Ed Rendell Addresses Rumors He’s Running: Only If Things Got Really, Abysmally Bad

AP-rendell-940Just how desperate is Philadelphia?

Come 2015, the answer to that question might determine whether or not Ed Rendell seeks a third term as mayor.

In recent days, Rendell has downplayed his interest in returning to City Hall. He did so again in a brief phone interview this morning, telling me: “It’s not something that anybody should be thinking about.”

But Rendell does seem to be giving the idea some real thought.
Read more »

Kathleen Kane’s Gay Marriage Mutiny


At the bottom of a steep block on the west side of Scranton, next to a clapboard home with peeling white paint, there’s a pizza shop called Maroni’s. Inside, takeout boxes are piled in towers that nearly reach the ceiling, and Carmen Pellegrino, who’s owned the place for 31 years, is pounding dough and spreading cheese for a steady trickle of customers hungry for nourishment after praying at the Solemn Novena for Saint Ann at the basilica up the hill.

It seems an odd spot to meet the dynamic and glamorous Attorney General Kathleen Granahan Kane, a woman who, in the past 18 months, has emerged from nowhere to become Pennsylvania’s fastest-rising political star, Governor Tom Corbett’s nemesis, and, reputedly, a potential candidate for every higher office in the land, from governor to U.S. senator to—no kidding—a spot on a presidential ticket.

Read more »

Dick Morris In Exile

What is former Fox pundit Dick Morris doing on the radio in Philadelphia?

Dick Morris punched his ticket for Philadelphia in the week leading up to the presidential election. Most pundits expected a close finish. A good number predicted a thin victory for the President. Some, like the New York Times’s Nate Silver, foresaw an easy Obama win.

But not Dick. He’d been at the head of the GOP’s blithely delusional brigade all year long. The eve of the election was no time to quit. While others equivocated, Morris doubled down.

“We’re going to win by a landslide,” he said to Fox News’s Greta van Susteren, with a grin that seemed to stretch a foot wide. “It would be the biggest surprise in recent political history.” Up flashed an electoral map covered in Romney red. Morris proceeded to jump through a series of contorted logical hoops, citing the skewing of one poll and the unjust tweaking of another survey, and finished by predicting his candidate would not just take the battlegrounds of Florida, Virginia and Ohio, but would best Obama in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire and, yes, even Pennsylvania.

And then, the vote. Overnight, Morris became a national laughingstock. He was “a joke to every smart conservative in Washington and most every smart conservative under the age of 40,” Ross Douthat told Politico. He was the “king of wrong mountain,” said Jon Stewart.

Morris had, of course, long been reviled by many Democrats for selling out his old boss, Bill Clinton, but now he was suddenly persona non grata among respectable Republicans, too. GOP opinion-makers turned on him like he was a quack selling miracle tonic.

“I got to tell you something, people are furious with you right now,” Sean Hannity told Morris on Fox after the election.

That was among his last appearances on the network. After logging almost 15 years and some 3,000 interviews as a paid Fox contributor, Morris had been blacklisted. Fox made it formal in February, when it declined to renew his contract. It was a rare instance of actual accountability in the typically consequence-free world of political punditry. Dick Morris was so full of bullshit that even Fox was embarrassed to have him.

But not, apparently, Philadelphia.

Each weekday afternoon, from 2 to 6 p.m., Morris can now be heard on WPHT 1210’s afternoon call-in show, replacing Michael Smerconish, who jumped to satellite radio in mid-April.

As tempting as it is to dismiss Morris as a sideshow, that would be a mistake. Despite his spectacular flop last fall, Morris has an instinctual understanding of politics that shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly in a city with relatively few veterans of the Washington game. And Morris—unlike so many of the leading national blowhards—was once a political consultant of genuine consequence. Indeed, he arguably had as much to do with the nature of our national political culture—such as it is—as any consultant alive.

What’s more, there’s no indication Morris is just using WPHT as a pit stop. His eventual ambition is to build a syndicated empire, headquartered here in Philadelphia. And he is spending a surprisingly large chunk of airtime on thoroughly local affairs, from municipal tax policy to allegations of anti-Semitism on the Evesham school board.

Make no mistake: Dick Morris—a man ejected from the ranks of the national punditocracy as a charlatan and opportunistic say-anything hack—is attempting to inject himself into the already sordid world of Philadelphia politics. This could go one of two ways. Morris has the potential to emerge as a sharp, uncensored observer in a city with a circumspect civic dialogue—the leading local voice of the angry right, tipping over sacred political cows in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Or Morris could continue prancing down the path of glib, credibility-shattering commentary.

Either way, Morris’s fate as a public figure now looks to be in the hands of Philadelphia and its suburbs. Which, yes, sounds absurd, but no more absurd than anything else in Dick Morris’s life.

Desperately Seeking Leadership: Philadelphia’s Next Mayor

Photo by Clint Blowers. Philadelphia is looking for a mayor already, even though the next election isn't for two years.

Billionaire New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is in the final year of his three-term reign in New York. Onetime White House bully Rahm Emanuel runs Chicago. Former journalist Boris Johnson remains wildly popular in London. A leading candidate in Detroit’s 2013 election is Mike Duggan, a white businessman who recently moved back to the city from the suburbs.

Two years ago, voters in Kansas City chose a lawyer and first-time candidate named Sly James as mayor. He’s brought bow ties back into fashion, and lured Google to his city to build the nation’s fastest Internet service. Julián Castro was 34 years old when he was elected mayor of San Antonio after just four years on city council. Last year he electrified the Democratic National Convention with a keynote speech. So did Newark mayor Cory Booker, who also won office after a single term on council. And before Narberth native John Hickenlooper became one of the most popular governors in the country, he was mayor of Denver, a job he won having never run for public office before.

[>> So who should run for Philadelphia Mayor in 2015? Click here for our picks.]

[>> Or if you think you've got what it takes, apply to our Craigslist ad.]

And in Philadelphia? In Philadelphia, we get parochial hacks. Over and over and over again.

The early lineup for the 2015 mayoral election is an insipid collection of Council members, has-beens and legacy admits. Some are fundamentally unfit for the job. Most are ardent defenders of the status quo. And every last one of them would likely lose to Mayor Nutter—himself a pale shadow of what his supporters had hoped for—could he run for a third term.

The sons of as many as three former mayors may make bids, and the most di­sruptive of these—Councilman Bill Green—appears to have both lost his pep and alienated many potential supporters with his sometimes-abrasive personality. The current front-runner, Anthony Hardy Wi­lliams, is the lethargic heir to a West Philadelphia political machine who has spent nearly a quarter-century in the state House and Senate, with shockingly few accomplishments to show for it. Councilman-at-large Jim Kenney has logged more than two decades in City Hall, much of it in the service of the now-defunct Fumo organization. He seems to be in the mayoral mix mostly because he’s bored out of his mind on Council. The most-mentioned female candidate is septuagenarian former district attorney Lynne Abraham. The non-politicos openly flirting with bids are perennial electoral losers: Sam Katz, who has run for mayor three times and governor once (going 0-for-4), and millionaire Tom Knox, who floats his name for so many offices that he is fast becoming a punch line.

All of this would be distressing enough if Philadelphia were a perfectly average city with a well-run bureaucracy and a readily manageable set of problems. But it’s not. Instead, Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty of any big city in the country, and is getting poorer every year. In the eyes of at least some Wall Street analysts, the city is a prime candidate for bankruptcy. Outside the expanding bubble of Center City, crime and blight are endemic. The school district is atrocious and only stands to get worse with catastrophic spending cuts looming.

And yet, even so, this is a moment of incredible opportunity for Philadelphia. The city is growing again. New arrivals from Bensalem and Brooklyn and Bangladesh are flocking here, in spite of City Hall’s fumbling. The millennials—God bless them—are giving the city a fighting chance.

It’s now entirely plausible to imagine Philadelphia evolving into a far more prosperous, better-educated and less violent place: a metropolis with character and grit and grace that finally reclaims its rightful crown as one of the world’s great cities.

But it’s equally easy to imagine the opposite. The calamitous conditions in low-income neighborhoods could slow and ultimately reverse Center City’s growth. A less prudent mayor than Nutter could quickly spend and borrow the city into outright insolvency. A collapsing school system could lead middle- and upper-class families to desert the city in droves, just as earlier generations did.

The point is that Philadelphia is—right now—in the midst of radical change. The city could tip one way (call it the way of tech-and-research hive Boston). Or it could tip the other (Detroit). Some years
matter more than others in a city’s trajectory. Some moments—and the chance to beat back 60 years of population decline is one of them—come along only once every few decades.

This is the opportunity that the city is poised to entrust to one of the usual suspects?

If only there were someone else.

