Weary of the typical slate of political establishment candidates, Meighan Dorr, a 25 year-old who has never held elected office, is running for mayor in an independent write-in campaign.
“The city is in a state of crisis and we need a humanitarian instead of a politician,” said Dorr, a former non-teaching assistant for the School District of Philadelphia. “People are too satisfied with nothing in this city. We’re satisfied with homeless people. We’re satisfied with the lack of housing. We’re satisfied without adequate education funding.”
She faces long odds.
The incumbent, Mayor Michael Nutter, is expected to win overwhelmingly. In addition, Dorr faces two other candidates who have had far more visibility than she has. Karen Brown, running as the Republican opponent to Nutter, has been widely seen and scrutinized. A third candidate, Wali Diop Rahman, has been very visible for months with his independent campaign.
Dorr has pegged her hopes on widespread voter discontent.
“I’m still hoping to win because the Democrats have been running this city for 45 years and they have us living in a city that is practically abandoned,” she said. “People are tired of Democrats and Republicans. People are kind of fed up.”
She decided to run in 2009 after being denied a slot on the city’s Youth Campaign. Initially, she wanted to run as a Democrat in the spring primary. She was kept off the ballot because her petitions were improperly notarized, she said. She switched, becoming an independent and gathered more signatures — 1,650 to be exact — but fell short of the 1,850 needed to garner a place on the ballot.
Undeterred, she set her sights on the general election running as a write-in.
“My experiences, gathering all those signatures, taught me that people are concerned,” she said.
Dorr has ambitious plans to stimulate job growth, tackle illiteracy, provide adequate housing, and turn vacant and abandoned properties into homes and businesses.
Among her ideas, loosening regulations on taxi licensing in an effort to create jobs, giving businesses tax breaks for sponsoring literacy programs for adults and turning vacant and abandoned lots over to non-profits who can put them to productive use.
She’s been hard at work the last few weeks shaking hands and getting the word out.
“I want to prepare a city for [the youth] that they can live in and flourish in,” she said. “We have a lot of resources to turn this city into a wealthy city and all the mayors that we’ve had have never had a plan of action.”
Dorr is a pharmacy technician and full-time student at Community College of Philadelphia, where she majors in cultural science and technology. She is a recipient of the Frank Sullivan Humanitarian Award.
Cities United aims to build national movement
On Monday, Oct. 24, in the Philadelphia suburb of Darby Township, there was a drug-related shooting that left an 18-year-old Black male in critical condition and a 16-year-old under arrest.
Witnesses told police they had seen three young men talking about drugs in the Briarcliff vicinity around 3 p.m. Then a shot was fired and witnesses told police the 16-year-old fled the scene to a nearby house, where he was subsequently arrested. Police found 30 bags of marijuana at the scene of the shooting.
This one incident could easily be described as a microcosm of how violence is precipitated among young Black males — not just in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, but from coast to coast across America. Virtually every major city has a monstrously high murder rate among young Black males. And that level of violence, experts say, is far beyond a crisis. It has been allowed to become a catastrophe of horrific proportions.
Reducing, if not ending that violence is the focus of numerous community programs and organizations — and on Tuesday of this week, a group of mayors from across the state and nation gathered at the National Constitution Center to strategize on how to truly and adequately deal with the problem.
The gathering, called Cities United: Building Communities to Reduce Violent Death Among Black Men and Boys, was started by mayors who were joined by community leaders for the purpose of moving beyond just talking about the problem and taking action that goes above the programs, initiatives and solutions already in place to amplify them into a national movement.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who spearheaded the gathering, said what every resident of the Black community already knows: murder is the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 24.
That violence and the consequential fallout of incarceration and unemployment, Nutter said, has depleted the presence of Black men in the community.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” Nutter said. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories, all of which contribute to a degradation of the overall quality-of-life in Black neighborhoods.”
According to figures culled from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19. Across the nation, Blacks accounted for 49 percent of all murder victims in 2005. Black males accounted for 52 percent. That violence, say those working the streets, is rooted in hopelessness, desperation and despair. It is also rooted in a sub-culture that acts out what it assimilates from a popular media that glorifies murder.
