Archive: November, 2010
The Clog would like to introduce a new feature, "Ask a Man-About-Town." The idea is that we'll tell you a little about said man (or woman), and then you can submit questions you'd like to ask them, which they'll answer. For instance, we give you a window washer; you ask, "How far up buildings do birds nest?" or "Ever see anyone jump?" or even "How did you get rid of those damn streaks?!" Please submit your questions in the comments or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sulaiman Kumara didn't foresee becoming the Philadelphia Security Officers Union treasurer when he started as a security guard at the PMA last year. At the time, he was working in the Park House (he now has shifts at both the Park House and the museum's main building), which is patrolled by only one security guard at a time, so he'd heard nothing of a union until every guard was called in for a mandatory meeting. The meeting was anti-union: "Vote no," the guards were allegedly told. "The union just wants your money." Kumara says he didn't believe it.
Kumara learned more about the union from campaign organizer Fabricio Rodriguez and since then, he's been an active member of the group. He thinks that AlliedBarton and other security firms take advantage of the fact that most of their employees don't know about their rights.
"I'm going to do everything I can because I can't just stand by and watch," he says.
When he's not at the PMA, Kumara is studying finance at Temple University. He's also a big Eagles fan and likes to read personal development books. He grew up in Southwest Philly and now lives in the Northeast.
Did anyone hear anything about the South Street Bridge reopening this weekend?
I'll bet. The Nutter administration didn't exactly forget to remind every journalist in town about it late last week â or all weekend. Having favorably mentioned the bridge's reopening within the context of the city's greatly-improving bicycle amenities last week, this reporter found himself eagerly sought-after by the mayor's press office do write about it . . . again.
But hey, why not? The bridge's reopening is, after all, a big deal for Center City, South Street, and a game-changer for commuters (especially bike commuters) from West Philadelphia. And it opened ahead of schedule. And it looks great, and it represents one of the more forward-thinking city projects we've seen in the last few years.
Ask Deputy Mayor of Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler, and the bridge represents nothing less
than a model for city government at its best. Three years ago, as Mayor Nutter took the reigns, the bridge's overhaul had been dragging on for some fifteen years.
"It was really a poster child for government failure," Cutler says. "And I didn't want a ten-year nightmare on my hands."
What followed, she says, was a concerted effort to get the bridge done quickly while navigating a maze of competing interests and visions from the public: some wanted the bridge widened â but that would have cost more and required rebuilding the pilings; others wanted better pedestrian and bicycle amenities.
"It set a tone for how we will do this in the future," Cutler says. "That everything does not have to look like a highway bridge, and that it's really important to engage the community before you have your design."
The result was a two year project that left the bridge with bicycle lanes in both directions, a pedestrian crosswalk, scenic lookouts over the Schuylkill, and (to come) a ramp connecting the bridge to the Schuylkill River Trail below.
Cutler, perhaps deservedly proud, calls it "A new model going forward in terms of how we do design, community engagement, and how we need to pay attention to project delivery."
What do you think? Post opinions, observations, rants, etc. about the new bridge below.
In his words:
For the past several months I have been listening to the voices of Philadelphians and hearing their concerns about the future of our city. They have spoken with a clear message of angst about the city's lack of direction, expressed through the fears that parents have for the safety of their families and neighbors, the concerns of seniors with the rising cost of living in the city, and the frustrations of younger Philadelphians that the city isn't competing well for decent paying jobs that can sustain families. I heard the concern about failing schools and the uncertain future facing so many children.
I have also seen a growing aggravation with City government its unresponsiveness, its inability to help solve community problems, and its unwillingness to partner with citizens on creative and collaborative projects to improve Philadelphia.
I have talked candidly with many community leaders about my making another run for the Office of Mayor and received much encouragement and support. Philadelphians vest a great deal of hope for our city in our Mayor and the kind of leadership that he or she can provide. As someone who has run for that office on three prior occasions, I understand the potential that a strong and visionary Mayor can create for the people of this city. Many of those I discussed my possible candidacy with feel that leadership and vision are lacking at this critical time. Philadelphia needs a City government that matches the growing optimism that has defined the nascent citizen-led renaissance of recent years.
