Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday round-up II: Speed round

Friday round-up I: Top stories

  1. As suspected, Mayor Street vetoed the casino location referendum, but City Council unanimously overrode the veto, meaning that Philadelphians can have their say in May. The unanimity shouldn't be given too much credit, however, as nobody wants to be lined up against the right of the public to have a say (unless they can actually prevent that say), especially in an election year:
    Shortly before the override vote, a handful of Council members took phone calls and spoke to each other in hushed tones, suggesting there was a last-minute attempt to find enough votes to sustain Street's veto.

    Councilwoman Carol Ann Campbell was at the center of those discussions. But when roll was called, she voted "aye" with the rest of Council.
    Also notable was intense lobbying by the building trades (who want to build the casinos) and Rendell. Anyway, expect a deluge of advertising by the casino developers between now and May, and possible court challenges both before and after. More on the story here.

  2. The "Will he or won't he?" game with Chaka Fattah's tax returns has flipped again: now his wife has been released from her confidentiality agreement, and Fattah still declines to share his records. He says it's to protect his wife's privacy, but also refuses to share edited or redacted returns.
    Fattah, interviewed at a candidates' forum last night at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, was unmoved. "If the choice is between making my wife happy or Tom Knox happy, he's going to be disappointed, as he will be on May 15," Fattah said.
    Heh. This could well be a kerfluffle over nothing, but it seems odd to me that he wouldn't look for a solution to keep this story from lasting so long. (Again, if Fattah were less of a cipher, it might be that nobody would care.) On the other hand, I imagine that news anchor positions involve a lot of high-stakes negotiations -- heck, even professors tend not to know what their colleagues are making -- and thus there could be professional repurcussions to a full disclosure. Who knows.

    More on the story here, and it sparked two sets of reflections at the Daily News: a revisitation of the potential conflict issue over having a prime news local figure married to a city mayor, and an editorial questioning the degree to which we require that candidates open their lives to public examination (and the range of difficulties that it creates). They note that the Committee of Seventy is working on a set of recommendations for improving candidate disclosure forms and rules.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thursday headlines


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wednesday news

  • Things vaguely mayoral

    • The Philadelphia Weekly has a profile of Michael Nutter in terms of his apparent constituency, and includes discussions of candidates and issues that transcend the city's usual racial divisions. Everybody needs to get out of their comfort zone this year.

    • An Inquirer piece declared yesterday's Brady ruling an exception from precedent, but it seems to me that it completely fits with the precedent that insiders get the benefit of the doubt while outsiders are told they should have known better. Best quote goes to this:
      "Judges in previous cases have ruled in a very different manner under eerily similar circumstances," said Evans' spokesman, Tim Spreitzer.
      Anyway, this won't be the last of this debate. [More here, including the judge's argument that state courts are moving away from the "fatal flaw" standard for such rulings.]

    • Michael Nutter's first TV ads take aim at Mayor Street as a way to highlight Nutter's leadership on issues while in City Council.

    • Fattah still not releasing tax returns, but no longer blames his wife's contract. Sounds like the choice is related to her desire to be left out of such disclosures, though. Snippets from his federal filing mentioned here too.

    • The DN opinion page criticizes Rendell's intervention in the CCP strike negotiations, calling it a poorly considered gift of political capital to Bob Brady's mayoral run (and one that reinforces "who you know" politics at a time when that needs overhauling). They also note ironically that the net effect was to undermine the value of collective bargaining by working around it.

  • Other news

    • Councilman DiCicco has unearthed a part of the existing Philadelphia Code which could prohibit the Sugarhouse Casino site.
      At issue is the North Delaware Avenue Special Control District, a "zoning overlay" that was created by Council in 2002 in an effort to crack down on rowdy riverfront bars and nightclubs. Dance halls, cabarets and restaurants were all prohibited, and so were establishments where "entertainment of guests and patrons" was the principal use.
      This could lead to squabbles over definitions, or it could be a genuine victory for neighborhoods attempting to protect themselves from just such developments.

    • A state Supreme Court candidate is having his ballot rights challenged for financial nondisclosure, although it seems based on speculations about his living costs, rather than a known income stream that wasn't reported.

    • The Daily News notes that Philadelphia has not improved its percentage of minority contracting of city business during recent years. Efforts are being made to reach out to small businesses, to little avail. Systemic factors at work, anyone?

