Thursday, December 29, 2005

Thursday bits

Nothin' worth reporting in the dailies today. We are indeed in a mid-holiday slump...
  • Dan at YPP continues the conversation about how people choose where to live, bouncing off comments made elsewhere and eliciting some new ones.

  • The CityPaper's "city beat" looks at Florence Cohen's quest to fill her husband's City Council seat. While still sorting out her recent loss, she's trying to offer competing political factions a third way. (See our previous thoughts on this notion here.) Seems that Verna has already made up her mind not to hold an election.

  • The CityPaper also offers a twist on the usual end-of-year stories by looking at the big news from 2004 and What Happened Next in each saga. Some fizzlers, some still going strong. They also offer a quickie month-by-month political overview of the year about to end.

  • The Next Mayor has added a couple of pieces looking at Phoenix as an example of city efficiency. whee.
That'll have to hold you -- I'm off for another long weekend. Happy New Year, all!

Update: a last send-off snark from Philadelphia Will Do, who also notices that there's no news this week...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wednesday news

  • Well, the top story today is the surprising news that the PA Supreme Court intends to hear testimony about the pay-hike issue, after summarily dismissing most such cases in the last two decades. In fact, they're going to hear both the challenge to the constitutionality of mid-term pay-hikes and the challenge to the roll-back of judicial salaries, getting everything out on the table at once. Get out your popcorn and prepare for a show!

  • With today being the deadline for casino license application, all the speculation will meet reality, and the Daily News predicts that four groups will be in the final running for two spots in Philadelphia. Details are given here about the groups and their plans.

  • The Inquirer's year-end look at Center City's resurgance continues today with tales of high-end retail stores that have found (sometimes unexpected) success here.

  • The DN opinion page offers a snarky take on Senator Rick Santorum's flip-flopping on key conservative interests in an apparent attempt to be all things (including principled) to all people...

  • Over at the Philadelphia Weekly, the incomparable Gwen Shaffer takes a closer look at the lawsuit against the payday lending industry. A good overview of the issue, the arguments, and where the money goes, although there's no new development broken here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Around the Tuesday opinions

  • The Inquirer has an editorial on the prospects for state tax-reform, encouraging the legislature and governor to hammer out their remaining differences. The Editors seem to favor the proposed expansion of state sales taxes, although it's hard to see how that's less regressive than the current property-tax basis for school funding...

  • The Daily News opinion page turns its sights on Philadelphia's City Council, which it reams for failing to roll back the city's business taxes (at least, by a veto-proof margin).

  • A second Daily News piece looks at the predatory practice of payday lending, and hopes that the lawsuit (see prev. here) will succeed where legislators have failed to take action.

  • Finally, the Inquirer reports on a study that looked at Philadelphia citizens' opinions of their local government, revealing that, surprise surprise, many think that dishonesty is a systemic problem...

Center City Philadelphia -- where's it headed?

The Inquirer today offers a collection of pieces looking at Center City and its health, prospects, trends, and other viewpoints.

  1. Center City renaissance -- population boom and retail growth fuel a comeback.
    Though Philadelphia as a whole is still losing residents, Center City has the third-largest downtown population after New York and Chicago. Since 2000, its population has increased 11.5 percent, from 78,902 to 88,000. Experts say it could reach 96,000 to 105,000 by 2010.

    Retail occupancy in Center City is now at 90 percent - 3 percent higher than 2004. This year, the Urban Land Institute listed Center City among the nation's top 10 for urban retailing.
    The Center City District is even defining itself with ever-broadening boundaries...

  2. Rising prices threaten neighborhood character -- a look at the challenges of maintaining shared and/or open space (or even parking lots) once that land becomes much more valuable, with a little reiteration of the similar theme that homeowners can be squeezed by rising property taxes.

  3. Center City schools get special attention in the attempt to keep up with the growth of population in the area and the demands of its prospective parents. Of course, it's a delicate matter to try to retain these high-end families without neglecting the rest of the school district, or seeming to...

  4. A short piece looks at the demographic make-up of Center City. Most notable is that the number of young adults (25-35) has doubled in the last couple of decades.

  5. New voters could shake up city politics.
    Without deep neighborhood ties, the new residents appear to have less allegiance to longtime leaders and the party structure itself. Authorities have noticed an uptick in the number of people picking the "nonpartisan" affiliation when they register to vote in the two main Center City wards.
    Of course, those registered as nonpartisans get left out of the important action taking place in primaries. But perhaps they can be reached via government reform and other issues that matter to them more than factional infighting...

Weekend news bit

The Sunday Inquirer had a story about ties between Councilman Rick Mariano and union boss John Dougherty. Not much news on the investigation front, but what shocked me was the level of control that the latter exerted over the former: Doc actually hired all of Mariano's staff! I never cease to be amazed...

Update: I see that America's Hometown has some reactions to this story as well.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Diversions

For the long weekend, I have a couple of batches of goodies to provide distraction and entertainment when the time off/family/normal drudge becomes too much. Seasonal and random batches of linky goodness available. Enjoy!

Thursday news round-up

Actually, this may have to hold you news-hounds through the weekend, as I'm out until Tuesday (although I could, I suppose, be inspired to post from in front of my fireplace on Christmas Eve or so). So, leaving nothing out!
  1. Here's something you don't usually see: a vigil for the homeless who have passed away, in celebration of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. A couple of individual stories tell the history of the treatment of homeless folks in the city, which has improved radically in the last decade or so. [And if you see somebody on the street that needs help, call the coordinator at 215-232-1984.]

  2. The PHA is in a tussle with a developer over plans for mixed housing in East Falls. Um, I'd say more if I knew anything about this... Are there two developer battles in the area?

  3. Wrestling over new voting machines for Bucks county takes a new twist, with the Democratic Committee demanding voter approval of the choice. Basically, I think nobody likes the current options, but federal law says they can't stick with the [reliable] lever machines that they have...

  4. Somehow the BPT becomes news again without anything having actually happened. Prediction: narrow passage and eventual veto, an annual ritual.

  5. Speaking of ritual, there's an element of Kabuki to the news that Nutter is calling upon Street for help in getting the smoking ban moving again. Alternatively, maybe in the pre-holiday period we should drop the pretense of "news" and call it "top stories of the year" instead...

  6. Councilman Clarke calls on Harrisburg to take gun violence seriously and to pass legislation allowing City Council regulations to take effect. Another protest consigned to ritual.

  7. And finally, the CityPaper reports on an unusual approach to urban design being suggested for North Philadelphia (as part of a design competition), in which lurking places are minimized and neighborhood interconnection is supported. A rare incorporation of realities of urban life and transitional areas.
Oh, and if you're in a holiday shopping panic, PhillyFuture offers a last-minute shopping guide that might help out. Have a great weekend and a Merry Christmas, all!

