Archive: October, 2012
One of the biggest winners of the 2011 May primary elections was never on the ballot. That would be John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, Philly union boss, and the man behind the money that backed several successful City Council campaigns. And that success might be starting to pay off.
Early in October, Councilman Bobby Henon, who represents the city's 6th District (lower Northeast neighborhoods), introduced a bill in City Council that's gotten little attention so far, but which could have big implications – and which might reflect the heightened influence of city trade unions within Council.
The bill, 120776 – co-sponsored by Councilman Henon, At-Large Councilman Jim Kenney, and Council President Darrell Clarke – substantially adds to the city's laws governing contractors, imposing new requirements over permits and workplace information and also imposing new, substantial enforcement penalties.
Councilman Henon told City Paper last week that the bill is aimed at targeting an “underground economy” of unlicensed, tax-dodging, and rule breaking construction contractors. Though Henon noted that his bill had already been in the works, he acknowledged City Controller Alan Butkovitz's announcement last week of an audit of illegal construction activities in North Philly as an example of why the bill was needed. Last summer, this author wrote a cover story about rampant and seemingly illegal construction practices near Temple University ("Land Grab," June 28, 2012).
While Henon says that “no one came to me asking” for the bill, it's worth noting influence of city trade unions, especially Local 98 and its boss, John Doughtery in Henon's election and in the rise of 5th District Councilman Darrell Clarke to the presidency of City Council. Dougherty and the Political Action Committee he controls spent vast amounts of money for (and against) various candidates for City Council who showed willingness to support a Doc ticket and a Clarke presidency.
While touring North Philly development, I came more than once across Local 98 members actively protesting (non-union) construction projects in that neighborhood. This bill would undoubtedly advance the interest of Philly's trade unions by giving the city new powers to crack down on contractors.
Here are a few highlights:
* The bill would require that contractors be granted licenses only if: All city tax obligations are satisfied, the applicant is “financially solvent,” the applicant “is not debarred by any public body or governmental agency,” and the applicant is “in compliance with all applicable laws of the Commonwealth relating to the operation of business.”
* Contractors, currently required to display their contractor license on “advertisements and Contractor stationary.” This bill requires that the contractor and commercial activity licenses be displayed (in letters at least two inches high) on: advertisements, stationary, the contractor's main place of business, job sites, proposals and contracts, and “vehicles used during the course of business.”
* “Prime” contractors will be required to submit to the Department of Licenses and Inspections and post on-site “a list of all subcontractors of any tier used on the project with their respective contractor license numbers and commercial activity license numbers.”
* The bill holds “any contractor or subcontractor who hires independent contractors that have not paid any fees or taxes required to be paid to the City … liable for the payment of such fees and taxes.”
* The bill allows the Department of L&I to “seize any vehicles, equipment or tools used at a work site by any person or business entity working as an unlicensed contractor in violation of this Section.” Such vehicles would be subject to forfeiture.
If passed, the bill would seemingly require the Department of L&I -- which has pointed out in response to previous reports of illegal construction activity that it has fewer than 50 inspectors for the entire city -- to enforce and enact these provisions. L&I officials declined to comment on the bill for this post, as did the mayor's spokesman, Mark McDonald, who said that the administration will present any opinions on the bill as testimony when it is heard in Council.
Councilman Henon says he expects hearings in November.
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
|Image from Google.
The northwest, southwest and southeast corners of Fourth and Vine Streets -- This is fucking pathetic. THREE unrelated surface parking lots on the same corner? That's ridiculous!! How did this happen? Why didn't anyone stop it? Old City is infested with NIMBYs that claim to care oh so much about their precious neighborhood. Why have they allowed a confluence of surface lots to exist for over four decades? This place is like a tri-cornered hat, but as an empty lot. A tri-cornered lot. We'll have to look at these three surface lots one-by-one.
The Northwest Corner:
The Northwest Corner of Fourth and Vine is really the southern terminus of the long-lost York Avenue that once crossed diagonally through the (also) long-lost southern section of Northern Liberties. At this corner, there were two commercial buildings, 300 and 302 York Ave., oddly shaped due to their presence on the corner of a diagonal street. They couldn't have been THAT remarkable, because no records seem to exist for either -- though old maps/aerials show that they were combined into one building at some point in the late 19th century, and were demolished in the 1940s, giving birth to the surface lot that exists here now.
Since Pennsylvania's swing-state status began to fade earlier this year, the presidential race in Pennsylvania has become pretty much a ground game, with the Obama and Romney campaigns running intensive get-out-the-vote efforts. Team Obama has replicated its unprecedented 2008 on-the-ground efforts, while the Pennsylvania Republican Party and Romney's Victory effort have "knocked on more doors than in 2004 and 2008 combined, over 1 million now," according to state RNC Victory spokesman Billy Pitman. But now, with new money flowing into Super PACs, polls showing a tightening contest in the state and Hurricane Sandy putting a (literal) damper on canvassing efforts, could the race once again come down to TV ad spending?
The pro-Gov. Romney PAC Restore Our Future seems to think so. They've rolled out a $2.1 million ad buy in Pennsylvania, including $1.2 million in the Philly market. Apparently, the PAC -- freshly funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of right-wing Israeli hard-liners -- is hoping to win some of the Jewish vote in the area. Desiree Peterkin Bell, Obama for America PA communications advisor (and, until recently, Mayor Nutter's communications director) responded in a statement: "A last-ditch effort by Mitt Romney’s special interest allies to fund dishonest attacks on President Obama won’t change the minds of Pennsylvania voters." Nonetheless, the Obama campaign is planning its own ad buy to counter the PAC's efforts.