    • Months after surveillance cameras were installed on a number of high-crime streets, most of them still haven't been activated, due to some wrangling over how such monitoring should be centralized. Note also that the active ones have yet to be used in any criminal investigations...

    • Casino dealers in Atlantic City will be unionized for the first time in a quarter century.

    • Missed this yesterday -- Ben Waxman has a DN column about the positive signs for decreasing racial polarization in Philadelphia and beyond.

    • AAJane reviews the State Senate Journals from February and finds slim pickings -- amazing to me was that they only worked 5 days as a full body.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tuesday round-up II: Other bits

  • In light of news that the homicide rate is on track to set a new record, Commisioner Johnson is implementing a new policy in which he and all police commanders will patrol high-crime neighborhoods at least once per week. Not sure that this represents a net improvement in the vigilance of local patrols; it feels more like a public relations move. But perhaps the captains will learn something new when out from behind their desks...

  • As though commuters aren't already leery enough about their cars, news of a valet parking scandal involving cars being leased out to joy riders during the day...

  • Note of new efforts at looking out for youth via curfew centers staffed by volunteers.

  • The DN notes some oddities in the School District budget, including a number of costs that the city should be picking up (that add up to more than pocket change!).

  • Also, two bits found via YPP:

    1. A coalition of progressive political groups called Take Back Our City, who will be posting their (various) endorsements, and may be using this as the start of future collaborations.
    2. News that Brady survived the initial court ruling on his ballot status, although the issues are murky enough that anything could happen at the next level(s) of appeal...

Tuesday round-up I: Politicians

  • Apparently it's the season of releasing tax returns for public discussion...

    • 3/5 mayoral candidates release filings (Evans still to come; Fattah's somehow tied up in his wife's confidential contract). Mostly boring, more amazement that Knox is rich...

    • Oh, did I mention, Knox is rich? More details for the curious, from cars to charitable donations. yawn.

    • Marginally more interesting, Brady's wife has a pretty salary from a city contractor. Looks like she got the job through connections, but I suppose it's not conflict of interest until her husband has an official city office.

  • More mayoral news

    • Apparently a new poll is out, sampling exclusively black voters: it finds that Fattah is still ahead with this group, before he's run a single ad, but Knox continues to move up on Dwight Evans, currently second. A quarter of respondants call themselves undecided, which is more than the portion selecting any candidate but Fattah, so there's still a lot of room for flux (not to mention, more combative ads and debates).

    • The Inquirer notes a recent promise by Fattah to expand after-school programs, and breaks down the details.

    • The Daily News notes Nutter's first ads hitting the airwaves, and a general shift to more feisty sound bites from several candidates lately. Also analysis here of the financial constraints imposed by contribution limits, and thus a general leeriness of starting negative campaigning too soon (and running out of funds for each candidate to defend himself).

    • An Inky columnist notes the convenient timing of Brady's latest labor intervention. Another Inky article notes that Brady called on Rendell to actually make the deal happen, with a little state funding to grease the wheels.

  • Other pols

    • Gov. Rendell just came out with a heap of reform proposals to make state government more accountable and its workings more transparent.
      Limit campaign contributions. Expand access to government records. Set term limits for lawmakers. Shrink the legislature. Change the way legislative districts are drawn. Choose judges through a "merit" system instead of electing them.
      It's enough to leave you breathless. Will be interesting to see how many of these ideas (summarized at the end of the article) get out of the starting gate. However, apparently many of them would require a change to the state constitution, so they will have to make it past two legislative sessions and a referendum before taking effect . . .

    • A state court has ruled that future judicial candidates will have to file financial disclosure statements with the state Ethics Commission like candidates for other elected offices. (There had been some ambiguity on this front.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday bits

Just not motivated. Sorry about that. My head is other places.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Murphy given closing statement

Patrick Murphy on the House floor during the debate over the Iraq war funding/deadline bill. You shouldn't have to be a veteran to have credibility in worrying about our soldiers' lives, but if that's what it takes...

Starting blocks

Bill Greenlee looking to distinguish himself from the At-Large field this May? His first legislative proposal is to lengthen crossing signals for (less nimble) pedestrians. Place this one as you will among the pantheon of possible priorities....

Friday bits

  • Striking Community College of Philadelphia faculty and staff held a demonstration in City Hall yesterday, demanding that the city better support the college and help settle the strike.
    Fein Calvin and the other demonstrators - including several students - called on city leaders to contribute a full third of the college's annual operating costs, as prescribed by the state formula for funding community colleges. Philadelphia currently contributes only 19 percent of the college's operations.
    City Council was polite but noncommittal.

  • More promising news for anti-casino activists: more legal experts say it's not clear that a measure such as that going before voters in May would be overturned by the courts. A separate piece looks at the Casino-Free Philadelphia coalition and its current activities as a newly formed PAC. Also, an odd bit here noting an attempt to rezone the Foxwoods casino site so that a public hearing would be required before construction could begin.

  • The Daily News offers two speculative pieces about Bob Brady and his prospects for mayor, one noting that his bridge-building skills may not generalize to running a city (noting many failings in the Democratic Party's operations), and the other a more flattering look at his success in past negotiations.

  • Tom Knox has a new series of ads touting his independence from the machine and its culture.

  • Two DN opinion pieces on election finance issues, one supporting the federal Fair Elections bill co-sponsored by Sen. Specter, and the other urging support for related legislation in the House.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday round-up

Short day -- so it goes...
  • Politicians and their business

    • Brady's day in court reviewed -- including the revelation that he's been building up a union pension for work he's not doing...

    • The Inquirer looks at the difficulties in running for State Supreme Court Justice in Pennsylvania, highlighting the experience of candidate C. Darnell Jones (about whom I've heard very good things), who wasn't even allowed to speak at the Montgomery County meeting of the Democratic Party (which had already chosen other candidates to back).

    • The State House voted to give Philadelphia rights to regulate its own campaign finance laws. Republicans were quite vocal in their opposition, however, which might mean that the bill's fate in the Senate is less rosy.

    • The Daily News reports a heap of candidates who've withdrawn from various races as of yesterday's deadline, in addition to those removed by challenge. Most of those withdrawing were judicial candidates whose ballot position may have discouraged them.

    • Philadelphia magazine offers profiles of two of Philadelphia's mayoral candidates, Tom Knox (who they seem to think is blowing his own momentum) and more in-depth on Dwight Evans (who they describe as failing to connect with voters, but capable).
      (via Fight for Room 215)

    • There was a mayoral forum in Society Hill last night, which drew many questions about the casino deal, among other topics. Albert offers some photos of the event, which was held in the striking Old Pine Church.

    • Marc Stier has a proposal to put Philadelphia's casinos near the airport, which would prevent some of the worst effects on neighbors while keeping many of the advantages in terms of jobs and revenue.

    • The CityPaper notes a variety of candidates wooing SEIU, a powerful liberal union composed largely of custodians.

    • Here's an odd bit for lovers of Fumo-Dougherty fireworks, with accusations of trash theft and other bizarre ideas.

  • Other top news

    • Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson to retire at the end of the year. The article treats this as no particular surprise, but it's the first I've heard of it. The search for a successor should be interesting.

    • Phoenix has bypassed Philadelphia in size, dropping us to #6 city in the US. Much weeping and analysis ensues, and Gaetano at YPP offers some ways to retain the population we have.

    • The Daily News looks at the rising percentage of the city budget going to healthcare and other benefits for city employees, and the limits that that may set for both hiring of new employees (such as the much-discussed added police) and expansion or improvement of other services. The next mayor may have to risk union displeasure by restructuring how the city handles its pensions et al.

  • Opinions

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday round-up

  • News from the courts

    • Mariano business still in the news? Another business confederate sentenced to 3 years in jail for bribery.

    • Brady testified in his own ballot challenge case, apparently taking the line that he didn't claim to know anything about any of the forms and relied on his legal advisors. Jill Porter got the same impression from his remarks that I did: that he might not be bright enough to run a city as complex as Philadelphia.

  • Other bits

    • Street and School Reform Commission in battle over new school budget, and particularly the need for more city funding. Caught in the crossfire is a Wilson Goode bill to shift a bit more property tax money to schools, to make up for the tax-deferred income, etc.

    • Inquirer editor to undergo treatment for prostate cancer; he hopes to be back in the newsroom in just a few weeks.

    • Apparently the May primaries will be chock full of ballot measures, including one that I somehow missed, addressing the planned revaluation of Philadelphia properties. I'm not clear what the specific question would be, but (the ubiquitous) Brett Mandel says that there's no outlet for the outcome; the city charter would have to be amended to allow citizen input. Perhaps somebody hopes this will be good for voter turnout in a hot primary election.