Payday lending news

Rendell writes the Inquirer to clear up his stance: he's definitely in favor of banning payday lending (previous stories said he merely wanted to regulate it better). That's a nontrivial error on their part (and a bit confusing, since there are two bills being considered, and Rendell is backing, um, only one of them...).
I support a ban because I want to prevent unscrupulous lenders from taking advantage of people who need cash to buy food for their families or medicine for their sick children. A family that needs cash now to avoid eviction from their home, shouldn't be forced to trade one dire need for another.
I hope he gets the chance to sign a bill. Meantime, a group of folks who took an emergency loan and found themselves in an ever deeper cycle of debt have brought a class-action suit against one such lender. Fumo brings some thunder as a backdrop for the case...

Update: Dan at YPP calls bullshit on Rendell's letter, confirming my suspicions (and clearing the confusion).
Rendell says he wants to ban it? Fine, propose the damn bill, or start lobbying for Senator Fumo's legislation that would do the same. But if instead, you are pushing a payday lending industry bill, that would destroy the lives of PA working families, all while acting like you are on our side? No, that does not fly.
Dan's in a position to know who's really fighting on which side, so it's time for Rendell to put his actions where his whining is...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Wednesday news bits

  • CSX decided to turn up at this week's City Council hearing, after skipping out on previous subpoenas, and offered to try to walk more lightly. Specifics were notably absent, however, to the frustration of many.

  • Two stories of regional power struggles:

    1. Philadelphia would like to reclaim control of the PPA from the state, but Street's court case was defeated. Why would it ever be considered reasonable for the state to run city parking??

    2. Governor Rendell would like to reclaim Vally Forge from the federal government, to whom it was sold in 1976 for $1. The major conflict comes over how a long-overdue museum should be built on the site, with the National Park Service renegging on support for the plans of the American Revolution Center (and a donor offering priceless artifacts to the proposed museum). The park as a whole has been allowed to decay during NPS oversight as well.

  • Latest on Mariano: both Inquirer and Daily News note that the latest Mariano staffer to testify against him found herself the recipient of harrassing calls and then a job termination. Protests that this was a normal staffing decision ring hollow in the extreme, especially given that this is the third firing to follow upon FBI testimony. subtle.

  • Mayor Street is pushing heating assistance measures for city residents, ranging from seminars on how to weatherize to encouragement of individual donations to the already existant Utility Emergency Services Fund, which offers grants to needy families, matched equally by utility company funds. Seems like a good year to raise awareness of all of these approaches.

  • America's Hometown points us to a study of Philadelphia-area residents and the factors that go into their decisions about where to live. Perhaps unsurprisingly, quality-of-life issues (from safety to school quality) top the list.

  • Finally, the new Philadelphia Weekly uses the occasion of the holiday season to recognize 10 local sources of inspiration, from institutions to individuals to neighborhoods, "things that make us feel gifted to live in Philadelphia." From the heart-warming to the humorous...

Two bits on gaming

  1. The Inquirer has a long piece looking at what we might expect the effects of a downtown gambling site to be, from economic impact to parking demands. They look at New Orleans casinos as comparable examples, although here the limitation to slots could change the nature of the project. Pros, cons, and who might actually run the things.

  2. A group based in Illinois has teamed up with some Philadelphia insiders to submit a bid on the local casino action. They haven't said officially what site they're looking at, but this group (Midwest Gaming) may be competition for some of the other groups (such as Planet Hollywood) already jockeying for position...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Breaking news: Dover verdict comes in

The Dover judge ruled today that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in biology class of public schools in the area.dino skull
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III wrote that the Dover, Pa. school board cannot require teachers "to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution" or "refer to a religious, alternative theory known as I.D."
. . .
"We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause," Jones wrote.
The AP offers a smattering of other out-takes from the ruling here.

Sharing the suffering

New York is having a transit strike, and the issues sound mighty familiar. But that's a whole lot of folks with long walking commutes and taxis going nowhere. (They say seven million subway riders every day, which is a couple of Philadelphias!) I don't envy it . . .

Today's opinionistas

Three from the Daily News:
  1. An Opinion piece by Mark Alan Hughes takes Mayor Street to task for his obstruction of business tax legislation, and particularly for having the nerve to threaten a veto while being a "lame duck" with only two more years in office (!). This piece may set a new record for condescending snark. (He also adds his voice in support of reconsidering the city's tax abatement policy.)

  2. A letter calls foul on Senator Santorum for promoting caps on medical lawsuits even after his wife filed a claim for twice the amount of his suggested cap.

  3. And last, another letter complains about the political wrangling that appears to have derailed a smoking ban for Philadelphia. Again, the unbeloved mayor gets most of the finger-wagging...

Misc. Tuesday news

  • Apparently the Delaware River Port Authority is in the midst of some tussle over its budget -- if Rendell doesn't approve some refinancing desired by the New Jersey contingent, they are threatening to raise tolls on all the bridges! At issue in part are plans to deepen the river at several places, on an uncertain timeframe.

  • Norristown is apparently wrestling over the desirability of a downtown "business improvement district" to make it cleaner and more attractive to shoppers and businesses. Some property taxes would be raised to fund the effort; votes should be in by this weekend...

  • Daily News columnist Sandra Shay attempts to make sense of the debate over the future of the parks commission. She summarizes the motivations for the push to fold Fairmont Park into the Recreation Department, as well as the fears of those who think the move would spell the end of a city gem. She thinks that the latter are overblown.

  • Today should mark the City Council hearing about rail company CSX (see prev. here), that is, if the company's representatives show up this time. DN columnist Ronnie Polaneczky gives a run-down of the conflict and highlights CSX's generally bad corporate citizenship. The company may not have spoken yet, but hoardes of outraged citizens have put in their cents' worth...

  • The Philadelphia Parking Authority is keeping hush about its investigations into allegations that its officials pressured employees to donate to the Republican party. The chief squeezer is the man about to be elevated to executive director of the organization...
    He said that Fenerty had personally driven his authority car to Vecchione's work site, at Delaware and Allegheny avenues, after Vecchione had told his direct supervisor that he wasn't buying a $100 ticket to a GOP fund-raiser.

    "Fenerty motioned me to come over to the [car] window and he said, 'I heard you haven't paid for the ticket... . You know you need to pay for these. This was part of the deal when we gave you the job.' "
    Pretty stuff, but apparently nobody at the PPA is bothered in the least.

  • Finally, Dan at Young Philly Politics offers an interview with Tom Knox, a candidate for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.

