On Philly Fatherhood: My Dad and the Father Who Wasn’t

Photograph provided by Malcolm Burnley.

Photograph provided by Malcolm Burnley.

You brace yourself for a phone call; you don’t brace yourself for an email. But one day last year, this message from my father, with no subject line, was waiting in my inbox: “I got an e-mail last night informing me that Paul Burnley had died,” it began. “No details about when or how.” An email about an email about the death of my grandfather: Abstract and abrupt, it might as well have been a telegraph, all 135 words of it. I’d gone through the deaths of all my other grandparents, each one marked by a memory of my dad gently unspooling the facts, either in front of me or over the phone. His crackly voice on the other end of the line, trying to comfort me with a She died peacefully to soften the blow. But now, after the death of his father, he seemed unreachable.

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Meet Philadelphia’s Most Infamous Snitch

Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Benny Martinez is sitting in a dimly lit booth, giving me some serious side-eye. This is the first time we’ve met. He doesn’t trust me. Or at least, he wants me to think he doesn’t trust me. It’s hard to tell what he really thinks. With Benny, artifice and reality blur. Constantly.

We’re at a bar in Washington Square West that lists meatloaf under the house specials. Benny’s dressed in a candy red FUBU jersey and matching flat-brim cap. Fifteen minutes in, our quasi-clandestine rendezvous feels like a bad imitation of a secret meet at Bada Bing, save for the lack of strippers, Napoli roots and slightest respect for omertà.

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Jim Kenney’s War on Cool

Photograph by Clint Blowers

Photograph by Clint Blowers

In retrospect, the rise of Jim Kenney had a certain #FeelTheBern quality to it. The giddy millennials. The underdog element. The AARP-eligible white guy with whitish hair who somehow was cool. Like, shockingly cool. Clinking-beer-glasses-with-young-people-at-Johnny-Brenda’s cool. Kenney blended working-class populism with a distinctly 21st-century relatable-ness: all that reckless tweeting (example: calling Chris Christie “fat assed” for supporting the Cowboys), all that emoting on the floor of City Council (example: “If you’re a homophobe or a racist and you’re from the suburbs or outside the city, we really don’t want you to come here”). His policies were cool, too: Kenney got the LGBT equality bill passed; he decriminalized marijuana; he was pro-immigrant. And in what surely was a first in Philly mayoral history, he suggested that we borrow fresh ideas from the far-flung metropolis of Gdańsk, Poland.

after the jump »

Social Justice Activists Clash With Kenney Over Stop-and-Frisk

Photo by the author.

L to R: Police Commissioner Richard Ross and Jim Kenney at Friday’s town hall. | Photo by Malcolm Burnley

Some media outlets described Friday’s town hall on stop-and-frisk as “raucous” or “chaos.” But that’s only a half-truth. Sure, there were emotional eruptions by the audience, defiant answers from the police commissioner, and angry constituents jeering the mayor. But in spite of the high tensions, the event co-hosted by the interfaith group POWER and Techbook Online largely did what it set out to do: clarify where each of the key players stands on stop-and-frisk. Not that audience members necessarily got the answers they wanted. Read more »

Only One Philly Ward Liked Both Obama and Bernie


Here’s a strange nugget from yesterday’s primary results: 6 out of the 7 wards* where a majority of voters cast ballots for Bernie Sanders … went for Hillary Clinton back in 2008.  In some cases, the change between elections was staggering.

Take the three most-decidedly pro-Sanders wards: 31, 18 — which are neighboring wards covering the Fishtown/Port Richmond area — and 1, which connects Pennsport and East Passyunk (ed note: It’s where I voted). Look at the disparity in Clinton votes during the past two contested Democratic primaries within each of those blocs: Read more »

Hey Philly: Are You All In for Hillary? Or Are You Feeling the Bern?

