Thursday, June 29, 2006


Just an advance warning that I'll be away from tomorrow through July 4th. There's a chance that I'll check in during that time, but I haven't yet decided whether to shlep my computer into the Land of No Wireless . . .

Watch some fireworks for me!

Other Tuesday miscellania

  • I'm sure you'll all be relieved to hear that the Gaming Board has resolved problems over licenses for machine distributors, and things will proceed on schedule. whee? Attempts by anti-casino activists to testify before the Board (read: make them miss the deadline, if possible) failed.

  • US Senate hopeful Bob Casey has put TV ads on the air in answer to Santorum's recent campaign, although he is starting with regionally focused ads (reflecting his smaller budget). The first ad questions priorities in Washington. [Apparently Casey was also in town recently for a fund-raiser. Who knew?]

  • DN columnist Ronnie Polaneczky argues against the rule that requires city officials to quit one job in order to even run for another one. He makes the point that few candidates can afford to be unemployed in the interim, which may just mean that they end up taking private-sector jobs that attach new strings to their future agendas. [Committee of Seventy head Zach Stalberg is also quoted as feeling that good civil servants are unduly penalized, and the city loses on both ends.]

  • Today's the day that the sale of Inquirer/Daily news becomes official. On to the new era!

  • The state of New Jersey is in a budget standoff between its Democratic governor and its Democratic assembly, because each has a different idea of how to readjust tax rates to make up for a current deficit. An Inquirer editorial takes NJ's leaders to task for threatening a government shut-down over small numerical differences, and a poster at YPP opines that they're setting a negative example of how (NOT) to run a government when "your guys" have all the controls.

  • Above Average Jane follows up on a previous story she uncovered from the PA 151st state house district (see here), and it appears that the incumbent is being made to sweat a bit over the appearance of impropriety that his cozy housing deal has created.

  • Also via AAJ, this Online News Hour piece about the dynamics of the exciting Congressional races in the Philadelphia suburbs, including Lois Murphy-Jim Gerlach, Patrick Murphy-Mike Fitzpatrick, and Joe Sestak-Curt Weldon. Hard to parse the transcript sometimes, but it's clear that there are plenty of races worth watching, and plenty of places to jump in if you're looking for a place to put your energies.

A rare morning post

Top Thursday stories, before I get buried in other stuff that needs doing:
  • Flooding: Um, it's been raining a whole lot. Rivers rising, neighborhoods flooding, evacuations and sludge, possibly more to come. You've probably noticed. An anecdotal account here, and lots of blogging and citizen journalism summarized here.

  • Our busy legislators:

    • A bipartisan group in the state House is proposing a raft of reform measures intended to restore public trust, ranging from bans on votes in the wee hours of the night, to term limits for leadership seats, to making their business subject to sunshine laws. Also included are hat-tips to back-benchers, such as making sure that at least one bill submitted by any legislator gets a vote, at least in committee. Some of these ideas can be made as House rule changes, while others will require legislation to be negotiated in the fall. I wish them luck. Dan at YPP notes that eliminating midnight votes is less important that being sure that the public gets a chance to weigh in before legislation gets rushed to a vote, something not really addressed in this package of reforms.

    • After weeks of negotiation, a tentative budget agreement has been reached. If they manage a vote by tomorrow, it will be the first budget completed under deadline in several years. Some detail of compromises given here.

    • A Daily News opinion piece bewails the prospects for lobbyist regulation; although both state houses have passed a measure, chances of combining them before the legislative term ends appear bleak.

    • Continuing the theme of their odd sense of priorities, the state House yesterday added to their record a bill making English the official language of Pennsylvania. I presume that their next crusade will be taking on the non-epidemic of flag-burning...

  • Schools:

    • There's a story about a $25 million line item for the Philadelphia school system that had been in the state budget, then was removed, and might be restored. Not sure how to resolve this with the mish-mash of details in the budget story, so probably we'll know more once things are finalized. Much featuring of Reps. Evans and Perzel at the barricades...

    • What are the future prospects of school system czar Paul Vallas? Apparently his original 5-year contract expires in 2007. He'd like it extended to 2008, and the school board hems and haws. Not clear to me whether they'd prefer to resign him for another complete term, or are considering new blood despite the fact that many of his ideas are just getting off the ground.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Belated Wednesday round-up

Quite a heap of tabs still open, and I'm crashing, so perhaps a bit quick tonight:
  • Rendell signed the recently passed property tax cut bill, amidst a flurry of election-related posturing. The link concludes with a summary of the law's provisions.

  • Fumo's two computer guys were officially charged today (see also here). Charges are obstructing the federal investigation.

  • Delayed settlement of some logistical bits could push back the institution of gaming in Pennsylvania by a year. Don't spend that money yet, kids!

  • An Inquirer editorial makes the case for a minimum wage increase, and in particular for the state House's approval of the Senate version of legislation to raise ours.

  • The Philadelphia Weekly has a cover story about Rep. Jack Murtha's lonely stance against continuing the Iraq war, looking at his own history as well as the barrage of criticism leveled against him since he introduced a measure for withdrawel. [They also follow it up with a bit of a ranty editorial.]

  • Other PW stories:
  • Above Average Jane gives some impressions of Paul Lang, candidate for the state Senate, gleaned from several months of email interaction. She's pretty impressed.

  • For anybody who hasn't had their fill of controversy over Geno's English-only policy, the DN offers a heap of letters with a range of views.

Today's Nutter-fest news

As predicted, a flurry of discussion today about Michael Nutter's decision to resign his Phildelphia City Council seat in order to go official in the mayoral race.
  • The Daily News recaps Nutter's announcement and press conference. His last day will be next Friday, catching many by surprise. Some speculation about motivations for the timing, ranging from countering expectations that he'd never want to resign, to catching up with Fattah (another article also mentions preempting Dougherty's lawsuit, which alleged that Nutter was already running and thus in violation of city law).

  • One Inquirer piece takes a look at the effects on other mayoral aspirants -- especially the racial calculus that could determine who else jumps in or decides to stay out of the melee.

  • Another piece looks at the emergence of contenders for Nutter's seat. Those quoted or mentioned include a Ward leader from Nutter's district, Wilson Goode Jr. (currently At-Large on the council), and a Street aide (who thought he'd have a bit more time to decide), and a number of other business types and political insiders. Other interesting bits here:
    • Mayor Street is quoted as suggesting that a special election could be held this fall to fill the two empty District Council seats (Nutter's and Mariano's), leaving the At-large seat (Cohen's) until its term expires in 2007. Is this to give Goode a shot without giving up his current spot?

    • Stalberg weighs in on the relative merits of empty seats versus Ward-leader-chosen candidates, a perennial question.

    • The absence of Nutter could also have interesting effects on some bills already underway but not to be voted upon until the fall; not least, DiCicco's bill to permanently exempt some local bars from the smoking ban may find itself one supporter short. (This seems like it might be taken as an unfair reneging on a deal, but then again Nutter had planty of other reasons for his choice.)

  • Another DN piece focuses on Council President Anna Verna, who will now be under intense pressure and scrutiny as she considers whether to hold a special election to fill the record number of empty Council seats. Bills need 9 votes (not just a simple majority) to become law, and that's a lot easier in a field of 17 than with only 14 in the room. This piece also discusses possible candidates for Nutter's seat, and speculates that Ward leaders may actually prefer not to have to pick and choose among them.

  • The DN Opinion Page looks at Nutter's accomplishments, with a twinge of regret that we have to lose his service in one role before he can try for another.

  • Finally, Young Philly Politics uses this occasion to post a greatest hits summary with links to much of their previous discussion of issues and players that matter to Philadelphians in the mayoral race.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pay-raise II

This sound familiar to anybody?

In other Tuesday news

  • The minimum wage

    • With Pennsylvania's state House and Senate having each passed some version of an increase in the minimum wage, the Inquirer reports that House Democrats are pushing for a vote to approve the Senate version (as a compromise that would get the deed done). They won't hold the budget hostage over the issue, but intend to try "parliamentary maneuvers" to force a vote before the session ends.

    • The Daily News opinion page urges a vote for the Senate version as well. They note the concern that Republican leaders in the House will attempt to let the clock run out on this measure to avoid its becoming an election issue.

    • A post at YPP speaks up for the Minimum Wage Coalition, agreeing that they prefer the House version but encourage passage of the Senate version as soon as possible. They recommend calling your state representative; perhaps a call to House Majority Leader Smith wouldn't be misplaced either...

  • John Dougherty's the subject of a substantial Philadelphia Magazine profile, which portrays him as a defender of traditional Philadelphia values. It recaps various stories swirling around Doc over the last few months, and also makes heavy parallels with former mayor Frank Rizzo. He comes across as an old-style "boss" type politician (ugh) and a bit of an oddball. Also noted is Dougherty's wife's current illness (which I hadn't heard about), which could play a role in his decision this fall about whether or not to run for mayor. The article also speculates that he won't want to risk his mystique by submitting to the indignity of the electoral process. See further speculations from Dan UA here.

  • Tom Ferrick takes the pulse of local political races by looking at their recent financial reports. Conclusion: it's helpful to be an incumbent...

  • Finally, Albert reports that onetime Pennacchio supporters, like the Deaniacs before them, are attempting to keep their group alive and find new focus for their progressive energies. I hope they can find a home, too, in groups like DFA, NN, and other groups already trying to build the ground game for a progressive future.

Nutter goes official

smiling NutterBig news of the day is that Philadelphia City Councilman Michael Nutter will officially resign his Council seat in the next few days in order to pursue his campaign for mayor, making him the second official candidate in that race. Seems early, but (a) the current session is ending, so now is about equivalent to September, and (b)
Political observers say candidates must raise about $10 million to be competitive in the May primary and then the November 2007 election.
Yeowch! Anyway, he's expected to provide more details at a press conference today.

This is sure to generate a lot of regional kerfluffle around who might be interested in his District Council seat (comprising Manayunk and Overbrook), whether there will be a special election to fill the now three empty seats, and whether other mayoral candidates will announce their intentions. Already yesterday there was some chat about whether Wilson Good, Jr., would prefer a District seat to his current At-Large position (see here), and there are plenty of people with expressed or assumed interest in the At-Large openings. Could get interesting.

Meantime, chat today surrounds Nutter's prospects. For general reference, here's Nutter's page at The Next Mayor website, with links to presumed competitors. Dan UA notes that Nutter appears focused on taxes even though Philadelphians value many issues more highly, and implies that could be a deal-breaker for him, at least. But positions are still to be clarified, websites focused, issues discussed. Should be an fascinating summer and fall...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Other misc. Monday news

  • Another anti-violence police effort is starting tomorrow, involving a unit specifically targeted to high-crime neighborhoods and night patrols. A fine idea, although when "flexible" means constantly changing beats, I worry about the mistakes that come from interacting with unfamiliar (and presumed dangerous) areas.

  • More reaction to last week's repeated river contamination (summarized here): the Daily News talks to local regulatory agencies about the incidents and what they mean for regional water conditions. Take home: the rivers are in pretty healthy shape.

  • Also a continuation of debate over proposed state regulation of mercury emissions: a spokesman for the energy industry speaks up in support of the Senate's move to block Rendell's stricter standards. In contrast, a letter to the editor agrees with Rendell in putting safety first.

  • The Inquirer editorial page is not impressed with the lobbying reform measure recently passed by the state House, calling it watered down, but still considers it a step in the right direction (and better than being the only state with no lobbyist oversight at all).

  • A poster at PhillyFuture notes an article describing the elimination of the middle class in many major cities (including Philadelphia), where more neighborhoods are becoming either very wealthy or quite impoverished.

  • Apparently the Inquirer has admitted to knowing that there's a local blogosphere shaping up. And it's quite a healthy and active one too. Most of those noted here are community activism sites or political blogs, but there are cultural blogs, restaurant reviewers, and many others as well.
    (via PhillyFuture)

  • Marc Stier posts from out of town about zoning and land use issues, including a hearing that is probably already underway as I post this...

Around the politicians (Monday)

  • A substantial Inquirer article takes a look at the career arc of Philadelphia City Councilman Frank DiCicco, characterizing him as a former outcast who's become an important player (and frequent swing vote) since improving his relationship with Mayor Street. The highschool popularity analogies here made me grit my teeth.

  • Another piece looks at the city's former mayor Wilson Goode, Sr., who claims to have found his place in life in his involvement with an organization that mentors the children of inmates. He's now a nominee for an award for older Americans who have reinvented themselves in public service. Perhaps a sense of redemption for a man surely haunted by his involvement with the MOVE bombings 20 years ago... Actually, the whole nominee list is inspiring.

  • John Baer looks at the first volley in Sen. Santorum's TV ad campaign, and opines that immigration is an odd issue for a non-border state race and that the particular content of this ad is odder still. The Daily News opinion page goes even further, wondering how Santorum reconciles his hard line on immigration with the welcoming teachings of his own faith.

  • Tom Ferrick notes that the mocking reception of Sen. Santorum's recent WMD claims (see here) has done nothing to damp Curt Weldon's enthusiasm for the issue; in fact, he was trying to get credit himself for finding them first. (Santorum isn't backing down either; I find this parody amusing.)

  • Above Average Jane sure wanted to attend a fundraiser for governor Rendell featuring an appearance by Hillary Clinton, but was unwilling to promise further work on his behalf in order to get a ticket. (For that matter, she implies that requiring such a promise is either unfair or soliciting empty commitments.)

  • Over in New Jersey, the US Senate race continues heated, with a feisty television debate between Menendez (D) and Kean (R) over the weekend. Each accused the other of unethical behavior, which I'm sure got NJ voters very excited to turn out. Speculations abound about the effects of Bush's popularity on this race.

  • A collection of short bits in the Inquirer reports a poll in the Philadelphia mayoral race that finds Rep. Fattah edging ahead, a stalled park clean-up program advocated by Councilman Rizzo, and a little further mocking of Councilman Kelly over his MySpace page.

Friday, June 23, 2006

First impressions

Had the opportunity to meet one of Philadelphia's mayoral hopefuls this week, Tom Knox, at a gathering of interested young (cough) folks. Was interesting to see him in person and hear him talk about a range of issues that he'd been studying over recent months. In no particular order, here were some of my takes:
  • He was naturally wonky -- loves numbers, thinking about the details of city government as a business, where money could be saved or shaved through better management, etc. It was impressive in the He Knows Shit way, but I think tended to make his audience glaze over more than get passionate. Quite happy to talk about the taxes, especially eliminating the gross receipts portion of the BPT, but realistic about the fact that savings elsewhere would have to be found first. However, he also talke about improving city services, so it's not all tax-cutting...

  • He had some interesting ideas about broadening educational opportunities in the city, including reopening some "Vox-ed" schools that used to exist, to give students incentives to stay with their education (to get some training as, say, mechanics or hair-dressers). Additionally, and more boldly, he had a plan to help lure new businesses to the area by launching a series of training centers all over the city to help guarantee that skilled labor would be available to fulfill their needs -- something like offering a year's ramp-up training (to sales, drivers, clerks, whatever was needed), fully financed, with the promise of at least one year's employment on the other end. (You build the factory, and we'll have a workforce for you by the time it's ready to open.) Neat to see some long-term thinking, although it could be hard to swing.

  • Interesting mannerisms/feel. He's soft-spoken and less of a glad-hander than, say, Nutter or Saidel, but plenty confident and clearly intelligent. On the other hand, he spent probably 90% of the evening speaking directly to me (even if answering somebody else's question), as though the other dozen people weren't even in the room, which I thought was pretty bad manners, let alone politicking. It made me feel genuinely uncomfortable (not personally, but socially, if that makes any sense). Additionally, his talk about racial issues tended to the slightly quaint (somewhere between patronizing and cliched), although he had reasonable information at his fingertips too (e.g., about black voters' interest in capability over race). It's hard not to hold these things against a candidate, although (a) they could be gone in another month or two of campaigning and (b) they could have little effect on his ability to run city government or interact with employees. Still...
That's about all for now. I hope to get chances to meet or at least see appearances of all of the candidates by the time this primary is really underway, say next fall. Thanks to Tulin for the invitation; I hope she gets her technical difficulties solved so that she can share her impressions as well (if so inclined).

  1. Here's the Knox campaign site, which I should have linked above.

  2. I realized there was another thing that took me aback a bit: Knox appeared to applaud the effects of gentrification. Yes, he made some disclaimers along the lines that seniors or the medically disabled should be buffered from increases in property taxes that might displace them, but pretty much the poor were given little sympathy. Heck! they could cash out! Have family in the area or other community attachments? Too bad; sell your house and learn to love a less popular neighborhood. Long-term renter being pushed out by the sudden doubling and tripling of city rents? That's the price we pay for increased city prosperity; you can stop by anytime and enjoy the new streetlights! (yes, it made me feel snarky.)


Friday news -- Other bits

  • There were two dangerous (and regionally embarrassing) river contaminations incidents this past week, one involving cyanide in the Wissahickon, which poisoned fish and made rowers in the Schulylkill nervous, the other involving a raw sewage overflow. The former incident is leading to inquiries by state and federal officials into oversight at Merck pharmaceuticals, especially since they delayed reporting the release of toxic chemicals (until the widespread fishkill caught regulators' attention).

  • The Daily News has a spread on Philadelphia's hopes for hosting an Olympics, including what the impact on the city might be, from new facilities to a higher profile; whether other cities found the benefits they'd hoped, looking back over several years; a look at the local leaders trying to make things happen; and the thoughts of one cranky columnist who thinks the city's energies could be better spent improving our infrastructure for its own sake, without risking the all-or-nothing gamble of a huge international event.

  • SEPTA's board has approved a new budget without threats, hoping that the included deficit will be filled by Rendell's finding a dedicated source of funding for transit. More here.

  • City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski urges the state to join Philadelphia in its new smoking ban, to level the playing field for the area's businesses.

  • For those interested in educating voters and talking to neighbors about pressing current issues, America Votes is having a day of action this Saturday. If you've been looking for a way to get involved, this could be your entry point to making a difference.

  • Been thinking about getting a cat? This weekend would be the time, as Philadelphia's animal control services attempt to deal with summer overcrowding by offering cats and kittens for $1. You can save a life and add a friend to your household at the same time! (I'd grab one myself, but my house is a bit full at the moment...)

Friday news -- laws and politicians installment

  • Nearly forgotten among other stories, former Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano was sentenced yesterday, to the surprising term of 10 years; apparently his last-ditch attempts at cooperation got him nowhere. The judge prosecutors sounded disgusted at the way Mariano had "sold his office" . . .

    Correction: misread this one. A 10-year sentence was recommended, but no sentencing order has yet been passed down.

  • State House Speaker John Perzel's sudden conversion on lobbyist reform appears to have borne fruit, as the House just passed disclosure legislation that it had been sitting on for four years (while the Senate and executive branch adopted internal rules of their own). The main points of the new regulations are listed at the end of the piece. The Senate could consider the measure as early as next week; they passed a similar bill a year ago, so passage looks good. More takes on the regulations, including criticisms that it's too weak, here and here.

  • The recently passed state gay marriage bills are still in the news today, with John Baer hopeful that the two houses won't be able to agree on a compromise, the DN opinion page decrying the resurgence of intolerance, and Albert applauding state Sen. Vince Fumo for being on the right side of this one. The Inquirer editorial page also bemoans this move, as well as the underpowered gun control bill under consideration.

  • Lynn Swann released his education plan, including increasing incentives for corporate contributions, giving extra support to students who fail to master elementary level skills, and rewarding teachers for helping their students make gains. All sounds reasonable, but I don't know the degree to which these ideas differ from Rendell's or are known to be effective. In related news a recent poll shows the governor with a substantial lead.

  • US Sen. Rick Santorum takes some ribbing today, first in an Auth political cartoon that captures the general response to his claims that WMDs were found in Iraq, and later this evening in a contest of mock impersonators that will be held at venerable Ortliebs.

  • Gar Joseph's DN column is rife with political gossip, from Tom Knox's anti-violence posters to who might be making a move on whose (Council or Congressional) seat once the mayoral race goes official, etc.

I didn't see this coming

Was much surprised to see in the newsboxes on my way to work that the state Senate passed the minimum wage bill yesterday. I knew that advocates were looking for something to happen, but this is great. As Rep. Cohen notes, there are differences between the House and Senate versions (the latter has a potential loophole), but this may mean that legislators can be pressured to hammer out their differences before they break for the summer. If you aren't sure where your representatives stand, call and let them know your thoughts!!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Other quick bits

Top Thursday stories

  • Gay marriage amendment

    • The State Senate approved an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment by a vote of 38-12. The version passed includes the modification made in committee last week (see last item here), which could make it difficult to resolve differences with the House bill. Notable was the lack of speeches by supporters of the measure...

    • A CityPaper piece looks at whether gay Philadelphians will leave the area if the state becomes less welcoming. We don't have neighboring states that allow gay marriage, but my own neighbors moved to New Jersey for better Domestic Partner benefits and protections -- that's one set of taxpayers who won't be coming back.

  • US Senate race

    • Rick Santorum is no longer willing to sit watching his poll numbers slide, and today announced the intention to blanket the airwaves with ads between now and Election Day, leveraging his fundraising advantage. (More along the same lines here.) He will presumably be working on upping his current low approval rating...

Santorum and Weldon sniffing the same fumes

Apparently Rick (and, um, somebody) has been recovering WMD's from Iraq. Nobody else has seen anything, even the President has admitted there were none left by the time we got there, but Santorum and Weldon know THINGS.... This is deranged.

Update: more here, including the raised eyebrows of the media...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday round-up

  • Governor Ed Rendell would like Pennsylvania's restrictions on mercury emissions to be more stringent than the (rather lax) federal guidelines. Apparently the state Senate disagrees. An Inquirer editorial explains why that position is wrong.

  • In a different safety realm, Rendell stands by his repeal of the helmet law for motorcycle riders, despite an increase in fatalities. Swann takes the other view, although no legislation on the matter is likely.

  • Time to get those NY-luring ads running: Philadelphia is on the verge of losing its Fifth Biggest City status to Phoenix, currently trailing by only a couple of thousand residents...

  • Inga Saffron went to a Philadelphia Planning Commission meeting last week and was appalled by what it revealed about how development and zoning decisions get made -- in a hurried way that appears more interested in clearing the docket than in making strategic plans or in bringing any expertise to bear. I hope that recent concerns about the riverfront lead to reform of this process and a longer-term vision!

  • Street and Fattah are joining a Hip-Hop Action Network effort to register young voters before the fall elections.

  • Tom Ferrick, frustrated by technical clogs over at his blog, writes a column that's a gemisch of short takes. Most amazing to me was the last one, which notes that Curt Weldon thinks there still might be WMD's in Iraq (!). Time for new (Sestak) blood in that paranoid seat!

  • Above Average Jane has a profile of the incumbent in the 151st State House District, which includes some remarkable non-taxpayer sources of support.

  • Only 55% of Philadelphia's highschool freshmen make it to graduation, a measure of the amount of work yet to be done. The comments on this article capture a lot of the debate around such statistics -- do we need to fund inner city schools better, improve management, or work on attitudes that encourage kids to devalue education starting around middle school? Probably all of the above, but there's a lot to be done in bringing the civic will around to the work ahead.

  • Perhaps in response to the above statistics, the Daily News offers a report card on the Philadelphia schools, what they've accomplished in the last few years (under School Reform Commission oversight) and what remains to be done. Lots of info here, from school construction to test scores to safety issues. They also provide a short history of the School Reform Commission's formation and make-up.

  • An Inquirer commentary piece applauds the smoking ban as protecting us from ourselves. Meanwhile, Howard at Philly Future notes that Mayor Street's equivocation over the bill (which he originally called for) is annoying supporters.

  • The Daily News opinion page wonders whether we can ever get a minimum wage bill passed, giving an especially evil eye to state Senate Republicans who are blocking a vote on the current measure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Other Tuesday miscellania

  • An Inquirer editorial applauds UPenn's vision for development along the Schuylkill River. yes, I spelled that from memory, thanks.

  • Sensing an opportunity for shared narrow-mindedness, US Senator Rick Santorum made a stop by Geno's to voice his support for the unfriendly "English-only" policy there. Guess he's found his Philadelphia constituency... Philadelphia Will Do chips in a little more snark.

  • A YPP poster notes that things are coming to a head for the minimum wage bill. He seems cautiously optimistic, but it's definitely a good time to let your state legislators know how you feel.

  • A Philly Future poster also has a look at the federal effort on the minimum wage, which could come up for a vote this week. He also notes that Congress has been much quicker to up its own salary than that of the hard-working folks at the other end of the economic spectrum...

  • Phila Will Do looks at some absurdist claims made by the Republican TV boy running against Allyson Schwartz. For me, the tie really makes it. I mean, it's so Tucker...

Perzel under the fry light again

a smirk shotApparently even a $5k/month consultant (see prev. here) can't keep state house speaker John Perzel's foot out of his mouth: first he quipped that tattoo artists make more than state legislators (anyone else reminded of dairy workers?). Then he felt the need to defend the pay raise despite its roll-back and the clear electoral evidence of voter wrath. Now he's back-tracking on the latter, although without apology (and still without having returned his unvouchered expense money). Apparently his colleagues didn't appreciate his bringing more voter response down on their heads over an issue they're trying to downplay with a spate of legislative activity. Commenters are taking bets on how long the self-imposed gag rule will hold...

Other wags were quick to react to the latest deaf ear demonstration. Daily News columnist Elmer Smith sees this as more evidence that legislators are out of touch with regular Pennsylvanians, especially noting the challenges facing minimum-wage households in the state. John Baer worries that if Perzel can manage to hold his tongue, a major source of column humor material may dry up. The DN opinion page thinks the most recent showing reflected poorly on Perzel and on general legislative bloat. Personally, I think Perzel is looking ungainly as a politician and insecure as a leader; this could be the year for returning challenger Tim Kearney to really make things happen in the northeast...