While I believe that new leadership is needed, I have decided not to enter the 2011 Democratic Primary for Mayor. This was not an easy choice for me. Political and personal factors weighed most heavily in my decision.
Although Connie and my children supported my decision to pass on this race, they were all prepared to pitch in and work hard on another campaign, had I chosen that path. I am a very lucky man to have such a wonderful family.
I remain fully committed to working with other Philadelphians towards a better city, one that embraces the extraordinary capacities of its people to help make it stronger, more livable and more economically competitive. I am equally enthusiastic about the prospects of helping Philadelphians learn more about our city's history through the documentary film on that history which we are producing. There is much more to be done on this exciting project. If we do it right, and we fully expect to, future mayors and other leaders of our civic life will gain insight into our city's unique past in a way that can help all of us steer towards a brighter future.
I intend that my voice will continue to be heard on the issues that Philadelphia must now honestly and effectively resolve. And I look forward to those opportunities.
Even as Foxwoods continues to plead for a second chance to build a second Philadelphia casino, now with Harrah's as management, Sugarhouse Casino's revenues have dropped almost every week since it opened, according to figures released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).
|Revenue (in millions of dollars, on left) over the past six weeks|
Yeah, it happened: Corbett. Toomey. Rand Paul. Rick Scott, the Medicare defrauder who, somehow, became governor of a state full of old people. Speaker John Boehner in tears of orange-hued joy. The largest Republican majority in a half-century, probably the most ideologically conservative House since the New Deal, if not longer. Liberals aghast. Democrats in disarray. Obama's agenda eviscerated. Mitch McConnell declaring that the GOP's No. 1 goal these next two years is to not help the economy but make sure Obama is a one-termer. Many liberal activists are already convinced that will be the case.
Oh the humanity.
Now, everybody take a deep breath, and chill out.
Yeah, it was a big election, a big pendulum swing, a reckoning, if you want to call it that. And for all of the caterwauling and Monday-morning quarterbacking, it was basically inevitable, for one big reason, and a bunch of lesser ones.
The big reason: The economy. When the economy sucks, the in-party loses. For all the hubbub about health care, or the deficit, or whatever, this is and will continue to be the single largest determinant in prognosticating elections. Add to it the facts that the Dems had picked up a lot of red-state districts the last couple years meaning a lot of vulnerable Blue Dogs and that its not at all uncommon for the president's party to suffer big losses in mid-terms, and this cake was baked months ago.
The Republicans also benefited from, essentially, disengaging themselves from any actual governance these last two years: They fought everything, no matter how obvious or necessary, even if the ideas the president pushed came from Republicans or were backed by scientists or economics, and when facts didn't suit their case, they simply made shit up (see âdeath panelsâ). The political genius of not having a stake in things and by, in fact, gumming up the works by opposing both the stimulus and other Dem efforts at job creation under the auspice of fiscal responsibility is that they knew that, given the enormity of the problem, the economy wouldn't bounce back before 2010, and the president's party would take the blame.
In a general sense, the Republicans capitalized on anxiety, rather than their own policies: According to various exit polls, even this GOP-skewed electorate favors letting the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent expire and is split on health care reform. In perhaps the most logically incongruent stat of the day, among those who blame Wall Street for the economy, 56 percent voted for the Republicans who uniformly opposed Wall Street reform. It's less a mandate, and more a win by default.
That's not to say campaigns don't matter: The GOP outperformed expectations a little.
Republicans, however, did somewhat better than you might expect based on having won the national house ballot by 6-7 points. There are various formulas that attempt to translate the generic ballot or the House popular vote into a seat count without worrying about how things work out at a district-by-district level. Those formulas would generally translate a 6-7 point popular vote win into something like a 50 or 55 seat gain for Republicans. Instead, it looks like Republicans will net something on the order of 65 seats. The Republican vote was evidently concentrated in a way that was quite efficient.
Conversely, were it not for candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck and Sharron Angle, the Democrats may well have lost, or come closer to losing, the Senate. (The Republicans came closer than they should have to losing in Pennsylvania, which I'll get to in a minute.) That's something for Republicans to keep in mind while nominating presidential candidates: Congressional districts, at least in part because of how they're typically gerrymandered, are more generous to far-right candidates than are more heterogenous statewide races. There's a better-than-average shot that whoever the GOP nominates in 2012 will lose, anyway more on that in a minute, too but this is doubly so if the candidate is ideologically closer to Jim DeMint than, say, Mitt Romney.
Another factor: Elections are determined by who shows up. Enthusiasm gap aside, here's why the Republicans did well:
Old people comprised a huge voting bloc; young people didn't. These over-65 voters helped shoot down that pot initiative in California, for instance. The overall demographic, especially in the Rust Belt, where the Dems got hammered, was also considerably more white than in 2008. As a rule, white, old people lean Republican. Even more so in times of social upheaval: That's why the GOP's attacks on the health care bill were so effective; the legislation was presented as an alteration of the fundamentals of America itself. You also saw this echoed in Republican opposition to illegal immigration, which in at least some cases took on an overtly racist component, and to a lesser degree in the right wing charges that Obama is a Marxist, Kenyan, socialist, Muslim, whatever. When big change happens, there is always a reaction; in this case, and not surprisingly at all, it was a move toward authoritarianism. The Republicans benefited from that it rallied the troops and drove out their base.
I won't delve much into the billions with a b of dollars big corporations pumped in to races all over the country after that Citizens United ruling, mainly because I haven't seen anyone really quantify the effect yet (though I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion at APSA forums all over the country next year). But I can't help but imagine that allowing big corporations to throw around massive amounts of money from anonymous donors with no accountability or transparency didn't matter. After all, if money didn't affect anything, these companies wouldn't be spending it.
The oft-discussed enthusiasm gap mattered, as well, at least in the sense that Dems didn't get the turnout they needed. But to some degree or another, this is, again, not unexpected: A lot of core Dem groups the young, minorities don't vote at very high rates in off-years. Philly's turnout yesterday was a dismal
29 percent.* (UPDATE: This early figure is incorrect. The correct figure is 40.18 percent.). And that's why you have Senator Toomey, who had Philly been around 40 50 percent, would have almost certainly lost. (Philly has about 1.1 million registered voters: half would be 550,000. If the 84-16 split held, that would be another 115,000 or so votes for Sestak, if my back-of-napkin math is correct. Sestak lost the statewide race by a bit shy of 80,000 votes.)
Check out these maps of the gov and senate races:
Sestak and Onorato won Philadelphia by huge numbers; but not enough of us showed up to offset the Republicanism of the T and this state's rural areas. So, Toomey eked out a victory that, in any other year, he probably wouldn't have. He'll be up for reelection during a presidential election, in 2016; he barely won, even in the biggest Republican wave since Truman. My money has him as a one-termer.
So what's the takeaway: Simply, if the economy improves, Obama will be reelected. From the estimable political scientist/forecaster Alan Abramowitz:
|Alan Abramowitz, PS: Political Science and Politics, October 2008|
In short, if the economy is growing by at least 3 percent in the second quarter of 2012 and the resiliency of the American economy over the years implies that this is likely history suggests that Obama is an odds-on favorite, no matter his opponent. There are a few exceptions: 1968, during Vietnam; 1976, after Watergate; 1992, when the economy was actually doing relatively OK, but people thought things were going poorly, and the incumbent president seemed out of touch (and also, without going too far afield, it's very difficult for any party to win four consecutive presidential elections). What's more, even if the economy doesn't rebound, the president will have what will likely be a do-nothing Congress to run against, and the probability that whoever he runs against will have to get the blessing of the Tea Party to win the nomination, which means he'll have a foil in the way he doesn't have now.
The economy is and will remain the biggest predictor, but predictions of his demise are, to say the least, premature.
Long post short: This wasn't a sea change. This was a the natural aftermath of a down economy, and a Democratic base that didn't bother to vote, while white conservatives and the elderly voted in droves. A reaction is warranted: The prez has to deal with a Speaker Boehner, and a very conservative GOP caucus. But the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House, so a stalemate is more likely than anything else (unless the Republicans decide to take at least some ownership of the problems they helped create under George W. Bush, which doesn't seem likely). That's unfortunate, given the times, but it is what it is. From Andrew Sullivan's blog:
Republicans may be claiming the latest vote was against big spending and deficits. But the GOP relied so heavily on votes from the elderly that it suggests what really upset these voters was $500bn in Medicare cuts over 10 years, and more than $1 trillion in the next 10. Anyone looking at the long term projections for spending knows that the main worry is Medicare, and this is the number one issue in any serious attempt to curb the deficit.
That Obama was willing to take on this issue says a lot for his courage and responsibility that few are giving him credit for. Of course Obama's proposals didn't go anywhere near far enough, but he seems to have breached the limits of what is politically possible in addressing the number one spending problem (and taxes too, simply by returning only the very rich to Clinton-era levels). Republicans have gotten away with a nonsense, that the government should pay for whatever health care the elderly want, but that either raising taxes to pay for it, or restrictions on how the money is spent, would threaten freedom. This is madness, and makes a budget crisis look inevitable.
Editor's note: Yesterday, because the rest of us are completely tired of this political season, we dispatched intern Caitlin Durkin to the Michelle Obama fiesta in West Philly. She ended up driving the four hours to Penn State so she could cast her ballot, then filed this report. America â¦ fuck yeah!
It all started less than a day agp, sitting outside Penn's Perelman Quadrangle in the November cold alongside hundreds of students, waiting for Michelle Obama to appear. I was there on my first Clog assignment, and I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for: I was there to report on the speakers and politicians preaching about the importance of voting, and then prepare a rant on how everyone should go vote, lest the GOP win and reverse everything good President Obama has done. I had statistics at the ready: for instance, how Republicans are banking on the fact that the 22 percent of first-time voters wouldn't be back out today.
But I had a secret attacking my conscious.
I am a registered Democrat, and was a first time voter in 2008, but I wouldn't be voting this election. You see, I had forgotten to get my registration changed back to Philadelphia, after coming back from college at Penn State last year. I didn't think it was a big deal. Just get it fixed next time, right? Sure, I could rant all I wanted, no one would ever know. I'd guilt Philly's young adults, all those kids who didn't have to worry about voting so much, now that they can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26, who have perhaps become apathetic or disillusioned with politics in general, who figure they have a few more years to start voicing any concerns of their own, until they needed government to start working for them.
Then, Joe Sestak got up to the podium. His message was a little hard to follow: He messed up his opening story about farmers lending to farmers and he switched subjects right in the middle of an explanation then never came back to explain it. It wasn't so much a bad politician up there, but a tired man, trying really hard to convey a message to a crowd that he urgently needs in his corner.
That was the moment it hit me: if this man, a retired Navy admiral, had given his life to public service, to both protecting this country, and specifically, voting to protect people like me from being overwhelmed with debt before they even graduate college, I had to do my part.
After Michelle Obama's mothering speech to America's youth and future, I darted out of the quadrangle, waited in line at Starbucks for 20 minutes and then ran to catch a train to my mother's house in Ambler. I woke her up when I arrived at 11:30 pm, and I don't think she realized I was borrowing her car until this morning when I returned with it. My first blog assignment for City Paper, just like that, had turned into a four-hour drive up to my alma mater Penn State. I voted on my old college stomping grounds at North Atherton Street, grabbed a little breakfast and raced back to Philly for work.
Now, I'm back and late for work, but at least I can say with a guilt-free conscious that you'd better get out and vote.
|Photo | Ryan Donnell|
|A polling place at a South Philly private residence.|
We're desperate to get you bums out to vote we're looking at you, Democrats who never vote during midterms so we're using any argument we can. How about this one: Vote to see Philly's truly strange polling places, including a Southwest auto repair shop, a funeral home, a bar and a bowling alley.