    • AAJane notes that Michael Nutter has hired a star Rendell campaign guru as his media consultant, and also mentions an upcoming Nutter social event.

    • Opinionizers:

      1. The Inquirer calls on the state legislature to pass legislation authorizing Philadelphia's attempts to write its own campaign finance laws.

      2. The Daily News mentions yet another proposed ballot initiative, this one that they think is a bad idea. Jannie Blackwell would like to ask voters about whether PGW's latest rate increase request should be approved; the DN notes that there are many reasons why regulators, and not bill-payers, have to make that decision. They also note that a better approach would be to request more state funding of the LIHEAP program of low-income assistance, rather than making Philadelphia shoulder the full cost of subsidizing the poor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday trickle

More striking
  • Philadelphia's top lawyer opined on the casino referendum that's been added to the May primary, saying that it can't be pushed off the ballot by legal challenges now, but that it's entirely likely to be overruled after passage, due to the primacy of state law. More on the story here, including mention of the likelihood that Street will veto the bill (but could well be overturned, given the unanimous passage of the measure).

  • The state is still pursuing its notion of leasing the PA turnpikes to raise some short-term revenues, but is keeping its offers of interest secret (there are already 48). The legislature would like to see the kinds of deals on deck before signing off on Rendell's plan.

  • Brady's ballot lifeline is in court today. Expect much more on this, not least the likely appeals of any verdict.

  • Tom Knox proposes a new kind of quick service neighborhood health clinic for walk-in patients with minor ailments.
    Knox's idea would attempt to replicate a private-sector model gaining vogue in the health-care industry. A growing number of entrepreneurs regard the clinics as a way to deliver simple medical care profitably. Medical insurers view them as a way to divert nonemergency patients from emergency rooms, especially on weekends.
    Story here and here.

  • Rendell's healthcare plan was introduced in Harrisburg today. It's fate is yet to be seen. A commentary at the Inquirer points out that a single-payer plan is also on-deck in Harrisburg and might offer some advantages over Rendell's patchwork of ideas.

Lower profile

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday smattering

Appear not to have missed much over my long weekend, although a couple of folks were removed from the Council race ballots. Brady's challenge inches onward, with staffers being subpoenaed to clarify the change of story... Elsewhere,
  • As mayoral candidates call for more police and crackdowns, sociologists look to deeper remedies. In a nutshell, a variety of approaches will be needed. Oh.

  • Philadelphia's current youth detention center appears inadequate to the job, with security gaps, overcrowding, and design flaws. The city hopes to institute radical improvements when it builds its new facility, but Councilwoman Blackwell points to problems with the current facility as justification for her standing in the way of relocating into her district.

  • Dan U-A explains what he's seen that makes him think Irv Ackelsberg is the right guy for the 8th Council District.

  • Damon Roberts gives a glimpse of what it's like trying to decide whether an opponent's ballot filing should be challenged (and getting a bit of a run-around on the paperwork).

  • AAJane reminds us that Dwight Evans is having a webchat again tonight.

  • PhillySkyline got access to the top of the Comcast Center construction site and took a fabulous series of shots of the view in all directions -- a combination love note to the city with any kid's fascination with picking out how all their familiar haunts look from above.
    (thanks to dragonballyee for the tip)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday headlines

Very short day, office clean-up, etc. Just headlines.Also, away tomorrow, so you're on your own. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wednesday -- um, bunch of stuff

Lots today, so fairly quick:
  • Candidate challenge buffet

    • "Gloves come off" in mayoral race, as Evans and Knox challenge Brady's ballot papers, various candidates trade barbs over motives and fitness. More here (including that Queena Bass is getting a challenge too, and a listing of challenges in other races).

    • City Council races are also seeing a flurry of legal challenges, with the current count at 15 (!), mostly focused on the financial disclosure forms. Hearings start Friday; I don't know what the deadline for resolving these complaints is.

    • Milton Street getting a challenge, probably from a Sharif supporter. Did he circulate petitions for mayor or Council? Seems like a no-brainer if it's the former...

    • A blog that's new to me, "the fight for room 215," is tracking all the challenges and giving a little more meat for each (including some nontrivial omissions of consulting income by Carol Campbell).

