Two weeks ago, Holly Otterbein was named reporter of the year at the Pen & Pencil Club’s Philadelphia News Awards. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that beginning January 5th, Holly will cover politics, government, and the mayor’s race for Phillymag.com and the magazine’s soon-to-launch urban affairs blog, Citified.
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Doug Oliver, Mayor’s Press Secretary. Copyright City of Philadelphia. Photograph by Mitchell Leff.
Mayoral aspirant Doug Oliver got knocked around a bit a few weeks ago after launching his exploratory committee on account of lacking any discernible agenda or priorities. Well, today Oliver is staking out a clear, detailed position on one of the most controversial political debates of the moment: the fate of PGW.
Oliver’s view is unequivocal: Sell it.
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Philly Mag published a story this morning explaining the role of the Mayor’s Office in managing parking on the sidewalk/apron on the northern edge of City Hall. We didn’t have any comment from the Nutter administration then. This evening, we got responses to questions emailed to press secretary Mark McDonald on Monday (McDonald says he did not get that or several subsequent emails, and did not see the questions until after our story ran). Here they are in full.
Philly Mag: What is the administration’s policy on City Hall apron parking?
Nutter Administration: City Hall is both the seat of government and a large office complex. Apron parking is provided on a case-by-case basis, often related to visiting guests, deliveries being made, on-going building repair and servicing and instances where a person with a disability is accommodated. With limited space available, these requests are handled on a daily basis. There is also an authorized parking list, with a number of individuals who have had temporary parking while Dilworth Park was under construction. The Park has reduced perimeter street parking. Those with temporary apron parking will be reassigned to street parking when the parking lanes have been repainted and spaces are reconfigured.
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Update: Read the Nutter administration’s response to questions on City Hall parking here.
The new $55 million Dilworth Park has its critics, but I’ve become a big fan. It gives City Hall badly needed context, and the scale of the plaza creates a real sense of grandeur… right up until the moment you stroll past the Garces cafe and encounter the sad, parochial scene of dozens of VIP vehicles squatting on the northern apron of City Hall, as though it were a parking lot outside an Upper Darby laundromat.
Yes, city workers and officials have been parking on the apron for years (more on that later), but it looks like the traffic has grown heavier in recent months, or perhaps it just feels that way given the jarring juxtaposition that now exists between City Hall’s graceful, Global City-esque western approach, and the loading-dock vibe a few steps to the north.
I’m far from the only one to have noticed. Jonathan Poet, an editor at the Associated Press, recently dedicated a Tumblr to the City Hall Parking Lot. Urbanist warrior Geoff Kees Thompson cited the apron parking as an glaring example of “city leadership undervaluing and undermining its public space for the sake of the car.”
I think there’s more to it than that. VIP parking on City Hall’s front stoop reeks of entitlement. People find it enraging and insulting because it’s shorthand for oh-so-much: lack of concern for the city’s aesthetic appeal, the political class’ overblown sense of its own importance, general disregard for … you get the idea.
Let’s get to what everyone wants to know: Who is it that actually parks there?
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State Senator Anthony H. Williams launched what looked like a juggernaut of a mayoral campaign last night in a large hall at the visitor’s center on Independence Mall packed with elected officials, fundraisers, lobbyists, operatives and other assorted power players.
With Alan Butkovitz bailing, and City Council President Darrell Clarke still on the sidelines, Williams has become the mayoral front-runner almost by default (though Lynne Abraham’s strong opening yesterday bears watching). When political insiders talk about Williams, they talk about tactical advantages like establishment support, a credible base in West Philly, the prospect of big outside money and, as Dave Davies just put it, “very favorable racial math” as the only high-profile black candidate in the race (so far).
Williams tried yesterday to broaden the case for his candidacy beyond such insidery electoral considerations, pitching himself as a pragmatic problem solver who could shake up the city’s leadership culture and bring opportunity and growth to neighborhoods neglected while Center City has boomed. He also might have mentioned this notion of “one Philadelphia” one or 1,000 times.
“I don’t want to be the mayor for just one part of town. I want to lift up every part of my great city,” Williams said. “I know that we are strongest as a city when every neighborhood is strong, when we truly are one Philadelphia. Say it with me … one Philadelphia. One Philadelphia.”
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Lynne Abraham at the announcement of her mayoral campaign.
You’d think that a trailblazing female politician with nearly 20 years of service as district attorney would command the respect of the political class and punditocracy if she announced a bid for mayor.
And yet, in a lot of quarters, Lynne Abraham’s mayoral aspirations have been met with little more than snickers and wisecracks about her age (if victorious, Abraham would be 74 when sworn-in). It’s been five years since she retired, after all, and her tough-on-crime, death-penalty dealing persona feels like a real mismatch for today’s Philadelphia.
Today’s really-real campaign announcement (there have been, um, multiple announcements) at the Franklin Institute this afternoon seemed carefully designed to dispel the notion that Abraham was no longer relevant. And it actually worked pretty well.
Hundreds of Abraham’s supporters packed a room at the Franklin Institute for the announcement. On the dais, Abraham was vigorous and appealing. She was quite detailed on her plans if elected, seemed reasonably well-versed on the city’s contemporary challenges, such as school funding and the prospect of selling PGW (she did, though, duck a question from Newsworks reporter Holly Otterbein on her feelings about the decriminalization of marijuana).
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Doug Oliver, left. Alan Butkovitz, right.
The first real surprise of the mayoral race arrived this week, in the form of the sudden non-withdrawal/withdrawal of candidate/non-candidate Alan Butkovitz. The city controller had never formally declared his intentions, but he’d been assembling a staff and was widely considered one of the more potent candidates in the (admittedly meager) mayoral mix. Now he’s gone, at least for now, and the terrain of the race is considerably changed.
If Butkovitz had entered the race, he likely would have been a well-funded candidate, with a real base in the Northeast and the support of major city political figures. That might not have been enough to secure a win, of course. He certainly would have started the race an underdog to State Senator Anthony Williams, who is emerging as the consensus front-runner. But Butkovitz had a puncher’s chance.
That wasn’t good enough for him, apparently. He told the Inquirer yesterday, “Based on the conditions on the ground right now and the confusion and chaos of the current field right now, I don’t see a path to winning.”
What confusion and chaos is he referring to? Principally the agonizing indecision of Darrell L. Clarke. Butkovitz seems to think Clarke will run. But there’s been no clear signal on that score from Clarke whatsoever.
As one Democratic consultant put it, “Clarke’s sole campaign staffer is representing Philly Jesus right now.”
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Photo | Jeff Fusco
So City Council has just released a rebuttal to a rebuttal to a letter summarily rejecting the sale of PGW. At least, I think that’s where things stand. It seems like everyone has a lot to say. Maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — a hearing on the proposed sale would have been a good place to air some of these issues out?
There will be no hearing on the sale, of course, which is at the root of this dysfunctional display. After two years, $21.3 million spent by the leading bidder, and two expensive reports from different analysts, Mayor Nutter figured he would at least get a Council hearing on the potential sale. Council President Darrell L. Clarke and the rest of council leadership — in what increasingly looks like a big political misstep — figured if council didn’t want the deal, why waste time with hearings?
You’ll find Council’s latest salvo below, as well as the Nutter administration’s effective, if dense, six pages of spin on the sale, which was first published last week by the Philadelphia Business Journal.
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Seventeen years ago, the city and School District of Philadelphia filed suit against Pennsylvania, accusing it of failing to provide sufficient education funding in violation of the state Constitution, which obligates the state legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”
It didn’t work. Commonwealth Court rejected the suit, and the state Supreme Court in 1999 refused to hear an appeal.
Now school funding advocates are looking for a rematch. A potentially momentous lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court this morning, claiming that the state has “adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”
One of many striking elements of this suit is that the School District of Philadelphia — which would be among the greatest beneficiaries of a successful lawsuit — is not among the plaintiffs.
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On Monday, Philly mag writer Joel Mathis explained why he — a self-described liberal — would be voting for an (unnamed) Republican in Tuesday’s election.
Today, Philly journalist and Democratic committeeman Jon Geeting wrote a column for City Paper arguing that “ticket-splitters represent everything that is wrong with American politics.”
“While they may fancy themselves as independent and judicious people, their behavior reveals a profoundly immature understanding of how legislative politics works,” Geeting wrote.
Wonk fight! Read more »