Around the weeklies

What with being out of town until the end of last week, I forgot all about Philadelphia's two weekly papers, which generally debut on Wednesday and Thursday. Here are the stories that caught my notice when looking them over today:
  • City Paper:

    1. A lengthy article looks at liberal bastion The White Dog restaurant, which appears to be having some turmoil over attempts by employees to organize a union. The tone of the article tends to the derisive (of progressivism, really), but it's an interesting story about how even generally well-treated employees can have legitimate gripes about their input into management practices, etc., and how even principled bosses can react badly to the prospect of sharing meaningful power. Also interesting, perhaps, as an allegory of the different worldviews of the (older) unionizer vision and the (newer) sustainable business movement, or of the question Can benevolent employers really be trusted?

    2. The second of these two short pieces wonders about the effect on a journalist's worldview of living inside or outside the bounds of the city being covered...

    3. An opinion piece decries the grim casino designs proposed for Delaware River sites and offers a modest alternative proposal...

  • Phila Weekly

    1. A rather snide reaction to the notion that the Inquirer will set up a committee to police any possible "journalism issues" that arise because of its new ownership. I don't get the snark here; aren't the reporters the ones who'd know if they were being pressured?

    2. A longer piece looks at the recent Comcast take-over of the Philadelphia cable market and the resulting opportunity to ask it (and/or the city) to follow through on promises to create and help fund a public access channel.

    3. In further media coverage, a third article looks at a forgotten effort of the Phila Inquirer to extend its activities into the TV realm. "Inquirer News Tonight" lasted just two years in the mid-1990s, failing at its goal of leveraging its reporters and their more in-depth research to create a chewier evening program. A failed test of media "convergence." Sounds like an interesting concept that had a half-assed implementation...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday miscellania

Blogger down this morning, and now I find that I have to leave work early for a (forgotten) meeting, so just some quick glosses on the day's news:
  • As though the advances on their raises weren't enough cost to taxpayers, it turns out that defense fees from lawsuits challenging the state legislators' fall pay raise has already topped a million dollars. (For newcomers to this, one of the defining issues in current regional politics, the article gives a brief overview of the mess.)

  • AA Jane notes another foot-in-mouth moment from state House speaker John Perzel, this time claiming that tattoo artists make more than legislators (among other crap). Guess a new media manager can only do so much...

  • A couple of Inquirer short bits on politicians include a Spanish-language section of Rick Santorum's campaign website, explaining his stance on immigration. (don't tell Geno!)

  • A YPP blogger notes an apparent push-poll aimed at undermining views of Bob Casey in the US Senate race (and asks for some research aid).

  • AA Jane also catches a real heartening Congressional moment, as our great leaders vote to declare their intent to win the war on terror. Well, ok then! PA-06's Mike Fitzpatrick among those patting themselves on the back for this one.

  • A snazzy new condo development is in the works for North Broad Street. Its developer hopes to draw pedestrian traffic northward from Center City, and is creating some destinations to drive that.

  • Also exciting is UPenn's planned redevelopment of the West Philly waterfront, announced in a lavish spread in the Sunday paper. I, like Dan, am impressed with the scope and the prospects.

  • I'd been enjoying the brief lull between onslaughts of the trumpeting of Philadelphia as New York's new "sixth borough," but I guess that's over with the debut of a student ad campaign aimed at luring more New Yorkers down here. The article devolves into navel-gazing...

Friday, June 16, 2006

In other Friday news

Another iffy day over at Blogger, but will get this post up when I can...
  • State taxes
    Apparently while I was only skimming the news, legislators in Harrisburg managed to agree upon some kind of property tax cuts/restructuring. Among the stories/responses:

    • Apparently seniors are thrilled, as the bill greatly increases rebates for them right away, while phasing in cuts for all property taxpayers as casino revenues start to appear. However, among those unthrilled with the plan are many school boards, whose budgets will become more subject to economic winds as the ability to raise local rates is removed (or channeled through a referendum process). Here in Philly, most of the cuts come in the form of reduced wage tax rates, which buffers us from many of the bill's complexities...

    • The Inquirer editorial page chipped in that this measure represents a good start, with much more commitment still needed to equitable funding of school systems statewide. They also note a feature not mentioned in the main article (today, at least) which allows various regions to elect to shift even more of their property tax burden into local income tax instead -- that seems like it would spark some interesting discussions...

    • Over at the Daily News, the opinion page is in favor of the new plan because they hate the Phila wage tax. No mention here on the cap on school budgets or other concerns.

    • Finally, Tom Ferrick speculates about what will happen if slots revenues fall short of the [prespent] projections, and speculates that expanding casinos to other games is a more likely outcome than that property tax subsidies be reduced.

  • Politicians

    • Ed Rendell continues to out-fundraise Lynn Swann, which may be a bad sign for the challenger. The level of detail here makes my eyelids droop...

    • A smattering of political tidbits and snarks from the Democratic City Committee meeting are provided by Gar Josephs, including the note that John Dougherty's replacement as Democratic party Treasurer is 85 and a fistfight between two powerhouses. Yeah, you can really feel the new wave comin'...

  • Housing programs

    • Apparently City Council will be taking a look at the notion of inclusionary housing, a policy which requires developers (those receiving subsidies such as Philadelphia's 10-year tax abatements) to set aside a portion of their new units (in the same or other locations) for lower income housing. Some developers already do this voluntarily, in part to win favor for their plans over those of competitors; the new proposal would make such set-asides mandatory.

    • Such Council hearings may have been spurred, in part, by a rally held earlier this week by a coalition of groups that support an inclusionary housing approach.

    • Marc Stier gives an update on the Housing Trust Fund that Councilwoman Blackwell was holding hostage last week -- it appears to have been put back on safe ground, and in fact the crisis may have been a manufactured one. (He also provides a transcript of his own testimony before Council on the issue.)

  • Other bits

    • Ben at YPP looks at a proposed anti-Iraq-war referendum and speculates about the effect that views on the war might have on voter turnout among groups of various outlooks.

    • Tom Ferrick notes that a critical change in wording of the Marriage Protection Amendment made earlier this week in the state Senate's Judiciary Committee may indicate a lagging of support for attacks on domestic partnership (for any orientation) and may doom the bill for this term.

Back in town just in time!

The Philadelphia smoking ban, which failed last term and then appeared to have lost all momentum this spring (see, e.g., this or this), underwent a wondrous resurrection and passed City Council yesterday by a 9-6 vote. Two noteworthy features of the reports:
  1. Some local pubs can apply for an exemption (but only the tiny minority who serve almost no food), and all sidewalk cafes (outdoor tables, that is) are automatically exempted.

