The hot button topic of race became a subject of hot debate this month in the region with the article “Being White in Philly” by Philadelphia magazine’s writer-at-large Robert Huber. The story, told solely from a white point of view, immediately drew a firestorm of complaints, especially when PhillyMag Editor Tom McGrath wrote: “Indeed, among our discussions was a debate about whether we—a magazine with exactly zero people of color on its full-time editorial staff—even had license to report and write on such a sensitive topic.”
“This month’s Philadelphia Magazine cover story is just another example of an ongoing attack on Black Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “Considering the recent census, African Americans could continue to hold political power for years to come but if they remain economically disadvantaged they will never be full partners or independent.”
Tasco made her remarks during a long speech last Thursday on the floor of council chambers in which she lambasted several local media outlets for what she said appeared to be a concerted campaign against African Americans. Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Maria Quinones Sanchez echoed Tasco. Bass blasted Philadelphia Magazine, though she refused to say its name out loud charging that “there is no one on your editorial board who is African American? So, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re talking about race if you’re not talking to different people? You need to be able to dialogue with different people.”
Across the Philadelphia media landscape, the backlash was equally swift. The story drew national criticism from Richard Prince’s Journal-isms and local online news site Philebrity, who offered the “Anatomy Of An EPIC FAIL: How PhillyMag’s Race-Baiting Cover Story Went Over Like A Fart In Church This Weekend”: “To make matters still even worse, PhillyMag pulled a classic PhillyMag move with this issue: They printed two covers, one with Huber’s article on the front, and another with M.Night Shyamalan’s wife, Bhavna Vaswani, for the hospitality industry — the idea being that (probably correctly) hotel visitors in Philly would rather not be troubled with PhillyMag’s fairly consistent history of classicism and racism, writ large on the cover once and for all.”
“Huber’s article was a poor display of civic journalism on many fronts; and irresponsible in its action of race baiting,” said Philadelphia Association of Black Journalist President Johann Calhoun, in a written statement. “However, one of the most disturbing facts that has surfaced since the article hit the stands last Friday, is that Philadelphia Magazine has no minority journalists working full-time on its staff. There’s no way a majority-white newsroom covering a majority-minority landscape such as Philadelphia, can call itself providing objective coverage.”
Members of PhillyMag’s staff also fumed. “Why I Hope You Won’t Read ‘Being White in Philly’ – The story is racist,” wrote magazine staff writer Steve Volk in bitter response. Several other writers from Jason Fagone ( "Philly Mag’s 'Being White in Philly' Doesn't Make Sense as Journalism: How do you launch a frank discussion about race under a cloak of anonymity?") to Victor Fiorillo ("'Does That Make Me Racist?'I ask myself this question all the time") — to the publication's sole African American voice of rebuttal, activist lawyer Michael Coard ("Philly Mag’s 'Being White in Philly' Is Really Being Wrong in Philly-I grew up four blocks from 19th and Diamond, and I’m not dangerous") — posted visceral online responses on PhillyMag.com.
Huber, however, remained unfazed. “There is no friction. I'm okay with my colleagues and what they have to say, and how they feel is utterly legitimate. You know, my piece is about conversation and dialogue and let's hear what people really think. So with that spirit, let's all talk. As you read, that was a decided frame and very open about that up. We decided to do a piece that looked at, from the view of white people, what's their engagement with Black folk and how's it going for them and what is it? So, obviously it was a conscious decision on to do that.”
When asked if this article’s use of race was designed to influence sales, Huber says: “I don't think it's race baiting and I certainly do not think it's pandering. That's certainly not the goal for the attempt; and I don't think that's what the piece is. What I was trying to do is to hear legitimate thoughts and feelings from white people. I mean I do think that Philadelphia in many ways was — largely is a segregated city — I think whites talk to white; and Blacks talk to Blacks. Now, of course that's not utterly true but it's generally true, and that those conversations are different from the conversations that whites and Blacks have with each other. So, I was hoping to unearth some real thoughts and feelings from White folks by hanging out in Fairmount and talking to people and seeing where that and seeing what I could learn. That was the goal, and that's what I did and that's what the piece is about. Now, did people say some things that are controversial, edge or even possibly racist? Yeah, but that's what they said, and so to be true to that there it is. The goal there is to bait anybody or to pander, but to present this cross-section of people and this is what came out when I asked them.”
University of Pennsylvania professor Walter Palmer has taught the foundation courses of American Racism and Institutional Racism and Social Change since 1990 and wholeheartedly agreed with Huber. “I think he nailed it,” said Palmer. “All he simply did was record people he had interviewed. The reality is Philadelphia is racially divided, and it always has been, and it's never faced the fact that it is racially divided. The fact that Philadelphia is largely African American or Black now is irrelevant; it's still many people in the seat of power who are not Black (even though you get a lot of Black faces in a lot of places), and that most people, particularly white people, are in denial, and many Black people need white affirmation. Many Black people, particularly middle-class Black people for the most part, don't want to offend white people—and so the lies are perpetuated by both cultures under the guise of political correctness.”