Charitable giving

The Daily News has three pieces on the practice of corporate giving, in Philadelphia and around the country. The first looks at levels of giving among large companies in the region, which varies both in total amount and in the percentage that stays locally. The second looks at things from the angle of a fundraiser for a charitable foundation, who says she doesn't waste much time soliciting corporations. Finally, in the interest of disclosure, a short box reveals what news boss Knight-Ridder has donated, mostly in free advertising.

groceriesFor anybody thinking about their own options in sharing the wealth for the holidays, I have two suggestions: local charity Philabundance, which gets food to those that need it, and the Red Cross, which is still helping Katrina victims and those displaced and in need around the country and the world. Happy holidays, all!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Monday news bits

  • An Inquirer article looks at US Senate hopeful Casey's views on the abortion issue and what they might mean for the 2006 race.
    Given some key similarities with Santorum, Casey has sought to distinguish himself. In meetings and fund-raisers, he maintains that abortion has never topped his agenda. He steers the debate to other issues, emphasizing support for emergency contraceptives, comprehensive sex education, and increased public funding for family planning. Santorum opposes all three.
    His much-discussed lead in the polls may disappear once his views on abortion become more widely known, according to a study cited here...

  • Above Average Jane also takes a look at the three Democratic candidates' views on reproductive issues and finds that there may be better ways to handle them:
    Alan Sandals and his campaign have crafted what I think is the most well-written and uncontroversial statement I have ever seen. Instead of taking reproductive rights as a separate issue they have carefully woven it into a statement on personal privacy and choice. He sums it up this way on his web site "Let's face it. Our personal lives are hard enough as it is. We don't need politicians butting in to tell us how to make the most difficult decisions that we wrestle with as adults. With our faith, family and friends as our guides, we can find our own way. We always have and we always will." If anyone has said it any better than that, I haven't seen it.
    This might be the kind of contextual thinking that Casey should be considering.

  • Governor Rendell has chosen a new state Supreme Court justice to replace ousted justice Nigro: Allegheny-area judge Cynthia Baldwin. Confirmation to follow, and her term limited to two years, after which the seat is thrown open. More as the story is fleshed out...

  • An Inquirer editorial today applauds Fumo's efforts to improve the legislative process (see prev. here).
    Pennsylvania's constitution says that the House and Senate each must take at least three days to consider legislation. The reason is to make sure that the public has time to consider the merits of a proposed law. And a three-day waiting period might actually give lawmakers time to read a bill before deciding whether to pull the trigger.
    Imagine! They also mention that some requirement for disclosure of lobbying activities in Harrisburg is long overdue...

  • Ben Waxman at YPP is calling on Brady and Fattah to use their relative electoral safety as a base for more effective progressive advocacy on issues of national importance.

  • The Daily News notes that the Guardian Angels are becoming active in Philly after a two-year absence, promoting a (famously red-bereted) civilian response to increased violence that has worried the city. They've had hundreds of calls already from volunteers eager to help out.

  • Finally, PoliticsPhilly notes that "Doc for Mayor" signs continue to pop up around the city.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Other Friday bits

  1. The Inquirer editors give mayor Street a wag of the finger over the system that has led so many of his cronies to crime, and call on him to improve the situation and live up to his ideals.

  2. Arlen Specter speaks up for the Patriot Act, even as a bipartisan group in the Senate is holding it up.

  3. The Daily News provides a run-down of City Council's end-of-year flurry, which included measures covering local matters from noisy neighbors to duck-boat parking.

  4. And finally, the new City Paper, in addition to a photo-journey down Lancaster Ave., gives an insider's summary of the Pennsylvania Society fest in New York last weekend, with name-dropping of the kind that whizzes right by all but the most in-the-know . . .
Have a great weekend and/or winter break, y'all -- if you need some seasonal entertainments, see my presentation of same at JBS.

Obligatory business tax update

  • City Council passes a measure to reduce the BPT but not eliminate it. The margin of passage is not veto-proof. Opponents claim that Council is on a holiday spending spree, and that other taxes will go up when budget time comes around.

  • Street intends to veto the newly passed measure. He's particularly annoyed that this discussion is taking place in a vacuum, before the announcement of the new budget and 5-year plans.

  • Ben Waxman at YPP thinks that the current state of BPT discussions/amendments indicates that Council has decided not to pursue this issue seriously for now, and/or that it has been neutralized as an issue in the 2007 mayoral race... There's still theoretically a special session next week at which this could be discussed, though, so well have to see whether he's right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Other Thursday news

Almost out of time, so can't do these stories justice:
  1. The school district is considering its first public boarding school in South Philly.

  2. A recent design competition looked at environmentally efficient public housing and generated some promising ideas...

  3. The city is running a pilot program for shoring up anti-terrorist security at 30th St. Station. (odd bit: federal air marshalls were involved.)

  4. Two developers are warring over plans for a lot at Chestnut and 15th.

  5. Last, Ray Murphy tells a story in which city services actually work, and says that Street doesn't get credit for the kind of everyday things that city dwellers most appreciate.

New proposal for legislative deliberation

State Senator Vince Fumo has introduced a package of bills that might make Harrisburg legislators a bit more accountable, by giving the minority party a bit more say and the public a chance to keep up with what they're up to.
One proposal would require that all legislation wait at least 72 hours after it is amended before a final vote, giving the public and lawmakers time to review bills and have their opinions be known. Another bill, which Fumo called the most important of his package, would require a public hearing on any legislation if 10 percent of the House or Senate requested it.
. . .
The pay raise issue "really opened the eyes of people, and people are finally starting to get that the way things are done has a tremendous impact on how things turn out," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a good government group, who sat beside Fumo at yesterday's news conference.
Should be interesting to hear the debate on this one. A Daily News editorial weighs in in favor of these measures, and gives some recent examples of legislation that was passed in a rush and then repented at leisure. Dan at YPP also gives the measures some props, while marveling at the newfound progressivism of their sponsor... We think it all sounds great!

Gambling updates

There's been a bit of a lull in casino-planning updates, in part following on the statements by many developers that they considered the Philadelphia situation too expensive and regulated for their tastes. But apparently there are still some contenders for the honor of running the city's two eventual slots parlors, judging from today's updates:
  • A Chicago firm is interested in a site along the Delaware River in the Northeast. This developer has competed in the past with Trump Enterprises, also considered a contender here.

  • In a second story, a well-connected minority group has won an option on the old city incinerator site (at Delaware and Spring Garden), for a casino to be run by Planet Hollywood. The story manages to pull in both mayor Street and union boss John Dougherty, and even mention loyalists to state Sen. John Fumo, in typical Philly style.
The deadline for casino applications is December 28, just under two weeks...

Money matters

  • The Inquirer picks up a theme from Vern Anastasio's Monday opinion piece (see here) about whether tax abatements may have outlived their usefulness to the city. Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell Clarke has called for hearings on the matter, which may be held early next year.

  • The PA state Senate appears to have reached agreement on a tax-cut measure which would leave to voters the Solomonian choice between property taxes and other local levies. However, the House, after its marathon simultaneous debate on 20+ proposed approaches, appears to have a different set of solutions in mind, using gambling revenues and state sales tax hikes to offset a property tax cut.

  • Speaking of the House marathon session (see prev. here), John Baer was very unimpressed at the seriousness that legislators brought to the proceedings, citing everything from converstions to solitaire games during the "discussion." Even with election-year pressure to Get Something Done, it didn't look like much was happening...

  • On the pay-hike front, another seven judges have brought suit against the roll-back. Perhaps they want to give the pioneers in that effort a little cover...

  • The Inquirer has an editorial on the practice of payday lending, in which short-term loans are made to hard-up customers at exorbitant rates. They support Fumo's call to ban the practice, and say that the government could spend its efforts promoting financial literacy.

  • And finally, the Daily News has an opinion piece making a liberal argument for a business tax cut. An interesting line of argument, although it still presumes a set of cause & effect linkages that haven't been convincingly shown...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In other Wednesday bits

  • The Inquirer (who has a new look today) reports on a crisis in affordable housing in the Philadelphia area, as the lowest-wage workers are getting priced out of livable options. We're still doing better than many other cities of comparable size, however.
    According to the study, 81 percent of renter families in the United States live in counties where a two-bedroom apartment is unaffordable even if two members of the family are working minimum-wage jobs.
    yipe!

  • The new Philadelphia Weekly has an article on the Next Mayor project (see prev. here and its website here):
    "We think creating a citizen-derived agenda now-before the beauty pageant starts-is really important," says Brent Thompson, spokesperson for the [William Penn] foundation. "The slate is open, and we hope the project spurs civic engagement."
    Will be interesting to see whether they succeed in shifting local coverage from the horserace to the issues underlying the choice.

  • A poster at YoungPhillyPolitics applauds the decisions of two local brewers to locate in the city tout that fact.

  • America's Hometown points out a new service that allows Philadelphians to send text messages directly to their City Councilfolk. (Use the power only for good!)

  • Stan Shapiro has a letter to the Daily News taking issue with their characterization of how the Business Privilege Tax came into being and pointing out that it was originally the brainchild of the Chamber of Commerce that now seems hell-bent on getting rid of it.

  • And finally, for those impatient for the holidays (or trying to plan ahead a little), the Philadelphia Weekly provides a New Year's Eve guide to options and suggestions for ringing out the old year.

House pulls an all-nighter

The House was facing some two-dozen proposals on property taxes and related issues, and initiated a rarely used procedure called becoming a "committee of the whole" in which to consider the many measures all at once.
Assembled as for any other working day, the 203-member chamber transformed itself into one mega-committee for an informal brainstorming session at which lawmakers set out to consider a deep lineup of 22 reform proposals without fear that their votes, which were unrecorded, would someday come back to haunt them.
They had only gotten through a half-dozen of the proposals by 6pm, so were planning to stay late in order to make some progress. I hope they find some areas of common agreement.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Focus on wages

Ray Murphy continues the conversation about what approaches will go farthest to ensure the future health of Philadelphia by arguing that good wages are critical.
Yet at the public policy level, very few civic leaders or elected officials consistently talk about ways which the city can use its power and economic leverage to reverse the trend of declining wages. There is a lot of talk about job creation in the abstract, but creating jobs is a pretty worthless if the quality of wages that goes with them is not enough to overcome this downward spiral we have been in for the past 30 years.
He cites striking findings that the income gap is widening here (as in much of the country), and promises a series of posts with suggested solutions.

Well, who knew?!

Apparently, in some alternative universe, Forrester won the New Jersey governor's election. Gotta give those guys credit for die-hard optimism!

(via kos)

Tuesday politicians

  • More news from the case/plea of Street pal Leonard Ross (prev. here):

    1. His plea agreement does not require him to cooperate in other cases arising from the City Hall probes.

    2. His plea does involve extortion involving the late Ron White, in which developers were shaken down for campaign contributions.

  • George Bush was in town for a speech and consequent gathering of protesters yesterday:

    1. Bush apparently drew parallels between the early days of the US, as experienced here in Philadelphia, and the experience of Iraqis with their own nation-building now. Bush defended the Iraq war before the World Affairs Council at the Bellevue (and even took unscripted questions!), and then Rep. John Murtha gave a rebuttal speech a few blocks away.

    2. Hundreds of protesters braved the cold to wave signs and yell from across the street. Inevitably there were a couple of scuffles and a few arrests...

  • And finally, in a sign that news really is slow around the holidays, much is being made of the plans by New Jersey's governor-elect Jon Corzine to bring a date to his inaugural ball...

Zero tolerance of those you "protect and serve"

The police have been instituting a "zero-tolerance policy" for 30 days in South Philly (see prev. here), in an attempt to stop the rise in the crime rate there (and/or look like they're doing something). Unfortunately, a recent incident highlights the problem in relations between the police and local residents: a boy was talking to a friend on his front stoop when the friend got hit by stray bullets from a passing gunman. First, the police didn't believe the boy when he attempted to elicit their aid (from the next block), and then, while the boy and his mother were giving a report at the station, they took it upon themselves to search the family's house without reason or warrant. No mention is made of race here, but it's hard not to see this as another example of people being treated as suspects by the police for the crime of being while black -- you'd think a special assignment might sensitize the force to their usual biases against neighborhoods and colors, but sadly no...

Update: It may be that the boy who reported the shooting was actually the shooter, although some details in the case remain unclear. I am reminded of why I usually stay out of these things...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Nostalgia trip

PhillySkyline is 5 years old, and he's posted a special slide show to celebrate that span of wandering Philadelphia and committing the city to film. Great shots -- somehow visuals make me realize how much of the look, feel, and landmarks (or obscure familiar corners) I love about the place. Share the nostalgia or visit the city and its people vicariously.

to the city with love

Bored now

Fattah will run for mayor, but continues to play cagey with committing. However, he's expected to form an exporatory committee this week, which brings some campaign restrictions into play. Right now it's unclear whether he's willing to submit to the stricter Philadelphia city contribution limits, despite the fact that he's (considering) running for a city office. eesh.

