Archive: August, 2011
How the current info-sharing arrangement with ICE is flawed — and why Stu Bykofsky doesn't know what he's talking about.
On Monday, Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky attacked Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez for her opposition to the partnership sanctioned by city officials last year between the Philadelphia police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A year ago, the mayor, D.A. and police commissioner signed on to a plan that allows ICE to access the police's real-time arrest-reporting database, PARS, to check people arrested against immigration status data. It's part of the federal Secure Communities program, which is aimed at deporting illegal immigrants who pose a public safety threat — hence the access to arrest data.
That deal technically expires today. The administration is expected to decide on the terms of a new deal soon.
Among the various things Bykofsky gets wrong in his column, he states that:
Quinones-Sanchez's insane notion would shield guilty non-citizens and let them prey on innocent citizens. Why? So that Quinones-Sanchez and her allies can feel good about how simpatico they are?
... Quinones-Sanchez wants sanctuary for all undocumented — the good ones and the bad ones, too. She would protect criminals.
As the winds died down and the sun reappeared Sunday afternoon, two men emerged from a cardboard shanty beneath an overpass in the Callowhill district and began to carefully hang wet clothing on the top of a chain-link fence across the street.
Richard Green, 40, and Kevin Smith, 46 (the men asked not to be pictured) in fact stayed quite dry, thanks to a simple but remarkable effective rigging of plastic tarps over the little hut in which they've spent the last two years, homeless. The two men are among the many homeless who decline to enter the city's shelter system — the Ridge Avenue shelter and Our Brother's Place shelter are only a few blocks away — for various reasons: the conditions are dangerous — “I've had more stolen in the shelters than out on the street,” said Smith; the rules are many and onerous; and they're a particularly tough place for gay couples like them.
The couple does use some of the services offered by some — not, they emphasized, all — of the shelters and other organizations that serve the homeless. Often, they grab a shower and bite to eat at the Ridge shelter, which is scheduled to close this December.
What with the hurricane, though, Sunday had been particularly bleak for them.
“The shelters were so packed today they couldn't feed no one,” commented Green, just as a small sparrow showed up to nibble at some crumbs outside his shanty. Across the street, a flock of pigeons was gathering.
“Our little friends,” Green murmured at the bird. “I guess it's time to feed them."
Daryl Metcalfe, state rep with ties to right-wing extremists, begins hearings on anti-immigrant legislation
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, the most right-wing member of the Pennsylvania legislature, yesterday began hearings on 14 anti-immigrant bills that he has christened "The National Security Begins at Home legislative package."
One bill is similar to Arizona's infamous "papers please" law that requires police to check "suspicious" persons for proof of citizenship. Civil rights activists are concerned because the only way someone can "seem like an illegal immigrant" is if they are, you know, not white or don't speak English well.
A personal PR team.
Two knowledgeable sources tell City Paper that former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman ran a School District communications team dedicated to promoting and defending her personally, and which coordinated and assisted public rallies in her favor, communicated regularly with private supporters, and spent taxpayer time and money on various kinds of "propaganda," including protest signs and a farewell tribute video. Since Ackerman's departure after negotiating a nearly $1 million buy-out of her contract, one source says the same team continues to manage Ackerman's antagonistic public relations campaign against Mayor Michael Nutter and others.
The three Communications staffers who allegedly orchestrated a personal public relations campaign for Ackerman — former Director Jamilah Fraser, and staffers Shana Kemp and Elizabeth Childs — resigned last Monday, the same day that Ackerman's buyout was announced. According to one source, the three were told they would be fired if they did not resign because they had gone rogue, spending the majority of their time working for the Superintendent even as she was headed for the door.
These sources say that Jamilah Fraser and her two deputies were dedicated to protecting and promoting Ackerman above all else. (Fraser and her two deputies were hired in November 2010, 11 months after two staffers were fired in the wake of a highly critical Philadelphia Magazine cover story titled "Queen Arlene.")
Ackerman, Nutter, Council, the SRC, and the Big Punt: when trying to hide the truth begets trying to hide the truth.
Mayor Nutter and the SRC are now under fire for refusing to disclose the sources of a $490,000 private donation fund collected by various officials, including Mayor Nutter who "made some calls," to help buy out Ackerman's contract. Critics argue that the fund amounts to, essentially, an unregulated campaign donation — the kind of monetary favor that the public has a right to know about.
The mayor makes the case that this was done to reduce the public burden as much as possible and is insisting that these private donors have the right to keep their names secret.
