Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Apathetic Wednesday

Another day I let slip by without blogging the news. Sorry about that -- it will probably pass once I get through all the archives of my other blog (where I'm undertaking the double task of replacing all my images after a host crash and adding keywords to all posts)...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday oops

Record number of bookmarked tabs, day got away from me. Just headlines, somewhat grouped.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday trickle

Mayoral bits

  • John Baer has a piece on Fattah as policy wonk with ambitious plans and ideas on every front.

  • The Brady campaign is getting Rendell's press secretary, on loan for the duration of the mayoral race. (Note that Rendell himself plans to make no endorsements for Philly mayor.)

  • Among other Inquirer short bits is the question of who's polling for Lynn Abraham's chances as an independent mayoral candidate?? (Also here, Sharif Street running ads on some buses.)

  • Albert gives us photos and impressions from the Next Great City mayoral forum held 10 days ago. He was lucky to be able to be in the room for the actual event, and gives some of the candidates' answers to questions, peppered with his colorful takes on the speakers and their points.

Other news

  • Apparently PA is one of few states that doesn't tax tobacco products like chewing tobacco and cigars, making Rendell's proposal to add such a tax more palatable. Another line of new revenue being considered by the governor is a charge on landfill dumping that would help fund clean-up of contaminated industrial sites.

  • Ben at YPP asks progressives to help forge a joint strategy for 2007 that will last beyond one set of elections into a longterm effort to reform Philadelphia. Subsequent discussions indicate "progressive" is still a pretty big tent, with plenty of room for disagreement on both strategy and goals.

  • A useful effort at YPP: compiling a list of known candidates for all (District and At-Large) City Council races. It's "unofficial" at this stage, of course, until the final ballot petitions are in a week from now, but it's a way to keep track of the races that affect you.

  • The Inquirer recommends regulating contributions to state campaigns, and points to a system of public election financing that has had numerous beneficial effects in Maine.

  • Another Inky editorial looks at New Jersey's attempts at redevelopment of existing urban areas (in the face of open land being almost completely developed already!), a recent forum in Trenton on the topic, and challenges that need to be addressed.

  • Meanwhile the Daily News opinion page is plugging a Delaware River waterfront planning summit that will start later this week, which culminates in a public presentation on Saturday afternoon.

  • Finally, another piece from Inga Saffron on local design/development battles: historic waterfront neighborhoods being allowed to slip into neglect and then be demolished for newer development -- a slow enough process that nobody objects, but whole areas are completely transformed (and whole types of buildings disappear). Interesting issues are raised here, as ever.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday round-up (slimline edition)

  • Weather report

  • Mayoral mutterings

    • Outgoing mayor John Street presented a conservative budget with no new programs or solutions for the shrinking surplus.
      Defending his plan to reporters, Street said his proposal struck "a pretty fair balance" between spending money to upkeep city facilities and aiding arts and cultural groups, while still lowering taxes which, he stressed, have shrunk $1.2 billion under his watch.
      More on the budget address here.

    • The Republican candidate for mayor, Al Taubenberger, is being asked about the propriety of retaining his seat on the Parking Authority board during his campaign. Seems a bit of a stretch.

    • ACORN calls on the mayoral candidates to back affordable housing measures, among other suggestions.

    • Apparently there was a mayoral forum on violence last night at St. Joe's.
      One would declare an emergency. One promises job training. One wants to reverse the mind-set of violence. One said education, not crime, is the issue. And one didn't show up.
      Probably the right answer includes a bit of all of those (well, except that last one, of which we've had plenty).

    • The Daily News asks what's happened to the money that Milton Street allegedly made by trading on his name. Yawn.

    • Dan at YPP wants Nutter supporters to clarify some tax issues for him.

    • AAJane points us to some mayoral videos available online.

  • Other news

    • Councilman DiCicco is making up for the tardiness of his casino opposition with fervency, calling on citizens to keep up the pressure. (Notes here on the variety of current strategies, as well as the discomfort among City Councilfolk at the political pressure on them to do something about a decision they didn't make.)

    • Apparently Philadelphia voters will get a chance to vote on one hopeless cause, at least: City Council approved a ballot measure to make a nonbinding statement in favor of withdrawel of troops from Iraq. (Also mentioned here are two new Kenney proposals, one to set up a committee to deal with environmental issues, and the other to encourage local TV networks to offer free or discounted ad time to all mayoral candidates.)

    • Apparently Pennsylvania's goal of insuring the health of all children can move ahead thanks to federal approval that just came through yesterday.

    • Speaker's Panel: Open legislators' spending data, among other reforms.

    • State panel hears call for revising constitution by 2008

    • Philadelphia one of top two large cities in terms of local tax burden. yay.

    • Inga Saffron gives a review of the Springarden development (formerly known as the Barnes Tower), opining that it's better now not just for its shorter tower but for its better integration with the city's layout and needs.

    • The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is 100 years old. Goofiness abounds.

    • Opinion pages: an Inquirer comentary argues that Philadelphia schools are doing far better than the impression you'd get from a recent report, with our example being discussed around the nation with much admiration; the Daily News opinion page argues that we need state help with our handgun problems and gives some suggestions of what they could do.

Quick news bit

Will have to save most of my news blogging for later this evening, but the story that jumped out at me this morning had this headline:

Brady: Wider social-service role for clergy

A faith-based approach to helping parolees? Is that really going to win over voters in Philadelphia?