“I can actively count the number of murders that I’ve personally seen,” said Jordan Harris, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission and the co-founder of Youth Action Inc. “Growing up in South Philly, I watched people being killed. Many of our young people feel like they could be the next one killed - or the next one shooting someone. Part of the problem is that too many young men don’t have men in their lives. If that father figure is not present in the home, the streets will provide it.”
Brandon Jones, a young outreach worker with Philadelphia Cease Fire, agreed.
“Our young men are filled with hopelessness and they are desperate. If we want to solve this problem we have to bring them to the table and then listen, carefully, to what they have to say,” Jones said. Jones, who was recently released from prison for a drug-related shooting said one-on-one intervention is essential to ending the cycle of violence.
“It’s not easy to forge trust or relationships with these young men. We have one client that took six months to come around. I didn’t come from a broken home, I had a good family — father and mother — but I wanted to fit in. I now call it being a part of the ‘in crowd’ because you either end up incarcerated or in an early grave. I didn’t want to take the slow way to success.”
While participants shared information on the various causes of the high murder rate of African American males — absent fathers, poverty, joblessness, lousy public education — one issue kept returning to the top of the list: illegal guns.
“In our schools, our young people don’t have new books, but they know where to get an illegal gun,” Harris said. “It’s not hard to get an illegal gun, they know where to get them and if they get them and if they feel disrespected or otherwise insulted — for any reason — they will use them.”
Mayor Nutter, who said that illegal guns have become a plague in the Black community, pressed representatives from the federal government concerning what should be done to stop the flow of illegal firearms. Those representatives shared what is being done; but Nutter said he knows what federal prosecutors are doing.
“I know you’re prosecuting gun traffickers and federal time is federal time — you’ll do every bit of it. But this is what’s being done on the back end. We need to interrupt the flow of illegal guns on the front end. If someone opens up an envelope and finds powder inside it might just be Gold Medal flour but in a matter of minutes that entire area will be surrounded by federal officers. If someone finds a suspicious bag at my airport, my airport will be closed — shut down in minutes. I’m amazed by how quickly federal resources can be brought to bear anywhere in the country. We can fire a missile and put it in someone’s bedroom on the other side of the planet. Why can’t we get that same level of attention to the problem interrupting the flow of illegal guns? I would just like to hear the federal government say this is a problem. This is not a Second Amendment issue, I’m all for the Second Amendment, this is about stopping illegal guns from getting into the hands of young Black men.”
Greene says Inquirer, Daily News ruined his career
Fired housing authority director Carl R. Greene has lobbed a grenade at local media giant Philadelphia Media Network, filing a libel suit in which he accuses the news organization of ending his career.
“Mr. Greene’s reputation as a housing authority administrator has forever been destroyed,” charged a lawsuit filed Sept. 16. This “amounts to commercial disparagement and trade libel.”
Greene’s attorney, Clifford Haines, said Greene was seeking unspecified monetary damages.
“We believe his losses reach into the millions of dollars,” said Haines, adding that Greene, who is now living in Georgia, would return to Philadelphia for the case, which he expected to come to trial within the next two years.
The suit, filed against the papers’ parent company and its former owner, Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, alleges that its “relentless attack” on Greene ended his “hard fought and brilliant” career.
It goes on to say that the media company ran the stories on Greene in an effort to shore up flagging finances as it prepared to go to auction as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.
“The Inquirer and Daily News were in crisis [and] suffered from declining circulation and readership, dwindling revenues, several missed debt payments … defaulted on over $400 million,” said court filings. “In a desperate attempt to make the newspapers relevant and attractive to auction bidders and to generate much needed readership and revenue [PMN] set their sights on Carl R. Greene.”
The company’s general counsel Mike Kuritzkes referred inquiries to a one line response printed in Wednesday’s Inquirer: “The lawsuit has no merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves.”
In an effort to prove Greene’s point, court filings note that the Inquirer and Daily News ran 246 stories on him between September 2010 and September 2011. That compared to just 18 the prior year.
In them, the papers detailed everything from his personal financial problems to allegations of sexual harassment, misuse of federal funds, employee intimidation and using a non-profit for personal gain.
Saying the stories were “devoid of fair and balanced reporting” and amounted to the “most pernicious form of malicious and groundless defamation,” Greene charged the paper with “hit or miss investigative reporting without regard to the accuracy or quality of content.”
Court filings also take a jab at former chairman of the PHA board, John F. Street — implying that the board knew about three claims of “purported” sexual harassment — and used the papers’ coverage as an excuse to fire Greene.
“Street … declared retaliation against Mr. Greene for a perceived slight surrounding the reporting of Mr. Greene’s personal financial problems and a lost opportunity for Street to appear in the press, orchestrated Mr. Greene’s termination.”
Street said that was untrue.
“Carl Greene was fired only after the board did an investigation, issued a report, considered it at a duly advertised meeting during which we adopted the resolution terminating Mr. Greene,” said the former mayor in an email. “The board was publicly criticized by the papers, and many others, for not acting sooner.”
The suit is the latest in a series of suits Greene filed after his firing.
In an action that was eventually dismissed, he first sued the PHA for damages for wrongful dismissal. Greene followed that with a suit against Street personally for defamation. That suit too was dismissed.
He has also been at the center of at least 10 suits against PHA. So far, the housing authority has spent around $1 million settling sexual harassment claims against Greene.
The controversy surrounding Greene’s alleged misconduct started when the Inquirer broke a story about Greene owing more than $300,000 in back property taxes. In the wake of the story, the scandal grew to include at least four sexual harassment cases and stories about wild parties that included belly dancers and lavish party favors, all given during Greene’s tenure, some allegedly at his insistence. Ultimately, the controversy forced the PHA board to resign and as the federal government pushed the agency into the hands of a receiver. It is now overseen by one commissioner, Estelle Richman.
For the last three decades, the American prison population has been on a steady increase, with more than 2.5 million men and woman now serving time for various offenses.
Many of those inmates are serving time for drug offenses, specifically crack cocaine trafficking. They’re a stratum of the inmate population that social experts and criminal justice reform advocates say has deeply and adversely affected the African-American community.
But for inmates serving federal sentences for cocaine related offenses, time is running out, literally.
On Nov. 1, the Fair Sentencing Act took retroactive effect and across the nation, hundreds of inmates previously sentenced for crack cocaine trafficking began walking out of prison. Depending on the region, as many as 1,800 federal crack prisoners were eligible for immediate release. About 12,000 will be eligible for sentence reductions.
“It depends on the cases and the judges, but in Pennsylvania, some prisoners were released, and about 16 defendants became eligible for parole,” said Patty Hartman, spokesperson for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania. Hartman added that assistant U.S. attorneys knowledgeable on how the Fair Sentencing Act would impact federal crack prisoners in the area would not be commenting. “There’s no real way to know exactly who else will be released or how soon. It depends on the case and the different judges.”
The initial releases follow the passing of the Fair Sentencing Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in August 2010. The measure was meant to address the disparities between the mandatory sentences for trafficking and possession of crack and or powder cocaine.
“The Fair Sentencing Act was meant to address the racially discriminatory aspects in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine, which chemically are the same substance,” said David McColgin, Supervisory Assistant Federal Defender, Appeals Unit for the Philadelphia Federal Community Defenders. “Concerned members of Congress and the Senate began to see that as a result of the former policies, more African Americans were being locked up and for much longer terms. They saw it was discriminatory and began seeking ways to lessen the unfairness. It’s now an 18 to 1 ratio; it should be a one to one ratio since the difference between crack and powder cocaine is like the difference between ice and water.”
McColgin also said that 16 inmates from Philadelphia were found to be immediately releasable. A judge signed off on the paperwork in late October and those individuals were released this month. Altogether, there are 68 inmates — including the 16 already released, who are looking at sentence reductions. He said perhaps another 50 cases are being reviewed.
Because of the excessive violence and high rate of addiction associated with crack cocaine, Congress differentiated between powder and crack and provided harsher punishments for dealing crack. The Sentencing Commission established a ten-year mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack, or 5,000 grams or more of powder cocaine. Because it takes 100 times more powder than crack cocaine to trigger the same minimum penalty, this structure was referred to as the “100-to-1 drug quantity ratio.”
The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the ratio to 18 to 1. Rather than 5 grams to trigger a five-year mandatory sentence, and 50 grams for a 10-year sentence, the law now requires 28 and 280 grams to trigger the mandatory minimums.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the sentencing guidelines are advisory, not mandatory, which gave judge’s more discretion. Even still, reform advocates said, there are more African-American males languishing behind bars for crack trafficking than white counterparts and for longer prison terms.