Founded in 1908 as a quarterly illustrated magazine published by the Trades League of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Magazine has been in continuous publication. Bought in 1946 by S. Arthur Lipson, the magazine has remained in continual operation by the Lipson family. Current Chairman D. Herbert Lipson took the helm as Publisher in 1961, and in 1986, the torch was passed to S. Arthur Lipson's grandson, David H. Lipson, Jr. In April 2003, Marian Conicella was named Publisher while David Lipson remains as President. On its centennial, the publication declared itself “the pulse of Philly for over 100 years.”
In early 2004, Philly Mag sent a press release about the launch of a series entitled "Tale of Two Cities" featuring special editions “about the city's complex race relations - telling stories about race as it is lived in Philadelphia and introducing one side of the racial divide to the other, with a view toward becoming a conduit to bridge the gaps of understanding.” The yearlong series featured then-University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson who was named “writer-at-large.” Since Dyson's departure in 2006, there has been no minority voice represented on staff.
In response to the furor, McGrath spoke at length about resolving the magazine’s lack of diversity. “We actually spent a long time talking about whether we had license to write about race with a staff that is all white,” explained McGrath. “Are we even allowed to, sort of, talk about the subject? And there is a point that can be made that we don't, that without any people of color on our staff and that without that perspective we really cannot write intelligently about this, and, I understand that point of view; I disagree with it alternately and it was one of the reasons we decided to run this: I think that regardless of the makeup of our staff I think that white people have thoughts and feelings about race. Whether they're deeply offensive thoughts and views, like a couple of the people in Bob's story have, or whether they are very empathetic views, as a couple of the other people in the story have, I think that we don't do any favors by pretending that things don't exist. So, I think part of our point in this is to talk about what's actually out there and then maybe we can go forward in terms of having a better conversation about this. In terms of our own editorial staff, you're right, we should have more perspectives of color in our pages and on our website. It's an issue that honestly affects a lot of magazines, probably more so than newspapers, but journalism in particular seems to have far fewer minority voices in it, so it is something as an industry we need to work on, and more specifically it's something that we as a publication meets were going. I'm aware of that and hopefully we can start to address it in some way.”
Known for her pioneering human rights and civil rights work, author/journalist Wynne Alexander challenged both the report’s credibility and the publication's continued relevancy: “This article signifies nothing. It proves nothing and it adds to the world's troubles. We all need to communicate more and in better ways. This kind of irresponsible journalism and world citizenship makes things worse. And, frankly I'm surprised that Philadelphia Magazine would want to go back down these roads which have been so bumpy for their legacy in the past. This is all on the record and in one year from now or 200 years from now, it will be more and more clear what role they've played in keeping people fighting, rather than coming together. Their legacy will be sealed and their lack of intellect and enlightenment will be sealed along with it. It will be right there for all to see. And, quite frankly, a huge apology is owed to an entire city of Philadelphians who know better, do better and live better than the benighted caricature in that ill-advised magazine article. I'm just surprised that Philadelphia Magazine would want to return to the scene of their past socio-political gaffes.”
-- Philadelphia Tribune Reporter Eric Mayes contributed to this report.
Political and community leaders turned out to mark the unveiling of the renovated Brown’s ShopRite of Cheltenham.
The newly renovated 75,000-square foot store was unveiled Wednesday morning, and features expanded offerings such as an International Market, and a new seafood department.
“We went to great lengths to offer options to help people live a healthier life,” said Jeff Brown, president and CEO, Brown’s SuperStores, Inc. “Between produce, seafood and fish, poultry and meat, dairy and deli, we have 1,000 fresh items in this store that celebrate the heritage of our customers.”
The $12 million renovation project was financed by a combination of $5.5 million in state money and $6.5 million in private funding. The store, located at 2385 Cheltenham Avenue, employs 325 people.
The project is a part of first lady Michelle Obama’s national effort to increase healthy food access to millions of underserved people across the nation.
In July, Obama joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in announcing commitments from Brown’s Super Stores, SUPERVALU, Walgreens, Walmart, California FreshWorks Fund, Calhoun’s Grocer, and Klein’s Family Markets to expand and open more than 1,500 stores over the next five years to serve approximately nine million consumers.
“Jeff is showing us that we can make stores in areas that really weren’t profitable, profitable for small businesses — creating great jobs, serving healthier food for the community — and we want to do this all around the country,” said Larry Soler, president and CEO, the Partnership For a Healthier America.
The White House has recognized Brown’s Super Stores for its efforts in serving urban communities who lack affordable, healthy food.
“The first lady has really laid out a vision for this nation — and it’s a vision that calls upon all of us to step back and think about how are we impacting the health and well-being of our nation’s children — and what changes can we make to help improve their health,” said Sam Kass, White House senior policy advisor.
“Make no mistake, the future of our country is really at risk. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) predicts that one in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime. When you step back and understand the consequences of this — they’re devastating.”
