia). The writer expresses some fear that the potential for cooperation on this critical issue will be overshadowed by the politics of the next mayoral race.

  2. Make of it what you will: mayoral hopeful Tom Knox has ponied up $5 million for his election run (giving it to a dedicated political committee). Not clear that his money will buy him recognition or interest, but it's making the other would-be candidates scramble to match his war chest. Dan at YPP raises some good questions about a candidate whose only justification for being in the race is his net worth.

  3. oh, the third piece got dumber and more mystifying the farther I read, so I decided not to blog it. :)

Things marginally transit-related

  • SEPTA hopes for dedicated funding to relieve its cyclical woes. Gov. Rendell has commissioned an, um, commission to study the best way to do that, but the report isn't due until after the 2006 election. Opposition from the legislature is expected.

  • For reasons that entirely escape me, SEPTA has launched a public-relations campaign that involves "ordinary folks" from their staff, talking about life in Philly ("it's gravy, not pasta sauce"). The one I saw in the el today was some conductor saying that he loved to eat. This is supposed to inspire confidence? Anyway, apparently this brilliance is being packaged for the affectionate public as a set of trading cards available with your pass or token purchases. Like some kitsch with that?

  • On the taxi front, it appears that more than riders have been being bilked lately: taxi inspectors are charged with taking $ thousands in bribes.
    It charged that the inspectors took $76,000 total in bribes - mostly in $20, $50 and $100 increments - to pass cabs without inspecting them and issue permits to hacks without testing them.
    That explains the stellar uniform quality of the city's taxis and drivers! [Also here, more bemoaning of the "contaminated culture" of bribery in all different sectors of city functioning.]

Feds continue to nip at Fumo

The latest installment is some questioning of uses of his office space for nongovernmental business. Again the dealings have something to do with a nonprofit affiliated with Sen. Fumo and entangled in many suspicions past and ongoing, including running what appear to be shadow realty companies. Nice. A second Daily News article gives a history of Fumo's occupation of his Tasker offices; more convenient connections appear there...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Agriculture bits

America's Hometown has has a couple of interesting recent notes about what Pennsylvania is growing and what drives our state economy: sustainable forestry (58% of the state is woods, and we're generating $5 billion in sales by careful use) and farming products (milk alone is more than a third of gross cash sales in the state). Thanks, Friedman!

Friday round-up

  • Lest you breathe too deep a breath of relief, SEPTA still has another union it has to negotiate with. Local 1594 (responsible for suburban trolley and high-speed lines) walked out with TWU 234, but didn't sign on to their agreement (or any other). No srike is threatened, however.

  • Public concern about the anticipated revaluation of homes and consequent shifts in property taxes (see, e.g., here) are generating some ansyness around City Council. Two proposals for buffering homeowners from sudden tax jumps were introduced yesterday: Frank DiCicco's version would use a 5-year average as the basis for taxes (thus phasing in the new rate over four years), while Jim Kenney's would simply cap all tax increases at 10% per year, no matter how much the home value had changed. Unmentioned is Jannie Blackwell's suggestion that they just put the whole question off for a couple of more years (see here)...

  • There's more than one contentious difference buried in the pay-raise-repeal bills under discussion in Harrisburg (see prev. here): in proud Pennsylvanian tradition, the bill contains an unrelated provision that would provide for a new Utility Assistance Fund to help the poor pay their winter heating bills. Perhaps this is a Democratic attempt to get something good out of what is otherwise being portrayed as a conservative victory (given the source of much of the pay-hike press releases). Of course, there's no way to know what will come out of the negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill...

  • Meanwhile, Governor Rendell claims to feel unthreatened by the pay-hike backlash. (Of course, that doesn't mean anybody else will let the issue go.

  • The Save Ardmore Coalition has had a good news/bad news kind of week: on the one hand, they replaced most of their Board of Commissioners with new faces who don't support the controversial development plan for the area, but on the other hand, a judge has ruled their lawsuit premature (because the development plan still isn't finalized).