(My knee-jerk response is to think that most left-leaning types look askance at anything couched as "faith-based" after 7 years of the Bush Administration, but perhaps I'm wrongly discounting the views of black evangelicals and/or Italian Catholics in various parts of town...)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday II: other news

  • The casino petition/plan got its hearing yesterday, along with DiCicco's hail-Mary bills. The main Inquirer article notes that folks elsewhere in the state may not appreciate Philadelphia's holding up the arrival of tax relief for all, and that Council will vote on the ballot idea next month. The Daily News seems to think that Verna might allow a vote as early as today, but also notes:
    Yesterday's action starts a seven-day period for anyone opposed to the ballot measure to challenge it in Common Pleas Court. The charter requires such a challenge to include the support of 100 registered voters in the city.
    Gaetano was on hand to testify on the DiCicco bills, which he favors, providing a heap of grim statistics and impressions of the effect of casinos on local neighborhoods. Also, all of these stories raise the spectre of the state's choosing to overrule any local measure... (On a lighter note, PhilaWillDo adds some snark about the DiCicco bills and arguments.)

  • Faculty and staff at the Community College of Philadelphia may be about to go on strike. The issues will sound familiar from many other labor negotiations. How's that single-payer health plan coming, Harrisburg?

  • The CityPaper takes a look at the upcoming mayoral primary and is disturbed by the small totals (with no semblance of a real majority) that could win the race. Some other ideas are considered, but I don't see any wind behind changes to the system of elections right now.

  • Another CP story profiles the Back Home Cafe, which helps the homeless rediscover their way to self-sufficiency.

  • Dan at YPP argues that the NJ civil unions law puts Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining residents (perhaps particularly the skilled and therefore mobile workforce).

  • Speaking of YPP, the gleanings of their discussions of the Ward system are now out in the latest CityPaper. Some good ideas there.

  • Inga Saffron notes a New York Observer profile of a local landscape architect and also draws our attention to how large projects are discussed in other cities.

Thursday politicians

Simple measures

One of the healthcare policy changes put forward by Governor Rendell was a set of incentives to hospitals to decrease hospital-derived infections. A current Inquirer article looks at one way to reduce infections, by standardizing handling of I-V lines, from how the site is made sterile to how frequently the staff checks whether such a line is still needed. Some of these changes have shown the ability to reduce infection rates many-fold. There are other possibilities for reducing zones of contamination such as ubiquitous computer keyboards. Let's hope all such ideas get thorough consideration, as it could save many lives directly, and even more through the containment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In other Wednesday news

  • Stalberg presses Ethics Board to be more proactive in investigating how various candidates are handling their campaign contributions, loop-holes, and all the rest.

  • Rendell launches an investigation into how PA highways were allowed to become unusable during a normal winter storm.

  • Rendell also clarifies (through an aid) that his new health coverage plan is not an entitlement, meaning there could be waiting lists if funds turn out to be insufficient.

  • Foxwoods casino folks protest giant property tax hike on their site last year. It does seem odd that the dirt quadrupled in value before gaming licenses even got allocated, but then again, they paid top dollar for the spot.

  • The Philadelhia Weekly takes a look at how the Inquirer and Daily News are faring under their new owners.

  • A local activist suggests that local candidates should be given free air time on public media outlets, to increase fairness in elections and help inform voters.

  • UPenn considers stricter hiring standards in the wake of two recent sex offender convictions among their faculty. Not the kind of questions that come up during the average interview...

  • The Daily News offers reader letters on why Paul Vallas should be retained; their next topic is millionaire candidates, so put in your two cents.

  • In the Department of Unpopular Opinions, we have Johnny Doc defending the head of the Zoning Board, and the SugarHouse gaming folks arguing that slots mean progress for Philadelphia.

How'd I miss this?

The Inquirer has started its answer to the Next Mayor project: a mayoral race blog called Mayorpalooza and featuring some familiar names from the local beat. I guess it started about a month ago. Welcome to the pond!

The photo there gives me a pang of advance missing of Tom Fitzgerald, who I think is due to be let go under stupid Inquirer staff cuts...

Wednesday politicians

  • Dwight Evans in the news today with attempts to woo Philadelphia's gay voters. He cites his record of opposing "defense of marriage" amendments, professes support for a gay judicial candidate, and promises to support several measures to protect gay couples from discrimination.

  • Milton Street promises to drop out of the mayoral race if he can't draw at least 5,000 fans for a March 1 rally. Of course, he's supposed to be getting signatures between now and then to get on the ballot, so I hope he has *some* troops on hand...

  • At-Large Council candidate Andy Toy introduces himself over at YPP (and discovers that few ideas go unchallenged in that increasingly busy environment).

  • At-Large Council incumbent Jim Kenney also stops by, to talk about the value of 311 service (for non-emergency city service questions).

  • At-Large candidate Marc Stier posts a lengthy discussion of the Business Privilege Tax, arguing in particular that progressives should find some aspects of it troubling.

  • The Daily News notes first volleys in the Sherriff's race, as well as first questions about campaign finance limits in this race (that probably hasn't merited scrutiny most years).

  • The DN opinion page says candidates are getting ahead of themselves in worrying about changing police residency requirements to help recruitment; they argue that the costs and other logistics of hiring a heap of new cops need to be considered first, from the challenges to an already crowded legal system to the merits of other parallel solutions.

Temperature's up, but mercury soon to drop

That is, Pennsylvania's new restrictions on mercury emissions (more stringent than federal guidelines) went into effect this past weekend, giving coal-burning power plants three years to find ways to reduce their mercury output by 80% (and then five years to get them down even further). Industry insiders predict that the smallest plants will close in the face of new technology costs, and there is much other weeping and gnashing of teeth here. But it means millions of tons fewer of a lethal element getting dumped into our air and foodchain, so I suspect that most Pennsylvanians are celebrating.

New feature

Blogger has made it easy to tag posts with keywords, so I decided to go through and mark all of my posts which were either candidate endorsements or voter guides; the result is now available in the sidebar. In fact, there haven't been that many (two per year, generally), but this helps people find scattered posts at election time, as well as get a sense of who I may have backed in the past. Hope it's useful.