A plaque bearing the name and likeness of state Rep. Dwight Evans was unveiled during the celebratory event. Evans was hailed for his work in developing the Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The grant and loan program which encourages supermarket development in underserved neighborhoods is regarded as a national model.
The FFFI was launched when Brown’s SuperStores opened a ShopRite store on Island Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.
“I want to be very clear. This is not about me, this is not about the Browns and this is not about elected officials. It’s about the customers. It’s about the taxpayers. It’s about the people,” said Evans.
“The Browns and the elected officials are no more than conduits to what people deserve — and you deserve the best.”
The ShopRite is also now home to the new Einstein FastCare health clinic. Led by nurse practitioners from the Einstein Healthcare Network, the clinic provides convenient and affordable basic and preventative health care. The walk-in clinic offers treatment for sore throats, earaches, sinus infections, flu or cold symptoms and urinary tract infections. A clinic visit costs $57 and most insurances are accepted.
“We have a convenient care clinic, which we know will be of great service to the community — but we also believe this will provide screenings, health education and will serve as a point of access to people in connecting them to primary care providers,” said Mary Beth Kingston, Chief Nurse Executive, Einstein Healthcare Network.
The clinic also houses a benefit bank office. Through this office, consumers can tap into SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Access Program), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and other benefits.
The clinic was developed in partnership with UpLift Solutions and Bellin Health in collaboration with the Convenient Care Association. During the event, Brown noted that he was willing to work with other supermarket retailers who are interested in launching similar clinics.
Founded in 1988, Brown’s Super Stores is a family-owned and operated supermarket chain of 10 Philadelphia area ShopRite supermarkets. Brown founded Uplift Solutions in 2009, which has pioneered efforts to eliminate areas lacking access to fresh and affordable food.
City Council had little say about reorganization
A lack of input from the community and the city’s powerful politicians may prove fatal to the School District’s new plan to close more than three dozen schools across the city.
“I think the process is flawed,” said Council President Darrell Clarke, noting that, according to school officials, the process of selecting which schools would close has been going for more than a year. The public just learned the details in December. “You should have started having this conversation early on.”
Several members of City Council made similar arguments — chiding the district for its handling of the plan. Council members faulted the plan on several grounds, worrying that the closings didn’t take into account the impact those closings would have on the surrounding neighborhood, or how students would be affected when moved to different neighborhoods, or by the distance some will be required to travel.
“There are a lot of questions about how this was done,” said Jannie Blackwell, head of Council’s education committee. Eight schools in her district are expected to close. “It’s just not tightly enough put together.”
Despite repeated attempts, Superintendent William Hite could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Blackwell said she hopes to hold hearings on the plan next month. The dates are still up in the air but she told the Tribune she wanted to schedule them on the first or second Tuesday of February.
Every council member polled by the Tribune agreed that some schools will have close.
“I certainly understand the School District’s position and financial circumstances,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “We all know that they have been bleeding for many years.”
But, all three said they’d like to see the plan delayed.
Clarke, speaking as a representative of his district, and not council president, said he didn’t oppose “right-sizing.” And, Blackwell acknowledged that some schools will have to close.
No one blamed Hite, who has been in the District’s top position only since September.
School District officials, last month, released a list of 37 schools they expected to close due to falling enrollment. The plan would shift about 17,000 students to different schools. School officials contend it’s necessary for the cash-strapped district to close schools in an effort to save money.
However, the council president is not particularly pleased that Council was not part of the conversation as school officials drew up the proposal.
“They needed to have conversations outside of the School District family,” he said.
Doing so would have helped the District look beyond its present circumstances, said Clarke. As an example, he spoke about plans to close L.P. Hill Elementary and Strawberry Mansion High School because the number of students there has been dropping. However, he said, at least 194 new houses are being built near the school, which could bring a minimum of 200 students to the neighborhood.
“They had no idea about that,” he said. “This decision was made in a vacuum. There was a bean counter behind it.”
His sentiments were echoed by others on Council.
Blackwell said the plan didn’t seem to take into account the reality for many students in Philadelphia.
“Kids in this district can’t just go anywhere. We’ve got enough crime now — we don’t need that kind of crime,” Blackwell said.
“They have not given adequate thought or preparation to those closures,” she said, adding that she hopes to see a one-year moratorium on implementing the plan.
As an example she cited plans to close T.M. Pierce Elementary School and move students to E. Washington Rhodes Middle School.
“Walking from Pierce to Rhodes will be quite a challenge for young people,” she said, noting that the area between the two buildings was troubled by crime and blight.
Though he expected a broader discussion among council members, Clarke said this week, there has been very little group discussion so far.
Nearly a third of the schools expected to close are in North Philadelphia.
Ten of the 37 schools targeted for closing are in Clarke’s Fifth District. Two are in the adjoining portion of the Eighth District, represented by Bass, who has a total of five targeted schools in her district.
Clarke wondered why so many closings were planned in such a small area.
“There is a disproportionate number of schools to be closed in North Philadelphia,” he said.
That could seal the fate of an already troubled area.