The problem is that it's a little late in the game to make an appeal on behalf of secrecy: because secrecy and a less-than-honest dialogue with the public has been exactly the problem for months.
This week, I wrote about the discrepancy over the past two months between what at least some public officials knew — that schools superintendent Arelene Ackerman was engaged in negotiations to be bought out of her contract — and what was told to the public: that the opposite was the case and that Ackerman enjoyed the support of the School Reform Commission.
But the web of ... non-forthrightness, let's say ... is wider than that: the public theater surrounding the District and Ackerman's leadership has been just that — theater — for nearly a year.
School officials acted like the District's problems were all Harrisburg's fault — and so sat around waiting for the inevitable cuts before taking action. Let's start with the giant $600 million gap in the School District budget this year, which school officials (Ackerman in particular) have characterized all along as being the result of cuts in Harrisburg. In fact, only two-thirds of that gap were the result of direct cuts or the loss of stimulus funds — drastic, yes, but entirelyforeseeable at least since November, when Governor Corbett was elected on a platform to ... cut spending. The other third — about the same size deficit that resulted in Paul Vallas' ousting — belonged to Ackerman and the SRC.
City and school officials deferred on addressing the schools' budget gap for political reasons. The schools' budget gap was announced (albeit at $400 million) waaay back in February. But it wasn't until late May — conveniently after the city's primary elections — that the District unveiled a new spending plan, and that City Council members began asking serious questions. It was during that three-month interim period that Ackerman's contract was extended. By declining to show their cards, the SRC and Ackerman were able to avoid confronting the school's budget problems until after Ackerman's contract was extended; by declining to ask those hard questions until late May, City Council members were able to forestall a potentially ugly public debate that might spill into the public discourse around the primary elections.
As a result, the hearings that were held were largely posturing. When those hearings were held, City Council members and Mayor Nutter acted as if Ackerman would be the one deciding how any extra funding from the city would be spent. But by mid-June, it's now clear that the mayor, at least, already knew she was leaving; While the mayor can claim a legitimate victory in securing an accountability agreement with the school district, and Council can claim a legitimate victory in securing an agreement of spending priorities by District —— still: the conversation didn't begin until Ackerman was widely believed to be on her way out, until Council was preparing to break for the summer, and until other possibilities that might have saved painful cuts were already off the table. The agreements now in place may be rendered moot by the next superinentendent — a fact which some (maybe many) public officials secretly knew. Agreements, after all, can be broken.
And because the District, Council, the Mayor, the SRC, and everybody else had participated in the Big Punt, Ackerman had to be bought out in hurried semi-secrecy. Why were officials so reluctant to take on the District's problems earlier and more aggressively? Mostly because Ackerman was too popular with too many constituents to be worth taking on. And so, rather than examine the budget when there was time to better fix it, rather than question Ackerman's performance (even after drawing the reprimand of the U.S. Department of Justice for the District's handling of patterns of racial violence), rather than risking political capital or stirring up the powers-that-be in Harrisburg who support Ackerman (or at least likewise feared to criticize her in an election year) — rather than doing those things, our elected and appointed officials punted, for months, attempting at the end to solve the problem of Ackerman herself — not that they've admitted there is one — by asking for (or cashing in on) a few favors from their friends, whose identities they now wish to withhold as one more secret.
Even M. Lopez
When news of Arlene Ackerman's imminent departure broke on Monday, Mayor Nutter announced to the press that negotiations for her leaving had been underway since June — which means that much of what the public saw and heard from various public officials was, essentially, a charade.
In this week's CP, I take a look at some of the glaring contradictions between the world presented to the public — in which Ackerman was supposedly staying in charge — and the reality that everyone but the public seemed to know: that she was leaving.
We can chalk some of this up to the necessity of secrecy in negotiations, sure; but it's also a product, perhaps, of the cult of personality that seems to have grown up around Ackerman, who became a political lightening rod that politicians who took issue with her leadership dared not touch.
Even since her announced departure, SRC board members and other politicians (Mayor Nutter, as of today, no longer being one of them) have declined to offer anything but praise — no doubt fueling the idea being put forth strenuously by Ackerman herself that she was forced out for personal reasons and not for performance.
You can read the full piece here.
Meanwhile, a quick roundup of what now appears to have been bogus news.
— Throughout June, City Council and Mayor Nutter spent weeks wrangling out an agreement on how extra funding for the schools, raised in part by an increase in the property tax, would be spent. Not mentioned: that the Mayor apparently knew that Ackerman, who would oversee that spending, would not, in fact, oversee it at all come fall.