  • Other political bits

    • The Pennsylvania House has adopted a set of rules reforms aimed at improving legislative transparency and public trust.
      Under the new rules, the public will be able to view House and committee votes and read testimony from hearings online. Representatives will no longer be able to spend up to $650 a month in public funds to lease a vehicle of their choice. Instead, they must now pick from a cheaper pool of state-leased vehicles. And the powerful Rules Committee can no longer gut entire bills at the last minute and insert other language.
      (More details summarized at the end of the piece.) Sounds like great stuff; let's hope it sticks.

    • In related news, State Rep. Josh Shapiro, a driver of much recent action in Harrisburg, including these reforms, explains what the legislative reformers hope to accomplish, considering the new rules a first step toward better accountability.

    • Daily News columnist Phil Goldsmith looks at some recent cuts in business tax, arguing that the gains to individual businesses are so small as to have little effect, while the changes in total city revenue are huge and could drastically affect city services and functioning.
      Don't get me wrong: I'm all for tax reductions. But I also believe that quality-of-life services play a significant role when individuals and businesses decide where to locate.
      It still seems awfully trendy for politicians to campaign on lower business taxes; will anybody take a different stance?

    • Evans' state bill to allow city campaign finance laws is out of committee. It previously passed the House, so is likely to do so again; will the Senate give it a closer look this time?

  • Unrelated news

    • An Inky piece says veterans in Philadelphia get good care.

    • Teachers at Community College of Philadelphia are out on strike. A bummer for their Everyfolk student body; I hope it can be resolved soon.

    • A city budget discussion reveals that Philadelphia undertakes only a fraction of needed capital upkeep projects because of an inability to issue more bonds. Why not make this part of things paid for out of regular funds (and plan revenues accordingly)? I'm probably missing a key governmental accounting distinction.

    • An Inquirer editorial calls on City Council to put the casino location issue on the May ballot. Inga Saffron agrees.

    • Inga Saffron summarizes a recent high-profile lecture that encouraged architects and builders to think of their projects in the context of the larger urban landscape and its needs. Great ideas that could use broader airing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Quick Tuesday bites -- all political installment

  • Surprising no one, Knox affiliates will challenge Brady's ballot application.
    "Objectors do not attribute [Brady's] omissions to an improper motive, do not suggest that these omissions were part of any scheme or intentional motive... and agree with his public statements that they were innocent omissions," their complaint read.

    But they added that the law regards the omissions as "non-waiveable, incurable, 'fatal defects' " in Brady's nomination papers.
    Evans also says he'll challenge on principle.

  • Vern Anastasio, a Council candidate previously challenged on just such a technicality, argues against disqualifying Brady because the voters should get to pick their next mayor, not a set of lawyers. I applaud his empathy (and consistancy), but I just can't work up many tears for somebody who has put so much party effort into denying voters their full range of choices. (Tony Payton ring a bell? Special elections for City Council?)

  • Dwight Evans wags a finger at FOP and DA for their recent Brady endorsement, making the case that he was trying to get people interested in the issue of violence while most were still busier elsewhere.

  • YPP makes its first endorsements: Irv Ackelsberg and Maria Quinones Sanchez for the 8th and 7th District Council races, respectively. In-depth posts on each (presumably with more issues discussion and comparison to the incumbents) will follow.

  • Also noted at YPP is that the hugely powerful but ultimately random ballot position lottery will be held tomorrow.
    It is very disheartening to realize that my almost thirty years of legal experience and the five years I have spent building political support for my candidacy can be trumped by the fortuitous pulling of a number out of a hat.
    Indeed, we would all be better served by a better-informed public, but meantime, cross your fingers for your favorite candidates!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Monday smattering

Remarkably little news out there. Perhaps the news-makers and reporters feel the same waiting-for-spring listlessness that many bloggers are feeling right about now. Anyway, here are a few bits:
  • The Inquirer asks are we having too many mayoral forums? Even Zach Stalberg feels they might have a dulling effect, rather than leading to better exploration of the candidates' stances, especially with the tendency to pander to sponsors of issue-centric forums. They note 30 (!!) more forums scheduled between now and the end of April, in addition to broadcast debates. Hopefully the latter will allow some pushing of topics and challenging of positions; I suspect that the rest just give folks in various neighborhoods and constituencies a chance to "get a look at" the candidates for themselves... Also noted here is the strain on candidates trying to keep up with legislative jobs and fighting the perception that their occasional not showing up is a snub to the process.