City Commissioners Al Schmidt and Stephanie Singer Just Can’t Get Along


Stephanie Singer is warming to her point.

For 45 minutes she has been explaining the arcane workings of elections in Philadelphia to a few dozen would-be reformers gathered in a classroom at the Community College of Philadelphia. Her presentation has included role playing, an accounting of the outsized political influence of the Jewish vote in Washington, D.C. (“What’s so special about Israel?” she asks. “France doesn’t get that kind of treatment”), and repeated references to her margin of victory in 2011’s Philadelphia elections.

But that was just buildup.

“I tell you what number I really care about. The number I really want is one million, one hundred thousand.” This, she says, is the total number of registered voters in Philadelphia. “I want to be able to go to the governor of Pennsylvania with that number … on my forehead, and say, ‘Help us with our school system. Or, ‘Governor, don’t get rid of general assistance.’” Now she starts to yell. “Or; ‘DO NOT SIGN THAT VOTER ID LAW!’”

There’s no denying that Singer’s presentation is stirring, if a bit unorthodox. She certainly has the crowd with her, so it’s easy to look past the fact that as a city commissioner, the 48-year-old Singer has as much pull with the Governor as any other individual Philadelphia voter, which is to say, none at all. It’s also easy to see why Singer, as recently as a year ago, was considered the fresh face of reform in Philadelphia, the woman who took on the notorious Marge Tartaglione—the epitome of the city’s onerous Democratic machine—and won with ease. As I watch her on this night, she’s earnest, intelligent and endearingly quirky, and it’s easy to see why this magazine (at my urging, no less) dubbed her Philadelphia’s best political newcomer in 2011.

Easy, that is, if you forget entirely that the past year has taken place.

“Wait,” a man in the audience says, early in the evening. “Who are you? Are you Singer?”

She nods. A look of compassion flickers across the man’s face. Then he blurts out: “What happened to you?

It’s a good question, and one that a lot of reform-minded Philadelphians have been asking. Almost 14 months after Singer took office vowing to bring “free and fair” elections to Philadelphia, she and her fellow commissioners are stonewalling a panel appointed by Mayor Nutter to probe Election Day irregularities. Meanwhile, Singer is now openly at war with her fellow commissioners, including reform Republican Al Schmidt, who took office with her and had been expected to play Joe Clark to her Richardson Dilworth. Instead, Schmidt masterminded a surprise coup, teaming up with sole incumbent commissioner Anthony Clark (a figure best known for spending as little time in the office as possible) to depose Singer from her chairmanship immediately after Election Day last fall.

One might expect a Republican-led putsch of a Democratic elections boss to generate major controversy in a city like Philadelphia. But the widespread perception was that Singer had bungled the job, and few Democrats objected. Consider that 12 days before the presidential election in November, Singer dashed off an email to 2,000 of her closest friends, including many in the media, that began: “As a woman, and as a Jew, I am horrified at the prospect of Republican control of government.” Singer went on, “If you are glad to see me doing the work I am doing, please consider this: It would have been much harder to dedicate myself to work through my entire adult life to date if I had to either prepare for the prospect of unplanned motherhood or forego that natural, healthy source of joy and comfort, sex.”

Uh, too much information, Commissioner? And too much partisanship as well, considering the email was sent on the eve of a contentious contest by the very woman responsible for overseeing a free and fair election in Philadelphia. And yet as glaring as her mistakes may have been, Singer’s quick political demise tells us as much about the city’s political culture as it does about her personal failings. In truth, reformers in Philadelphia usually disappoint, if not always quite so spectacularly.


Once upon a time, the three elected city commissioners had real power. Over the years, though, their duties—oversight of the courts and prison system, for instance—have been whittled away. Now the commissioners exist to do one thing and one thing only: administer Philadelphia’s elections.

It’s a challenging job, and one that requires a large staff of skilled civil service workers. It’s less clear that it makes sense to directly elect—and pay handsomely—three politicians to oversee an operation that, ideally, should be run as apolitically as possible. The commissioners are one of the body politic’s vestigial organs, like the tonsils or an appendix; they can cause all manner of problems, but it’s not entirely clear what good they do.