  • Finally, the company behind the successful recycling pilot program (see prev. here) is tired of waiting around for somebody to widen its scope as intended. [Maybe the demonstrable lack of city commitment to recycling (see here) also has them concerned.] Anyway, let's hope that somebody at Planning Central picks up the ball.

Judicial ouster: Good news or bad news?

Opinions differ. John Grogan (Inquirer), always marching to the punish-the-pay-hiker drumbeat, thinks the voters have sent a strong message. Jill Porter (Daily News) thinks that anger might have been better directed at someone who actually deserved it.
But defeated Justice Russell M. Nigro had nothing to do with the pay raise.
He never even voted on it.

Although Nigro abused his expense account - more on that later - he's an industrious judge who had earned the right to be evaluated on his own merits.
. . .
[T]he solution is to regulate the accounts, not to oust judges who make questionable use of them.
I tend to agree with her. I'm happy that politicians have been put on notice that the electorate is now aware of its power and willing to use it. But I also look forward to our using our power in a meaningful way.
An unmitigated victory will be when judges - and legislators - are elected or defeated based on merit, not retained out of ignorance or swept out of office on an undiscriminating wave of rage.
Let's try to leverage the public's new anger to help them educate themselves about the candidates and issues facing them, so that they can make their future decisions in a less inchoate way and in pursuit of loftier goals.

Today is Veterans' Day

Most governmental offices and public schools will be closed. The Inquirer provides a convenient list of things that are open or closed today, from banks to trash collection to SEPTA schedules.

Tales of city politicos

Three stories today of The Good, The Bad, and mostly The Ugly:
  1. State House Speaker John Perzel is one of the politicians most closely associated with the tempest over the summer's pay-hike. Now a possible rival for the next election is banging on his neighbor's doors in Northeast Philadelphia and offering an alternative.

  2. Mayor John Street's "top integrity officer," the Inspector General, quit yesterday over questions about whether he was meeting residency requirements for the post. Earlier in the year the Deputy Controller left under a similar cloud. Doesn't anybody read the regulations? not even the enforcers??

  3. Meanwhile, a Democratic Ward leader in West Philly has been A.W.O.L. for the last six months but appeared just in time to disappear again with the Ward's money. The committeefolks thought they had ousted him already, but he's holding on by a technicality, while making no pretense of actually doing the job.
Also, not a politico but somehow related in spirit as well as in genes, Mayor Street's brother Milton, once controversial for getting rich off city-related consultancy and vending deals, is now filing for bankruptcy, perhaps trying to escape a bunch of unpaid storage costs for equipment at Penn's Landing. Very pretty.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A loose collection of Things About Senators

Call it significant or don't, but PA Sen. Rick Santorum took a pass on appearing with Bush when he was in the state recently. Just a matter of scheduling, or related to the President's rather low popularity? You make the call.

Recent polls show bad trends for both Santorum and Rendell, perhaps catching the back-draft of pay-hike anger.

And finally, local blogger BooMan takes a look at the Democratic field for Senate, bemoaning the mindless power of name recognition and documenting unfair coverage of the lesser-known candidates (Pennacchio and Sandals) by the media. He argues that with Santorum so unexpectedly weak, the party should be putting forward a candidate based on principles rather than just one with that vague sheen of "electability." A little too late, I fear.

More election fall-out and analysis

A thousand articles queued up, so apologies if I lump them into categories...
  • On the effects of pay-hike outrage:

    1. The Inquirer reports that Harrisburg is aquiver over the electorate's unwillingness to let go of their righteous anger, and what it may mean for their political fortunes.
      The anti-pay-raise movement that many had dismissed early on as a passing thunderstorm is developing into a Category 5 hurricane that threatens to uproot incumbents across the state next year.
      Even Rendell is advised to look after his image. The Daily News has plenty of advice as well.