A Hillary Clinton supporter waits outside her April 20th rally at the Fillmore. Photo | Ryan Collerd

A Hillary Clinton supporter waits outside her April 20th rally at the Fillmore. Photo | Ryan Collerd

On the night of the Brooklyn Democratic debate, I head toward the South Philly field office of Bernie Sanders for President. The address takes me to a storefront with an enormous overhang bearing the name of the former tenant, Boutique W — a discount designer-clothing store based in Newtown Square — in pink and black lettering. It’s an odd sort of welcome sign for the grassroots, 99-percenter campaign, but then again, office space is office space and inside, the place looks more the part.

Young volunteers are passing around phone-bank lists like an aggressive game of Go Fish and chomping on Chips Ahoy during breaks. Folding tables are scattered with HP laptops and bottled water. There’s a garbage can humorlessly labeled “garbage.” And clipboards. Lots of clipboards. Everyone seems to believe that South Philly, perhaps more than any other neighborhood, is Feeling the Bern. I float to the back of the no-frills, white-walled space and chat with a shaggy-haired campaign worker who speaks on background (only volunteers can speak on the record, I was told). He nonetheless wanted to know: “Do you like Bernie?”

Two days before the Pennsylvania primaries, that question would seem a relevant one to ask of anyone and everyone in Philadelphia. Of course, it ignores the Republicans who’re also voting on April 26th (recent polling suggests Donald Trump has a double-digit lead in the state), but given the 7-to-1 edge in registered Democrats in the city and the upcoming DNC this summer, it seems right to focus on the blue team here. (Also: Liberal media bias, natch.)

But truth be told, writing any story about the Tuesday primary feels like an obligatory act of self-aggrandizement, considering the national consensus that our vote means zilch. Why Pennsylvania won’t matter much in either primary,” ran a headline in the Washington Post on Thursday. Hillary Clinton is cruising, having locked up 81 percent of the delegates required to secure the nomination. And, thanks to the Dems’ lack of winner-take-all primaries and the omnipotent Clinton-friendly superdelegates, she can conceivably lose every single remaining state and still win by a comfortable margin. Not that she appears to be in any danger of that: Depending on which of the latest polls you believe, the former Secretary of State has a 13-point or 27-point lead over Sanders among likely primary voters in the Keystone State, where she beat Barack Obama by nearly 10 points in 2008.

Last time, the race felt neck-and-neck; in 2016, it’s a runaway. The wide berth is just one reason for the apathetic mood of lots of Philadelphians though. “I’m not supporting a broken system,” says Paris Adams, 19, a young man from Frankford who said he supports Sanders, but doesn’t see the point in casting a ballot. “Unless Captain America is running, I’m not voting.”

In ’08, voters like Adams were exactly the type — well-informed, African-American, eligible for the first time — that the Obama ground game famously turned out in droves. After an economic recession and eight years of gridlock in Washington though, voters appear to be a lot more jaded. A Pew analysis of a dozen primaries (including Super Tuesday) suggests that Democrat voter-turnout rates have been roughly 60 percent of what they were during Obama v. Clinton. The most optimistic spin is that turnout has not been cataclysmically bad. Dems are voting at higher rates this year than in 2000, sure, but they’re slightly off the pace of the average turnout since 1980. (And that average is excluding the outlying year of 2008.) The enthusiasm this year can be summed up in a single word: MehRead more »

Hillary Clinton in Philly: Scenes From Last Night’s Big Fillmore Rally

By the time Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Fillmore in Fishtown last night, she’d had a long, eventful 24 hours. First, she finished off a 16-point drubbing of Senator Bernie Sanders in the New York primary on Tuesday night. Then, Clinton arrived in Philadelphia to appear at a panel discussion — which included former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Tanya Brown-Dickerson, the mother of a high-profile police-shooting victim in Philly — on gun violence, criminal justice and policing. All of which caused the former Secretary of State to arrive an hour late to the Fillmore, which by then was filled with 2,000 animated supporters who’d been lining up since the late afternoon.  Read more »

Hillary in Philly: Black Lives Matter Protesters Clash With Secret Service


Black Lives Matter protesters at a Hillary Clinton rally. | Photos by Malcolm Burnley.

This was the sort of scene Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was hoping to avoid.