Ryan Donnell did a lovely online photo essay titled "Philadelphia Polling Places," which chronicles these charming spots. Please do check it out â¦ in person, too.
Sledgehammers bashing open polling places, cops called to the Mummers Museum, and more Election Day mishaps!
The Committee of Seventy, Philly's elections watchdog, just sent CP its most recent update on Election Day mishaps.
The best first:
Real Numbers of Problems with Machines/Polling Places. As I reported earlier, there were numerous reports of malfunctioning voting machines and late poll openings across the city. In total, we had 24 reports by 9 a.m., with more coming in since. One unconventional way to make sure the polls open happened in West Philly: Poll workers tried to open the door, but the key broke off in the lock. A sledgehammer solved the problem. Seventy is not recommending this approach.
(The City Paper, on the contrary, awards the City Paper Badge of Civic Merit to whoever just bashed that thing open on behalf of voters).
We have at least 10 specific reports of problems with court-appointed Minority Inspectors, including some kind of confrontation at the Mummer's Museum in South Philly. The police and the District Attorney's Office were called.
(Philadelphia Police's Public Affairs unit told CP no information is available on the incident yet)
Another problem in South Philly occurred at the Palumbo School where the polls opened 30 minutes late because poll workers were "arguing." At the Whittier School in Northwest Philly, a Minority Inspector was seated but reported to us feeling intimidated and left. At the Allen School (also in NW Philly), the Minority Inspector was seated, but then asked to leave.
Identification. Also from Montgomery County are two reports from East Norriton that a Judge of Elections was demanding photo ID from all voters. (Identification is required only for first-time voters or voters casting a ballot for the first time in a new division.) Seventy and the ACLU reported this to the Board of Elections in Montgomery County.
PhillyClout's Catherine Lucy reported earlier this morning:
Committee of Seventy reports that they've gotten complaints about machines being down at the Chestnut Hill Library, as well as some late openings and confusion over relocated polling places. And a reader tells PhillyClout that all the machines were down at Shawmont Elementary School this morning and voters were given provisional ballots.
Ok: You've completely ignored the many attempts to get you to pay attention to where and how to vote, and now you need help. That's fine. Here's the lowdown.
Step 1: Can you even vote? Because you sure didn't register for no midterm.
If you voted before (in the November 2008 election, say), and still reside at the same address, you are still registered!
Step 2: How do you find your polling place?
You do it here, at VotePA.org, or
You do it here, at the Committee of Seventy website
(Don't even mess around with this site, maintained by the City Commissioners office, the only one of these three groups directly responsible for overseeing Philadelphia elections).
Step 3: What do you need to bring?
If you've voted before, nothing.
If this is your first time, bring picture ID. If you don't have that, bring what you can â and make sure it has your address. If anything goes wrong and you are denied a normal ballot, request a provisional ballot and keep the receipt.
Step 4: What is a ballot question?
Besides the candidates, there will be four ballot questions. It's Our Money's inaugural podcast did a pretty good job of describing them in about four minutes.
Briefly, they are:
1. Should the city charter be amended to allow City Council to impose living-wage restrictions on businesses who contract with the city?
2. Should the city's Procurement division be allowed to engage in electronic bidding and purchasing for city materials (or continue using papyrus - kidding)?
3. The city already prohibits discrimination in contracts on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin; should the list be updated to include ancestry, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or disability?
4. Should the city borrow $106,690,000.00 for capital projects in transit, streets and sanitation, municipal Buildings, parks, recreation and museums, and economic and community development?
For more detail on these questions, check the Committee of Seventy's breakdown (note: Seventy will present you with a neutral explanation, but also its own opinion on each).
Step 5: Who do I call when the ship goes down?