“Realistically, the likelihood of a re-use of some of those buildings is extremely limited,” he said. “They close these schools down, and they walk away.”
That adds to blight and steers families away from the neighborhood.
“The first question always is ‘where are the schools?’” Clarke said.
The council president said that Hite briefed him personally on details of the plan the day before it was released to the public in a brief telephone conversation. Bass and Blackwell said they too had been briefed the day before the public announcement but none were consulted during the process of putting the plan together, they said.
Council’s options when it comes to influencing School District policy and SRC decisions are limited. Members can, and often do, give their opinions — but beyond that there is little they can do, aside from slashing school funding.
Council approved more money for the district in each of the last three years though in the last two budget cycles the city has sought to increase its power by first instituting a cooperative agreement with the district and then, last year, by awarding a portion of school funding as a grant, giving Council the opportunity to withhold funds.
Clarke said he expected the tug of war over money to intensify this year.
“We have no ability to influence operations,” he said. “The conversation, as to their ability to get more tax revenue out of the city, is going to be extremely limited.”
Blackwell was more explicit.
Noting that the SRC will not vote on the proposal until March she pointed out that Council will be heading into budget negotiations at the same time and the issue would be fresh in members’ minds.
“I am hopeful that we get some of this stuff worked out because if we don’t — you’re doggone right — we’re going to have a real problem here,” she said.
Clashes between city politicians and school officials are not new.
Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman left the District after several high profile battles with the administration and City Council. Ultimately, she lost the support of many elected officials including Mayor Michael Nutter and several members of City Council, a fact that led to resignation.
Clarke urged residents to continue to oppose the plan.
“I think the community should continue to show its displeasure,” he said, adding that he too supports a moratorium on closings.
“We are hopeful that in the end, we can have not all of these schools close,” Blackwell said. “We’re hopeful the District will reconsider and have community input because they know what works in their area and what doesn’t.”
The Evoluer House Executive Director Cheryl Ann Wadlington testified on Monday, March 5 at the request of 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass in regard to City resources that can be used to lessen the strain on the Philadelphia School District during its time of budget woes. Over 600 girls have graduated from Wadlington’s core program — the Evoluer Personal Development Workshop — which has successfully operated since 2001.
“I cannot stress enough, it is time for the city to step up to address issues that are facing youth in Philadelphia,” said Wadlington. “Teen violence is out of control, the STD rates are at epidemic proportions — particularly as it relates to girls of color — and studies show that when you provide access to positive developmental materials, young people will develop better self-esteem which can only enhance their quality of life by eliminating violent behavior, and contribute to better participation in school.
“So when character education, which is what we do, becomes a part of educational offerings the following are improved: student attendance, school climate, and positive attitudes towards themselves and others. Even though there are budget cuts in the education system, and even if you do institute more funding for the educational system, no matter how much you educate a person, if they do not feel good about who they are on the inside they still will not perform at their highest level.”
Wadlington’s testimony coincided with the March release date of her book, “The DivaGirl’s Guide to Style and Self-Respect” (The Elevator Group, $15.95), a hands-on guide (co-penned with Sonya Beard) that advises girls of all ages on fashion tips and beauty secrets, playing nice with friends and keeping guys in check, and how to handle themselves in cyberspace and in the real world — all while keeping their cool points. It also addresses more serious issues that affect a girl’s self-esteem and her ability to succeed. This book isn’t full of random “shoulds” to memorize. It explains all the “whys,” so today’s girl can make wise decisions.
Over many years of operating her popular modeling seminars, self-image workshops and urban charm school, Evoluer House in Philadelphia, Wadlington has talked to — and listened to — thousands of girls. She knows their interests and struggles; she understands where they’re coming from and where they’re going. “My whole mission is to empower women,” explains Wadlington. “This book is the first time I am ever revealing my background, because sometimes when you’re on a mission you don’t look back. Then I had a vision of what I wanted to be, and now that I’m older I look back and I am so happy that I am alive, but by the grace of God I am.”
When she was in the sixth grade, Wadlington’s father died and everything changed. The flood of emotions overwhelmed the Southwest Philly youngster, and her family life went into a tailspin. “I started out as a troubled child because of all of that built up anger that I had when I lost my dad, like a lot of people when they lose their dad,” recalled Wadlington. “And in the Black community, they think that a herb or church will cure everything as opposed to therapy, so I had to go along my way the best way I could. I just was angry, and angry at everything I could see so I went to reform school.”
Wadlington went on to major in advertising and communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and fashion merchandising at Bauder Fashion College in Atlanta, Ga. This strong educational foundation in fashion communications and history led her to develop an exceptional style of fashion reporting. While her style established her as a highly sought after consultant throughout the East Coast, she recalls that she had to overcome some major obstacles to achieve her goals. “I’ve been an international fashion editor for years, written tons of books and been a college professor,” says the author.
Today, Wadlington can count decades of working in the international fashion and beauty industries, is an accredited member of the press corps for New York City’s annual “Mercedes Benz Fashion Week” and is a co-author and contributing editor of “SoulStyle: Black Women Redefining the Color of Fashion” (Rizzoli/Universe Publishing).