    2. Meanwhile, ousted state Supreme Court justice Nigro finally appears in public to rail against the irrational hordes who took him down. He never had a say on the pay-raise issue but appears to have become its sacrificial lamb. The Inquirer editorial page has little sympathy, and dire tones for others who may fall victim.

  • On New Jersey politics:

    1. One piece looks at acting Governor Codey, who will be returning to his job as state Senate president, but is also under the microscope as a possible replecement for Governor-elect Corzine's US Senate seat (did you follow that?). It also takes a look at how relations might be among regional powerhouses Corzine, Codey, and presumed state House speaker Joseph Roberts.
      Codey contemplated challenging Corzine for the gubernatorial nomination before deciding he could not amass the necessary cash, while clashes between Codey and Roberts over property-tax rebates resulted in an impasse over the state's $28 billion budget last spring.

      Yet the Democrats are likely to agree on a light December lame-duck agenda focusing on stem-cell research and a proposed statewide smoking ban. Two of the state's largest problems, the property-tax burden and the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, are expected to remain untouched until Corzine is sworn in as governor in January, Democrats said yesterday.
      And then there are the current NJ Reps who might be eying that US Senate seat too. Expect more developments...

    2. Another piece looks at the NJ GOP, reeling from a number of defeats on Tuesday.
      Many Republicans hope the party can change its fortunes by nominating Assemblyman Thomas Kean Jr., son of popular former Gov. Tom Kean. The elder Kean and former Gov. Christie Whitman are the only Republicans to have won statewide in the last 30 years.
      That's getting into Chicago Cubs territory!

    3. A third Inquirer piece looks at the negative ads that characterized the gubernatorial battle. By way of them, two stellar candidates turned themselves into distasteful options for even the most devoted voters.

    4. And a very short piece calculates how the ginormous spending in the top NJ election broke down in terms of cost per vote. heh.

  • Other:

    1. An Inquirer report speculates that the strong yes-vote on Philadelphia's pay-to-play charter measure mainly reflected citizen anger over recent government scandals. Ya' think? The editorial page warns City Hall to pay attention.

    2. Another piece looks at the small races around the Delaware valley that handed Democrats a surprising array of victories. (Confession: I don't know where a lot of these places are! Guess I need more road trips.) And for those looking way down the ticket, they have a round-up of school board races too.

      Update: I meant to include a link to this piece by Tom Curry expressing amazement at some of these smaller outcomes and giving them some context.

    3. Speaking of places I've never heard of, apparently Linesville, PA, just elected a mayor who's 18 years old. More pizza for all!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fire stations under-ready?

The new Philadelphia Weekly includes a major story about decrepit firetrucks and long repair back-logs. I hope that when budget negotiations spared some firehouses, they didn't leave them underfunded to do their jobs...

Seattle passes a smoking ban

Much more restrictive than those in most other states, it includes all public and workplaces. Expect their economy to wither to a crisp within days... heh

(via knotted knickers)

Other Wednesday bits

Small updates to ongoing stories:
  • Two new twists in the Mariano tragedy investigation. First, the feds' subpoenas for papers related to Mariano's doings have included "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, which automatically makes it news (given Doc's Big Dog status and presumed mayoral ambitions), despite the statements that Dougherty himself is not under any suspicion in this matter. Adding more seaminess to an already sad story, the feds request that Mariano undergo psychological testing to be sure that he's really fit to stand trial.

  • An Inquirer editorial expresses exasperation with state legislators for coming so close to repealing their pay-raise and then blowing the chance.
    By rejecting the state Senate's version of the pay-raise repeal, House legislators seem content to twist in the wind of citizens' outrage over the issue for a few more weeks. Now it will require a House-Senate conference committee to resolve legislators' differences over how to roll back their salary hike.
    (I think they are all probably pretty well adapted to the winds of outrage by now.) Nevertheless, the editors think that the value of sustained civic engagement has been proven here.

  • The Daily News' Urban Warrior is glad that a creative solution was found to the recent transit strike, but wonders what other massive savings might be found by careful examination of SEPTA's financial records. More promisingly, the piece notes that local business leaders have begun to recognize the value of public transit to the functioning of the local economy and may become a force for positive change in the system.