This also makes me think I should consider going back to smaller single-topic posts like I did in the first year or so of the blog, rather than the huge round-ups I've been doing lately -- it would allow me to tag more types of discussions for those who might want some background on regional topics, particular politicians or issues, etc. Would you, reader, use such links? I imagine things like "Big Dogs" or "transit" or "Fumo" but also, say, "machine" and "cities" and other general topics... Leave a comment if you have thoughts on the utility of such categoricals.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tuesday roundup

  • Politicians

    • Another story about Bob Brady's access to Democratic Committee funds, including notes that some of those funds were contributed by judicial candidates looking for endorsement four years ago. [Note also that a chunk of money went to the campaign chest of Carol Campbell, party secretary.] This quote summarizes my take on Brady:
      "I'm the chairman of the Democratic Party. Are you telling me I can't take money from anybody?"
      Now that's public spirit!!

    • Chaka Fattah comes out with a business tax proposal that includes offering relocating businesses the choice of paying the same tax rates as in their old location. Nutter, among others, criticize this as disadvantaging businesses already located here.

    • Dwight Evans joins the battle of the airwaves with a small TV ad campaign that's focused on the issue of crime. (More here.)

    • Tom Knox is the focus of a lengthy profile in the Daily News today, noting his business background and picking out the couple of controversies that he's been part of through the years.

    • Milton Street continues to bring the fun, this time with an arrest over unpaid New Jersey traffic tickets. (More here.) Elmer Smith hopes somebody will talk him out of the mayoral race, for everybody's good.

  • Other news

    • Some Harrisburg legislators are contemplating calling for a constitutional convention in Pennsylvania (the first in 40 years) to reform how state government operates. Supporters are talking about such changes as shrinking the legislature, term limits, changes in how salaries are determined, nonpartisan districting, and other wonderful craziness. No idea how likely this all is to come about, but the process will start with some hearings in Pittsburgh this Thursday.
      (via Pennsyltucky Politics)

    • Apparently there was a day-long conference on youth mentoring and violence prevention, chaired by US Sens. Casey and Specter. Many ideas for improving educational support and neighborhood safety were discussed... (More here, including lots of calls for more mentors for at-risk youth.)

    • New Jersey's civil union law has taken effect, with heaps of long-term couples lining up to get their license paperwork submitted.

    • BradyDale at YPP challenges this year's candidates to come up with ways to improve the lives of Philadelphia's poorest and least prepared residents, rather than focusing solely on attracting business and other resources at the top of the economic system.

    • Marc Stier has a new piece that embraces the Committee of 70's agenda for ethics reform and suggests that we should go well beyond those initial steps.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Making a difference without fanfare

Untermeyer speaking at TempleI'd like to bring to your attention a small citywide race featuring somebody who just wants to make the government work better -- a race where some publicity and some volunteer time could really pay off -- Mike Untermeyer's race for Philadelphia Sheriff (website here). I knew little about the office or this candidate until he came to talk to a neighborhood meeting, and yet I think he generated more excitement than even the Council and other candidates that stopped by.

Why you should support him:
  1. He's incredibly qualified for the job, having worked as a District Attorney, helped fight money laundering, and even has some real estate experience. (A lot of the Sheriff's Office work involves sales of properties that are seized for tax delinquency.) In fact, he's probably overqualified -- see the whole run-down here.

  2. His motivation really seems to be just making one chunk of city government function more effectively.

    • He talked about the frustrations of watching criminal cases get thrown out because the sheriff's staff would fail to have the defendant in court for their trial (over and over).
    • He described the waste in the lackadaisical way that the office is run -- it seems to be the backwater endpoint for all kinds of political favors, and the Sheriff hasn't had a challenger in more than a decade -- and the unacceptable (really shocking) handling of funds found by the comptroller (see two reports linked from the campaign site).
    • He seemed to have numerous ideas for helping some people hang onto their homes (e.g., making older residents aware of reverse mortgages that can help them cope with rising taxes), as well as for making sheriff officers a better-trained reserve to help the overtaxed city police at times of particular need.

  3. Almost all the press that I could track down on Sheriff Green was negative, including unfair fees on destitute homeowners, and questions of conflicts of interest over real estate dealings. (Even more grim history here.)

  4. You can see the more detailed list of reasons that Untermeyer's campaign gives for why it is important to you that the Sheriff's office do its job better. This is a narrow niche in which very concrete improvement could clearly be made, and Mike seems serious about making a difference.
This race is far enough down the (already crowded) ballot that many Philadelphians won't even vote it in the primary. So it's a race that could be won by only a handful of votes -- help spread the word and put a dedicated civil servant into office.


Monday bits

I'm on holiday today, so theoretically getting to some overdue off-line projects. Here are some highlights from today's news et al:
  • Chaka Fattah suggests leasing the airport to raise funds for child poverty programs. This initiative is part of what he calls his "opportunity agenda," which appears to range from educational improvements to cuts in wage and other taxes... Fattah also introduces himself and his agenda over at YPP (greeting the blogging community as fellow-travelers).

  • A majority of the mayoral candidates think residency requirements for policemen should be relaxed, at least during the recruiting stage. (A bill to do this was passed by Council in 2001, but vetoed by Mayor Street.)

  • The Next Great City mayoral forum video is now available to those (like myself) who didn't manage to see it live. yay!

  • The Daily News surveys defense attorneys on angles that Fumo might take in handling his federal indictment. Most of them give me a headache.

  • John Baer raises the grim prospect that the I-78 snow debacle might prove a stumbling block for planned negotiations over increased highway and transit funding.

  • A DN editorial calls for a city study of casino sites, assessing them indepent of the developers and other considerations -- in fact, looking at a full range of possible sites, not just those owned by the original license applicants -- in order to make better long-term plans for the city and for gaming here.