Wadlington has received countless proclamations for her contributions to youth development from the governors, mayors, premiers and more. Most recently, she’s appeared on the silver screen in “The Tents,” a 2011 documentary chronicling the history and evolution of New York Fashion Week, included Wadlington’s astute observations along with interviews of designers and front row fixtures such as Betsey Johnson, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, Tommy Hilfiger, Nina Garcia and Suzy Menkes. Currently, Wadlington’s latest book has been selected for several elite list of the 2012 style books to watch.
“I applaud this precious book,” said Princeton professor and cultural critic Cornel West. “Thank God for Cheryl Ann Wadlington!”
“The DivaGirl’s Guide to Style and Self-Respect” will be released on March 29 and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com
Gearing up for what is expected to be an ugly battle for the White House, the Obama campaign this week rolled out a Philadelphia “Truth Team” to counter “scurrilous Republican attacks.”
“This is a team of people from across the nation to make sure that people know the truth about what the president has done while in office, and also to respond to anticipated and expected scurrilous Republican attacks,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, one of six local elected officials who announced the launch of the local “Truth Team” Thursday at city hall. “We remain committed to insuring that our constituents know the truth. That would be t-r-u-t-h, clearly a word that the Republican Party and Republican candidates have difficulty spelling and saying on their own.”
Similar teams were put in place across Pennsylvania and the nation.
Members of the Philadelphia team were: Nutter, State Rep. Babette Josephs, District Attorney Seth Williams, state Sen. Anthony Williams, city Controller Alan Butkovitz and city Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
While there is a great deal of uncertainty as to who the Republican nominee will be heading into November, the campaign is likely to get rougher as the GOP fumbles to rally behind one candidate and the focus shifts to that nominee and President Barack Obama.
“We’ve seen these attacks already and know they will be coming soon to Pennsylvania,” Nutter said.
The Republican contest has narrowed, it seems, to three potential nominees: former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney; former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich and former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.
Nutter took a jab at two out of three.
“Mitt Romney will literally say anything to win, distort the president’s record and his own at the same time,” said the mayor. “[Santorum] remains clearly out of step with the needs of most Americans. Pennsylvania voters clearly rejected him, soundly, when his name was last on the ballot.”
In addition to the team, the campaign unveiled three websites designed to respond to Republican attacks: KeepingHisWord.com, AttackWatch.com and KeepingGOPHosnest.com. All three are intended to serve as quick, comprehensive resources to help set the record straight. The websites contain videos and information on the president’s record, and fact checks on Republican claims about the president and themselves.
The sites also contain tools for sharing materials via Facebook, Twitter and email. The goal, said a campaign release, is to ensure that “grassroots supporters can take ownership of the campaign and share the facts with the undecided voters in their lives.”
More than a million people took action as part in similar effort called “Fight the Smears” during the 2008 campaign. The goal of the Truth Team is to double that number, reaching two million grassroots supporters.
All 70 of the city’s pools will be open this summer, with full funding from the city; Mayor Michael Nutter announced Monday at the Awbury Recreation Center in Mount Airy.
“Nothing means summer like the opening of our pools,” said the mayor, conspicuous in his suit and tie as he spoke to a group of kids anxiously waiting to leap in the water.
Nutter did not take a plunge into the pool — a Philadelphia tradition started by former Gov. Ed Rendell, but said he had planned to.
“I fully expected to do that today,” he told reporters, adding that because of time constraints he couldn’t. “It takes extra time … I have to comb my hair.”
He was joined by Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson and about 40 kids who helped them celebrate by jumping into the pool as Nutter sounded a lifeguard’s whistle, officially marking the start of summer.
This is the first year the city has been able to fully fund pool operations since the financial crisis ravaged the city’s budget just prior to the 2009 pool season. For the last three years the city has asked for donations to raise the money to open the pools through private donations. Even with the budget uncertainty this year the city was able to cover the complete cost this year.
Nutter also took a few seconds to discuss the other summer programs taking place throughout the city.
“No one should be complaining this summer that they are bored and don’t have anything to do,” he said.
Among the most important programs is the Summer Meals Program.
As Nutter spoke, city officials laid out pre-packaged lunches for children visiting the pool. Last year the city served 2.8 million meals to 900,000 children through the program. But, Nutter noted that about 41,000 kids who could have taken part in the program — based on free and reduced lunch data from the school district — failed to do so.
This year meals will be provided between June 18 and Aug. 31, to children up to 18. All the child has to do is show up.
Meals are served at about 1,000 sites across the city at schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, churches, playgrounds, play streets or city parks
On a sterner note, the mayor also reminded the city’s youth that the end of the school year meant more stringent curfew guidelines. Children 13 years old and younger must be off the street by 9 p.m.; youngsters 14 and 15 by 10 p.m. and youth 16 and 17 by 11 p.m.
“We are serious about enforcing the curfew,” Nutter said, adding that police would use their discretion when needed. As an example, the mayor used a teen with a summer job.