Other election news and chat

  • On the ethics reform victory:

    1. You'd think that being pro-ethics was a no-brainer, but not only does at least one Councilperson (Blackwell) claim to be "ethic'd-out," but also a leaflet campaign in at least four wards advocated a No vote on yesterday's ballot measure -- see details in the Inquirer's overview (Marcia Gelbart).

    2. The Daily News (Dave Davies) also celebrates the outcome as a call for serious change. The article notes that the margin of passage is unprecedented, and predicts that there will be more of the public on hand for hearings for the next set of City Council bills in this arena. It also notes the new coalitions that formed around this ballot measure, and the way that ethics concerns have intruded into discussions and races around the city.

    3. The Daily News also looks at this ballot result in the context of the "10 Ways to Reform Government" that it spelled out last year. It also looks at progress and prospects on each of the possible fronts, concluding there's been some progress but much more is needed.

    4. Update: check out Dan's comments at Young Philly Politics about other fronts on which we should be fighting this battle. (There's a chewy comment to the post too.)

  • From New Jersey:

    1. Summary of Corzine's win, along with the concrete numbers of votes for each of the (several) candidates in the race. The new governor highlighted his commitment to ending pay-to-play culture in New Jersey:
      "We'll end insider deals and no-bid contracts, and together we will restore the simple truth that public service is about serving the public."
      Amen. He's also sworn to take on the challenge of property tax reform as soon as he takes office.

    2. Voters approved two ballot measures before them, including the establishment of a Lieutenant Governor who can step in if the Governor dies or has to be replaced, rather than relying on the Senate President to fulfill that role (see prev. here).

  • In other realms:

    1. The court case on Intelligent Design may still be pending, but the voters of Dover, PA, have spoken: they voted out the school board that had advocated the teaching of the crapulant theory. All 8 who were up for election are now out on the street. Statement of support for science, or of exasperation with being the subject of national ridicule?

    2. John Baer looks at Justice Nigro's ouster as scapegoating for the pay-hike. (His colleague Newman escaped the same fate by only a narrow margin, apparently in response to last-minute lobbying by former governor Tom Ridge.) Perhaps the voters have proven their ability to stand up for themselves -- officeholders beware! The Inquirer also offers a look at the significance of this, and offer a few additional specifics (some counties voted against Nigro by a 4-to-1 margin!).

    3. The Daily News offers a round-up of results from around the nation in high-profile races and ballot issues, with a little context given for each.

Final election results

PoliticsPhilly has a complete round-up of Philadelphia election results, so I won't recap everything here. A few notes:
  1. Among the judges we endorsed, the two Republicans made better showings than their party-mates, but still not enough to come up to even a third of the votes of the lowest Democratic candidate.
  2. The city also voted to retain all of the judges up for reapproval, although other parts of the state apparently decided to take action against Supreme Court Justice Nigro, sending a serious message about both pay-hike anger and perceptions of his particular ethics foibles. This ejection is unprecedented.
  3. I haven't found final tallies, but the results I saw last night (with about 80% reporting) made it look like (a) about 15% of city voters turned out (better than the 10% expected in off years), and (b) the charter change measure attracted about 85% of the voters who clicked a choice for District Attorney, and probably 55-60% of all voters, both significantly better showings than most ballot questions. It also passed with 87% of the vote, so nobody in the city can claim that the voters don't care about government reform. Good work, all of you who pushed for this forward ethics step! This should give some impetus to the new ethics bills up for discussion starting next week.
You probably already know that Forrester conceded to new New Jersey governor-elect Jon Corzine at around 10 last night, his last-minute round of mud-slinging having perhaps actually widened the gap. Looks like that question about Corzine's Senate successor (see here) now comes to the fore...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Early election news

Corzine appears to have it wrapped up--yes, Forrester has conceded. In Philadelphia, the ballot measure will be in the high 80% range. Butkovitz walks over Levinson for controller. Many other races unsurprising... Lots more tomorrow!