Mayor Michael Nutter warned that widespread flooding and power outages are likely and urged Philadelphians to begin preparing for Hurricane Sandy's anticipated late-weekend arrival now. "Don't wait. If your home has flooded in the past, make plans now to stay with family and friends," Nutter said outside City Hall at a press conference Friday afternoon. "We're calling on you to be out of those areas by 2 p.m. on Sunday."
Nutter said that areas particularly vulnerable to flooding include but are not limited to: Eastwick,, Manyunk, Martin Luther King and Lincoln Drives, River Road, Delaware Avenue and areas surrounding the Pennypack Creek.
As we reported this spring, federal funding cuts translated to some pretty impossible choices for the city and its Office of Housing and Community Development. One of those choices: Cutting the budget of the Utility Emergency Services Fund, which helps very low-income people pay their utility bills and, by extension, sometimes avoid homelessness. Well, the impact of that cut may manifest itself sooner than expected: Demand for utility assistance is at a record high, and UESF ran through more than a third of its budget in its first two weeks of the season. If the fund is empty (as seems likely) before the moratorium on heat-related utility shut-offs begins Dec. 1, some Philly families could find themselves out in the cold.
Some 23,000 Philly voter registration application have still gone unprocessed by the City Commissioners Office . The backlog, at 41,000 a couple weeks ago, was supposed to have been resolved by yesterday's City Commissioners meeting, according to a previous announcement from the Commissioners' office. But, efforts apparently fell short. Now, the Commissioners are aiming to clear up the backlog by Sunday, according to City Commissioners Chairwoman Stephanie Singer.
Singer says the office processed more than 5,000 voter registration applications yesterday, and has called in reinforcement from other offices throughout the city to help move things along. "We have staff working until 10 p.m., and staff from other city departments working on it," she says. She says part of the hold-up had to do with the state's slow computer servers, and part had to do with the number electronic applications the Commissioners had to process from the state Department of Transportation. That backlog is now entirely cleared up, she says. The office has also extended the deadline for correcting incomplete voter registration applications to Nov. 2.
Despite more than four decades covering politics, a Franklin & Marshall professor admitted Wednesday that interpreting this year's battle for the White House is no simple task.
"As we sit here today and try to figure out what's going to happen in less than two weeks, this is an election unlike any election I've seen in 40 years of teaching political history," said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall's Center for Politics and Public Affairs.
Madonna, who spoke Wednesday afternoon at the Marriott in West Conshohocken, said if the contest was held today, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney would tie nationally at 47 percent, with the remaining voters up for grabs.
An effort to hold the commonwealth accountable for continuing to distribute voter-ID educational materials that may be misleading has run up against a major obstacle. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who on Oct. 2 ruled that photo IDs could not be required in this November's elections in Pennsylvania, today gave the state until next Tuesday to respond to the legal challenge. Critics say the state's education materials perpetuate the impression that voter ID is still required for this election, and could suppress turnout.
Committee of Seventy president Zachary Stalberg wrote to Simpson arguing that the Oct. 30 deadline for the state's response "effectively precludes meaningful remedial action." The damage of voter repression, by then, could be done.
According to the complaint, the commonwealth "sent false information to seniors' homes," stating that "voters are required to show photo ID on Election Day." It also points to ongoing ad campaigns, like the bus ad, photographed in Harrisburg on Oct. 17, part of the ongoing (and only slightly revised) "Show It" campaign that's been running on TV, outdoor and direct mail.
Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir
Republican Governor Tom Corbett is deciding whether or not to sign legislation that would require some workers to pay taxes to their bosses. Yes, you read that right. The bill, which would allow companies that hire at least 250 new workers in the state to keep 95-percent of the workers' withheld income tax, is an effort to to recruit Oracle to the state.
Your taxes would get withheld by your boss like normal, but they would then keep them and spend it on private jets or monogrammed bathroom fixtures or whatever instead of turning them over to the state--turning your tax dollars over to the state being the whole reason they were ostensibly "withheld" in the first place.
In some sense making workers pay taxes directly to their boss is just cutting out the middleman: lavish corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer subsidies to business is the norm. States fall over each other in a rush to make themselves look the most appealing--meaning low taxes and wages alongside weak labor and environmental protection--and then sweeten the deal with specially-tailored giveaways to lure specific companies (see Corbett's $1.6 billion tax credit to Shell oil).
Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir
Republican Attorney General candidate and Cumberland County district attorney David Freed traded law-and-order boasts with Democrat and former assistant Lackawanna County district attorney Kathleen Kane at Monday night's debate. Freed said he would crack down on child molesters, cyber crimes and the "newest menace on the streets: synthetic drugs."
Kane, who has consistently led in polls and would be the first woman and Democrat voted into the office, hammered Freed for an ad run on his behalf that incorrectly accused her of being "soft" on rape, citing the case of a young victim that Kane actually had almost no connection to. The victim's father condemned the ad and Factcheck.org called it "one of the most blatantly false attack ads of the political season."
Search this blog: