Archive: July, 2012
Low-wage workers from across the city are gathering at Independence Mall to demand a higher minimum wage this afternoon. Demonstrations are being held across the country as part of a National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage, which has not been increased in three years. Members of Fight for Philly, the Restaurant Opportunity Center of Philadelphia and others expect to show up in force.
In 2009 — largely due to activist efforts — the federal minimum wage for un-tipped workers was raised to $7.25 per hour; the most recent federal raise for tipped workers, such as restaurant waitstaff, was in 1991. Since then, inflation and the cost of living have risen, explains Umang Patel of Fight for Philly. For un-tipped workers, a 40-hour week of minimum wage pay only allows for a $15,000 yearly income which is $7,000 below the federal poverty line.
Tipped workers — who receive a minimum pre-tip wage of $2.83 in Pennsylvania, compared to the federal minimum of $2.13 per hour — find it difficult to live off of their income as well. Sheila Maddall, a Restaurant Opportunity Center organizer who worked in the restaurant industry through college, explains that the most difficult aspect for tipped workers was planning ahead due to their variable incomes. “I was evicted from two houses,” she explains. “There’s no steady income.” The recent economic downturn has a huge effect on tipped workers especially. “Many restaurant workers are living on food stamps,” she says.
Luckily for low-wage workers, the recent protests and complaints about the minimum wage are not falling on deaf ears. Sen.Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa) recently proposed legislation that would raise the minimum wage for un-tipped workers to $9.80 hour and the tipped wage to 70 percent of the un-tipped wage. Additionally, Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) has plans to introduce his own minimum-wage legislation, which would more gradually raise the minimum wage. "We're hoping to see the House and Senate legislation introduced soon," says Patel, adding that the next step after the protests is to call on elected officials for support.
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena around Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
Here's a surface lot that took a long time to become whole, but once it did, it created a gigantic empty space in an area already imbued with empty spaces. Adjacent to a remnant of an ancient highway, this asphalt assfruit never should have gotten to this point. There is hope on the horizon, however: this lot's days are numbered.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this neighborhood was just forest. The developed portion of the city was way out to the east. The blocks north of Cedar Street (South Street) had been plotted but were more-or-less uninhabited. Broad Street sort of existed, but ended just below Cedar. A little ways to the South was the primordial connector to other cities and villages, a proto-highway called the Federal Road (now Federal Street and part of Gray's Ferry Ave).
If you were one of the badasses who built one of the homes way in the far reaches of the city (11th or 12th Street), getting to the Federal Road was a big pain in the ass. Eventually, a small connector proto-highway was created to access the Road from what was the western edge of the developed city. It was called Copper Lane. It was a diagonal road that began at Cedar (South Street) and ran through the wilderness to the Federal Road. Once the city developed all the way over, the road was renamed a few times but still existed, cutting its way through the grid like Passyunk Avenue (the Passyunk Road) and Point Breeze Avenue (Long Lane) do today.
There it is, unlabeled on this 1808 map. The big "MO" is for Moyamensing. South of South Street wasn't even part of the city as this point. Map from the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
As the city developed, more and more blocks of the old Copper Lane started to disappear. By the 1850s, it was considered part of Juniper Street and lost half its length. It would stay this way until 1960, when the Hawthorne neighborhood was cleared for the Hawthorne Square/MLK Plaza project. Ever since, the road has existed as two half-blocks called Clarion Street.
Why am I telling you all this? Because this gigantic empty lot runs adjacent to the old Copper Lane. This lot has spent most of its time as your standard Philadelphia block of rowhouses. An interstitial street called Write's Court ran halfway across the lot, entering from Kater Street. This little alley had eight trinity houses stuffed into a 42-foot-by-60-foot space. The area was considered quite the shitty neighborhood for most of the 20th century, so the incremental loss of these houses is no big surprise. The beginnings of the empty lot started all the way back in the 1960s when several of the Kater Street-facing homes were demolished for parking.
Write's Court in its final days, 1971. Image from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
Some of the last Kater Street-facing houses in 1971. Check out Tower 1 of MLK Plaza in the background. Image from PhillyHistory.org. a project of the Department of Records.
Little by little, more and more pieces of the rowhouse block were lost and the parking lot got bigger and bigger. Nonetheless, the vast majority of lost homes were along Kater Street... the lot was an extension of the large empty lot that once existed where the 1352 Loft now stands. The Bainbridge-facing row would last all the through the 20th century. About the same time that MLK Plaza was demolished and the area began revitalizing, the Bainbridge homes started to disappear.
The corner of Bainbridge and Clarion was gone by 2002, as were the homes on the west part of the block by 2004. By the time 1352 Lofts was built in 2006, the seven remaining homes facing Bainbridge Street were abandoned and awaiting demolition. The sites of those last seven homes were not paved over until 2010, giving birth to the Copper Lane Copper Lot as we know it today ... stinkifying a newly-reborn neighborhood.
Unlike other similarly sized lots, this one's days are numbered. The many properties that make up the lot were recently purchased by Clarke Real Estate Development LLC for $5 million. Just last week, Naked Philly broke the story about what would be built here: 22 high-end homes and a mixed-use building facing Clarion Street (Copper Lane!). The homes will feature green roofs and a bunch of other crap that people think it's cool to like. The houses will be fucking humongous — four stories and 50 feet tall. The architect is the Harmon Deutsch firm.
They should call it Copper Lane Mansionmesh or just Write's Court.
Good for you, shitty empty lot. Looks like you're gonna get some expensive-ass houses. Now you just have to find some mega-rich suckers that'll buy these motherfuckers. Good luck.
What's left of Copper Lane.
Schools PR effort includes GOP lobbyist funded by William Penn. Schools chair calls City Paper exposé a “fantasy.”
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has discovered that the William Penn Foundation has spent more than $160,000 on a public-relations campaign for the School Reform Commission, which faces mounting criticism over a proposal developed by the Boston Consulting Group that would dismantle the central office, close more than 60 schools, and potentially put those that remain open under private management.
The Notebook reported that William Penn is paying the Bravo Group, controlled by Mitt Romney fundraiser and long-time state Republican leader Chris Bravacos. The money is being passed through the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
News of the Chamber of Commerce payment confirms and expands upon City Paper's July 5 cover story on president Jeremy Nowak's leadership of William Penn, where we reported that SRC Chairman Pedro “Ramos had asked the Chamber of Commerce to bankroll a lobbying campaign.”
Among Philly's more depressing sights are the last scraps of abandoned bikes that've been left chained to city signposts and harvested for their useful parts. Ahead of today's announced Streets Department removal of the steel and titanium carcasses, Philly artist Corrina Mehiel took the opportunity to "rehab" some of the bikes in a creative if not exactly practical art project that subbed in nonfunctional wood and plywood parts for missing or broken pieces. In case you missed her project, called Bike (Ph)ix, over the weekend, check out the video of a ghost-bike makeover in action.
No voter-fraud evidence, lots of abortion restrictions and other news from Tom Corbett's Pennsylvania.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's weekly blog post on last week's state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, but pretending that Tom Corbett doesn't exist will not make him go away. Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
Pennsylvania's new law requiring voters to present ID at the polls is, critics say, a solution in search of a problem — and one that could needlessly suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, disproportionately impacting students and the poor, black and elderly (i.e. Democrats).
And so right-wing state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was thrilled by Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt's new report on voting irregularities, declaring that it “finally confirms what leading Democrat opponents of voter photo ID and those in the mainstream media have been denying all along. … Philadelphia is without question one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption.”
Last night's water-main break left major damage in South Philly where several blocks were evacuated. CP's Emily Guendelsberger got some shots before the water levels went down — and found a small river at 21st and Pemberton.
Follow Isaiah Thompson on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia unceremoniously found itself in the middle of one of the nastier fights in the country right now: that over whether states should require photo ID at polling places and whether such laws, invariably pushed by Republicans, serve their purported purpose ― to stamp out “voter fraud” ― or a far less noble purpose of suppressing likely Democratic votes.
That question got stickier on Wednesday, when Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt (Philadelphia elections are overseen by three independently-elected City Commissioners; Schmidt is the sole Republican) released a report alleging hundreds of cases of voting “irregularities” and “fraud.” the response from Pennsylvania Republicans was quick and unsurprising:
The report “finally confirms what leading Democrat opponents of voter photo ID and those in the mainstream media have been denying all along,” wrote State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, Majority Chairman of the House State Government Committee, and a powerful conservative force in Harrisburg.
“Philadelphia is without question one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption.” Schmidt's findings “add to the ever-growing collection of indisputable evidence proving that requiring the display of valid voter photo ID at the ballot box is essential to deterring election fraud,” he contintued, adding, rather ominously, that “we must develop additional solutions that go beyond voter photo ID to stamp out corrupting influences.”
Metcalfe's point was clear: he, and his Republican cohorts in the state legislature, had been right to pass this spring a new law, of which Metcalfe was the primary sponsor, requiring photo identification to vote in Pennsylvania elections ― and Schmidt's report was proof of that.
The only problem with that is that Schmidt's report — while containing legitimate and potentially serious findings of voting problems in Philadelphia — confirms virtually nothing in Metcalfe's triumphant statement. And while the report did point to troubling instances of what might be incompetence or corruption by poll workers, the report contains precious little relating to the only problem that voter ID requirements are supposed to solve ― that of voter impersonation ― citing a single case that had been documented prior to Schmidt's investigation.
As far as the justification for photo ID goes, the report contained nothing new at all — nor did the report or Schmidt himself claim any connection between its findings and a need for photo ID. But you wouldn't know that from the press coming out of Harrisburg's GOP, which has treated it like the ultimate justification of a need for voter ID the people have been waiting for.
But that it assuredly isn't.
The purported purpose of Pennsylvania's law and others like it around the country — efforts being coordinated by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which itself receives funding from the ultra-conservative and fabulously wealthy Koch Brothers — is to eliminate the possibility of "voter fraud" at the polls. But while there are several ways voter fraud might theoretically be perpetrated, the only one that would be stopped by requiring voter ID is voter impersonation, in which someone pretends to be someone they are not to vote. That's one reason that many critics of voter ID laws believe their real purpose is simply to suppress the votes of the elderly, poor, and minorities, who various studies have shown would be disproportionately affected by ID requirements.
(Nearly 760,000 voters in Pennsylvania,or roughly 9% of all registered voters, do not have PennDOT Ids, according to data released last Tuesday by the Pennsyvlania Department of State; in Philadelphia, a heavily Demcoratic city, roughly 18% of voters have no such ID)
One small difficulty supporters of Voter ID laws have had countering this claim is that voter fraud, especially of the sort that ID requirements would stop, hasn't been shown to, well, exist as a substantial problem.
Documented cases are extremely rare. The studies showing this are many, but particularly enlightening is the case of Indiana, whose legislature recently passed a requirement for voter ID that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the law in a 6-3 ruling ― but, as Justice John Paul Stevens notes in his majority opinion, found that the record had shown “no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.” A 3-year-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice from 2003 to 2005, spurred by (mostly Republican) intimations of rampant voter fraud on a national scale, ended in charges against only five people.
When they talk about voter fraud, proponents of Voter ID laws have to dig deep indeed for examples ― or they just talk about ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the group infamously accused in 2008 of voter fraud thanks to many examples of bogus voter registration forms submitted by ACORN workers who were being paid a commission.
The problem with this example? None of those bogus registrations was ever found to have translated into an actual vote.
The sort of voter fraud feared in these cases ― voter impersonation ― is supposedly the cause for voter ID laws, even though it is one of the least, perhaps the least, common forms of fraud ever documented.
Did City Commissioner Schmidt's report change that? Hardly.
Schmidt's report, titled “Voting Irregularities in Philadelphia County, 2012 Election,” began with the admittedly surprising revelation by him and fellow City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democratic, of 779 cases in which the machine count at a Philadelphia polling place didn't match a count of the number of signatures entered in the poll logs, which voters sign when they vote. It's this number from which the assertion of “hundreds” of irregularities comes.
Schmidt and his team took a sample of the most problematic divisions in the city and attempted to discover what accounted for the discrepancy. In the process, Schmidt says, his team uncovered seven distinct “types of voting irregularities,” ranging from voters having voted in the wrong party's primary to the very serious charge, so central to the debate over Voter ID, of “voter impersonation.”
But anyone looking for proof that Philadelphia is, as Rep. Metcalfe put it, “one of our nation's most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud” won't find it here ― especially when you get down to numbers.
Schmidt's report does not, in fact, contain any breakdown of how many or what proportion of the nearly 800 “over-votes” examined might be attributed to which of the seven types of irregularities he mentions.
In an interview, Schmidt told City Paper that his report was “a qualitative and not a quantitative analysis,” and was focused on citing examples rather than presenting raw numbers; those numbers, he said, are not a representative sample and reporting them would have been irresponsible.
Responsible or not, it creates a problem for the reader: The report begins by citing "hundreds" of cases of irregularity or fraud but gives no numerical accounting of what caused them, even within in the specific divisions sampled and examined.
Some, Schmidt has acknowledged (without saying, even roughly, how many), were likely the result of multiple divisions being located at the same polling place. Others were the result of people voting in the wrong primary. Both errors could possibly constitute intentional fraud, but could also be attributed to simple human error. Of the 14 divisions in which machines recorded more votes than poll books recorded signatures ― the cases of “over-voting” ― how many were cases of votes getting innocently crossed between adjacent divisions? The report doesn't say, and neither, after several conversations, does Schmidt.
The breakdown gets even trickier when it comes to the four more sinister types of “irregularity” listed in the report ― voting by non-registered individuals, individuals voting more than once, voting by non-U.S. Citizens, and voter impersonation.
Examples — and they are examples, not statistics — of each range from few to none: Schmidt cites one case in the 2012 primary of someone voting twice; and one case, which had already been reported, of what appears to be voter impersonation. Then there are the non-U.S. Citizen votes: over a period of 10 years, seven such votes were cast.
His finding that poll officials have let people vote using “voter slips,” a kind of unofficial provisional ballot, without having the voter certified by the Board of Elections first, for example, is indeed surprising and suggests at least the possibility of corruption ― but turns out to account for a maximum of 150 “over-votes” out of nearly 800, only 23 of which were cast by non-registered voters.
That number, 23, is the single largest citation of improper voting in the entire report ― and a problem that should have been prevented by current voting rules, with or without photo ID requirements.
Of the various irregularities cited in the report — and of the "hundreds" of irregularities mentioned in its introduction — in fact, only one instance would have been affected by a photo ID requirement.
In an interview, Schmidt asserts that “one case is one case too many,” a refrain often used by proponents of voter ID requirements (Schmidt himself declined to take a position on voter ID in a recent interview, saying his job was simply to enforce existing laws; on the campaign trail he was vague on the issue, saying he opposed Pennsylvania's proposed voter ID law "as it was written" because it was an unfunded mandate).
As to the political context in which his report is being cited — like Metcalfe's issued statement — Schmidt says, "It would be appropriat to compare quotes like that with those who say there isn't 'any' voter fraud in Philadelphia," pointing specifically to a recent column by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Annette John Hall, who wrote: "There is no fraud."
City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, Schmidt's Democratic counterpart and chairwoman of the City Commissioners, sees things a little differently. At worst, she says, Schmidt's report found an instance of fraud preventable by a photo ID requirement representing 0.001 percent ― or about one millionth ― of the registered Philadelphia voting population at that time, she said in a press release. “Compare that to the 17 percent of Philadelphians being threatened by the voter ID law today.”
But so little of this debate, as Rep. Metcalfe, now intimating a need for “solutions that go beyond voter ID,” has made clear, is about numbers. It's about perception. And when it comes to perception ― say the perception, unsubstantiated by this report, that fraud runs rampant in Philadelphia or that requiring voter ID would stop it ― well, numbers just get in the way.