  2. The extra votes, once considered unfindable (with the loss of Cohen and Mariano) included onetime opponents DiCicco, Clarke, Kenney, and Reed Miller, brought on board mainly through the compromise that established the possibility of permanent exemptions. (Actually, the full list of yes and no votes (see below) is quite odd, bearing little relation to partisan affiliation or other usual factional allegiances.)
I think this is a great development, and suspect that bars and restaurants will be pleasantly surprised by the effects on their businesses. Can't wait to find out in January!!

Update: Left out a link to this Daily News opinion piece, which urges the Mayor to sign this measure (which he has made reasonably clear that he intends to do, although not right away) and applauds the bill's passage as better late than never.
  • For: Michael Nutter, Darrell Clarke, Frank DiCicco, Wilson Goode Jr., James Kenney, Donna Miller, Juan Ramos, Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Marian Tasco.

  • Against: Council President Anna Verna, Majority Leader Jannie Blackwell, Joan Krajewski, and the three Republicans Brian O'Neill, Jack Kelly and Frank Rizzo.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Perzel gets religion?

Apparently our state House leader has decided that he needs more than image cover...
  1. No more freebie weekend in Philly for state legislators...

  2. The merits of lobbiest disclosure have miraculously become clear as well.
I go outta town for a few days and the place goes crazy...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Am leaving town tomorrow for the YearlyKos convention and then some family visit time. May be curious about goings-on back home or may avoid such news entirely. As a result, posts may be sparse to nonexistant between now and next Friday (that is, assuming that Blogger resurrects long enough for me to even post this warning)... Be well, all, and don't forget to come back!

Wednesday deluge III -- Misc. bits of interest (if my backlogged posts get this far down the queue)

  • More details on the federal investigation of State Sen. Vince Fumo, now accused of using his nonprofit charity to help pay for some renovations on his home (in a round-about way, with the charity buying a warehouse from the contractor at "fair market price").

  • New Jersey's primaries yielded the expected top contenders for US Senate: current Sen. Robert Menendez (D) and state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R). Will be a feisty race for the next few months.

  • Gov. Ed Rendell suggests letting wine shippers deliver to Pennsylvania from outside the state as well as from in-state wineries; the catch is that all shipped wine would then be subject to the stiff taxes charged at liquor stores. Unlikely that legislators will address the proposal before fall. Keep your fingers crossed.

  • The Daily News provides another summary of the Ward Leader elections from Monday night, in which several new capos honchos took command, amid varying mixes of kerfluffle and calm...

  • Joe Wilson, of Plame-gate fame, was in town this week to support Patrick Murphy in his effort to displace Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. A guy who foresaw the mess in Iraq and a guy who had to carry his weight there.

  • It looks like Michael Nutter is officially running... for something. At least, that's an official 2007 campaign website. You do the math.
    (via PoliticsPhilly)

  • The Inquirer editorial page is peeved at Perzel for "handling" the public while charging us for the privilege.

  • A second editorial follows up on yesterday's stories of Comcast's takeover by saying Philadelphia is long overdue for a public-access cable station. Perhaps the long vigil will come to an end...

  • Meanwhile the Daily News opinion page has prepared an agenda for the next Mayor, with a list of executive orders focused on making top officials more responsive to levels of violence in the city.

  • Finally, Marc Stier has a collection of reasons and ways for making voting easier. Some intriguing ideas there for making civic participation a more normal part of everyday life.

Wednesday deluge II -- Other top stories

  • Same-sex marriage

    1. Pennsylvania's State House voted overwhelmingly to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, despite the fact that a law is already on the books to the same effect. (Also despite the fact that voters have been clamoring on completely different fronts such as tax relief.) Even if the State Senate also passes the measure later this month, that only starts a two-year procedure including another vote and then a voter referendum. Debate was raucus. The list of votes and some selected quotes are included at the end of this article.

    2. Daily News columnist John Baer accuses the GOP leadership of raising a bogus issue to divert voters from the pay-hike and other concerns. He also thinks they may have misjudged strategically, as voters know full well that there are bigger issues at hand.

    3. Signe makes the same point about priorities visually in her inimitable style.

    4. The Daily News opinion page also thinks that the reintroduction of this issue at the national level is a tired ploy and makes the GOP look desperate and scared. A second opinion piece there wonders how anybody's individual marriages could possibly need (or get) protection from such a constitutional amendment.

    5. Marc Stier thinks this is a sad day for PA and urges opponents of the current measure to sign a petition at Liberty City.

  • Santorum and Casey clash over environment

    Apparently the meeting of the two US Senate candidates last night was less civil than on previous occasions, with Casey lashing his opponent for consistently putting business interests ahead of environmental and health concerns. First signs of life from the challenger, or the effects of a friendly crowd?

Wednesday deluge I -- Housing, vendettas, and Jannie Blackwell

Problems with Blogger, so will get things posted when/if I can. A huge number of links today and then the techo-crapulance...

event pictureApparently a believer in the notion that no publicity is bad publicity, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has been collecting quite a bit of it recently, mostly in the form of her obstructionism, whether it's the city budget, a Youth Center project that she previously supported (and that is holding up the Barnes relocation), or today's edition: the Housing Trust Fund. Blackwell actually helped establish this fund, which is intended to support the establishment of affordable housing in the city (as part of new development and renovation); see brief summary here. However, now she's holding it hostage, apparently as part of a bid to make sure that City Council has a direct hand in seeing how the money is spent. She is demanding that the fund be paid out equally among all Council districts, which makes little sense, given the uneven distribution of new projects as well as of low-income residents (and, in fact, 1/3 of current fund applications come from Blackwell's West Philly district). What am I missing here? The best anybody can come up with is that Blackwell is willing to hold this worthy program (and many potential benefitting programs in her own District) at gunpoint to get more concessions in Mayor Street's plans to restructure the city's housing agencies -- in fact, this piece claims that she wants Street to spend the Trust Fund's money not on its intended projects but to supplement funds used to pay housing agency employees who might otherwise lose their jobs in the shake-up. Does your head hurt yet? Not pretty.

So, that's the story. Here's the blow-back:
  • Gwen Shaffer at the Philadelphia Weekly looks at this perplexing change of allegiance -- Blackwell is also now proposing repealing the entire Fund! The more you read, the harder it is not to conclude that it's about getting more power for Council away from the mayor, independent boards, and/or housing activists. At the expense of people with little or nothing. Shoddy.

  • Ray Murphy, often a Blackwell defender, is pretty peeved by this turn of events, and offers his own speculations about what might be going on behind the scenes with Blackwell's longterm ambitions and possible alliances. He also looks at the larger question of housing needs versus the availability of middle-class jobs, and other economic factors that could come into play here and in similar situations in the future.

  • Tom Ferrick, using one of those dream sequences that I hate above all else in the Philadelphia papers, points out that perhaps Blackwell is tired of being Street's doormat and is using her general obstructionism to assert her right to respect in city dealings. Probably true, but still weak.

  • Marc Stier notes that hearings are being held today and tomorrow on measures related to the Housing Trust Fund, and urges people to attend and/or contact their Council representatives in support of the current program. He also gives some brief arguments about the specific proposals being discussed.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tuesday non-politician round-up

  • The remainder of June is budget-battling time for the state legislature. Lots of unknowns here, between the primary upsets and some half-passed bills... Ben at YPP notes that the rightward shift of the state GOP may mean more interference with Rendell goals, which could be bad for the minimum wage but good for casino opponents.

  • Also for the state legislature: will they start to talk campaign contribution limits or will cities struggle to set up local financing to help remove the effects of money from politics?

  • Because waiting all day at home isn't annoying already: Comcast now has a monopoly on Philadelphia cable service. Some hoped to press for public-access cable services, but City Council declined to make that a condition of monopolization. The Daily News opinion page still hopes that the 20-year wait for access might be over, but it's not clear why things should change now, if the city is already spending the money it was supposed to put toward building a new public station. Separately, Dan at YPP considers this a test for councilman Michael Nutter's dedication to city residents versus corporate interests.

  • Another DN opinion column looks at the controversial building planned for the Art Museum area and argues that (a) its height is not the only thing that makes it a poor fit for the neighborhood, but that (b) reform of zoning regulations is a better fix than trying to argue aesthetics and other abstractions on a case-by-case basis.

Tuesday politicians

  • Adding insult to... flattery? Apparently State House Speaker John Perzel is charging taxpayers for an image consultant to help him undo the damage dealt by his brusque handling of the pay hike, dairy wages, and other gaffes of the last year. Their main step appears to be preventing him from speaking off the cuff... [The piece also notes other political groupings and individuals that pay media consultants from taxpayer funds -- Does this mean we're, um, handling ourselves? -- as well as revealing that at least one consultant has written news opinion pieces without revealing his employer, yeesh.]

  • US Senator Rick Santorum is attempting to polish his environmental image by appearing before the Pennsylvania Environmental Council tonight, perhaps in hopes that his superior speaking skills will outshine Bob Casey's more mainstream views on environmental issues.

  • The race in the state 175th House district goes to court, as expected, with write-in candidate Emilio Vazquez asking that a substantial number of misplaced votes (stamped under Ward comitteeman rather than State Rep.) be counted to reverse the current lead of Tony Payton. His second choice would be a special election to clarify the voters' will.

  • New Jersey's primaries are today, including the contentious race for the Democratic nomination for US Senate. Expect a flurry of coverage.

  • Last night was also the election for many of Philadelphia's Democratic Ward Leaders. Most were probably reelected by acclamation, a few had contested elections, there were retirements and upsets, and at least one gathering came to blows. All part of the local circus.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Quick Monday round-up

Another tight day. In a short week. Will do what I can to keep us all up to date... ;)
  • Politicians:

    • In the realm of Major Speculation, local wags are wondering whether presumed 2007 mayoral hopeful (and current US Rep.) Chaka Fattah would reconsider his ambitions if the Democratic party retook a majority of the US House this fall (still a nontrivial IF). In that case, he'd be high-ranking in the Appropriations Committee, but not necessarily in line for a chairmanship; anyway, he says that won't factor into his decision.

    • John Baer talks to State House Speaker John Perzel about what's ahead for the GOP after the recent primary shake-ups. Perzel seems unflapped, gives nothing away.

    • Ward elections take place this evening all around the city. Most will be rubber-stamping of incumbents, but a handful of wards have challenges to sitting leaders or have open seats (as in mine) which could produce some lively discussion (if such is allowed). Time to test the iron fists in many instances; expect some chewy stories tomorrow.

  • Other bits:

    • The judge in last year's Dover intelligent design case is responding to criticism by waging and educational campaign about the importance of judicial independence. Good for him. Separation of powers seems a bit unpopular these days...

    • Philadelphia's real estate boom continues to spread, reaching out from the Art Museum area and Temple University into nearby neighborhoods of North Philly. Residents are struggling to draw up guides for neighborhood development in time.

  • Opinionizers:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The rest of the Friday deluge

What's a small delay between friends -- were you really reading Friday night anyway? I didn't think so...
  • Inquirer story on Thursday's anti-casino rally -- they're hoping against hope that it's not a done deal. Marc Stier was impressed with the showing and gives his own reasons for opposing the arrival of slots parlors in Philadelphia.

  • The Montgomery County Republicans just reelected their chair in a close-fought battle that appeared to be over future prospects of their party in suburban districts.

  • This week Philadelphia hosted a conference on the aging urban population, which concluded that this group would present new challenges by a decade from now, which require some advance planning.

  • Despite protests from many progressive voices, Philadelphia City Council voted to delay implmentation of the rollback of taxes for low-income residents, originally put forward by Councilman David Cohen. Marc Stier looks at the political maneuvers and deal-making that have combined to block passage of this tax rebate. A bit long, but a good glimpse into how things can sometimes happen too fast (or too invisibly) to allow advocacy groups to really be part of the discussion. A good reason to have allies at the table...

  • The Inquirer editorial page lays into Geno's owner for his ridiculous xenophobic business policies. Time for a trip to Pat's...

  • The Daily News opinion page expresses the hope that election-year politics wouldn't get in the way of legislation to be sure that no children fall through the cracks in Pennsylvania's health care system.

  • Above Average Jane asked fellow bloggers what bargain they feel they make with candidates they support -- what work, what boostering, what holding them accountable. Lots of interesting discussion ensues. Jane's answer is here, Albert's is here, and a collection of other responses is here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

It's a start

Philadelphia residents: Ever wondered if you could get to your destination by bus? Ever wondered where some line goes? Ever asked for a map and been told the driver was out? There's some chance that you may be able to find that information much more handily in light of the new SEPTA plan to install system maps in city bus shelters -- at least 50 of them along major E-W streets in Center City by Labor Day. One small step for tourists, one huge leap for head-scratchers...

Friday deluge -- politicians installment

  • Apparently strategists agree that Lynn Swann needs to leach Rendell votes in the Philadelphia suburbs to have a fighting chance. So he's off and working his famed charisma...