For 35 years, the office was the personal playpen of Tartaglione, a larger-than-life figure on the city’s political circuit. In the 1970s, she was arrested for supposedly moving voting machines—and was reelected. In the 1990s, she was called before a grand jury investigating suspected vote tampering—and was reelected again. She’s famous for physical altercations, including the time she knocked a cigar out of a fellow ward leader’s mouth, and once said of federal election observers dispatched to observe her office, “These young guys, they think they’re Hitler.” Tartaglione’s daughter, Renee Tartaglione, resigned her patronage job as her mother’s deputy in 2010 after the city Ethics Board concluded she violated the ethics code on nine separate occasions. And Carlos Matos, Renee Tartaglione’s husband (and Marge Tartaglione’s political ally), was sentenced to three years in prison for bribing three Atlantic City council members. To cap it all off, Tartaglione was a DROP-er, one of a handful of elected officials who “retired” to collect a lump-sum pension payment—in her case, $288,136—only to return to work a day later when their new terms in office began.

This was the swamp Stephanie Singer vowed to drain as she campaigned to replace Tartaglione in 2011. She seemed ideally suited to the job. Singer was relatively new to the city. She was smart. And she had a background that could not have been more different from that of a political mud wrestler like Tartaglione. A former Haverford College professor who specialized in the mathematics of atomic particles, Singer is the daughter of Washington, D.C., elites. Her father was a lawyer; her mother was an accomplished molecular biologist. Their family friends included the powerful and famous. (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated at Singer’s first wedding.)

Yet for all that, Singer doesn’t come across as a refined intellectual. She’s an ebullient figure, with a mind that flits ea­sily—too easily, maybe—from one s­ubject to the next. She’s the sort of person who wears American-flag-themed sunglasses on Election Day and, when told she’s thought of as kind of kooky, embraces the description. “Look, if I were more perfect, I’d be a supermodel,” she says from her office on the first floor of City Hall. “I can live with kooky.”

During her 2011 campaign, Singer’s eccentricities came across as endearing. She was perfectly serious about the problems in the commissioners office, and she’d already shown—by publishing reams of city election data on her own website—that she was committed to transparency. And unlike some other reform candidates, Singer wasn’t too pure for party politics. In 2008, she was elected leader of Center City’s powerful Eighth Ward.

The more involved she became, the more fascinated—and disgusted—Singer grew. “This city’s political system, it’s a really robust organism, right? It keeps surviving,” she says. “And it was really, really interesting for me to learn how it works. We know who the powerful people are, but how are they powerful? What is the real action taken to exert that power? I was fascinated, because it certainly didn’t work the way I had been taught it worked in school.”

And Singer wasn’t alone in her crusade. Al Schmidt, 41, an equally compelling figure, was running for commissioner on the Republican ticket. Schmidt had made his local reputation by helping to lead an insurrection against the city’s complacent and incompetent Republican leadership. Like Singer, Schmidt was a PhD (political history, from Brandeis University) who’d moved to Philadelphia from Washington, where he was a senior analyst at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. And like Singer, he had impeccable reformer credentials.

They were smart, where the incumbents were dim (excepting Tartaglione, who is as wily as they come). They were forward-looking, where the old guard was stuck in the past. And, critically, there were two of them. It was a chance for a bipartisan housecleaning: Elect both—the GOP is effectively guaranteed at least one commission seat—and the reformers would have a majority of the three-member commissioners’ office.

Reform voters answered the call. (So did electricians union boss John Dougherty, but more on that later.) Singer and Schmidt both won handily. Tartaglione was banished, and the technocrats were ascendant. Surely all would soon be well.

Is St. Joe’s Prep Still a Power Factory?

St. Joe's Prep school in Philadelphia has produced community leaders like Michael Nutter, but is it still a power factory?

John J. Dougherty looks ready to fight. His mouth is set in a grim line, his hard eyes are wide open, and his eyebrows are arched like the back of a cat prepared to pounce. Mayor Nutter wears a well-practiced smile. He comes across as friendly and self-possessed, but seems to be holding part of himself back. Councilman Jim Kenney resembles a shaggy, good-natured dog; his colleague William K. Greenlee looks a bit like a turtle, and Councilman Brian O’Neill sports a cocky grin. Then there is Vincent Joseph Fumo, with his handsome features—indeed, they’re almost delicate—arranged just so, hinting at the hauteur to come.

These early glimpses of Philadelphia’s political elite all have the same source: the yearbooks published by St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, the North Philadelphia institution that is the city’s preeminent power factory.

This Jesuit-run school for boys has educated two of Philadelphia’s last five mayors, three current members of City Council, political operators like Doc and A. Bruce Crawley, and a large chunk of the more anonymous elites who make this city run: attorneys and high-powered bureaucrats, CEOs, judges and journalists.

