At a rally outside Philadelphia International Airport today, workers and members of Fight for Philly and SEIU 32BJ protested airport workers' wages and turned the focus on Mayor Nutter and City Council.
“[Nutter] can literally change the lives of thousands of workers,” said Rev. Greg Holston of the New Vision United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The call to reform comes in anticipation of a hearing during which members of City Council will review the lease agreement between the city and US Airways. Currently, airport and airline subcontractors employe nearly a thousand workers who earn a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $2.83 plus tips.
The "Poverty at PHL Doesn't Fly" campaign seeks the extension of the 21st Century Living Wage and Benefits Standard to airport workers. The standard has been in place since 2005, and City Council recently passed an ordinance introduced by Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. to extend that living wage — 150 percent of federal minimum wage — to employees of airport subcontractors and sub-lessees. However, the administration informed Council that it was not bound by that ordinance and would not, therefore, enforce it.
Workers say that being employed by a subcontractor does not make their needs any less than those employed by primary contractors.
“We want [to be paid] enough to make us feel dignified and human,” said Onethea McKnight, an airport worker for 10 years who has never received a raise from her $7-per-hour starting wage.
Next up, workers and activists are inviting the Mayor and City Council to, “walk a day in our shoes” during which the Mayor or a City Council member would spend a day following an airport worker around, from “the moment they get up in the morning … to the moment they go to bed at night,” said Julie Blust of 32BJ.
Embattled Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who recently agreed to a settlement regarding dozens of ethics violations, has a history of financial trouble relating to her home on the 2400 block of North 52nd Street, in the city's Wynnefield neighborhood.
In a scandalous report released by the Board of Ethics Monday, the councilwoman admitted that she pocketed campaign contributions and "borrowed" $3,300 from Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr. to prevent her house from falling into foreclosure after an acrimonious split with her husband, Howard Brown, in 2010. The Browns jointly own the stately, 5,168-square-foot house, complete with a sprawling lawn and garage, valued at an estimated $374,000.
But court records indicate foreclosure was nothing new to the Browns. The house, purchased in 1994 for $175,000 according to Office of Property Assessment records, had previously fallen into foreclosure in 2002. Court records indicate the foreclosure was settled with Wells Fargo Bank in April of that year.
Later, in 2007, 2008 and 2011, the Browns were involved in four settlements with the Philadelphia Gas Works, likely relating to unpaid bills, according to Philadelphia Common Pleas Court records.
The City of Philadelphia and Mayor Michael Nutter are now facing a lawsuit over the mayor's recently-introduced ban on outdoor "feeding" in city parks.
The suit was filed this morning on behalf of various groups and individuals who've been serving meals to the homeless on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for years. The plaintiffs are being represented by Paul Messing of the Center City law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, which specializes in civil rights litigation, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney Seth Kreimer. (City Paper first reported on the likelihood of this lawsuit two weeks ago).
[You can read the full complaint here]
It's been two months since Nutter announced a ban on the serving of meals outdoors in city parks. While the ban theoretically applies to the entire city, it was widely understood to target the serving of meals on the Parkway, which has been a site for that activity for more than ten years — and which has also been the focus of an attempted revival by the city, spearheaded by the opening last month of the Barnes Museum.
Nutter isn't the first Philadelphia mayor to try and curtail similar activity: mayors John Street and Ed Rendell faced opposition to various efforts to curb the presence of homeless people on the parkway and nearby in Center City. The mayor is, however, the first to impose an outright ban on the serving of meals outdoors.
Today's suit, filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the mayor's ban (introduced as an administrative rule, and which thus did not pass through City Council) is in violation of state and federal law on three counts:
According to the suit,
— It violates the first and fourteenth amendment rights of the plaintiffs (many of whom believe it is their religious duty to serve such meals) by depriving them "of their rights to the free exercise of religion."
— It violates the first and fourteenth amendment rights of the plaintiffs by denying them of their "freedom of speech," the argument being that the serving of meals is itself a form of expression.
— It violates the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, which guarantees Pennsylvania residents the right to "free exercise of religion."
The lawsuit asks for a judgment that the ban is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction against the city to bar it from preventing the plaintiffs from serving meals.
We'll have more detail soon, so stay tuned here at Naked City.
(Follow Isaiah Thompson on Twitter)
Last night’s election seems to signal a defeat for the Philadelphia left: Green Party candidate for Sheriff and anti-poverty activist Cheri Honkala received just 7 percent of the vote, crushed by Democrat Jewell Williams; and Uhuru’s black nationalist-socialist candidate Wali “Diop” Rahman got destroyed, receiving less than 4 percent.
Honkala’s candidacy never took off into anything resembling the grassroots movement that would have been necessary to overcome the huge number of Philadelphians who likely vote a straight Democratic ticket, and Diop’s message of “revolutionary resistance” made his self-imposed political isolation a forgone conclusion. But while this might be a defeat for the self-proclaimed leftist candidates in Philly, the city’s left, some of whom are camped out at City Hall, largely sat this election out.
Keystone Progress, a statewide progressive organization, is responsible to so many constituencies that their voting guide was effectively useless: nearly every candidate in the state was endorsed by at least one union or liberal group, making it impossible to discern any clear progressive standard bearers.
Hall Monitor: A look at the swirling fight for the Council presidency behind the recent redistricting bill
Since City Council is not in session today, we bring you this special edition of Hall Monitor.
Two Thursdays ago, a funny little scene played out on the fourth floor of City Hall.
Before Philadelphia's City Council that day were two redistricting plans — one introduced by a working group appointed by Council President Anna Verna, the second proposed by Council members Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney, who had not been part of the working group. Before the bills were brought up for a vote, Verna called for a two-hour recess. The break would, in fact, last more than four hours, during which time Council members, aides and a roving band of men in suits scurried between closed-door meetings and huddled in small blobs around various Council members.
At one point, Kenney, apparently frustrated with the pace of negotiations, leaned over to Councilman Darrell Clarke, who holds the title of majority whip ― a leadership position below that of Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco and president Verna, both of whom had disappeared into backroom negotiations.
"Are you de facto leadership?" Kenney asked Clarke, nodding to the dais from which Council's affairs are led, usually by the president.
"Are you de facto leadership right now?" Kenney repeated, adding ― joking, sort of ― "Let's just call a vote. Let's pass this thing."
Clarke glanced at the empty dais: "You're talking about some kinda of freaky stuff?" he asked.
When Jim Foster ran as an Independent in the 8th Council District race in 2007, he cobbled together enough signatures to get on the ballot in just 10 days. That challenge wasn't formidable enough, apparently. This Tuesday, Foster began collecting signatures to join the race for the 8th as an Independent — that's just six days before Monday's deadline.
Foster, who is the publisher of Germantown Newspapers, says he made the last-minute decision at the behest of community members. He claims that Democrat Cindy Bass — the winner of this year's seven-way primary race for the 8th Council District seat — is "not responding to anybody's communication" and therefore is "using the [current Councilwoman Donna Reed] Miller playbook."
"From what we can discern," Foster wrote in an email to community members this morning, "the future for the citizens of the 8th Council District will be another developer-financed, inside dealing, public-be-damned operation with most decisions done in the dark."
Joe Corrigan, a spokesman for Bass, responded, "We look forward to running just as robust a campaign this fall" as they did earlier this year, and "building on our broad base of support."
Foster will need to collect 750 signatures by Monday to run as an Independent.
In Philly, patronage is hardly seen as a sin. Newspaper headlines that warn of local pay-to-play, missing government funds or extortion barely quicken our heart rates. We're home to cops who sell drugs, a former Housing Authority director who covered up sexual harassment settlements, and a Sheriff's Office that couldn't find $53 million in assets.
It's gotten so bad that one local columnist said Philly is afflicted with "corruption fatigue." But is there anything we can do about it?
A. Benjamin Mannes, founder of Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership, certainly thinks so. He's holding a forum, which was featured in our Agenda section this week, so that folks can ask the local experts charged with rooting out corruption — City Controller Alan Butkovitz, FBI Special Agent John Roberts and the D.A.'s Office Chief of Special Investigations Patrick Blessington — what they're doing about it and how to squash it once and for all. (See the bottom of the post for event details.)
City Paper reached Mannes over the phone and asked him a few questions about corruption in our fair city.
City Paper: How do you see Philly? How corrupt do you think it is?
A. Benjamin Mannes: Philadelphia is a place that's teetering on the return to the greatness. We could go the way of Baltimore or Washington, or we could go the way of New York.
[Conservative blogger] Aaron Proctor says we're headed to Detroit, but I disagree: That was a one-industry town and everyone went jobless at once. Philly is not that. Philly is the most untapped resource on the Eastern seaboard. But the government is not exploiting that. We're not attracting business.
This week, state Rep. Dennis O'Brien (Philadelphia) was one of only two state House Republicans who didn't vote for Gov. Tom Corbett's budget. John Taylor, who is also from Philly, joined him.