Our government in exile

What to make of the fact that huge political decisions are made and invisible financial networks created at an annual bash in which Pennsylvania's political elite hob nob with lobbyists and other pals in swank New York surroundings? Quaint tradition, sad lack of domestic pride, sign of what's wrong with the system -- there's support for all takes on this marathon schmooze-fest. The Inquirer provided an overview of the proceedings yesterday:
During this three-day-weekend affair, Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum will be feted twice; the state auditor general, the state House majority leader, and the Allegheny County executive will throw their own soirees; and legions of other public officials will be courted by special-interest groups.
An amusing note was provided by a Harrisburg pay-raise activist, who suggested (and organized) an alternative local fest:
"Please bring a potluck item," Stilp wrote on the invitation. In an interview, he said, "Working-class Pennsylvanians can't even relate to the Pennsylvania Society dinner. We want to start a new tradition for the average person: the Pennsylvania People's Dinner."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia's City Council passed a resolution calling for the weekend soiree to be brought back to PA soil, although that would certainly raise turf disputes and other hackles. Zach Stallberg decries the chumminess altogether. John Baer also mentions the occasion, but focuses on the Senate candidates, and particularly on renewed evidence that Santorum is very much interested in the fight. Also some notes on the jostling for position among GOP candidates for governor and Democratic hopefuls for Philly mayor...

In related news, Above Average Jane has two posts on the otherwise unasked question, What is the Pennsylvania Society? (the force behind these out-of-state events)...

Monday tax talk

Two interesting stories today about taxes and their bleeding into other matters. The first is at the state level, where it appears matters are headed for a show-down between the Republican legislative majority and the Democratic governor.
As it heads today into its final week before the winter break, the Republican-controlled legislature is preparing to send Gov. Rendell a slew of bills that he is on record saying he opposes, while ignoring the Democrat's call for things he wants most: fixes to his signature property-tax relief law and an increase in the state's minimum wage.
The bills Rendell is unlikely to like include a cap on overall budget growth (see prev. here) and an assortment of tax cuts. Motivation for this show-down appears to be a combination of preparation for the 2006 race (where the GOP candidate might hang Rendell's vetoes around his neck) and ongoing attempts to distract voters from their lingering displeasure with the legislature.

Meanwhile, in the city of Philadelphia, Vern Anastasio* has a piece in the Inquirer arguing that it's time to reconsider tax-abatements for big developers. Originally such tax breaks encouraged middle-class folks to renovate homes or build on empty lots, but now they are fueling large developments that often place burdens on the surrounding neighborhoods:
Today, most people who apply for the tax abatements are developers, not middle-class homeowners. These developers then sell the abated homes at prices few people could have imagined just five years ago. Once the homeowners pay that inflated price and move in, the property-tax bills of their neighbors increase.
The author here has some promising suggestions for how the abatements could be restructured to better favor individual homeowners and protect the buffer zones around new development. The time for such changes has almost certainly arrived.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ever hotter lights on Rendell's judicial pick

Rendell's appointment of a replacement for State Supreme Court Justice Nigro, already made a bit challenging by its apparent built-in term limit (see last item here), is now the focus of some pressure to diversify the almost uniformly white male state judiciary. Lots of cooks in on this stew!

As a point of clarification, this article states that the promise not to run for reelection isn't inherent to the process of appointment, but arises from the desire to expedite the appointment and confirmation processes (without Governor or Senate worrying about their political capital a few years hence). I.e., the Senate usually requests such a commitment before granting their approval. eesh.

Holding their feet to the fire

Some of Philadelphia's City Councilfolk are putting pressure on the region's state legislators to vote for restrictions on gun purchases, pointing out that their constituents overwhelmingly support such measures (based on their vote on a referendum on a Charter change measure on the topic).
In the 1st Senatorial District, where state Sen. Vince Fumo, D-Philadelphia, has opposed a one-gun-a-month law, his constituents voted 13,719 to 2,979 in favor of legislation to reduce gun violence.

In the 169th Legislative District, where state Rep. Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, House Judiciary Committee chairman, was accused by Gov. Rendell of thwarting passage of a one-gun-a-month law, constituents voted 2,214 to 825 in favor of such legislation.
Clarke and Miller are waving these numbers as the legislators in question prepare for their spring primaries. Is it a little warm in here?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Should I stay or should I go?

The City Paper has a good article this week on a report out of Temple University that highlights contrasts between Center City and its surrounding regions (both in and then outside the city) and on factors that make people want to move to or out of Philadelphia.
Researchers found Center City so fundamentally different from the surrounding inner-city communities that it is one of just 15 "Established Town"-type communities in the region. (Other such towns are Narberth, Media, Milbourne, Radnor and Thornbury—which seems only to highlight just how unique Center City is.)

Around Center City, MPIP's maps show several massive inner-city communities. Including West, Southwest and North Philadelphia, as well as Camden, these inner-city neighborhoods isolate Philadelphia physically and culturally from the rest of the region. And researchers found the division is going to get worse.
Basically, people are choosing not to live in the innermost ring of neighborhoods surrounding Center City, opting instead for the outer suburbs, with the result that the "ring" areas are getting poorer and more dangerous even as Center City thrives. Importantly, they note that the reasons for relocation are not primarily economic:
In the Philadelphia region, safety is the number one reason for moving (76 percent), followed by housing costs (70 percent) and good schools (59 percent). Moving in search of lower taxes actually ranked among the bottom (32 percent).
This puts a bit of a hole in arguments by the Chamber of Commerce and others that cuts in taxes will lead to more jobs, businesses, and residents in the city (see a similar argument against simplistic solutions made by Charles here). More effective is likely to be determination among current residents to improve their neighborhoods and give those around them more reasons to stay.

BPT chatter

Apparently the vote expected yesterday on the Business Privilege Tax and related matters was delayed due to the absence of some Council members from chambers, and/or the need for more discussion. A flurry of stories today related to that and opinions on this issue:
  • The Daily News reports that there is lack of agreement on how deep cuts should be and whether to set up a multi-year schedule or check back on an annual basis. Nutter's bill, which would phase in taxes over 5 years, is the one that failed to see action yesterday.

  • The Inquirer reports that Council has added an extra meeting date in December in hopes of coming to agreement on the BPT before the Christmas break. The article also notes that Philadelphia Forward, a big pusher of BPT cuts, has been deluging Council with faxes, phone calls, and a variety of high-tech harrassments.

  • Councilman Wilson Goode continued to decry the last-minute wooing of Council members by the Chamber of Commerce with dining and donations (see prev. here), dramatically tearing up his check on the Council floor.

  • Two opinionizers in the Daily News argue the sides:
    1. keep the BPT, because there's little evidence that tax cuts and job creation are linked, or
    2. we must cut the BPT (from a Chamber of Commerce rep), because they inhibit expansion of small businesses, and because Philly has plenty of revenue coming in. [Note that they cite a recent poll whose credibility was questioned by Ray Murphy here.]
More in the next couple of weeks, when Council considers these matters again!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

And still there's more!