  • John Baer is on the warpath against legislative spending, especially on legal fees and consultations.
    These contracts are part of $2.7 million the Senate rolled up just between November and January, mostly for legal services and consultant fees to cronies, former staffers and former elected officials.
    (Of course, the bulk of that figure tracks back to Fumo's legal defense needs.) I tend to agree with him that a lot of this smells of giving pals and onetime employees a cushy landing, and perhaps the current cycle of legislative reform could come up with a better way to rein in no-bid contracts for advice.

  • Irv Ackelsberg has a piece at YPP about abusive lending practices, especially the huge increase in types of mortgages that all but guarantee that homeowners will come up short within a few years and end up in financial disarray (as well as losing their homes). A good overview of the problem, as well as a history of recent legislative attempts to fix it. Philadelphia's overall housing market is likely to remain strong for a long time, but that doesn't help those who got caught up in the frenzy and bought beyond their means...

Timoney revisited

The March 5 New Yorker had a story about John Timoney (you can read it as a pdf here), who was Philadelphia's Police Chief from around 1998-2002 and is now bringing his reform efforts to the job in Miami, FL. In the current mayoral debate, Dwight Evans has pledged to try to lure the ex-Chief back to Philadelphia, to help bring the murder rates down and improve the functioning of the police force, an idea popular with some and less so with others.

Anyway, the New Yorker piece is equal parts about his sometimes stormy life and about his reforms of troubled police departments (New York, Philly, Miami), but the part that caught my eye was this stretch, which may speak more generally to local difficulties:
Timoney said publicly that he left Philadelphia because he once more wanted to earn money in the private sector, but it was clear from our conversations that almost every aspect of the job had worn him down. He fought constantly with the union, the Fraternal Order of Police, which opposed many of his disciplinary actions, and found it almost impossible to promote on merit because oft he department's civil-service policies. He spent great amounts of time in arbitration hearings and on depositions that almost always favored the disciplined cop.
I'm sure that every police force (and union) has a tendency to protect its own, but this makes it sound like there are cultural factors inside law inforcement, not just in troubled neighborhoods, that can resist attempts to make things better. Just some fodder for the idea mill . . .

Friday, March 09, 2007

Well, that's pretty much schadenfreude for ya

Bob Brady makes an error in his financial statement submitted Tuesday with his ballot petitions. There's plenty of precedent for just this kind of mistake leading to a candidate's being scrubbed from the ballot, and Brady's supporters have in the past expressed scorn for them on the way out the door:
If someone cannot get enough electors to sign their petition, or fill out a petition and financial disclosure form correctly, are they really capable of passing laws or governing[?] A correct petition is the minimum that is required. It is pretty hard to screw up if you take the time. -- Lou Agre
Will Brady join the numbers of those candidates cut off at the start (radically changing the mayoral field), get special treatment from the Powers that Be, and/or become a sudden convert to the movement to end "gotcha" challenges? (Note that one of his opponents would have to bring a court challenge, which in itself would be a loaded role to play.)

Edit: Nope, anybody can do it. I expect we'll see a challenge via somebody's supporter.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Apparently "cold turkey" eludes me

A handful of bits from today:
  • The Inquirer reports 56 City Council candidates as having submitted ballot petitions; not sure who's dropped out from the 76 rumored in advance, although that total sounds pretty close to the 20 At-Large and 34 District candidates who've listed themselves at the Committee of Seventy. (Of course, Milton Street has switched himself from mayoral to At-Large Council candidate, much to Sharif's dismay, and the story notes at least one drop-out from the overcrowded District 8 field.) I hope the final list will be made known by next week.

    While I'm here, let me give a shout-out to the Committee of Seventy for this great page that summarizes all of this year's races, including descriptions of the offices' responsibilities, terms, and (presumably updated) lists of candidates. Bookmark that baby for this and future elections.

  • PA Commonwealth Court is starting hearings on Philadelphia's campaign laws, i.e., whether we have a right to set local restrictions that differ from or exceed state guidelines. Unclear whether a ruling will be had before the election; even if so, it could be stayed pending an appeal to the State Supreme Court.

  • Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, the legislative reform bill has been introduced in the House. A lot of rational measures are included.

  • The CityPaper has a piece on efforts of local transit activists to engage commuters in helping ensure funding for SEPTA, and on the frustration of getting yearly fixes without a long-term solution. (In related news, SEPTA releases its annual scare plan, which details the draconian measures that would be required for it to meet its budget needs without an influx of state aid; Rendell says no stopgap funds will be forthcoming. Is the Governor cutting transit loose, or throwing a bone to those who claim he always favors Philly, so that perhaps his oil tax proposal will pass? With Fast Eddie, one never knows...)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More on Fattah

Fattah, while the mayoral frontrunner, is a bit of cipher to me. AAJane points us to some recent coverage, and also does the work to track down the bills that he introduced during his last two years in Congress. A lot of congratulatory nonsense there...