Looking down (and across) the river

An interesting article looks at the need to replace Senator Corzine, should he win today's governor's race, and at the possible fate of acting governor Dick Codey, who has risen from obscurity to a notably high approval rating in the state. (Lots of folks now wish they could vote for him today...)

(via dailyKos)

Stay the course!

House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese appears to have taken the wrong lesson from the plight of our national leaders, putting consistency above all logic: John Baer is unimpressed by his pledge to "go down with his ship" of the legislative pay-hike, even as all but one of his colleagues have jumped into lifeboats.
No one would argue DeWeese was anything but consistent. But consistency on the wrong side of right is no virtue. The blind defense of something so universally regarded as self-serving and venal is consistency run amok. It is mere pigheadedness.
That's just the (um) tip of the iceberg. Baer is on a roll here . . .

Election yappage

A bunch of articles about the election, although, of course, no results until this evening.
  1. The Inquirer has two stories about the competitive New Jersey governor race, pointing out its unprecedented expense and vitriolic finish. Voters are sufficiently turned off that turn-out may be lower than usual.

  2. Tom Fitzgerald also provides a quick summary of the issues and candidates on today's ballots in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

  3. Daily News columnist Chris Brennan finds the whole election a yawner, although he notes that both judicial retention issues and the charter change ballot measure are charged by this year's voter anger.

  4. His colleague John Baer feels that current political events are exciting, including the possible pay-raise repeal, local ethics measure, and possible judge-ousting in his enthusiasm. Sounds a bit like he's sniffing the fumes of revolution...

  5. And finally, cartoonist Signe wonders who could possibly oppose pay-to-play reform? (and snarks a few answers)
Don't forget to vote on your way home!

SEPTA strike: the post-game analysis

Lots more info. today on how the strike was resolved, as well as opinions about every aspect of the plays and players.
  • According to the Inquirer, Rendell played a critical role in making the deal happen, by making the compromise financially feasible:
    Rendell agreed to advance promised funds to SEPTA so it could pay its health-care premiums in advance. The move would save SEPTA $15 million, he said, and enable the agency to require workers to pay 1 percent of their salaries toward health care rather than kicking in 5 percent of the cost of their health plans.
    It was a feat of shuttle diplomacy along the way as well.

  • The Daily News piles on more kudos for the Governor's intervention, but wishes we didn't always have to wait for the Big Dogs to arrive before fights can be settled.

  • A separate Daily News piece points out that Rendell wasn't the only one working hard, and that credit should be given to Deborah Willig, a lawyer for the union, for unearthing the Blue Cross policy that advance payment of policies results in a big premium discount -- essentially she found the $15 million that SEPTA needed to meet its budget goals. Great creative thinking, and nice to see the actual footsoldiers getting some credit.

  • The Inquirer also has an editorial calling on state lawmakers to provide dedicated transit funding, especially given the equitable deal just reached.

  • Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky thinks transit strikes should be forbidden, given the burden they place on the citizenry.

  • And the Daily News editorial page says now is the time to ask a host of difficult questions about SEPTA's future, including not only whether transit unions should be allowed to strike, but also who should oversee SEPTA's operations. Fodder for much future discussion!

*There's* that other shoe!

Call me a cynic, but last week's unexpected late-night decision to repeal the legislative pay-hike (see here) just seemed too good to be true; now it appears that, indeed, it may have been more show than substance, as the two chambers deadlock over differences in their bills.
Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer (R., Blair) has said he believes the House version is a "poison pill" meant to ensure that the entire bill is thrown out by the courts.

House Republicans have countered that the Senate's version was designed to ensure that Jubelirer's wife, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn, keeps her raise.
Yeah, those definitely sound like the voices of politicians chastened by public outrage! Note also that neither chamber's version quite fits the model that Rendell said he would sign (leaving judicial salaries intact; the legislature wants to find a way to include those raises in the roll-back). Stay tuned.

Pennsylvania entering the fray over "offical language"??

Apparently our state legislators, fresh from the great reception of their pay-hike attempt, are now wading into another controversial and doomed effort: establishing English as the state's official language. I didn't hear anything about this, although it was apparently scheduled for a vote last week (then delayed). The ACLU points out that similar laws in other states have been found unconsitutional, so it's extremely unlikely that such a measure would find a different fate here, and meantime it would make immigrants feel unwelcome, cost taxpayers thousands in court costs, and threaten attempts to improve civic participation and community safety. Did I miss the crisis of English's sudden unpopularity?! Or is somebody trying to whip their supporters into a frenzy just before an election? too weird...

(via Philadelphia Will Do)

Election day is at hand

rock the vote

My fantasy is to see the Charter Change measure get more votes than Lynne Abraham. Make it happen! (for other recommendations, see yesterday's voter guide)

Update: anybody who runs into problems or questions while trying to vote should check this list of numbers and contacts to get things straightened out.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Small bits

Honestly, today's papers must be incredibly light, or perhaps reasonably distracted with national scandals and international events, because there were like half-a-dozen local headlines in each. Anyway, these two notable:
  1. The Inquirer editorial page renews its call for a special election to fill Councilman Cohen's vacant seat. I notice that among their list of those interested in the post they overlook Florence Cohen, who looks like an ideal conflict-avoiding choice for the next two years (see prev. here). No signs that Council President Anna Verna is having any of it.

  2. The Daily News has an opinion piece worried about prospects for WiFi under Philadelphia's new plan, joining the Chicken Little contingent. As Dan at PhiladelphiaWillDo put it (here), there may be a race on to see whether the WiFi network or the city casinos will be the first idea to collapse...

Election tomorrow -- an ACM voters' guide

check the box!Tomorrow is election day throughout the country, and the sort of tiny election where a few extra folks can make a big difference. Here in Philadelphia, it's really important that everybody who cares about honesty and transparency in government turn out to vote for the Charter Change ballot measure, which will be at the far lower-right of your ballot. If you need to know more about why this is a good idea, see the summary at Committee of Seventy's website; you can also download a flyer here for your workplace and/or polling place to encourage others to support the measure.

Beyond that, there are a number of smaller city offices on the ballot, as well as a raft of new judges and choices to retain older judges. A quick summary with my recommendations:
  • District Attorney: I'd rather Seth Williams were here, but Lynne Abraham is clearly more qualified than her opponent. Vote for the Tough Cookie or leave it blank as a feeble protest.

  • Controller: the Inquirer chose not to endorse, and the Daily News favors the Republican, Levinson. However, this office is going to become increasingly important as the city institutes financial oversight of campaigns and city contracts, and his cavallier acceptance of gigantic contributions is enough on its own to make me distrust Levinson. We recommend Butkovitz, who has done well as a State Rep.

  • There are a bunch of Common Pleas judges, many listed on both tickets. I can't track down the number you are allowed to vote for, but here's my ranking of the options:
    1. Definitely vote for Shulman, Tucker, Bronson, Butchart, and Heffley, all of whom we recommended in the primary.
    2. Consider adding Cunningham and Eubanks, also generally viewed well.
    3. I recommend leaving the rest blank, however many you're allowed, but by no means vote for Palumbo or Harris -- despite my Ward leader's claim that "incompentents were weeded out in the primary," the bar thinks these two don't cut it. They'll probably be elected anyway, but at least it won't be on your hands.

  • Municipal court: We endorsed Moss and Jimenez in the primary, so be sure to vote for them again. I have no opinion on the others.

  • Traffic court: no opinion. These candidates are pretty far down the food chain.