If you have problems, here is a long, long list of numbers from the DA's office:
Chairperson, Honorable Margaret Tartaglione 215-686-3461
Commissioners OfficeRoom 132 215-686-3462
Commissioner Anthony Clarke
Honorable Joseph Duda 215-686-3464
COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY 1-866-687-8683
ELECTION DAY COMPLAINTS 215-686-1590
VOTING MACHINE MALFUNCTION 215-686-7800
ELECTION BOARD 215-686-3469
(Absentee Ballots and Poll workers) 215-686-3943
ELECTION LEGAL MATTERS 215-686-3940
MISSING ELECTION MATERIALS 215-686-1530
WATCHER CERTIFICATES 215-686-1530
CITY HALL OPERATOR 215-686-1776
COURT OF COMMON PLEAS INTERPRETERS 1-866-874-3972
DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S COMPLAINT 215-686-9641
INTAKE UNIT 215-686-9643
DEMOCRATIC CITY COMMITTEE 215-241-7800
REPUBLICAN CITY COMMITTEE 215-561-0650
CENTRAL ELECTION COURT 215-686-4278
(Holy smokes, we forgot to mention this is part of CP's ongoing coverage of Philadelphia's slow, but surely inevitable march toward becoming *Biketopia*)
On Thursday, a group of urban transportation technocrats visited Philly for a tour of what we do and don't have going on bicycle-wise. They belonged to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a group which shares ideas and acts as a lobby for better urban-centric transportation (it turns out that transportation money and policy tends to be disseminated at the state level, which skews disproportionately away from urban issues).
Our visitors included Washington, D.C.-based NACTO Executive Director Eric Gilliland, Portland, OR City Traffic Engineer Robert Burchfield and San Francisco Deputy Director of Planning and Development Timothy N. Papandreou.
The tour was lead by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (disclosure: I'm a tee-shirt-owning member), and a few of the chief players from city administration who've been overseeing the actual implementation of Philly's Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan. Bike policy geeks (and angry blowhards) might find this info useful, so here are the brains behind the lanes: Andrew Stober, Chief of Staff at the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities; Aaron Ritz, who works under him; Steve Buckley, Deputy Commissioner of Transportation; Charles Carmalt, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator; and Jeanette Brugger, who works on pedestrian and open space issues and the city's Bike & Pedestrian plan for the City Planning Commission.
To give an idea of what this ride was like, our first stop was at the buffered westbound bike lane on Spruce, where we watched a bus and two bicyclists approach the intersection. It was a test-case: the shared use of the lanes by buses and pedestrians is one of those things planners try to plan for.
"Let the bike geekiness begin!" declared a triumphant Andrew Stober, as all three made it through the intersection without incident.
|From L: Transportation's Andrew Stober, Bike Coalition's Alex Doty, San
Francisco's Timothy N. Papandreou
That's not to say the tour was all back slapping and hurrahs. Included in the tour was the Ben Franklin bridge â the single bikeable (or walkable, for that matter) connection between New Jersey and Philly â whose opening and closing hours are notoriously fuzzy, and which, amazingly, is shut down completely to non-automotive traffic if there's any significant snowfall. Since the Delaware River Port Authority doesn't shovel the walkway either, noted Advocacy Director John Boyle, the bridge simply remains shut down until the snow melts.
There was "riverfront" bike trail â put in quotes because, as one rider rhetorically asked the group at a stop in Penn Treaty park, "How many of you saw the river before we got here?" Except for a new "trail," about half a block long, behind the Sugarhouse casino, Philly's riverfront bike trail remains woefully not-by-the-river.
Still, there's much to be excited about: The South Street bridge is set to re-open this week, and will feature new bike lanes in each direction, the eastbound lane extending down south street to 22nd street, where another bike lane guides cyclists up to the buffered bike lane on Pine street, which extends across Center City.
For anyone who commutes â or is contemplating it â by bicycle from West Philly, the reopening of the bridge and the new network of bike lanes are a godsend (for two years, we've had to jog up to Walnut or down to Gray's Ferry). Give it six months, and I expect we'll see a visible change in the number of people using the Center City lanes.
The Pine & Spruce lanes, meanwhile, have finally been repaved and newly-emblazoned with white bike stencils.
Finally, the Schuylkill River Trail will be extended all the way to the South Street bridge â yet another useful connection for getting around the city.
If this stuff perks your interest, check out the city's Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan.
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