Bad news, good news for casinos

Apparently too many petition signatures have been thrown out, leaving that effort stopped short. However, the attention and pressure that it brought to bear may have paid off, as DiCicco now thinks that he can get enough Council votes to put the measure on the ballot the old-fashioned way.
A two-thirds vote by Council had seemed unlikely just a week ago, but yesterday morning DiCicco said he thought the tide had turned and he could get all 17 members of Council to support a ballot measure.
Only time will tell whether he's right, or whether our city leaders take refuge in the court decision and back out of supporting a referendum.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What are your representatives up to?

AAJane does the digging and lists the bills introduced by PA's US legislators. I'd love to see this for the last few years, as I find myself quite curious about what some political figures do to earn their keep...

Monday, March 05, 2007

No blogging week

Home sick today (meh) and under a variety of deadlines right now. Will post here only if something really grabs me. Will be interesting to see how my life goes with one less... um... mouth to feed.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Rare Saturday news bit

City Council voted the casino referendum out of committee 6-0, meaning it should go to a vote in mid-March. Also noted here are that DiCicco and Campbell will support the measure; in addition to the 6 votes of the committee (assuming they were voting for more than procedure), that would be awfully close to the 9 necessary to get the measure on the May ballot. The legal future of te proposed location restrictions may be unclear, but the level of local opposition is becoming hard to miss.

Friday round-up (Saturday edition, heh)

  • Schools

    • Ellen Green-Ceisler, onetime overseer of the Police Department (and would-be Common Pleas Judge) has released a report on the Philadelphia school system last summer, which was just released. It documents all sorts of problems in the classroom, from inattentive students to a lack of teacher training and resources. Among other things, the report recommended a "discipline czar" and safety committee. Her study sampled mostly schools with many at-risk kids, so may be noting the worst cases, but still, advice that feels worth heeding in the wake of recent violent incidents.

    • The School District is due to submit its budget for next year, which still features a substantial (>$140 million) financial shortfall due to rising costs. Vallas will ask for new city and state funding, and/or may reconsider its charter school contracts.

    • That latter point is played up in the DN version of the budget story, which notes that underperforming charter schools could be closed, and some of the pending applications could be put on hold (although with the confusing justification of "if they won't help with crowding at current schools, then..."). Expect to hear more on these issues.

  • Politicians

    • Nutter said part of his plan to modernize Philadelphia zoning would be to reduce the role of the Zoning Board. Better citywide planning would require review of fewer individual projects.

    • Gar Joseph looks at the media circus around Milton Street and considers its benefits for the Fattah campaign, as it bumps coverage of the other contenders. [Also speculation here about who might get Johnny Doc's endorsement, the latest entry in the legacy pool for local offices, and lots of other insider gossip.]

    • The Daily News looks at a number of City Council candidates inspired to run by the way the casinos were handled. A few names here I hadn't heard before.

    • AAJane tips us to a video available of a cable call-in performance by Vince Fumo with another state Senator.

    • Think we've seen the last of Rick Santorum in these parts? Not so fast: Inquirer owner Brian Tierney is attempting to woo him into becoming a contributor.

    • Finally, the Inquirer offers an editorial railing against the secrecy of "bundlers," who raise lots of money for federal candidates from other supporters (in return for unknown favors).

  • New Jersey bits

    • The Garden State is attempting some of the same reforms getting discussed in PA, including prohibitions on insertion of last-minute pork into state budgets and other legislation. A little sunlight never hurt any public process...

    • Philadelphia's immediate neighbor across the Delaware, Camden, is apparently under the control of a state-appointed manager, who threw city agencies for a loop by halting all overtime, hiring, and pay raises in an effort to get the city's finances under control.

    • A Quinnipiac poll of possible Presidential leanings in NJ gives Giuliani a large lead over challengers of either party, perhaps reflecting the regional response to 9/11 (and/or the view of him as a "local boy").

  • Other news

    • Apparently everything in Philadelphia is running smoothly, because City Council is turning its attention to such pressing interferences as requiring nutritional data on restaurant menus. The requirements would apply only to chain restaurants, so are probably aimed at fast food place more than anything else, but still... The restaurant industry says that menu labeling at the required level of detail is unworkable.

    • Lower Merion has enlisted Montgomery County in its efforts to block the Barnes Museum move. I just can't get past my memory that the neighbors regulated and protested the place to death. Why all the belated love?

    • Thousands of images of Philadelphia history have just become available online: Some real gems there for researchers or just lovers of the city -- you might be able to find your block from 80 years ago!

    • An Inquirer editorial applauds plans for an Independence Mall memorial to George Washington's house and to the slaves he kept there (but not for too long, lest they become eligible for freedom under PA law!).

    • A YPP poster shares the experience of collecting anti-casino petition signatures and what he discovered about fellow Philadelphians.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thursday round-up

  • Casino news

    • In a move that will surprise nobody, the casino firms are challenging the signatures collected by the anti-casino folks to put their measure on the May ballot. Expect fine-toothed comb action. I doubt that there's much outright fraud here, but also wouldn't be surprised if a large swath were disqualified on the usual technicalities (like leaving out their middle initial, making their address unreadable, or not being registered voters).

  • Politicians and their games

    • Stu Bykofsky has a piece on the 1st District Council race, which pits longtime incumbent Frank DiCicco against Bella Vista activist Vern Anastasio. Stu sounds unimpressed by both candidates, although I think it's a very interesting race between one of the more responsive district City Council members and a self-avowed reformer beloved by many progressives. The looming threat of the double-casino development only adds fuel to the fire in this competition.

    • Today's the day Milton Street said he'd put up or shut up, expecting a heap of supporters to turn out for him at noon. Did it happen? Oops, nope, but he's undeterred...

    • The mayoral candidates are trying to agree on dates/conditions for some broadcast debates.

    • The DN notes that Brady is advertising his peacemaking skills, and suggests that the arguments over debate times could use his input. heh.

    • Tom Fitzgerald looks at Brady's recent double law-and-order endorsements and ask how much do endorsements matter these days? A news bounce is guaranteed, but from there it's harder to say unless field teams are included.

    • Bob Brady answers a question on keeping college grads in PHiladelphia, with lots of chat about tax-cutting.

    • An Inquirer piece looks at the ongoing partisan battles in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where Dems would like to follow up on recent gains and Republicans would like to keep their historic edge. Comparisons are made with the 1970s, registration is charted, speculations are speculated.

    • The CityPaper's polnote looks at Philadelphia Republicans and their campaigns and plans. [Also some mention of other big fundraisers.]

    • A new YPP poster looks at press treatment of Obama's national campaign and then ruminates on nativism in Philadelphia politics.
      Native Philadelphians -- generally regardless of their politics -- see themselves as tough, hard-working, either poor/working-class or in solidarity with the poor/working-class, authentic, realist, well-informed, and bound together by a common place and time and certain common experiences.
      It's true that sometimes this Local Kid bond seems to transcend not only party but even ideology, which may be part of why the workings of the government (and even the emphasis of campaigns) here can perplex so many newer transplants.

  • Other bits

    • A CityPaper piece looks at possible effects of a Community College teacher strike and other recent changes on students there.

    • Meanwhile the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is surveying its members on how secure they feel at work, prodded by the recent attack of a Germantown highschool teacher.

    • This weekend marks the 100th year of the Market Street line, and free rides will be the reward on Sunday. Imagine 1907! wow.

    • The Transit Coalition is having an Action Day today, trying to enlist suburban commuters in getting help for SEPTA funding. [Also thoughts here from Marc Stier about what we can hope for in terms of state assistance.]

    • City Council approves another increment of plans for the South Street bridge overhaul. There's still community concern about the new design's friendliness to pedestrians, which appear unlikely to be addressed. Nothing like having your walk to class involve jumping a couple of highway entrances! yeesh.

    • The DN opinion page offers five ideas for reducing homicides right now, that range from police hierarchy to neighborhood cooperation.

    • 7th District Councilman Savage puts in his two cents on violence, especially applauding calls for more probation and parole officers.

    • A CP opinion piece notes environmentally innovative building going on in the U.K. and wishes we could get a little of the same (esp. for our casinos).

    • Inga Saffron gives an update on the rulings concerning the historic Old City properties mentioned here previously, and also gives news for buildings planned on or near Independence Mall. (We're getting a National Jewish Museum??)