Philly’s Deviant Political Culture, Explained

Illustration by gluekit; dougherty and boxes: Charles Fox | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Associated Press; City Hall: C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

Illustration by gluekit; Dougherty, Charles Fox | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Associated Press; City Hall: C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia

Because this is 2016 and I’m a journalist, I was on Twitter when I first saw the news that FBI agents were raiding Johnny Doc’s home. This was around 8:30 a.m., so I’d already had several cups of coffee, but even so, this obviously momentous development barely registered. “Huh,” I thought, and kept right on scrolling to the next hot Trump take, the next wry 140-character blast about SEPTA or improvised dumpster pools, which apparently are now a thing.

I felt a little guilty about that later. This is John Dougherty we’re talking about. Kingmaker, yes, but also judge-maker, Council-maker, deal-maker. The longtime union honcho is probably the most powerful political figure in Philadelphia, and the feds had just packed an iMac and a couple of metric tons of files from his Local 98 electricians union into a moving truck. True, he hasn’t been charged with anything, and he may never be — the feds have investigated Doc before without finding anything that would stick. But this was big news, nonetheless. And I yawned.  Read more »

Jim Kenney: The Anti-Nutter?

Photographs by Jeff Fusco

Photographs by Jeff Fusco

I RAN INTO Jim Kenney one summer evening outside City Hall. This was in July 2014, back when he was a councilman who wanted to be mayor but didn’t think he could win.

He was feuding with Mayor Nutter. That wasn’t unusual, but the bad blood between them was thicker than normal. Kenney had gotten a big marijuana decriminalization bill through Council a month earlier. It was a marquee accomplishment for a guy considering a mayoral run, and a reform that he fervently believed in. The hitch? Nutter. The Mayor hadn’t signed the bill, and he was threatening a veto. In the meantime, 264 people had been charged with marijuana possession, a fact this magazine had reported that very day. Read more »

Richard Negrin’s Second Act

Richard Negrin.

Richard Negrin.

Richard Negrin, Philadelphia’s managing director, is leaving the Nutter administration just a bit early (by days, really) to become a partner at Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, a politically-connected, Philadelphia oriented law firm.

Negrin had contemplated running for public office, either in a 2015 mayoral bid or in another race down the line. Those ambitions, he said in an phone interview, are tabled for now. “I love public service, but I’ve gotten it out of my system for a while,” Negrin said. Read more »

Michael Nutter Looks Back

Clockwise from top left: Winning the election in January 2008 (photo: AP); November 2015 (photo: Adam Jones); during the September 2008 financial collapse (photo: AP); meeting President Obama in October 2010 (photo: AP); after the June 2013 building collapse at 22nd and Market (photo: Matt Rourke/AP/Corbis).

Clockwise from top left: Winning the election in January 2008 (photo: AP); November 2015 (photo: Adam Jones); during the September 2008 financial collapse (photo: AP); meeting President Obama in October 2010 (photo: AP); after the June 2013 building collapse at 22nd and Market (photo: Matt Rourke/AP/Corbis).

On January 4th, Mayor Michael Nutter’s eight-year run as Philadelphia’s 98th mayor will end. He’ll be replaced by Jim Kenney, an old friend and schoolmate of Nutter’s who in more recent years developed into an on-again, off-again antagonist. Nutter has no shortage of those. The political class has been eagerly awaiting his departure for years. And while he’s more popular with voters than are many mayors, Philadelphia never fell for Nutter the way it did for Ed Rendell. Yet Nutter leaves Philadelphia safer, more populous, better educated—at the collegiate level, anyway—more ethical and more financially stable than he found it. That’s in spite of a Great Recession that knocked his administration to the ground his very first year in office. Read more »

Crowdpac, the Political Kickstarter, Launches Its Killer Feature

Screenshot 2015-11-18 14.42.43

There’s no business better at hype than politics; except, of course, the tech industry. So it was probably inevitable that Crowdpac — a Silicon Valley-based political startup — would get a lot of buzz, both nationally and in Philadelphia, where the company chose to launch its local elections service.

Crowdpac’s aim? To upend the established political order. The for-profit company aims to do that by 1) making it easier for unconventional candidates to get into races, and 2) by giving voters the tools they need to make better decisions.

The problem is there are a lot of companies — including media outlets — that operate in that second space. And while Crowpac is using data in some interesting ways, nothing the site is doing locally to date has been particularly revolutionary or revelatory. Read more »

West Philly Rising

A rendering of the under construction FMC tower and the growing West Philly skyline. | Pelli Clarke Pelli/Brandywine Realty Trust.

A rendering of the under construction FMC tower and the growing West Philly skyline. | Pelli Clarke Pelli/Brandywine Realty Trust.