Security guards screened entrants to her campaign stop at the Fillmore in Fishtown Wednesday evening, taking a look at the signs the crowd was bringing in. But that didn’t stop a group of protesters from sneaking in very off-message placards, disrupting the rally, and being forcefully escorted out. Also caught up in the expulsion? Me. A credentialed reporter, there to cover the event for this magazine, who was told by the Secret Service that I needed to get out, or risk going home in handcuffs.

It started as a standard, stage-managed campaign event. Smooth-jazz renditions of Beatles hits and Katy Perry — lots of Katy Perry — filled the venue before former Secretary of State Clinton took the stage about an hour behind schedule, at 7:45 p.m. She quickly launched into a discussion of her longstanding ties to the Pennsylvania region, including memories of her father’s home in Scranton. She then acknowledged Senator Bob Casey and former Mayor Michael Nutter, both in the audience, among other dignitaries. After talking at length about the economic growth during her husband’s presidency, things started to get interesting.

Almost seven minutes into her roughly half-hour long speech, a group of about 10 protesters emerged from the audience with small signs that when strung together made up phrases like: “You’re Not Welcome Here” and “Stop Killing Black People.” Read more »

Reading Viaduct Park Would Make Getting Around Philly Easier

Before and after.

The Reading Viaduct today — and tomorrow? | Photo by Malcolm Burnley and rendering via Friends of the Rail Park

Last September, after visiting the new Whitney Museum in New York, I climbed up to the High Line for what I thought would be a breezy stroll with gorgeous views of the Meatpacking District. How wrong I was. Between the people jockeying for avant-garde lawn chairs and the gaggles of camera-toting tourists, the foot traffic crawled along at an infuriating pace.

The park was designed for 600,000 visitors per year; last year, there were 6 million. Though the High Line remains an international beacon of innovative green space (it has also invited lots of deep-pocketed developers into the once-sleepy Chelsea neighborhood), it’s not a functional piece of the urban grid. You can lick all the $8 popsicles you want there, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a good way of getting around the Lower West Side.

All of which made me believe that the rallying cry in Philly to create a High Line-esque park out of the rusting Reading Viaduct and adjacent railroad tunnels — together, they form a continuous stretch of land going from Chinatown to Fairmount Park — was mostly about beautification, and not at all about improving mobility. That’s why I left it off Philly Mag’s recent list of “20 Smart Transportation Ideas Reshaping Philadelphia (and Your Life).” Was it one of the 20 coolest urbanism projects around? Surely. But was it going to change the way we moved around the city? Meh.

Someone begged to differ. “Think about being in West Poplar or NoLibs, riding a few blocks to Fairmount and 9th, taking an elevator up onto the Viaduct and then riding all the way to PMA or Boathouse Row, and [you] only have to stop for cars when crossing Kelly Drive,” Michael Garden wrote to me on Facebook. Alright, that got my attention. Read more »

Philly’s Rock Star of Art

Da Corte in his Juniata studio | Photograph by Jauhien Sasnou

Da Corte in his Juniata studio | Photograph by Jauhien Sasnou

Outside a leaky old candy factory in Juniata, the season’s first snowstorm is caking the sidewalk in slush. A fire-engine-red door opens with the push of a tattooed hand belonging to artist Alex Da Corte. He ushers me inside a cavernous space the size of a basketball court, past a series of installations in mid-assembly, up a flight of stairs, and into a room that has the makings of a David Lynch dream sequence. There’s a bushy-tailed dog ablaze in peach-hued sunlight, propped up on all fours, staring at me from the perch of a plywood table. It’s stiff as the Sphinx. “That’s Nicole Brown Simpson’s Akita. It’s the dog they say found the bodies,” Da Corte explains, showing me its scraggily wire innards with gleeful delight. The pup will soon be placed on a mechanical track and rotate in circles, as if searching for something. To add a touch of dementedness, Da Corte has adorned the replica with a rubber Halloween dog mask. The dog is wearing a dog mask. “It’s maniacal,” Da Corte says. “It’s just not right.”

Photos after the jump »

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