What makes this interesting: O'Brien is running for City Councilperson at-large this fall, and critics say his middle finger to the GOP budget could possibly hurt him at the polls.
But then again, Philly is a Democrat's town — so there's a chance that it could help him win votes from the other side.
Until now, O'Brien looked like a sure winner. In May's primary, he was the second-top vote-getter among Republican at-large candidates, with David Oh being No. 1 — leading many to presume that they would both win in November's election. (City law stipulates that two of the seven Council at-large seats go to minority party members, usually Republicans.)
But John Featherman, who ran and lost by a slim margin in this year's GOP mayoral primary against Karen Brown, says O'Brien's vote changes everything.
"It's going to weaken his candidacy, and may encourage me and other Republicans to drop support for him," says Featherman. "It's absolutely not a Republican position to vote against Corbett's budget."
O'Brien did not return requests for comment.
Interestingly, during the primary, O'Brien was embraced by neither Republican party leaders nor the GOP insurgents who want to overthrow them.
Of course, O'Brien could also use his vote against Corbett's budget — which established deep cuts that critics say will especially hurt Philly — to tout his independence and attract Democrats. Even Featherman admits, "This decision may help him with Democrats" — but, he's quick to add, "not Republicans."
In this week's City Paper, your truly examines just how difficult the charter-mandated redistriciting of the city's councilmanic districts on Philadelphia is going to be.
In a nutshell, the regions of the city that lost population (west and northwest) are adjacent to each other, as are those that gained population. The districts that changed the least are right in the middle — which means virtually all changes will have to flow through them:
Take, for example, the 3rd Council District, represented by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and comprising most of West Philadelphia. That district is about 7,000 people too small. But the districts directly to the north and south of it — the 4th District, represented by Curtis Jones Jr., and the 2nd, represented by Anna Verna — have also lost population. [see below]
"I have no idea how we're going to get it done," says Blackwell frankly, noting that the only nearby district that's gained population is the 5th, represented by Councilman Darrell Clarke. "But Darrell says, 'J.B., that's Strawberry Mansion! That's my base!'"
"They're going to have to move things all over the place," affirmed another City Hall source. "You almost think it would be better to start from scratch."
Council, meanwhile, has been not-exactly-fast to schedule public hearings it claims it wants to have ... in the middle of the summer ... over this incredibly important process ... that's supposed to be decided by September 9th ... which is one day after it officially reconvenes ...
And looming over this, as it looms over everything, is that great bermuda triangle of Philly politics, the race for the presidency of City Council.
Should we expect a political bloodbath this summer? As the Magic 8-ball used to put it — and as various sources in city hall beleive — "signs point to yes."
This month, the nonpartisan watchdog Committee of Seventy testified that the city should wait six months before enforcing its new lobbying law, which requires that lobbyists register with the city and sometimes file expense reports starting July 1.
The group wholeheartedly supports the new law — and still wants lobbyists to follow it in meantime — but believes that several “ambiguities” must be cleared up before the city issues penalties for breaking it.
Two organizations have joined Seventy in this complaint: the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Both groups argued before the Ethics Board that the new rules are unclear, and the Chamber of Commerce argued that the city shouldn’t implement the lobbying law at all for the next six months.
In the spirit of full disclosure that such a law promotes, it may be worth noting: The Chamber of Commerce is among the Committee of Seventy’s biggest donors. According to the nonprofit’s tax filings, Seventy received $50,000 in contributions from that group between 2008 and 2009. Local law firms, including Pepper Hamilton LLP and Morgan and Lewis & Bockius, are are also among Seventy’s bigger donors.
Is the Committee of Seventy speaking on behalf of these groups?
Ellen Kaplan, Seventy’s vice president, strongly denies that the watchdog is speaking for its donors. She argues that the law’s recently-published ground rules have left many questions unanswered — like what lobbying is, exactly, and what it isn’t — and the city should clarify them before enforcing the law.
“Obviously, there are some members who contribute to this organization who want these answers,” she says. "But we don’t represent anybody’s views other than our own.”
The Ethics Board hasn't made any public announcements about whether it will delay enforcement of the law in response to these groups. But Ethics Board staff say that it could be considered at its next meeting, on July 20.
Meanwhile, an unrelated technical issue may put the lobbying law on hold: The Ethics Board has announced that the electronic system that lobbyists will be required to register on won't be ready by the original July 1 deadline, partly due to funding issues. They expect the system will be ready around July 18, though — but if it's not, the Ethics Board will not be able enforce the lobbying law.
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