“If you have a summer job that keeps you out past curfew you will not automatically be in trouble if you show the officer your ID,” he said.
The city enacted a new curfew last summer after a series of high profile crimes — notably flash mobs in Center City — involving the city’s youth.
Six new council members took their seats Thursday under the leadership of a new president and immediately began weighing several meaty issues, including: a plan to extend bar hours to 3 a.m., creation of a new Economic Opportunity Review Committee, and a proposal to require certain projects funded by the city to hire Philadelphians exclusively.
“To my new colleagues: Guys, you are in for one heck of a ride,” said Council President Darrell Clarke as he opened the meeting welcoming new members: Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Sixth District representative Bobby Henon, Second District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, First District Councilman Mark Squilla and At-Large Councilmen Denny O’Brien and David Oh.
The change in leadership style was evident immediately, as Clarke, now wielding the gavel, made it clear that public comment would be limited to the three minutes required by law — but no longer.
“I intend to hold faithfully to the three minute limit,” Clarke said, adding that after three minutes the microphone would be disconnected. He added, “I reserve the right to limit repetitious comment on some matters.”
It was the first meeting where Clarke presided in the historic council chamber. He replaced Anna C. Verna on Jan. 2. Verna was often lenient with public speakers, allowing them to speak beyond the three minutes required by law.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting Clarke said he hoped he could fill Verna’s shoes.
“Standing up at the big chair … there’s actually a little more going on than I anticipated,” he said.
Several important pieces of legislation were introduced this week.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a proposal to extend bar hours from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. in an effort to raise money for the city’s schools. She estimated the move would generate $5 million in new tax revenue that she said would spent on education.
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. introduced a bill he hopes will beef up minority participation in city contracts.
Goode’s proposal would set up a committee – the Economic Opportunity Review Committee – to review contracts from all city departments to ensure they are complying with efforts to hit the city’s minority participation goals. The five-member committee would draw its members from labor and business, with the proviso that not more than two can be businessmen.
It would also meet quarterly in public to hear concerns about the process, something that is not being done. Goode hopes the hearing will provide a place for the public to help council keep an eye on how contracts are being handled.
“This is not about ‘no snitching.” This is about ‘go snitch,’” Goode said.
The city has a 25 percent overall participation goal, but departmental goals vary. That fact can be used to manipulate the overall participation rate, he said.
As an example, Goode pointed to the Department of Public Health, which had a 2012 goal of 3 percent. In 2011 they achieved a goal of 53 percent.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that an in-depth look at the departmental goals showed only 16 of 42 city departments actually achieved their minority participation goals.
Last year, the city hit its 25 percent goal.
Goode would like to see it increased.
“I actually believe the goal should, and can be, higher,” he said. “The goal should be pushed to about 30 percent.”
The committee would also formally create a structure that could allow council to oversee minority participation. At the moment, the administration has that function, but Goode said the fact that goals are set and administered by executive order leaves the process vulnerable with each change of administration.
Goode also introduced a tax credit bill that would set up a $5,000 tax credit against the city’s business taxes for businesses that create new jobs for tax years 2012 and 2013.
In another piece of legislation intended to make sure Philadelphian have access to jobs, Councilman Bill Green introduced a proposal that would require certain public works and non-professional service jobs to be given to Philadelphians.
Under the plan, all jobs stemming from competitive, city-funded contracts over $150,000 would have to go to Philadelphia residents. Beneficiaries of certain subsidies would have to give first consideration to Philadelphians for all new jobs, and Philadelphia firms would be given a 5 percent preference in the allocating of bids.
“Philadelphia sorely needs to create jobs,” Green said, noting that the city’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9 percent.. “It … makes sense to expand residency requirements when we ask contractors to perform work on our behalf.”
Finally, council adopted Clarke’s new rules, which limit public comment to items on its second and final passage calendar. In addition, new rules prohibit public comment on privileged resolutions, since they are not legally binding.
“It’s just a small change,” Clarke said, predicting it would streamline council meetings.
Pennsylvania’s newly signed voter identification law is an attempt to disenfranchise minority, poor and older voters; and block President Barack Obama’s re-election bid, contend a number of local officials.
Conversely, the local tea party applauded the measure.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed H.B. 934 Wednesday evening, just after the state House approved it, making the commonwealth the sixteenth state to pass such legislation.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by Republican leadership to keep seniors, minorities and low-income citizens from their constitutional right to vote,” said Rep. Ron Waters, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who voted against the law. “Pennsylvania will have the distinction of moving backwards with this discriminatory bill. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it will eventually be overturned at taxpayer expense.”
The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, was approved by the House in a 104-88 vote, dividing members along partisan lines.
It will not affect voting in the April 24 primary, but thereafter all Pennsylvanians to show photo identification before voting.
Corbett said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud.
“I am signing this bill because it protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation,” Corbett said in a statement. “That principle is: one person, one vote. It sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.”
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood scoffed at that notion.
“Give us proof of recent instance of voter fraud,” she said, predicting “chaos” at the polls. “To me the whole crux of this is this — this is a format to stop Barack Obama. Look at the states that have passed this draconian measure, either the legislature is Republican controlled or the governor is Republican.”
“They want to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president,” he said. “This measure violates not only the Constitution, but our own state constitution that says elections must be free and clear and without government interference. This is the same as instituting a poll tax or requiring literacy tests, and will have a detrimental impact on voters.”
Not everyone opposed the law.
“Voter fraud … is a big problem in our state — especially in urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” said Teri Adams, president of the Independence Tea Party Association. “We can no longer tolerate imposters voting for dead people, or fraudulent votes being cast by individuals claiming to live in non-existent residences,” said Adams.
Already the law faces the threat of legal action.
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams was among those who voted against the bill when it went to the Senate last week, and said the fight against the new law is not over. Opponents may take their fight to the courts. In Wisconsin, a judge issued an injunction against a similar law in that state; and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved to block voter ID bills in Texas and South Carolina.
“While I’m disappointed that the state House has continued this march toward voter disenfranchisement, the battle is not over. The Constitutional right to vote is too important to institute disingenuous hurdles at the ballot box, period,” said Williams. “States that already have gone down this road have seen the error of their ways, as injunctions in Wisconsin and Texas demonstrate. There will be a lawsuit filed on behalf of those voters, who, though today eligible, tomorrow would not have their vote counted once HB 934 is enacted.”
Acceptable forms of identification include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver license photo ID, a military ID, valid U.S. passport, county or municipal employee identification, college ID or personal care home ID.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the organization is planning legal action against the law.
Some citizens will lose the vote if this becomes law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But those who want to block the vote should not be fooled into thinking that this is over once the governor signs it. The next stop for this bad idea is in a court of law, and we are prepared to challenge it vigorously. Our legal team is currently mapping a strategy for overturning this voter suppression bill. In the week since the Senate passed the bill, the phone calls and emails from citizens who are concerned they or a loved one will lose the vote have increased dramatically. We are confident that we can show how this bill will disenfranchise citizens.”
Implementing the new law is expected to cost about $4 million, money that would be better spent elsewhere, said Waters.
“It astounds me that there is no money for public education, colleges, universities, the disabled or poor — but there is money for a non-existent voter fraud problem,” he said.
According to Corbett’s office, studies show that 99 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs. They also said a recent poll determined that 87 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor a law requiring identification at the polls.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who also voted against the legislation, called it a “Voter Suppression Bill” and said that even on the national level, based on a study conducted by the United States Department of Justice during the presidency of George Bush, only 86 cases of voter fraud were committed between 2002 and 2007 out of 300 million votes. Hughes also said that in Pennsylvania during the 2008 election, there were only four cases of voter fraud reported.
“We will not allow the voice of so many voters to be silenced because this legislation has been signed into law. We will continue to voice our opposition and fight to see that this erroneous law is stopped, just like in Texas and Wisconsin,” Hughes said.
In city council Thursday morning, members blasted the law with a resolution condemning the state Senate for its approval last week. The resolution passed 15-2, with two Republicans voting against it.
Members Brian O’Neill and David Oh voted against, saying they too disapproved of the law, but that the word “condemn” was too strong.
“It’s too strong for me, and I think it’s unwise,” O’Neill said.
Others had no problem with the language.
“There is no question that this was done during a presidential election year in an attempt to suppress votes,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “It’s just a terrible piece of legislation. It’s been a waste of our legislators time.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said voters should use an absentee ballot.
“This whole issue is just unfortunate and unfair,” she said. “I hope people will consider absentee ballot applications, which certainly is our right.”
The Committee of Seventy is planning a massive public education campaign to counter the possible effects of the law and to make sure people know their rights and what types of identification will be acceptable when they go to the polls.
This enormous undertaking must start right now and continue every day until the Nov. 6 general election.” said Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. “Every possible resource will be tapped — from convenience stores to banks to media outlets to libraries — to let voters know which IDs will be accepted at the polls and where to go if they don’t have one. “If necessary, we’ll drive voters to PennDOT offices to get ID.”
J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP has joined with the coalition forming with the ACLU to oppose the new law. In the meantime, registered voters should show up at the nearest PennDOT center on Wednesday, March 21, to receive the free photo identification cards. Normally they cost $13.
The Black Writers Museum has kicked off a campaign designed to encourage youth to put down the weapons and pick up a pen.
The “Pick up the Pen” Bully and Violence Prevention Campaign provides youth with a life-saving alternative to the use of weapons and anti-social behavior.
“This is an historic day,” BWM Executive Director Supreme D. Dow said during the campaign launch held at the Happy Hallow Recreation Center in Germantown. “It’s an historic day when we have public institutions, private institutions and community institutions coming together to fight violence in schools and in our communities.”
The campaign’s goal is to provide youth with the opportunity to express themselves in writing as a means of dealing with the pressures of bullying, poverty, peer pressure, under-education, emotional and psychological trauma and stress.
The “Pick up the Pen” program will travel to schools and community-based institutions and utilize the “Writin’ Is Fighting” curriculum in creative writing workshops. During the workshops, youth will engage in discussion, listen to rap, R&B, poetry and interact with people in the music industry and the literary world. Participating youth will write compositions that reflect their view and understanding of the world in which they live.
Boxing great Bernard Hopkins will serve as the campaign’s bully prevention ambassador. Hopkins grew up in North Philadelphia and entered the penitentiary at age 17.
“I was a part of the problem, and now I’m a part of the solution. We are going to be making an attempt to reach some of the young people to change the way they’re going,” says Hopkins.
“I’m using me as a role model to say that you can change your ways. You can change how you think.”
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass was also on hand to express her support for the campaign.
Bass stressed the importance of ensuring that the youth have resources and opportunities. She views the campaign as a measure that could help stem the flow of African-American youth into the prison system.
“I’ve been up to Graterford [prison]. I’m sick of it,” said Bass. “When you look down those corridors and you see row after row of primarily African-American and Latino men — it’s sickening.”
“Pick up the Pen” will engage local and national celebrities to implement a social and electronic media component that will include a Web presence, radio and television public service announcements and community fliers and posters.
Social service agencies, religious and community institutions, the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, and other civic agencies will be engaged as campaign partners.
A rap competition is a key part of the new campaign. The rap competition, which runs now through August 29, is open to ninth through 12th-graders. Participating youth are asked to create a rap with an anti-bullying or anti-violence message. The rap cannot contain any profanity or sexually explicit lyrics. Contest winners will receive a $500 gift pack from sports apparel company Mitchell and Ness and professional recording studio time. Winners of the competition will be announced in September. Submissions can be sent to 4546 Pulaski Ave., Philadelphia, Pa., 19144.
The BWM is a cultural arts institution that utilizes exhibits of Black literature and its authors as a means of teaching youth literary and life skills.
Though City Council is recessed for the summer, Councilwoman Cindy Bass was hard at work this week, squeezing meetings with reporters in between sit-downs with Parks Commissioner Susan Slawson and a line of others gathered at the door of her fifth floor office.
“We have a lot to do,” she said. “But, I’m excited about it. I just think that there is a lot more that our city could be.”
Bass replaced former 8th District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller after Miller’s retirement in January. She was one of six freshmen who have helped radically remake a body that was notoriously similar year after year. Bass is only woman in the “serious six,” as the group of six freshmen has been nicknamed by Majority Leader Curtis Jones. The nickname started as kind of joke but after the spring session — marked by strenuous budget talks — it’s not a joke anymore, he said.
“They’ve earned their title,” Jones said. “They were here to stand up for their core convictions.”
There is a definite bond among the freshman, and a feeling that change is needed.
“The six new freshman have added some energy and life into [council],” Bass said. “We do lunch on a regular basis. We do operate closely together, and I think that goes a long way in getting things done.”
All six were baptized by fire during this year’s budget talks, which was dominated by debate over the city’s eventual move to AVI — Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative — that will base property taxes on market value rather than the traditional fractional value.
Bass supports the move to AVI.
“It’s something that’s time has come,” she said. “For too long in Philadelphia … who you knew downtown determined whether or not you got a favorable tax rate. It’s been unfair for a long time.”
Debate over the issue splintered Council for months, as members worked to come up with an approach that could garner the nine votes needed to move legislation. Ultimately, AVI was delayed by Council because members were worried that the administration could not provide the data they needed to make a prudent decision.
Council President Darrell Clarke noted at Council’s last session that it was the most difficult budget season he’d seen in his 12 years on Council and quipped that after six months in the trenches, new members could no longer call themselves freshmen.
“You’ll learn that after your first six months you’re no longer a freshman,” he said, going on to praise the group for their contribution to Council’s work, and adding that Council has a whole deserved to be praised. “I just want to say thank you. You guys were awesome.”
Council’s delay of AVI means the issue is not going away any time soon.
But, with a bit of room to breathe, Bass hopes to begin moving forward with plans for her district. Her staff is putting together a report on the district that Bass hopes to use to guide her strategy as she moves forward.
“Our strategy so far has just been to stop the bleeding,” she said. “We do need to have a more strategic approach — so we’re sort of taking a step back now and thinking about things strategically.”
One of her first priorities is to change a perception that shrouded the 8th District under Miller — that its Council representative was inaccessible.
It was a charge that prompted Bass to start a weekly “Coffee with the Councilwoman” meeting that allows her constituents to meet her face to face.
“I hear about everything from drug sales in the neighborhood, a lot of people needing work, and then there are the bigger issues, policy issues from downtown,” she said.
Bass hoped to open a district office — something critics have pointed out she said she’d do but hasn’t — but said her office doesn’t have the money at the moment.
“We don’t have the budget for one and won’t for some time,” she said.
Bass also plans to work on some of the issues she campaigned on — improving business corridors and putting together an educational task force, working to cut crime and bringing jobs to her district.
“There is no shortage of things to be done,” she said.