I wish I had time to highlight more stories, with pullquotes and mullings and all the rest, but life just doesn't allow for full-time unpaid blogging. So there you are. Hopefully you find something of value in the quick takes as well... [head-pats from commenters welcome!]
  • Two bits on schools: attempts to hire bilingual teachers coming up short (to the frustration of parents), and a budget shortfall has resulted in a freeze on hiring of office and professional help (i.e., not teachers) in the school system.

  • Two bits on local regions assessing various voting systems: Chester County can't decide whether to go electronic or wait a bit longer (and let others work out the kinks), and Bucks County is testing out several different models of voting machines. Both groups express frustration with confusing federal requirements.

  • The state Senate has passed a measure to limit governmental rights of eminent domain, despite worries from many cities that their ability to direct development and renovation could suffer. The House has already passed a similar bill, so chances are good that some version is headed toward the governor's desk. For his part, Rendell expresses some reservations about specifics of the two bills.

    Update: this development apparently pleases the activists in Ardmore . . .

  • Apparently having noticed the increased public scrutiny of governmental ethics, Street tells city workers that all holiday gifts are off-limits from people that the city does business with.

  • Three bits from the new CityPaper:

    1. The first takes a look at the first week of the city's zero-tolerance police push in South Philly (see prev. here). Mixed anecdotal reviews, with low expectations for after the 30-day program expires...

    2. The second gripes about the aesthetics of transit in the Philadelphia area, from boxy buses to antiquated stations.

    3. And finally, they offer a holiday dining and entertainment guide for those wondering what to do with themselves for the next few weeks.

    Update: I forgot to link to this fourth story, at least as interesting as those others, about what factors influence how people feel about their city and where they choose to live. I think I'll do a separate [Friday] post on this one too.

  • Above Average Jane catches a new bill introduced in Harrisburg that would enforce the filling of prescriptions, protecting consumers from the vagaries of pharmacist philosophy.

  • And last, continuing this week's theme of Issues You Thought Were Dead, a federal appeals court has agreed to hear an appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction. What's 24 years between friends? Expect a circus.

Around the politicians, Thursday edition

  • State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cappy has seen taken the old adage "Discretion is the better part of valor" to heart and has promised to sit out any pay-raise appeals that might come up his way. Of course, there's room for discussion about whether *any* judge could be impartial in hearings about his/her own pay rates.

  • A new installment of speculations about US Rep. Chakka Fattah's mayoral ambitions. Here his interest is assessed mainly by the degree to which potential opponents are directing their barbs at him, but a bit on how he's responding...

  • US Senate hopeful Robert Casey, Jr., is asking federal election officials to look into a group running a huge ad buy for Senator Rick Santorum without revealing its donor lists (as political organizations are required to do; see prev. here). Clearly this is a grey zone of election regulations, but the appearance that a nonprofit is acting as a PAC deserves a closer look.

  • Proving that not all political ethics lapses come from the eastern half of the state (for the despairing among you), State Rep. Jeff Habay of Alleghany County just went on trial on a striking number of corruption charges.

  • John Baer looks at the two frontrunners in the Republican gubernatorial primary race, Lynn Swann and Bill Scranton, in light of a big political schmooze-fest this weekend that may tip the balance.

  • Finally, the CityPaper's Political Notebook notes that US Rep. Bob Brady has the unenviable job of trying to find a replacement for ousted Supreme Court Justice Nigro. News to me is that whomever Rendell nominates for the spot has to agree not to run for reelection a year from now; that probably eliminates most of the folks you'd want to see doing the job!

Today's eyebrow-raisers

  1. Developers behind a slots and mall proposal for Montgomery County have cozy ties to Governor Rendell. Various folks bemoan the appearances and/or shrug at the commonness of such ties.

  2. More head-shaking over the Ross guilty plea (see here), which included the admission that he was paid hefty retainers tied to Street's staying in office. But not for his presumed influence, of course. The Inquirer editorial page seems to take Ross' crimes a bit personally (but does a good job of summing up the history and significance of the events)...

    [Also note this mixed-metaphor foul on Councilman Michael Nutter: "It makes it crystal clear in high definition the need for a culture change..."]

  3. A new report from the City Controller's Office rebukes the Welcome America planners, particularly for increased reliance on city financing. The Daily News describes the city's responses.

  4. The Inquirer's editorial page also gives a wag of the finger to the Chamber of Commerce's posh wining and dining (and big donations) just before a critical vote. "Civic heartburn," heh..."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Breaking news: Corzine picks Menendez

Ending the weeks of speculation about who he would choose to fill his Senate seat (see prev. here), New Jersey's governor-elect Jon Corzine has tapped Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Caucus. Expect a formal announcement by the end of the week, and nearly endless analysis between that point and November of 2006 . . .

(via kos)

Wednesday news round-up

  • Politicians:

    1. The latest increment of news in the US Senate race looks at the candidates' courtship of the Jewish vote, especially via trips to Israel.

    2. Across the river, New Jersey's presumptive Republican Senatorial candidate, Thomas Kean, got a big endorsement from Elizabeth Dole. It's not yet clear who his opponent will be, but it's clear that the GOP is focusing on this as a potential pick-up of a decades-long Democratic seat.

    3. The Daily News opinion page is a bit snarky about the decision of Judge Shepphard to bring suit against the pay-raise rollback (see prev. here).

  • Lots of chat about the Business Privilege Tax and the desirability of cutting same:

    1. The Daily News opinionizers weigh in urges City Council to vote for the phasing-out of the BPT (while griping about general tax costs along the way; where do they think the extra will come from?).

    2. Ray Murphy at Young Philly Politics argues that slashing the BPT is taking an unwise gamble with Philadelphia's future, and points out that number of jobs is often overvalued relative to the wages paid.

    3. Meanwhile, it appears that the Chamber of Commerce is taking no chances, making lavish outlays to Council members about to vote on (and previously supportive of) the issue. [This story from the blogs to the press?]

  • Here's an unexpected twist: neighborhood in an uproar because their street *did* get paved. There's no pleasing some people...

  • Today's Inquirer piece about public housing appears to be their editorial summarizing the history and remarkable turn-around of the PHA. They've also collected their entire series on this topic in one convenient link (until it gets archived? only time will tell).

  • Also related to neighborhood development is this story in the new Philadelphia Weekly looking at a conflict between the residents and a developer over the shape of things to come in a section of Bella Vista, and especially whether the widely lauded idea of a public park there can survive changing plans.

  • Not actually from today, but of interest whenever, is this profile of state House speaker Perzel's career. A rags-to-riches course, and a real strategic whip-wielding leader now. (via Grassroots PA)

Speaking of issues that never die

The federal wiretapping probe into City Hall refused to be felled by the death of its central focus, nor did it end with the first round of convictions some months ago. Instead, new wood continues to fall. Most recently, local lawyer and close Street associate Leonard Ross agreed to plead guilty on corruption and extortion charges (staving off charges expected yesterday).
U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan said yesterday that Ross used that position and "his relationship with the mayor to sell his office and to sell out the people of Philadelphia... . Len Ross' financial well-being depended on John Street's winning reelection in 2003. In fact, Ross had a deal with a law firm, $10,000 a month, so long as Street remained mayor."
The plea spares the city the circus of another trial, but it also casts more shadows over the current mayor and those around him.
Meehan said Ross' conduct of the Penn's Landing development competition represented a cynical picture of what it takes to compete for a development opportunity in Philadelphia.

"You don't get an opportunity to present unless you go through the right people," Meehan said. "And then once you go through the right people, part of the payoff is going to be the expectation that you've got to pay some campaign donations... you start to question, is the game rigged?"
The Daily News has two related stories, one portraying Ross as a man who wanted to be an inside player, and the other capturing Street's expressions of sorrow over his good friend's fate. The latter lists more of the specific illicit moves made by Ross in various arenas of influence.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Oh, and...

I wouldn't want to miss this really important public service announcement:
Hand-washing heads-up . . .

As you were.

Belated Tuesday round-up

My day got side-swiped by the need to be at home for some furniture deliveries, so posting a bit light/late today, but here's the highlights:
  • The Inquirer continues its series on public housing in Philadelphia with two stories today, one detailing how renovations and building of smaller complexes has resulted in longer waiting lists of needy families, the other noting the shift to an emphasis on home ownership among public housing beneficiaries, rather than longterm rentals.

  • Keeping the suspense over the pay-hike issue alive, a judge has filed suit against the repeal:
    "The bill sacrifices the judiciary and the Constitution on the altar of expediency," said James E. Beasley Jr., an attorney representing Sheppard, 68, who has been on the bench for more than 20 years.

    A second suit seeking to restore only the judges' raises will be filed today by Judge John W. Herron of the Philadelphia Orphans Court, said his attorney, Robert Heim of Dechert L.L.P.
    Sheppard, at least, is nearing retirement, so perhaps willing to put principle above fear of suffering Nigro's fate...

  • Meanwhile, Rendell is apparently preparing his pen for a veto of the tax bills coming his way from the state legislature, saying that they were supposed to come with advance specification of costs and programs to be cut to match, or with sources of new revenue to make up the difference. Strangely, lawmakers prefer the appearance of discipline to the actual enacting of same...

  • Finally, a Daily News opinion piece calls on the Senate to do more than look embarrassed over the pay-hike fiasco, and instead to enact bills that could actually help their constituents instead of themselves -- increasing the minimum wage is one suggestion here, since a promising bill has been locked in committee by Senate majority leader Brightbill. Excellent idea...

    [Also note that Senator Brightbill was until recently unaware of the 4,000 of his constituents who would be affected by a minimum wage hike.]

Monday, December 05, 2005

Monday miscellany

  • The Sunday Inquirer launched an apparent series on public housing in Philadelphia. The first part looked at the transformation of public housing from burden to impetus for growth (see also prev. here). The second part looks at the sometimes downsides of renewal, as surrounding neighborhoods are outclassed by new projects and/or squeezed by rising property values. Several specific neighborhoods and PHA projects are profiled.

  • In related news, a PHA official expresses concern about two bills currently under consideration in Harrisburg, which might constrain the right of cities to resurrect failing neighborhoods. I think these are measures arising from eminent domain concerns, but am not certain...

  • Another Inquirer story profiles a violence-prone intersection in South Philly as emblematic with difficulties in preventing gun violence and other woes.

  • Another Inquirer article looks at the wave of reform efforts throughout Pennsylvania as coming in part as consequences of the pay-hike fall-out, pointing out that many of these efforts had been stymied for years and given new life by citizen anger (and legislative fear). Many new good-government initiatives are being considered in Harrisburg as well.

  • The Daily News reports that the usorious practice of payday lending (see prev. here and here) may be getting another regulatory look in the state Senate, at least.
    Payday loans are short-term advances offered at annualized rates that typically exceed 400 percent. The interest for a two-week, $200 loan might only be $40, but a cash-strapped borrower who renews his loans several times can quickly dig a deep financial hole.
    There are two competing bills under discussion, one (Fumo) aiming to close the loopholes and ban the practice, the other (Rendell) aiming to make payday lending legal and then enforce stricter regulations (um, or rather some kind of regulation, since it's currently technically illegal).

  • An Inquirer editorial calls for lawmakers to come together on tax reform. A tangle of proposals (of varying merit) have been made, but discussions were halted before Thanksgiving. The Inky fears that Rendell may be too worried about his casino/school tax proposal and will keep other ideas from getting discussed.

  • Ben Waxman at YPP picks up on a comment from another thread indicating that the Chamber of Commerce has a habit of handing out big checks just before critical votes, a not-so-subtle use of campaign contributions for influence. Ugly.

  • America's Hometown also looks at the Chamber of Commerce, asking them to "put up or shut up" about the Business Priveledge Tax by suggesting a set of objective measures that could be used to assess the degree to which tax cuts result in economic benefits for the region.

  • And finally, Above Average Jane provides an interview with Patrick Murphy, candidate for the US House district 8 (Bucks et al). A lengthy and chewy chat.

New site will track the mayoral marathon

The Daily News, local NPR affiliate WHYY, and citizen watchdog group The Committee of Seventy have collaborated to launch TheNextMayor.com, a site to track Philadelphia's already busy competition for the 2007 Mayor's race -- see this piece at the DN outlining what they hope the site will achieve.
"The focus of the project is on the issues, not the personalities, that face Philadelphia and the region," said WHYY's president and chief executive, William J. Marrazzo. "We will ask voters through focus groups, polls and extensive interviews to identify the issues they want the next mayor to tackle."
A neat idea. Today (the site's launch date) the following content is already available:
  1. photos and profiles of the six frontrunners in this far-in-advance horserace (Dougherty, Evans, Fattah, Knox, Nutter, Saidel), with short bits on the three other names most frequently mentioned as possibles (Blackwell, Brady, Rizzo).

  2. Links to recent election reform news (from radio and print sources).

  3. A collection of news stories from Chicago, to look at what lessons we might learn from their experience. (Unclear whether they mean reform or mayor-picking -- skimming the first story, it appears to be about general planning for the future, and how the mayor can pull the city together.)