Each year, the University City District compiles, in a glossy report, the vital signs for the eastern half of West Philly. For a while now, the trend lines have been strong. But this year, the numbers are truly staggering. Read more »

Pennsylvania Graded “F” on Government Integrity, Because Obviously

harrisburg-capital-940

The Center for Public Integrity — which is a non-profit, non-partisan news outlet focused on, you guessed it, public integrity — has ranked all 50 states on transparency and accountability.

Pennsylvania got an “F.” That’s a big slide from 2012, when it received a “C-” in similar survey. This time, Pennsylvania was ranked 44th overall, so it could be worse. A little bit, anyway.

The center looked at 13 categories including “political financing,” “public access to information,” and “judicial accountability.” That last metric didn’t help the state’s grade any. Read more »

ThinkFest Recap: The Gentrification Train “Has Not Left Station” — Yet

From left: Inga Saffron, Jay McCalla, Beth McConnell and Calvin Gladney on "The Gentrification Wars: Can Philly Have Urbanism and Equality" at ThinkFest.

From left: Inga Saffron, Jay McCalla, Beth McConnell and Calvin Gladney on “The Gentrification Wars: Can Philly Have Urbanism and Equality” at ThinkFest.

ThinkFest is streaming live all day. Watch ThinkFest here.

Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron has written about the city’s changing skyline for 16 years. Today, she says, “you cannot write about the changing city of Philadelphia, without writing about gentrification.”

Saffron Friday moderated a ThinkFest panel centered on a question that is being asked with greater and greater urgency as Philadelphia’s redevelopment accelerates: “Can Philly have urbanism and equity?”

Joining Saffron were Jay McCalla, a former city official and Citified columnist; Beth McConnell, policy director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations; and Calvin Gladney, managing partner at Mosaic Urban Partners.

They disagreed on plenty, but there seemed to be consensus that it was still possible for Philadelphia to have urbanist amenities and equitable neighborhoods.

Near the end of the discussion, McConnell said: “the train has not left the station yet in Philadelphia.” She cited the gentrification battleground of Point Breeze, and said there was still enough vacant property and tax delinquent parcels in the neighborhood to build a solid supply of affordable housing. The city has a chance, she said, to “create mixed income neighborhoods of opportunity — and I really hope the next mayor makes that a priority.”

Read more »

ThinkFest Recap: Farah Jimenez on How Bleeding Hearts Hurt Those They Mean to Help

Farah Jimenez at ThinkFest.

Farah Jimenez at ThinkFest.

ThinkFest is streaming live all day. Watch ThinkFest here.

Within the very liberal city of Philadelphia, there’s the still more-liberal world of the non-profit sector; within that sector, there’s the tiny subgroup of do-gooders who who dedicate their professional lives to fighting poverty and homelessness.

This is the world Farah Jimenez has worked in for much of her life. She’s not like the others.

“Not once have I ever been accused of having a bleeding heart,” Jimenez said Friday morning at ThinkFest, in a speech that amounted to a broad critique of how society generally — and the non-profit world in particular — approach poverty and homelessness.

Jimenez is a School Reform Commissioner, and the former president of People’s Emergency Center (a non-profit social service agency for homeless families). She’s also a prominent conservative who thinks bleeding hearts and compassion have gotten in the way of effective decision-making.

“Since the pronouncement of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, we’ve spent an estimated $22 trillion on anti-poverty initiatives,” said Jimenez. “Did it make a difference? Every year, just in this five-county region, the social — or nonprofit — sector, comprised of 15,000 agencies, generates more than $35 billion in revenue and employs nearly 250,000 people. Those are big numbers, big investments, but is it making a difference?”

Jimenez didn’t answer her own question. Her goal at ThinkFest, she said, was more limited: “to challenge the orthodoxy that at times keeps us from examining our collective work and insisting on an answer to: Is it making a difference?”

Other highlights: Read more »

Philadelphia Voter Turnout Was Bad, But It Could Have Been Worse

APTOPIX America Votes

We all know voter turnout in Philadelphia has been bad — like historically bad.

The 27 percent of voters who turned out in a competitive primary election this spring was the lowest total in the city’s modern history for an election of that kind.

Prognosticators assumed turnout would be worse — perhaps much worse — in Tuesday’s election, given that the marquee mayoral race was a non-contest, with Democrat Jim Kenney facing overmatched GOP nominee Melissa Murray Bailey in a city where registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 7-1.

And turnout was bad. It looks like 25.5 percent of registered Philadelphia voters cast ballots. But it could have been worse, and many were expecting that it would be.

Four years ago, when Mayor Nutter was re-elected, just 20 percent of registered voters showed up. Nearly 50,000 more voters turned out Tuesday then did in the city’s 2007 general election. Read more »

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