According to the Sentencing Commission’s 2006 report before Congress, nationally, 523 whites and 484 Hispanics were convicted of trafficking crack cocaine. By contrast, 4,552 African Americans were convicted.
“Against a backdrop of renewed congressional interest in federal cocaine sentencing policy, the need to update the Commission’s prior reports has become more important,” the report stated. “Congressional enactment of a uniform remedy to the problems created by the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio, as opposed to the employment of varied remedies by the courts, would better promote the goals of the Sentencing Reform Act, including avoiding unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar criminal records who have been found guilty of similar criminal conduct. Federal cocaine sentencing policy, insofar as it provides substantially heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses, continues to come under almost universal criticism from representatives of the judiciary, criminal justice practitioners, academics and community interest groups, and inaction in this area is of increasing concern to many, including the Commission.”
Among its recommendations the Commission said that high-level wholesale cocaine traffickers, organizers and leaders of criminal activities generally should receive longer sentences than low-level retail cocaine traffickers and those who played a minor or minimal role in such criminal activity.
“Yes, they’ve changed the sentencing policies and that is a good first step but it’s time we got past sentencing agreements and started moving these people into getting their lives back on track,” said civil rights attorney and author Michelle Alexander. “We need a shift to the public health model because the reality is that if people are locked out of mainstream opportunities odds are you will return to crime. We can’t feign shock when we see the higher rates of recidivism.”
The city has agreed to use union labor for city-funded construction projects over $5 million — and the city’s trade unions have agreed to higher local, minority and female participation goals on those projects, in an agreement announced this week.
“Fifty percent of the hours for those jobs must be set aside for Philadelphia residents,” said Mayor Michael Nutter at the press conference Tuesday. “At least 32 percent of those are for minority males, and 7 percent for women.”
Nutter, along with officials from the Greater Philadelphia Building Trades Council, announced the agreement at a press conference where the mayor signed an executive order reinstituting project labor agreements, contracts that lay out the terms of work for the unions in city projects.
For decades, the city has been trying to force the trade unions to include more minorities and women on union jobs. Though this agreement used the word “goal” rather than language that would require those participation rates, union leaders promised the goals would be met.
“Every craft has committed to meet their goals,” Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, told reporters.
The trades council represents a number of unions or crafts. Blacks are most heavily represented in the laborer’s union, in which members are less skilled and lower paid than in others.
Nutter said a third party organization would be chosen to monitor participation in each contract. None had yet been selected. The goals will apply to all contracts over $5 million and those that require the involvement of more than one building trade.
Unlike more detailed participation goals for standard city contracts, which lay out different goals for different ethnicities, the project labor agreements lump all non-white groups into one category with one goal.
The city and the trade unions have been at odds for many years — as city officials tried to pry open the unions and force them to employ more minority workers — something the unions strenuously resisted. For example, City Council and the unions had a lengthy showdown during the construction of the $700 million addition to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The unions resisted minority participation, and defied Council attempts to try and find out how many union workers were minorities.
Ultimately, Council did impose goals on the project. But, the fight and the publicity it generated obviously lingered in Gillespie’s mind because he said he hoped this week’s agreement would end the widely held view that “[We’re] just a bunch of fat, white guys from the suburbs. That’s not the case, never has been the case, but that’s the way we were characterized.”
Nutter said the new agreement would assure that diversity is automatically part of future contracts.
“Diversity is vital as we put our city’s residents back to work with these projects that improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians,” he said.
The project trade agreements do more than establish participation goals. The agreements will also prevent strikes and allow for cost savings. Nutter’s executive order also established an advisory committee for Project Labor Agreements, which will monitor and review all PLAs and will make periodic evaluations of the use of PLAs. The members of the Committee are the mayor’s chief of staff, the city solicitor, managing director, director of finance, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities and deputy mayor for economic development.
Eliminating start-up fees, lower privilege tax get bipartisan support
Two tax bills — intended to eliminate business start up fees and cut the city’s business privilege tax — moved out of committee this week.
Both had council leadership’s stamp of approval and the endorsement of the mayor.
“At the end of the day we were all seriously working to make sure that our businesses seriously benefit in the city of Philadelphia,” said Majority Leader Marian Tasco, at a press conference late Monday afternoon, held to announce that both bill had been approved by the finance committee.
High business taxes and licensing fees have long been blamed for pushing business from the city to the suburbs.
In combination, the bills were expected to cut taxes by more than $70 million.
“The proposals in front of us today are the kinds of things we’ve been in favor of,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who took the unusual step of publicly endorsing the tax measures before they were presented to the full council. “We’re still in challenging economic times, but we need to do something to jump start our own situation.”
The first bill, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, would waive the business privilege tax for new businesses that employ at least five city residents full-time in their first year, and add five full-time jobs, again for city residents, in the second year. In addition, the $50 business privilege license fee would be waived, as would all related business license fees.
The business privilege tax is 1.415 mills on gross receipts (one mill equals one tenth of one percent) and 6.45 percent on taxable net income. In addition, new businesses pay licensing fees ranging from $50 to $500 before they can open in the city. Those fees would be waived — though the licenses would still be required.
Kenney, who said that while official unemployment figures put unemployment at 11 percent, that number is probably closer to 25 percent, adding that he hoped the bill would spur job creation in the city.
“I think the problem we’re facing in this country and in this city is unemployment,” he said. “These two bills will hopefully break the jam. To allow people, again, to think about coming to the city and staying in the city.”
A second, sponsored by council members Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez, would provide a $100,000 exemption on the gross-receipts portion of the business-privilege tax and exempt the first $100,000 in sales for the net-income portion on the first $100,000 in sales. It also included a provision called single sales factor apportionment, taxing just sales made in the city.
“Philadelphia city government… sent a clear message to the business community in the region and the nation: Philadelphia is open for business,” said Green. “We want you here. We want you to create jobs here.”
Bill Rubin hesitates to use the word “reform,” when describing why he’s chosen to run for City Council, saying simply that he hopes to change the political culture in City Hall.
“When I watched the dominoes and saw how many people weren’t going to be there, I thought it was a great opportunity to get five, six, seven possibly eight new people in there,” he said. “I think that’s when you can exact change.”
Five council members are leaving and all of the at-large seats are up for grabs, giving voters a historic chance to restructure the entire legislative body.
Rubin, 44, a Democrat, is running against long-time incumbent Brian O’Neill, a Republican, who has represented the Tenth District— which has the city’s highest concentration of Republicans — since 1979.
Odds usually favor the incumbent, but in this largely Democratic city, and with demographics in the Tenth District shifting, Rubin feels sure he can defeat O’Neill.
Reform, in Rubin’s mind, conjures up grand schemes that may or may not be implemented. Change is something that can be accomplished in smaller increments — but is no less crucial.
Rubin is familiar with the inner workings of City Hall. Since 1987, he’s worked in the city commissioners’ office. In addition, he served on the pension board since 2004 and has held various positions in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 33.
He said voters in the Tenth are angry when they look at City Hall.
“There are a lot of people saying ‘I’ve had enough,’” said Rubin.
He said if elected he would not take a council car, and would work to change legislation that automatically gives council members raises. He supports term limits at 12 years and would not enroll in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program.
By setting an example, and with the cooperation of other new council members without the vested interests of the old guard, Rubin said he could create change.
“If you want to make the city better, than you’ve got to be able to make these moves,” he said. “If you put out enough pressure you’d be surprised at how fast they come around.”
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Tenth, he said, was property tax reassessment as the city moves to full valuation.
To ease the burden of increases expected under full valuation, which some anticipate could hit 20 percent, Rubin said he supported a tax abeyance program for seniors that would allow taxes to be collected when an estate is settled.
“The majority of the people that I talk to don’t mind paying their taxes,” he said. “They don’t have a problem paying a little bit more than some of the other areas so that everybody benefits. What they have a problem with is, when you tell me that I’m going to close the rec centers and the pools because I don’t have enough money, and I’m going to raise your taxes at the same time — and City Council is getting a raise — that they have a problem with.”
The Tenth is made up of Northeast Philadelphia, Fox Chase, Somerton, Bustleton, Torresdale, Parkwood and Pennypack Woods.
Over the last three years, Black-owned firms have captured about 50 percent of the money spent by the city with minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses, (MWD) reported the latest participation figures from the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity.
The numbers were part of two lengthy reports released by the OEO this week. The first, the annual participation report for fiscal 2011, provided detailed information about spending across all city departments. The second, the city’s 2010 annual disparity report, provided a similar snapshot along with a series of recommendations for the future.
Both reports found an increase in spending with MWD-owned businesses.
The participation report noted participation for minority-, women- and disabled-owned firms across city and quasi-governmental city agencies reached 26 percent, topping the city’s goal of 25 percent. That represented an increase from 23 percent in 2010 and was up from 19 percent in 2009.
Having hit the city’s goal, city officials are now planning to move to the second phase of an inclusion plan, hoping to expand the capacity of minority-owned businesses.
“More than ever before [minority-owned businesses] need opportunity,” said Angela Dowd-Burton, executive director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. “More importantly, they need the structure of support, which includes: technical resources, financial resources, marketing resources … that’s where we’re focused.”
Dowd-Burton said she hoped to make the OEO a place where any minority business owner can come to have all their business questions answered and find the support they need.
“We need to look at how we create a marketplace for the smaller businesses to compete,” she said. “Minority and women-owned businesses tend to be smaller companies.”
Most of the numbers included in the annual participation report were part of an earlier, fourth quarter report.
Black firms experienced a dip in the percentage of contracts awarded them in 2011, but outpaced their counterparts in terms of capturing city dollars over that three-year period.
Overall, Black companies were awarded about 44 percent of all monies spent with all categories of minority-owned businesses in 2011 – a total of roughly $74 million. That was down from 58 percent in 2010 and below the 2009 rate of 48 percent - $69 and $61 million respectively.
New figures, the report showed the three-year average for spending with minority companies. At 50 percent, Black firms were ahead of their counterparts, with $68 million.
White women-owned businesses were awarded, on average 29 percent of city spending - $40 million – during the same period. Asian-owned businesses captured 10 percent or $14 million. Hispanic-owned businesses garnered 8 percent, about $12 million. Native Americans and Native Hawaiians were awarded 2 and 1 percent respectively equaling $3 and $1 million. Disabled-owned businesses captured none.
MWD-owned businesses, bidding as prime contractors, won 43 percent of the total expenditure.
The 140-page report detailed each contract let by every city department and quasi-governmental; contract by contract, department by department. All are now posted online.
In addition, Dowd-Burton noted that OEO has been following up to make sure minority-owned companies listed on contracts are participating in them. One criticism in the past has been that minority firms are included in initial bids but dropped later.
“We call up those companies, those companies are validating that,” she said. “We’re beginning to implement a tracking system, that will be in place next year, that will track the payments from primes to subs.”
Failure to use the companies included in the contract can lead to penalties: termination of the contract, financial penalties and being barred from doing business with the city for up to three years.
Finally, the report noted that the OEO Registry has increased by over 42 percent to 1,925 companies that qualify to business with the city as minority-, women- and disabled-owned firms.
The disparity reported noted that while spending with MWD-owned businesses increased, a larger portion of them came from outside the city.
In 2009, 3.4 percent of that spending went to firms drawn from the larger metropolitan area including the surrounding counties but that also stretched into Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. That number jumped to 8.4 percent in 2010.
“Depending on what they are providing they will incorporate labor across the city,” Dowd-Burton said. “If anything we think it’s a gravitational pull for new companies to come into the area and employ a number of our businesses and that contract may act as the catalyst for increasing employment.”
There, now I’ve said it too. I’m using it only once, though, and here at the beginning of the column, to avoid confusion with any other vile ethnic slurs you may have heard lately, and to give us a handy reference point for later, when we just refer to it as “that word.”
Even if you weren’t familiar with this particular epithet before last week, you’ve surely had your fill of it by now. So many white people have uttered that word over the past few days you wonder how they ever got by without it. It’s like a mischievous child who learns a new “bad” word. Suddenly, they’re repeating it every five seconds and won’t shut up about it.
It all started, as you know, with a Washington Post piece about GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry and his family’s hunting ranch, which once bore that word as its name painted on a large rock by the entrance. The hullabaloo stemmed around the fact that the Perry family leased the ranch without complaint about the name for several years, then had the name painted over sometime in the early 1980s.
Leaving aside the moralistic questions of why the Perrys didn’t care about the name until it became a political liability, which it would have been with Rick Perry running for public office — let’s just concentrate on that word itself.
Google it, and more than 100,000 references pop up, most in the past week, but some interesting facts about that word pop up as well.
For instance, in the U.S., there were more than a hundred places named that word, changed in 1962 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, but many local names remain unchanged even to this day. By the early part of the 20th century, there were perhaps a dozen different products manufactured in this country, from bath soap to chewing tobacco, with that word as its official name, often complete with a very unflattering logo, drawing, or photo.
So while that word was buried deep for a little while — long enough for most of us to forget its existence — it has re-emerged with a vengeance, and if the conservative bloggers and commentators have any say in the matter, it could once again become a permanent part of the lexicon.
I’m not just talking about those teabagger wing-nuts who demand permanent access to the n-word as part of their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. I mean regular everyday white folks who claim that because they hear it in hip hop or because some Black people use it regularly, they should no longer feel guilty about using the word — especially in some legitimate context like explaining the Perry ranch controversy.
Which is why, for the past few days on every television news channel, you’ve heard that word more often than the phrase, “We’ll be right back after these messages.” They can’t seem to get enough of it. Even if they’re condemning the word, and angrily rebuking those who don’t, they still feel the need to repeat it a couple of times — you know, just to be sure you heard it correctly.
Even Sherri Shepherd, who could quite possibly be the least intelligent person in America, slammed her “The View” co-host Barbara Walters for using it, but gave Whoopi Goldberg a pass for doing the same thing moments earlier. Unfortunately, Shepherd, who has publicly acknowledged that she doesn’t know whether the Earth is round or flat (I’m not kidding. Really.) was so poor at explaining her reasons for differentiating between Barbara saying it and Whoopi saying it that I fear she only made it worse, at least for viewers of her show.
The fact is, that word is going to be offensive to Black people — whether it’s written on a rock in Texas or spoken by a respected news anchor. The mere fact that they’re just repeating it — or even that they’re repeating it in legitimate context — isn’t going to make it less offensive.
And while there is disagreement — even among Black people — about whether the word itself can be reclaimed and re-purposed or whether it should be banned altogether, there’s little doubt that white people who use it, especially around Blacks, run the very real risk of being misunderstood — and the very real risk of a trip to the emergency room.
I have to admit I still wonder, though, with a name like that, what that chewing tobacco must have tasted like.
“Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” by Edwidge Danticat has been chosen as the 2012 One Book, One Philadelphia selection.
The book is a collection of essays and a memoir that urges immigrant writers to record the oppression they witness.
“Philadelphians will be drawn to these thoughtful and thought provoking essays, many of which are inspired by … Danticat’s experiences growing up in Haiti,” said Siobahn Reardon, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, at the announcement Wednesday at the Central Library.
One Book, One Philadelphia celebrates is 10th anniversary this year and was in the spotlight earlier this week when it was announced that the first author honored by the program, Lorene Cary, had been appointed to the School Reform Commission.
The program started with the hopes that it would encourage literacy by fostering a citywide discussion of just one book. Thousands read the selection annual selection, which is available at every library in the city. In addition, readers are encouraged to come together at more than 100 events centered on a theme generated by the book.
This year that theme is Haiti and events will include panel discussions, film screenings and musical performances.
“This book is a call to arms for all of us for many different reasons,” said Marie Fields, chair of One Book, One Philadelphia. “Through our shared reading and programming experience we shall celebrate and embrace the rich diversity and common humanity of everyone who lives in our community.”
Mayor Michael Nutter, also on hand for the unveiling of the title, lauded the program, which also included a teen and children’s book selection.
The teen selection was “A Taste of Salt” by Frances Temple and children’s title was “Running the Road to ABC” by Denize Lauture.
“It’s important to Philadelphia because it brings together people from all walks of life, all parts of the city, all races, all colors, all genders and preferences,” he said. “It just brings people together in one place around one particular theme … and it really promotes life-long learning and literacy among a whole host of folks.”
Danticat said via a videocast that she was “very excited to be selected. What a great honor.”
For more information visit the library’s website at www.freelibrary.org