  • Dan at YPP responds to the rather galling Sunday Inquirer story about people struggling to survive the winter, usually people with their heat shut off, who make do with space heaters and huddling around the stove (or just shivering). Thousands of Philadelphians are living in such conditions, and there has to be a better way to look after each other.

  • Albert shares some glimpses of Chinese New Year, as celebrated in Chinatown this past weekend.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday news II: non-mayoral stories

  • Fumo resigns post on board of Independence Seaport Museum in light of some charges of improper use of their resources that were part of his federal indictment flurry last week.

  • Damon Roberts makes his case for the 2nd District Council seat at YPP today -- he's talking about reforming how government works for everyone, not just those with "the right" connections.

  • Philadelphia City Council had a speed session yesterday, in the wake of Kenney's pulling his campaign finance bills.

  • Gar Joseph notes the role that ballot position might play in May's Council primaries, and the arcane way it is determined. [Also mentioned here are the numerous folks taking credit for the withdrawel of Kenney's bills, a local Obama fundraiser, and other fluff political bits.]

  • AAJane takes a look at a candidate for Montgomery County District Attorney.

  • Sen. Bob Casey finally found an apartment in DC (but won't say where).

  • "The Hill" does a profile of Patrick Murphy as a Democratic rising star. (I note that he's willing to reveal where he sleeps while in the capital.)
    (via Keystone Politics)

Other news
  • More gloomy forecasts from SEPTA, although really what we're talking about here is the need to find dedicated funding. We want *more* people to ride public transit, so improving routes and service are needed, not cutting everything to the bone and charging through the nose... More here, and a note that the city and schools are also dealing with budget shortfalls.

  • Philadelphia's highschools now require classes in African-American history; the DN has a story about the first year of this curriculum, and provides a short summary of what's covered.

  • The Daily News opinion page pleads with mayoral candidates to stop talking about more cops to deal with Philadelphia's crime problem, and instead focus on parole and probation officers, who could make a huge difference, according to expert testimony.

  • And Inga Saffron has another new piece today, this time on some upcoming city planning conventions and other planning-related talks and gatherings taking place in Philadelphia this spring.

Friday mayoral roundup

  • Well here's one for the books: Milton Street decides to join the race for Philadelphia mayor.
    "If people don't want to vote for me because I've been indicted, go vote for somebody else," T. Milton Street Sr. said yesterday as he announced he was joining the five major Democratic candidates for mayor.
    Well, ok then! His trial for matters having to do with unreported income from airport projects is scheduled to start the day before the primary. More on the general circus here, and Milton's political history is recapped here.

  • Last night was the Great City project's big mayoral debate on city/environmental issues, with all five (or the most reasonable 5 of the 7 announced candidates) present. The Inquirer reports that the event was largely focused on substance, while the DN coverage highlights the trading of barbs. A YPP poster gives his impressions here, including that Brady's folksiness didn't play so well in a policy debate setting, and that Queena Bass (a recurring but long-shot feature in this race) got a few minutes to talk about "Love!" (Commenters add their impressions too. Sorry I had to miss this; if it was a webcast, might they post it?)

  • Nutter just released a plan on Fairmont Park and environtmental issues, probably a help to his debate performance. For anybody who, like myself, is finding it hard to keep track of these policy papers coming out in dribs and drabs, The Next Mayor project is doing a good job of compiling them under their Meet the Candidates section (with the flashing faces) -- e.g., Nutter's page now shows this environmental plan, along with his housing and crime plans, and there are further links to everything from his Wikipedia entry to his Flickr account. A great service, which will only increase in value as the amount of information piles up.

Thursday II -- oops!

Totally forgot to come back to these, despite one major bombshell yesterday:
  • The bombshell was the discovery that one of the two winners in Philadelphia's casino site race had undisclosed plans to open a casino in Atlantic City, a linkage that counted against other contenders. (More on the story here.) As a result, Foxwoods may be facing a lawsuit from the Riverwalk casino folks, at the least, although really that proposal lost out because of its proximity to Sugarhouse, the other winner. Anyway, expect more fallout as activists push for reconsideration of the locations anyway, as noted in an Inquirer editorial today...

  • The other big story yesterday was news that after a couple of successful pilot projects have been allowed to languish for ages, at last the city recycling program will be expanded, at least into the West and Southwest Philly neighborhoods. Those should offer a good complement to the Chestnut Hill and Northeast programs that have been running for the last year, although still leaving most of the city with its crappy biweekly coverage and or hard-to-handle sorting requirements. Also, in classic Philly style, this is being done in a half-considered way:
    Belser said it was "unfortunate" the department decided to expand without consulting its Recycling Advisory Committee, of which he is a member.
    At least the plans for further expansion appear to be concrete now, with full city coverage promised within three years. Why not this year?? Expect that and other questions at a hearing next week that includes a Streets Department presentation.

  • Finally, the modified proposal for the Spring Garden development once known as the Barnes Tower has apparently met with neighborhood approval after the tallest section was lowered by 100 feet, some green space was incorporated, maybe parking tweaked, etc. It sounds like a nice mix of sizes and purposes, which would be a more interesting contribution to the area than the bland hotel currently on the site. I suspect that the most important thing was that residents of the neighborhood got to express their concerns and have some input; repect and dialogue go a long way in such matters...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday politicians

  • I'm not sure why with 11 months left in his term this should be his "last big speech," but anyway, Mayor Street recounted his successes for local business leaders (this piece notes a few shortfalls as well) and challenged his successors with some ongoing needs. More of the valentine festivities here.

  • Tom Knox is running a new ad focused on anti-crime promises.

  • The five main mayoral contenders will appear together for the first time tonight in a forum sponsored by the Next Great City initiative. All the seats are taken, but there are some 10 places around town that will be screening the event (via webcast) live. More here on what the event hopes to achieve.

  • Bob Brady has gotten political contributions from both some local unions and those unions' PAC, raising questions of whether he's found a loophole in limits on organizational donations. Dan wags a sad finger...

  • Vince Fumo's troubles may have earned him new sympathies among the Philadelphia mob, according to an odd CityPaper piece.

  • A smattering of Fattah stories:

    • Mary Patel at the CP starts a series of candidate profiles with a close look at Fattah, noting his busy preparation of policy positions but questioning his work ethic.

    • Fattah pledges support for public-access television in no uncertain terms.

    • Inga Saffron takes a second look at Fattah's congestion tax suggestion, complete with speculation about the impact of political donors on the types of proposals that get considered...

  • A YPP poster notes some new issues material at the Knox website and gives the economic sections a look.

  • And finally Dan U-A shares his thoughts and questions as a voter who's still undecided in the mayoral race. Much defensiveness is elicited from supporters of this guy and that guy...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In other Wednesday news...

  • Mayoral bits

    • Fattah's "congestion fee" proposal is meeting with uproar. However, it should be noted that most of those complaining have misunderstood the details (i.e., evenings and weekends, top tourist hours, would be unaffected); argments based on our relatively low in-town congestion (e.g., see Inga Saffron from yesterday) are more on point.

    • Bob Brady's ads have started running. The Inquirer reviews the first two, noting that they appear aimed at countering his association with power broker heights. The DN notes the ads' compassionate tone. [Also noted here is a new set of Knox ads focused on crime.]

    • Michael Nutter offers a housing plan, touching on such hot issues as affordable housing and the ten-year tax abatement. (A flurry of discussion ensues on YPP.)

    • Dwight Evans apparently held a live video web chat last night. Apparently more than 250 people took part (!!), among them AAJane, who offers a few out-takes.

    • The University of Pennsylvania Democrats have voted to endorse Michael Nutter. AAJane notes that they did a lot of field work for Patrick Murphy and could bring some key energy to the mayoral race.

  • Gov. Rendell has finally nominated somebody for Bob Casey's seat as Treasurer (as well as filled some open judicial seats). The nominee(s) seem well qualified and also well connected.

  • The DN notes a variety of suggestions on the school budget from current mayoral contenders.

  • The Montgomery County Commissioner race appears to be heating up, with Joe Hoeffel the latest big name to throw his hat in the ring.

  • The new Philadelphia Weekly offers a look at the new city cab dispatch system, which appears to have more glitches than functions.

  • Anne Dicker reports that anti-casino activists collected well above the 20,000 signatures needed (although not as many as the 50,000 they'd hoped for) for putting the current locations to a referendum. Now to find another 8 Councilpeople to back it!

  • Speaking of petitions, Albert notes that it's that time again when nominating petitions are circulated. If you have some time, help make sure that some good candidate gets on the ballot, or at the very least, sign for anybody who asks -- you can make up your mind on whom to vote for later.

  • State Rep. Mark Cohen talks about the often invisible volunteers who keep our party structures functioning, describing the Traits of successful Democratic committee people.

  • Plans to build a museum within Valley Forge Park broke down recently, but may be back on track with an offer of land nearby but outside the National Historic Site boundaries.

Wednesday I: All the campaign finance activism you can stomach

Well, I get a snow day from work and the local scene breaks wide open. (Actually, I heard rumors of this at my Ward dinner last night, but still..) It appears we have several components here:
  • A heap of City Council challengers came together for a joint protest of Kenney's bill to Knox-ify campaign contribution limits. More here (which opens "If there is such a thing as a reform movement in Philadelphia politics, it showed up yesterday on the 4th floor of City Hall...") Kudos to Rev. Jesse Brown for sparking this remarkable showing.

  • Many candidates also put out statements, including a heap at YPP:

  • Kenney, no doubt worried for his own seat as well as those of others he might bring along into the wind of public outrage, pulled his bills yesterday evening, catching most folks by surprise. He may reintroduce the topic after the primary.

  • In the light of morning, many celebrate this as a victory, and/or look ahead to what's next:

  • In a similar but different vein, the Inquirer offers a look at how New York handled the millionare candidate question. (Take-home answer: it's along the lines that Kenney proposed, but with a public financing carrot for spending limits, and there's still not much you can do to rein in somebody spending their own money.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tuesday snowfall

  • Politicos

    • Chaka Fattah boldly suggests a "congestion fee" for Center City, which would be charged to those driving into the city during peak traffic periods. (A similar system is in place in London, to great effect.) Inga Saffron suggests that more improvements and incentives to improve levels of SEPTA ridership should come first.

    • Apparently Bob Brady will join Tom Knox in airing TV ads for his mayoral campaign, starting today. Insert snarky comment about possible content here.

    • A local activist has filed an ethics complaint against Frank DiCicco for his relations to Fumo as described in the latter's federal indictment.

    • Vern Anastasio has a post at YPP about his proposals for campaign finance reform and good government.

    • A DN story notes that taxpayers have already shelled out some $1.4 million in legal fees for Vince Fumo, before his indictment even arrived. Seems like that's maybe one bill he should pay himself.

  • Other news

    • After all the flurry to get Paul Vallas (education czar) a contract extension, it appears that he may be forced out at the end of this school year, apparently due to the "surprise" budget deficit and other disagreements with School Reform Commission members. The DN provides a timeline of Vallas' time in Philadelphia, and a column applauding his introduction of parent choice into the school system.

    • YPP is continuing its brainstorming series with the CityPaper: the results of its first discussion, on healthcare, appeared in the CP here (sorry for the belated notice!), and they're now soliciting ideas on the topic of the Ward system. Seems like these discusions could be a great incubator for ideas for improving the city -- put your two cents in!

    • AAJane alerts us that PA House votes are now being made available online -- more ways for the average voter to find out what their representatives are doing and hold them accountable!

    • Is high-tech parking coming to Philadelphia? Inga Saffron has the rumors.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Monday downpour

Actually, the precipitation may not start until tomorrow, but I have an alarming number of tabs open (and after some scant newspaper offerings too)...
  • Politicians

    • In case you missed the galling photo in Saturday's (and Sunday's) Inquirer, the Democratic City Committee endorsed Bob Brady on Friday, as expected. The story omitted mention of the Ward Leaders who chose not to attend the coronation...

    • Sunday's Inquirer also offered a multi-page spread on Fumo, anchored by this lengthy review of his record and reputation.

    • Pennsyltucky Politics reminds us that freshmen Congressmen are always at risk and are already working to help ensure that they renew their victories in 2008.

    • Not-so-new Sen. Arlen Specter is in the news again, calling for Supreme Court proceedings to be put on TV, over the refusals of most justices. I suspect that some of their more technical cases, as well as those involving maritime law, would put even the average CSPAN viewer to sleep...

    • John Baer is saddened by the lack of honesty in politics these days, and notes numerous local examples.

    • Dan at YPP is frustrated by Tom Knox's involvement with payday lending (and apparent unrepentance about same).

    • Another YPP poster comments on Fattah's housing proposals, sparking an interesting and informative discussion about financial assistance available to current homeowners, and a heap of related topics.

    • Alex U-A plans to work for Damon Roberts in his District Council race; he points especially to this striking video. I know Damon from NN, and he's the real deal -- progressive, committed, no-nonsense. I also know, from a long Google effort (during my Scorecard research), that Anna Verna has done little with her time on Council. Damon could bring energy and dedication to Southwest Philly -- I think the 2nd District folks have a good choice this May for improving their lives.

    • Marc Stier has two new pieces up on his campaign blog (does this item belong here or below?): The Politics of Fear and the Costs of Corruption (putting real examples to abstract ethical issues) and Hope and Fear and Casinos (about the petition drive).

    • The Inquirer offers some small bits, including an upcoming TV ad barrage from Wilson Goode, and an Ethics Board workshop on campaign contribution law.

  • Other news

    • Dan at YPP notes a free alternative to TurboTax for those who need help filing their income taxes.

    • Inga Saffron alerts us to some conflict over the design of the new South Street Bridge -- specifically, they'd like it to be more pedestrian-friendly. Surely, if they're fixing everything else, they can acknowledge the steady stream of Penn folks and others that walk or bike that bridge everyday, not to mention undo the death-defying way that cars and pedestrians currently interact near the highway entrances...

    • The DN opinion page is favorably impressed by Rendell's proposals for transit funding. Color me horrified by the turnpike leasing suggestion, and unimpressed by the apparent lack of help for the next fiscal year. To each his own.

    • A YPP poster sparks a discussion about the role of Temple University in Philadelphia and its nearby neighborhoods.

    • AAJane points us to some new resources in Pennsylvania life and politics, and also some upcoming events.

    • The Inquirer has closed down its blog Blinq (promoting its host to columnist), prompting many reponses.

    • New Jersey residents plan to challenge the use of electronic voting machines. Voters in my area seemed leery of them too.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday roundup

  • Mayoral candidate bits

    • Taubenberger's official launch as the GOP candidate.

    • Apparently no amount of controversy is too much for Tom: Knox vows to spend his way to the top. Anytime you want to get back to issues...

    • Michael Nutter is unafraid of Knox and urges local politicians not to panic (and to keep the few reforms we've managed).

    • Dwight Evans was the only mayoral candidate invited to a big summit of black clergy, and he took the opportunity to talk about the role of the Police Commissioner (he has vowed to bring back Timmoney).

    • Chaka Fattah may have already broken a campaign promise, by using money from his "exploratory committee" (collected in excess of campaign finance limits) to fund his ongoing campaign. My, I *am* surprised...

  • Council noises

    • Philadelphia's City Council discussed campaign finance un-reform yesterday; might be another month before they decide (so don't stop whining!). [Also noted here is approval for the Zoning Reform Commission, and the ending of some budget battles with Street.] The Inquirer offers another editorial arguing against changing the rules now. I agree with Dan, who argues that the new Kenney bill is not a compromise but just a disaster of minutely smaller scale.

    • They also approved a ban on trans-fats at restaurants, starting September 1. (Baked goods will be covered a year later, although packaged snacks are exempted.)

  • Other news

Missed this one yesterday

An Inquirer article noted that Fumo's legal problems pose issues not only for his business partners and friends, but for his political beneficiaries, not least Councilman Frank DiCicco, who received such services as snowplowing and political polling at the expense of either Citizen's Alliance. Kenney and Verna are also mentioned prominently here.

(thanks to RM for catching this)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thursday late round-up

Ugh, office meeting and other distractions today. Onward, ho.
  • Politicians

    • Inky: City Democratic ward leaders set to endorse Brady -- most interesting to me is the fact that the City Committee hasn't made an endorsement in an open primary in 35 years. It does seem odd!

    • Kenney offers modified bill to alter city campaign finance, doubling limits every time a millionaire candidate gives his own campaign $2 million. Better than no cap, but unlikely to make anybody really happy. Edit: yep.

    • Ok, he's rich; what else about Knox might we find out? (not many answers here)

    • Fumo out on bail, on the condition that he hand over his 200-some guns to court officials. In other Fumo minutia, the CityPaper links to 10 years of coverage of the Big Dog in a variety of contexts.

    • District Council candidate Maria Quiñones Sánchez suggests supplementing Philadelphia's police forces with civilian foot patrols to help replicate the safety that Center City residents find in ubiquitous pedestrian traffic. She has other ideas here too.

    • Albert notices a proliferation of Nutter for mayor stickers, in somewhat garish array.

    • The Inky offers details on some Montgomery County battles shaping up.

  • Other news

    • I'll take irony for $300, Alex: Lower Merion neighbors fight to keep Barnes. Aren't these the same neighbors whose complaints about visitor traffic and parking contributed to starving the institution into near-bankruptcy?

    • Updates on the experts invited to help plan Philadelphia's riverfront. Isn't there an old adage about closing the barn door... ?

    • Progress on a big development project for North Broad St. City Council makes these decisions?
      He said Westrum had agreed to fund a supermarket development either on or off the project site and the creation of 20 affordable units outside the project area, with more to come.
      I don't know much else about the project, but this part seems good.

    • Three interesting pieces in the new City Paper:

      • Is anything still made in the area? All sorts of things, from baked goods to steel plating, and they list some 30 of their finds.

      • Our future casinos will surely make money, but will they draw tourists with only slots? Isn't it enough to bleed dry the elderly and poor from nearby?

      • Another piece notes that riverfront planning is supposed to avoid discussing casinos and their impact, despite the interest of some participants in exactly that issue. Note: I am unclear whether this article is talking about the longer-term Penn Praxis undertaking, or a onetime public hearing that is unrelated.

    • Rendell is asking Bush to restore funding for a coal waste reclamation plant somewhere in Schuylkill County.

    • Across the state, Pittsburgh attempts to get more local tax authority, something that many in Philadelphia would also like.

    • Editorial pages: Inquirer on Fairmont Park funding, DN on the expected formation of a Zoning Code Commission by City Council today, DN on Rendell's budget.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wednesday deluge

Fumo, redux

Actual news:
  • Look Rendell talked some numbers about programs and taxes! The Inquirer characterizes the new budget's transit assistance as no help, not least because it wouldn't offer anything until a year after SEPTA goes bankrupt. (It does suggest a new way to make sure that oil companies can't avoid corporate taxes, however...) Apparently Mayor Street forgot what day it was and thus didn't hear the Governor's budget address, although he's delayed his own budget presentation until hearing details of what the state will provide. Pennsyltucky predicts that nobody likes the budget as presented; only time will tell how it gets hammered out. (The Inquirer seems to bear out his view, with an editorial worried about the cost of what Rendell wants to get done.)

  • In related news, US Sen. Bob Casey notes that cuts in federal funding could undermine PA's attempts to broaden health insurance coverage of children.

  • Belying claims that the Philadelphia GOP is moribund, the Republicans announce a mayoral candidate that I've never heard of.

  • Apparently the Philadephia City Committee will meet on Friday to endorse Brady make their decision about whom to back for Mayor. (I note that this decision precedes any Ward meetings, indicating that the opinions of the rank & file party worker are not needed; heck, candidates haven't even filed petitions to get on the ballot yet!)

  • In related news, AAJane points us to research on the success rate of Congressfolk running for mayor; short answer? it looks like a tough haul.

  • The Inky notes that new Philadelphia-area Representative Patrick Murphy is submitting the House counterpart of Sen. Obama's Senate bill to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, drawing on his own experience fighting there.

  • An Inquirer editorial encourages City Council to move ahead with Zoning Reform, pointing out that developer deals with politicians and civic associations just become a different form of the larger "pay-to-play" system in Philadelphia.

  • Will Bunch notes that conservative commentator Michael Smerconish is joining the Inquirer editorial page. um, whee?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Meanwhile, in non-Fumo news...

  • Continuing his I'm the Cleanest campaign, mayoral candidate Nutter proposes random financial audits for all top city officials (elected and appointed), under the auspices of the Board of Ethics. Other ethics-related proposals also noted here.

  • Another candidate, Fattah, recommends a fund to help small businesses through short-term difficulties, in an effort to keep more of them going. Part of a package of proposals aimed at helping small businesses in the city.

  • Councilman Kenney is reconsidering his bill to remove the cap on campaign contributions for the current mayoral race (or any with a millionaire in the field).
    Though Kenney's bill had 11 co-sponsors, it's been condemned by the Committee of Seventy, the Chamber of Commerce, Philadelphia Forward and a number of Council candidates.
    Kenney is not backing off of the issue, but considering ways to modify his initial proposal; he hopes both versions will get some discussion next week.

  • Councilwoman Blackwell is pushing a measure to make it legal to post political signs on poles; however the L&I committee apparently gutted the bill, leaving the ban in 8/10 council Districts (both in West Philly), and requiring hefty fees from candidates. One DN columnist is unmoved in his opinion that such signs are trash that would be a pain to clean up.

  • AAJane lets us know about a Sestak event this Friday.

  • Dan UA notes that Patrick Murphy is taking some visible stands with regard to the war (cosponsoring the "Iraq De-escalation Act of 2007").

Other stories

Fumo hits the fan

photo of FumoWell, it's been a long time in coming, the federal investigation of Fumo, his employees, and his use of funds from his pet charity. And now it arrives, a 139-count indictment for fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion, and so forth.
"Besides relying on his income and assets to support his lifestyle, Fumo regularly endeavored to gain personal benefits and gratuities from others, including entities over which he had influence, such as the Senate [and] a non-profit organization he established and controlled, Citzens Alliance...."
. . .
U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said at a press conference this morning that Fumo "used his power to build an empire" to serve citizens, but "constantly diverted" money to serve his political and private agenda.

"Sen. Fumo didn't just step over the line, he completely ignored it," Meehan said.
(The above piece is quite extensive, including a list of some of the highlight charges and their import.)

Fumo tried to get out in front of the indictment, calling a press conference yesterday afternoon (um, or did he speak from the Senate floor? color me confused) to decry the charges against him, and also to step down from his State Senate leadership positions(s). The press has been happy to cover this story, offering a deluge of looks at Fumo, his character, and his impressive behind-the-scenes influence on everything and everybody:

Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday lightning round

New stories
  • A new report suggests that Pennsylvania needs work in caring for the dying, from support for family care-takers to better training of medical personnel.