  • Apparently Sen. Rick Santorum has adopted Pres. Bush's approach of having only boosters at his events, at least if the ejection of two college students waiting in line at a book-signing is any evidence. Those kids and their tough questions!

  • More discussion of State Sen. Fumo's troubles with federal investigators, including a recap of this week's arrests and a closer look at the lengthy affadavit. The Daily News notes that the document also covers real estate deals involving a local contractor also under investigation. The DN editorial page wonders whether it might be better to prevent politicians from overseeing foundations. And DN columnist Gar Josephs wonders whether Fumo would have attracted less scrutiny if he'd just been less secretive. [Other notes at the bottom of this link include speculations about what names in the news might have City Council aspirations.]

  • Another DN columnist, Elmer Smith, looks at the power of Philadelphia's individual district Council members to hold up projects, a power wielded well by Street and Blackwell, to the detriment of city projects.

  • In more City Council gamesmanship, Mayor Street got his plan to restructure the city's housing agencies introduced by DeCicco when Blackwell appeared to be holding things up -- then she turned around and introduced her copy as well. Their feud will carry over into the budget negotiations...

  • Finally, local voices on a national politician, two letters to the Daily News catch a point that bothered me yesterday as well, the conflation of legal actions of Harry Reid with the widespread corruption scandals in the national GOP. The record gets set a bit straighter here.


My "local bits" window has *33* open tabs. Feels like a record. Blogger connection iffy, and I have a ton of other stuff to do today, but will attempt to handle a chunk this afternoon and maybe the rest will make it up this evening. Just sayin' it won't be quick.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Other Thursday bits (late edition)

  • Tony Payton is the proclaimed winner in the close race in the state house 179th district, by the amazing margin of only 19 votes. However, the Vazquez team intends to take the verdict to court, claiming that some of the disallowed write-in votes should have been counted. Meantime, Vazquez is running for Ward leader...

  • The state coffers have a surplus this year, and Rendell recommends giving it back in a mix of business tax breaks and exclusions for education savings. Other details are mentioned here.

  • A wacky idea that might be popular: New Jersey Senate candidates Kean and Menendez will take place in an online debate, at about the pace of a question every couple weeks. Might draw Casey out of hiding?

  • The Daily News takes a closer look at yesterday's story about who should buy an empty school property, and notes that it poses a brutal question about which outcome better benefits not only the larger community but even regional students, as well as how the school district makes ends meet. meh.

  • I'm going to miss it, but next weekend's Odunde Festival (3 days this year) looks like quite an event...

  • Apparently in parts of South Philly you have to clear new trees with your neighbors unless you want to end up skulking around at night... Latest installment of Old Timers versus Uppity New Folks...

  • The question of Street's proposed delay in the "Cohen tax cut" (intended to give the poor a break starting next year) gets two mentions today: Marc Stier points out that the theoretical savings of the roll-back are vastly exaggerated and asks for help in blocking it, and Florence Cohen appeals to higher principle and her husband's memory in service of the same end. There's a hearing tomorrow morning (9 am) in Council chambers.

Top story #2: Casino debate period ending

  • Casino protesters planned a big rally today to highlight their demands that more time be allowed before any proposals are approved, so that more community input can be had and their largest concerns addressed. The event brought together a number of local groups that had previously been working separately, which may auger more substantive actions ahead.

  • One of the largest concerns of neighbors of the proposed casino sites is unmanageable traffic. Planners have retained experts and produced hefty piles of analysis, but neighbors fear they'd be the losers if city planners didn't follow through on the construction required or if traffic flow from casinos and other new development swamped the available street capacity.

  • The Inquirer editorial page joins the fray, arguing that improvements to the I95 access points should be moved up, even before any final casino location decision is made, lest residents face several years of snarled traffic on tiny side streets before new ramps are finished.

  • In a lighter vein, D-Mac notes that Pittsburg casino planners took a more direct route to gaining community support: they hired poor folks to pack their public meetings with friendly faces. heh.

Top story #1: Fumo's least favorite kind of publicity

VinceState Senator (and local Big Dog) Vince Fumo is all over the local news again today, this time because two of his employees have been charged with deleting emails and other files in order to cover up some questionable financial dealings of Fumo's pet charity Citizens Alliance. For background on this case, see previous mentions here, here, and here (although the PNI links can't be reached) -- most of it is recapped in the first story linked below...
  • These are the first arrests in the 3-year investigation, and the first time the government has shown its hand on the scope of its investigation.
    The two men were accused of wiping e-mail and other evidence from computers used by Fumo, his staff, and a wealthy nonprofit with ties to Fumo, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods.

    There was more: Prosecutors released a richly detailed, 65-page FBI affidavit that quoted e-mails from the two technicians, saying they were following Fumo's orders.
    The feds are almost certainly hoping to make a deal here, as a couple of middle-aged computer nerds are hardly big fish in this case. At minimum, they've put the head of Citizens Alliance on notice. More to the point,
    The affidavit also provides the government's first public disclosure of the scope of its investigation: whether Fumo was "engaged in extortion" in trying to get corporate contributions for Citizens' Alliance, and whether any of those contributions were used to benefit Fumo politically or personally.
    Unsubtle in the extreme, most of these disk wipes followed major articles in the Inquirer about the investigation of Fumo. Way to look unafraid, Vince.

  • The Inquirer follows the above in-depth overview with a second story looking specifically at the actions of the two charged men, and at Fumo's increasingly frantic concern as the probe progressed. Sounds a bit like classic Nixon, dividing all players into Friends and Enemies, but that's a pretty common approach in Philadelphia politics. More top-notch cleverness like this:
    In March 2004, Leonard Luchko - one of the aides charged yesterday - corresponded with an executive at the company that makes Pretty Good Privacy software. He wanted to know if someone could detect that the software had been used to delete files.
    Does the word "obstruction" mean anything to you, Leo?

  • The Daily News' main piece on this story notes that many prominent figures have gone down not for their primary crimes but for their attempted cover-up (Nixon gets another mention), and wonders whether the charges here will be followed by other more substantive ones.
    In addition to presenting the obstruction-of-justice case, the affidavit makes it clear authorities have substantive information about Fumo and his relationship with Citizens Alliance.
    It's hard not to notice the rather pointed word "extortion" in the affadavit...

  • Another short DN story makes fun of the charged men as pathetic tech geeks. No illumination on the substance, so I guess it's pure entertainment value. A third piece confirms, yup, that deletion would be baaaaad.

  • John Baer speculates that the need to keep a delicate silence (or having been "lawyered up") will crimp Fumo's exercise of his influence. However, I suspect that there are still plenty of Trusted Friends who will want access to the inner sanctums...