— On June 28, 2011, Ackerman told the Inquirer that "As far as I know, the SRC, the mayor, and all those people who are critical to my staying are still on board."
— On Sunday, July 31, Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote to the School District regarding a report by radio personality Steve Collins that Ackerman was out. Replied District spokesperson Shana Kemp: "That information is not true. Sounds like a continuation of rumors that started a little while ago."
— On August 17, Ackerman told the Notebook that an Inquirer report that negotiations for her departure were underway was not true. "We have no negotiations going on right now," Ackerman said.
Three School District communications staffers leave alongside Ackerman. Office known for high salaries, high turnover.
The School District of Philadelphia cleaned its media relations house on Monday when Director Jamilah Fraser and two staffers stepped down alongside Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Fernando Gallard, a long-time (and thanks to calls from me and other reporters, long-suffering) staffer, is now acting Communications Director.
This is only the most recent of many public relations shakeups at the District. The School District announced the hiring of Fraser and two staffers in November 2010, eleven months after Arlene Ackerman fired two long-time communications staffers. Fraser was Ackerman’s fourth communications chief since 2008.
The Notebook reported that Fraser, like her predecessors, made $170,000. High salaries for central office executives in general, and communications office employees in particular, have sparked controversy throughout Ackerman’s tenure, and staffers have even been accused of coordinating outside protests to support her.
And then there was the $986,000 spent on outside PR in addition to the $2.86 million the District pays for in-house communications.
Geno's cheesesteaks founder and anti-immigrant zealot Joey Vento died of a heart attack last night at the age of 71. Watch this video of Vento and the B. Love Strutters during the 2009 Mummers Parade, somehow saving the world from "illegal immigrants" via cheesesteaks. This is definitely something in a nutshell.
Vento, right or or wrong, was a piece of South Philly. And he was part of a changing Italian Market where bánh mì and tacos al pastor were added to the menu over time.
Interestingly, B. Love came right after my mummers brigade, the Vaudevillains, paraded to a rather different tune--Mummers in the Post Apocalyptic Nuclear Winter:
Sure, the Philadelphia School District superintendent is leaving just before classes start; but there's real news to report today: Mayor Nutter has rapped again.
Famous (or infamous) for his previous raps — most or all of which were the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," — Nutter answered whatever voice it is in him that compels him to occasionally and inoffensively rap again this weekend, as captured by ABC 6.
It was, we should note, for a cause (other than to give a lot to the cause 'cause the cause has been risen), in this case to recognize, along with Will Smith, Philadelphia rapper Lady B at the Dell Music Center.
What, exactly, he was rapping wasn't clear from the video to this reporter. We've put out a call to the Mayor's Press Office.
Mayor spokesman Mark McDOnald has confirmed that the mayor was, indeed, performing "Rapper's Delight."
"As far as I know, he only does Rapper's Delight," McDonald wrote in an email.
Ackerman to quit: Too bad school officials couldn't have started looking for a replacement for Ackerman waaaaay back in June, when everyone was sure she'd leave anyway.
The Inquirer is reporting today that Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is leaving the District:
The money to buy out Ackerman's contract, which runs through 2014, will come from both the district and private sources, as The Inquirer previously reported. Sources say the district will pay about $500,000 and some amount - exactly how much isn't yet clear - will come from the private sources.
Leroy Nunery, Ackerman's deputy, will be the interim superintendent. He was a finalist for the top job when Ackerman was hired. A national search will be conducted for a permanent replacement.
While we readily acknowledge that the city's daily newspapers have generally reported the ... resolution not to swear in print kicking in ... out of Ackerman, I will take this moment to humbly remind readers that waaaay back in mid-June, when nobody in the media was actually saying it, City Paper took it upon itself to let readers know (just in case they wanted to) that virtually no one in the know thought Ackerman was going to be here when school started:
Let me make this very clear: There is no unofficial confirmation — and certainly no official confirmation — of what is, essentially, nothing more than speculation. However, it's speculation shared by virtually — heck, maybe literally — every source CP's spoken with for weeks now. That, we think, makes it news.
When the schools open back up this September, say these sources, they expect that Superintendent Arelene Ackerman will be long gone.
Well, we got the "gone" part right, but not the "long gone" part: with schools opening in a week, school officials will have to scramble to conduct a national search for a replacement, who will inevitably begin his or her tenure in the middle of a school year.
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