Ostensibly free-marketeers, Republicans are downright sore losers when they face defeat in the marketplace of ideas. Though very few conservatives pursue a career in reporting, many make their way to the punditocracy from where they work the refs, charging the mainstream media with “liberal bias” instead of rebutting them on the facts. Similarly, conservatives like Rick Santorum have for a long time derided universities as sites for left-wing “indoctrination.”
"It's no wonder President Obama wants every kid go to go college," Santorum said during the spring primary. "The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure there wasn't one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities, right?”
The bated-breath hysterics aren't new. Amidst the nationalist fervor that swept this country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as I reported nine years ago as an undergraduate, conservatives attacked any professor that “challenge[d] the traditional picture of America as a blemish-free beacon of freedom and progress,” creating websites like Campus Watch to denounce individual academics by name.
The Big Green Block — the hard to encapsulate collaboration between New Kensington CDC, Mural Arts, Parks & Rec and the Philly Water Department — is moving into phase two of greening, improving stormwater management and generally beautifying Frankford Avenue and neighboring areas. At a meeting last week, neighbors debated plans for a section of the area that currently includes a pretty rough-looking dog park. They also got to see some plans currently near finalization — including a mini waterpark for the area just outside the Shissler Rec center on Blair Street just off of Frankford. It's designed by Mural Arts and will be installed in October, according to Shari Hersh of Mural Arts. There will also be a new basketball court with a water-retention basin underneath.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt released a report today claiming widespread voting "irregularities" and potential "voter fraud," in Philadelphia.
The report is almost sure to attract at least some attention from the national GOP, which has used the specter of voting fraud as a justification for a slew of voter ID laws around the country, even though very few instances of voter fraud have been uncovered nationally.
This spring, both Schmidt, a Republican, and City Commissioners Chairwoman Stephanie discussed findings of voting irregularities, holding a joint press conference to announce that some machines had reported more votes than were recorded in poll logs, and promising to conduct an investigation.
But today's report was produced by solely by Schmidt and his office; minutes before his press conference, Singer told this reporter that her office had just seen the report for the first time.
We'll have more on this soon, but Schmidt essentially reported having found 7 types of voting "irregularities" in Philadelphia's 2012 primary election. Of those, three or four -- notably, "voter impersonation," "individuals voting more than once," might, he said, constitute fraud.
It's worth noting here that Schmidt's investigation found very few instances of these alleged crimes. Schmidt reports one (1) case of voter impersonation, which dates back to 2007 and which has already been reported. The reports cites one (1) example of someone allegedly voting twice. The report also found 7 voters who voted in the last ten years and were subsequently rejected from the rolls because they were not U.S. citizens.
It's also worth noting that recently-passed voter ID laws wouldn't stop most of the problems (and the most numerous) identified in the report.
What's very hard to know from this report is whether these few instances represent a wider problem or whether, on the contrary, they confirm that any problems are small. It's hard to say: Schmidt's team examined fewer than 20 polling places, and only those that had shown irregularities already in the machine count versus the number of signatures in the poll log. That might suggest that these numbers show voting irregularities and potential fraud to be a very small issue. On the other hand, many of the issues Schmidt describes were unrelated to vote counts and were discovered by accident — meaning we might have no idea how widespread they are.
Less difficult to see are the political ramifications: Republicans will likely flock to this report as proof of a need for "tougher" voting laws, whether or not those laws address the problems at hand.
Democratic City Commission Chair Stephanie Singer, meanwhile, says Schmidt's report was "a report released in a hurry," and "a stunt to manipulate the press," and that Schmidt's only "finding" a voter impersonation case from 2007 only "gives me confidence there was no voter impersonation in 2008, 2009, 2010, or later."
"I'm disappointed … the Al Schmidt I met on the campaign trail is a man of great integrity and very deliberate … I don't know why he's put his name on this."
Schmidt says he's just doing his job. "I put my name on this report because I have terrific confidence that the findings are accurate."
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