  4. A story about how/whether Philadelphia can be put on track to a "better future."
There's a link for email feedback, but nothing yet in the way of discussion forums or comments sections. Anyway, the candidate profiles are already a great resource -- will be interesting to see what direction the site evolves in. It's clearly using the distant mayoral race as an excuse to do some exploration of wider questions about city planning and Philadelphia's future. Best of luck to them in keeping that going.

Flurry of interest in LG post?

Not long after the news that a Pittsburgh councilwoman was considering a primary challenge to Lieutanant Governor Knoll (see here), rumor now has it that other state heavyweights are considering the post, including onetime Senate hopefuls Barbara Hafer and Joe Hoeffel. Is all this interest a symptom of Knoll's perceived weakness, or of a new view of the LG post as a possible stepping stone to the Governor's spot? Maybe any excuse to keep one's name in the news...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday politicians

  1. The Daily News provides more speculations about ousted Justice Nigro: while there's no way he'll be reappointed to his own seat (death for Rendell), he could easily run to reclaim it in 2007. Given that he was sort of collateral damage in the Pay Hike Wars, there would probably be a lot of sympathy for his candidacy.
    [The link also has short bits on other local faces.]

  2. Today's developments in the investigation/prosecution of Phila. City Councilman Rick Mariano include a staffer describing a seedy bribe and the setting of his offical trial date, in March. Some of his co-defendants cooperated partially, so their trials are likely to be held separately.

  3. Philadelphia's smoking ban appears to be on life support, and Mayor Street and Councilman Nutter are each blaiming the other for its pallor. Mmmm, playground petulance.

Ethics update (perplexity edition)

  1. The papers report that "5 of 6 ethics bills passed" (DN here, Inq. here). This perplexes me, as I was only aware of 3 new measures up for a vote (new Board, extension of prev. law to competitively bid contracts, web/disclosure rule). It appears that the extra two actions might be essentially clarifications of the previous law (by which I mean the restriction on recipients of no-bid contracts, passed by voters last month) -- one extending it to developers and a second making sure that lawyers and others involved in bond deals are covered (although I think the latter will come by executive order). It's also possible that the additional measures were one to regulate contributions from organizations asking for large monetary assistance from the city, and a second of, um, some other nature. Would it be too much to ask one of the two papers to generate an actual list, especially since the number 6 has never been mentioned before?? Clarifications from informed commenters are welcomed!

    Oh, before I forget (with all my righteous griping), the one that didn't pass was the bill closest to the one already enacted, but extending it to competitive contracts. It was discovered that the logistics of enforcement of this bill would cause it to be unfair to minority subcontractors (see here), and thus it was defeated and will be rewritten into hopefully a more desirable form.

    Update: the Daily News also points out that, conveniently, the defeated bill is one that would have caught Milton Street's antics a few years back, had it been in effect. Better get working on that rewrite!

  2. Dan at Young Philly Politics doesn't think these ethics reforms are enough and that the city needs public election financing. He lays out his reasoning in simple terms.

  3. Wilson Goode, Jr., touts his success with fair-lending regulations. Great to hear. Are the newspapers counting these as ethics measures, or am I still missing some? grrrr...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pithy bits around the blogs

Let the games begin!

Joe Hoeffel posts at his blog about Democratic strategy for the next couple of years and about Bob Casey as a Senate candidate. Albert Yee posts a response, looking at what Hoeffel said here and in a prior interview, as well as compiling many thoughts from others on the Senate race matter. He's an outspoken Pennacchio supporter, but the frustrations he expresses -- not least Casey's near-invisibility to date -- are likely shared by many looking to see Santorum shown the door. Worth a visit.

(via Above Average Jane)

Fallout from older stories

It comes in two flavors today:
  1. From the pay-hike furor, we have more chat about giving money back from expenses already claimed -- who's done it, who's considering it, who remains defiant. (That last group strikes me as amazingly tone-deaf.) On the other side of things, the City Paper starts the speculation about who will replace ousted Justice Nigro on the state Supreme Court bench. (Some Senatorial candidate chat at this link too)

  2. On the news of Specter defending Owens, a Daily News letter-writer questions the Senator's priorities for his time, and several letters at the Inquirer (from inside and outside the area) join the chorus and express disbelief at the whole spectacle.

Ethics updates

  • Today brings the votes in City Council on the new ethics bills being sponsored by Michael Nutter. They seem to be in good shape, with even Blackwell signing on to a subset yesterday. The Inquirer editorial page applauds these bills and encourages Council to act on them (they also stump for business tax cuts). The Daily News wonders whether Rick Mariano will be voting on these measures, given that the indicted councilman is due back in chambers for the first time today. Never a dull moment.

    Update: PhiladelphiaWillDo reports that Mariano voted, things passed, nobody giggled.

  • Meanwhile, over in the Sheriff's office (see previous round-up here) the aid suspected of real estate shenanigans has been reinstated, but stripped of the subset of duties that might create a conflict of interest, and with the sheriff putting together a new set of ethics guidelines and oversights for his staff. The Daily News watchdogs aren't quite ready to let go of the issue, however, noting that the investigator who cleared this staffer had some problems of his own at his previous job, and made some documentable mistakes in the current investigation. Lovely.

  • In other bureaucratic unseemliness, the gambling oversight czar is backed up by her colleagues.
    "I would characterize these allegations as chicken crap," said Thomas A. "Tad" Decker, chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
    ok, then. The appearance that she filed for unworked overtime at her previous job may just reflect some numerical discrepancies of the sort often found in an annual audit. Unfortunately, a different regional hiree, the one hired to run next summer's Welcome America bash, has been found to have some genuine fraud in her past (inventing a Harvard degree). The details of this story have all the earmarks of a cozy little Philadelphia backrub fest.

Some newish stories

  • This week's City Paper carries a cover story about Beth Stroud, the lesbian minister in Germantown defrocked by the Methodist church for admitting her lifestyle (see prev. here). It looks at the difficulty of living in the spotlight during this process, as well as at Stroud's reasons for risking her career and then sticking with the denomination and trying to open its eyes from within.

  • It's the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks' historic decision not to give up her seat, and SEPTA is joining many transit systems nationwide in paying tribute today to that important turning point.

  • A Daily News story wonders what it would mean if Knight-Ridder is sold -- some financial analysts are predicting that one of the two Philadelphia dailies could be closed, or both could suffer further cuts. Anybody for getting newspapers back out of corporate hands, so that good news coverage and healthy profit margins are enough?

    Update: PhillyFuture offers the chance to join a campaign to save the Daily News from this possible beheading...