  • The DN asked mayoral candidates for recommendations on Neighborhood Health Centers and reports their replies (4/5, that is; this probably would be one position too many for Brady).

  • A YPP poster offers an agenda for low-income working families in Philadelphia, based in part on a recent study of the working poor and what would best help them improve their situation.

  • The Inquirer offers some small political bits, not least speculation about what Jonathan Saidel might do with the $1 million in the treasury of his defunct mayoral campaign.

  • Ray Murphy asks for data on how other cities' City Councils run -- more representatives and smaller districts, etc.

Ongoing stories
  • John Baer recaps the Harrisburg legislative bonus scandal, challenging the House to follow the Senate's lead in reforming its practices.

  • The Inquirer devotes an editorial to the same topic, hoping the legislature continues to broaden its reforms.

  • The Inquirer calls on the School District not to give up on reforms, just because of a mixed report card at the halfway point.
    The first question we ask about a school should not be: How is it managed? Nonprofit? For-profit? District? Charter? It should be: How well are its students learning?
  • The Daily News opinion page argues against Kenney's proposed roll-back of the campaign contribution limits.

  • Two different YPP posters do likewise.

  • Another DN opinion piece summarizes the rationale given by the Gaming Board for its decisions, and opines that it would have been nice for such balancing to be done by somebody who knows something about the city and its waterfront.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Residual Friday round-up

  • Politicians

    • Chaka Fattah suggests that money that comes in as current tax-abatements expire should go directly into the city's Housing Trust Fund, which helps build and maintain affordable low-income housing. A great idea, as long as that money hasn't already been "pre-spent" like future casino revenues... Other housing support proposals also listed here.

    • In a not-unrelated vein, Gov. Rendell suggests an electricity fee to fund alternative energy development.

    • Mayoral contenders ask Brady to step down as head of the local Democratic organization. Apparently the City Committee is already sporting Brady posters and giving him money. But it's *Knox* that's the threat...

    • The Daily News opinion page agrees with US Sen. Specter that the President is not the only "decider" when it comes to war, but points out that it would have been helpful if the Senator had realized this fact a bit sooner...

    • Alex U-A plugs Damon Roberts in the 2nd Council District, and I have to agree that Damon is a dedicated guy with lots of experience who could bring energy and ideas to improving our city.

    • AAJane offers notes from a lengthy PCN call-in show on the State House Reform Commission with a couple of its leaders.

    • Mayor Street contributed to the Fattah campaign on Christmas day. Who hasn't web-surfed during a lull in family festivities?

  • Casinos

    • The Gaming Board finally released it's rationale for the Philadelphia casino locations chosen, including such details as that Riverwalk's financing arrangement made their heads spin (and appeared to allow for little real local control), and that Trump's location didn't appeal. Investment groups with Atlantic City connections (including the Pinnacle group and Trump) also lost some brownie points over fears that they'd redirect their business there. Expect more analysis of the 100+-page report, and possibly appeals of the decisions.

    • You can read the report yourself (as well as see links to lots of related coverage) at the Inquirer's special reports page.

  • Other news

Flurry of action on city campaign finance

Yesterday's discussion of Kenney's new revoke-the-contribution-limits bill has sparked a bunch more press coverage and an action campaign over at Young Philly Politics. Specifically, the Inquirer has a story headlined Campaign fund caps may fall, noting that a majority of City Council members have already signed on, and the DN goes with Bill would erode donation reform, noting criticism from 3/5 mayoral candidates (and some big donations to the other two). The Daily News also asked each mayoral candidate to give a specific reaction to Kenney's bill, presenting the results here, which range from the thoughtful to the evasive.
money tree
DN columnist Jill Porter gives the cynical take that our attempt at campaign finance reform is being overturned at its first test, as though "row-house voters" would ever have close to the influence of big corporations in the absence of limits. The Inquirer adds its editorial voice, saying Don't gut reform, decrying the way that pay-to-play culture has undermined public confidence in their government.
As Zack Stalberg, at the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, noted, Council wants "to blow apart a decent system" where it is "hard to buy and sell influence." And blow it apart long before it has ever had one decent trial.

The yearly donation limits ($5,000 per person and $20,000 per political committee) forced every candidate but Knox to seek support from a cross-section of donors. Not only does that limit the potential for influence peddling, this broader outreach is good for the city's civic life.
Personally, I hardly think Big Dogs like Fattah and Brady are in any danger of going unnoticed because of a few early Knox ads, but apparently they're either spooked or just greedy.

Anyway, over at YPP, lots of action. Poster Gaetano lays out the case for why this is important, not least as a precedent for the relative value we place on principles versus convenience. Meanwhile, Dan U-A is asking all Councilfolk to step up and oppose this bill, and even giving them free space in which to state their views. Meanwhile, he's collecting a list of Council members and candidates who are on record opposing Kenney's bill (also some back-and-forth with Kenney in the comments there), as well as enumerating the bill's cosponsors, and a heap of coming Council candidates spell out their opposition in separate posts:
  • Wilson Goode, Jr. (at-large incumbent), says he'll vote no
  • Maria Quinones Sanchez (7th District, challenger) joins the opposition (and calls on her opponent to vote against the bill)
  • Vern Anastasio (1st District, challenger) uses the example of megacorp Comcast to demonstrate the broad range of problems that can arise from uncapped donations (at Council as well as mayoral levels).
  • Matt McClure (4th District, challenger)
  • Irv Ackelsberg (8th District, challenger)
There are lots of promising challengers out there, so anybody who votes for this bill had better have a better reason than one surprising poll or a deep affection for Bob Brady. The long-term interests of Philadelphia are at stake.

Note: edited late in the day to include the list of co-sponsors and a couple of added posts by opponents.