  • Judicial retention: we recommend that you vote to retain all the judges. State conservatives are trying to oust a couple of progressive Supreme Court justices, in particular, under cover of anger about the summer's pay-hike, but I don't think that's the right way to make decisions about important posts. See more arguments by Ben Waxman here. Vote to retain.
That's it for this round. There will be a lot more sparks next year, but be sure to turn out this year for the ballot initiative, even if nothing else, so we can give our local polticians a reason to think we take ethics reform seriously.

Update: A friend with lawyerly insights sends this about the Supreme Court Justice retention issue:
While I'd agree wholeheartedly that Newman should be retained, Nigro is another matter. He has a long history of being investigated on ethical issues; this year's problematic campaign contributions are the rule rather than the exception. And even on a court not known for its intellectual stature, he is no standout.
So there may be reasons for one no-vote here. I'm just not clear that those are the ones being used to motivate a fractious populace...

Update 2: Anybody living in wider parts of our region, or wanting to double-check my picks against somebody else's, can see the Inquirer endorsements for PA and NJ.


Other SEPTA news

In the background of the labor dispute, SEPTA also had a difference of opinion with the city, which we were hearing a bit less about. Apparently the transit company leases the subway lines from the city, and the original lease was set to expire at the end of the year -- or at least the city, eager to extract promises of improved treatment of city riders, claimed that it did, while SEPTA argued (in court until 3 weeks ago) that their involvement with some bond issues extended that deadline. Apparently they agreed to put off the fight for two years, buying time for
  1. the state to come up with transit money, which would make all such decisions a bit easier,
  2. some long-term planning discussions to take place, and
  3. some important city and state elections to be past, taking the pressure off politician participation in such negotiations.
Meantime, Councilman Wilson Goode appears to have somewhat different ideas, planning hearings on whether the city and its riders would be better served by handling its own subway service... (Expect that to be an interesting and heated debate!)

Transit strike ends


SEPTA logo

Apparently yesterday's short afternoon meeting was followed by an all-night marathon bargaining session, resulting in an agreement in the wee hours such that many transit lines were running by the end of the morning rush hour, and all of them are expected to be back in commission by the end of the working day.
"Like all agreements, both sides compromised," said Rendell. He said the union would contribute 1 percent of the cost of base salary toward health care and also agreed to some other company demands but got what Rendell called "a significant increase" in pensions.

Union spokesman Bob Bedard said the contract includes salary increases of 3 percent a year for each of the four years. He said management had also agreed to make a similar contribution for health care and the union also got some work rule changes it sought.
Both sides still need to ratify the agreement, but their willingness to return to work makes that seem pretty likely. Best news for commuters is that the new agreement will be longer than usual, so it will be four years before we have to worry about another transit disruption.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Transit progress?

Well, as he said he might, Gov. Rendell decided to step in on Philadelphia's transit stand-off. He met with each side separately today, and then the two sides met for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Nobody would say what progress might have been made, but every little bit helps. The Inquirer reads the tea leaves to project that this strike won't be a long one by SEPTA standards...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Other Friday bits

  • A look at the City Controller's race and its battle over ethics.
    The office's budget has been cut over the last four years even as its responsibilities have been broadened to include overseeing independent city agencies and authorities. The candidates' sparring over ethics has dominated the campaign, offering a hint of the debate to come in the 2007 mayoral race.
    Probably a theme of everything for a while...

  • Phila. City Council is still discussing how to handle the tax revaluation (see prev. here), with Councilwoman Blackwell suggesting the change should be delayed for two years so that they can get re-elected hammer out the details, while DiCicco holds off her proposal for another month of real-time hammering. They can't prevent the tax board from moving ahead, but are certainly interested in not getting blamed by those who feel the bite of increased rates...

  • Also, an Inquirer article looks at what makes strikes work, obviously wondering about the current transit situation, but looking at some example outcomes from history elsewhere.
    [Strikes can work], if the underlying industry is relatively healthy, if the workers are united, if their skills are not easily replaceable, and if the union has both a strategic strike plan and the public's support. But that combination is not easily achievable, and whether it will be here remains to be seen.
    Let's hope they sit down soon and get this worked out.