And it’s no accident. “We want to influence power,” Father Bruce Maivelett, the Prep’s director of mission and ministry, tells me matter-of-factly. “And that is one of the primary reasons why we’re involved in the ministry of education.”

For most of its 161-year history, the Prep has influenced power by taking Philly’s smartest and most ambitious middle-class Catholic boys and turning them into men who are inclined to wield power, and unusually adept at doing so. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Prep, for better or worse, has helped to define Philadelphia’s political culture. Its graduates—both those in the public eye and those who prefer the back rooms—exercise that much clout.

[Click here to see high school yearbook photos of some of Philly's most powerful men.]

But the Prep is changing. Indeed, it’s been changing for some time. Tuition there has increased sharply, and so has the percentage of wealthy suburban students. There are far fewer bright, streetwise city kids in the Prep’s hallways today than when Nutter and Dougherty were enrolled. The Jesuits themselves are in shorter supply at the Prep as well. Even the long-bleak blocks surrounding the school at 18th and Girard Avenue are changing, as gentrification pushes north.

All of which means the Prep is now manufacturing different sorts of leaders than in years past. Some worry that the new generations will be less interested in pulling the levers of power in Philadelphia. And that’s possible. But there’s also reason to hope that those students who take up the Jesuit call to influence power will be better at it than the Prep-trained leadership class we have today.

On the second-to-last day of January in 1966, a blizzard swept into Philadelphia. The temperature dropped to 10 degrees, and 8.4 inches of snow fell on the city. These little details have been carefully recorded because at 5:20 a.m. that morning, a fire broke out in the basement of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School. Within four hours, two-thirds of the school lay devastated, the remains still smoking even as they were sheathed in ice.

For the school, the most obvious—and easiest—answer was to leave. To take the $2 million in insurance money and get the hell out of North Philadelphia, a neighborhood in rapid decline. But the Jesuits flatly refused. Their work was in the city.

That call—the decision to double down on North Philadelphia just as everyone else with means was bailing out—cemented the Prep’s status as the training ground of choice for the most talented kids in the city’s working and middle classes. Kids like Michael Nutter (class of 1975), who probably would have gone to a military school had a nun not convinced him to apply to the Prep. He describes it as a place where “those with virtually no means meet up with those of lots of means. But you’re all the same at the school. You wear a jacket and a tie, you speak well, and you do your work.”

The Irish-Catholic Kenney (class of 1976) is an even more prototypical Prep alum. He commuted to the school on the subway each day with a pack of other South Philly rowhome boys trying to navigate their way safely to 18th and Girard wearing sport coats and ties. He tells a story about an after-school fight featuring two popular students—one white, one black—at a time of rising racial tension within the school: “It felt like an hour-long spectacle. One would knock the other down and wait for him to get up. It was brutal and bloody. I don’t know if anyone won.” When it was over, Kenney glanced up, and there on the balcony, watching in silence, were the Jesuits. “No one interceded. They knew it had to happen. They let us figure it out.”

The Prep of old, in other words, didn’t coddle its students. Those who could hack it say they formed deeply personal bonds by the time they graduated. Nutter leaned on a history teacher and his football coach while going through some “very, very tough times at home.” And his two best friends to this day are Prep grads. (One is the Mayor’s personal physician; the other is Robert Bynum, proprietor of Warmdaddy’s, Green Soul, Relish and Heirloom.)

A critical component of the Prep power-making formula is the multifaceted Jesuit tradition. Much of it boils down to the hokey and patronizing but somehow still powerful Jesuit credo to be “men for and with others.” Layered atop that is the well-deserved Jesuit reputation for bucking authority, both the papal and civil varieties. It’s a quality that Prep graduates prize, and one that more than a few have plainly absorbed. “It all starts with the Jesuits,” says Dougherty, recalling how they taught him to question everything, to take no answer at face value.

Start with ambitious working-class kids. Give them outstanding educations. Hone their sense of competitiveness to a fine edge. Cultivate their connections to the city. And stress the value of serving others. That has been the core of the Prep’s formula to, as Maivelett puts it, “produce men who will be influential in the power centers.”

It’s not that the Prep hooks up its graduates with positions in political organizations, or that it explicitly steers its students in that direction. After leaving the Prep, an 18-year-old Nutter thought he’d be a doctor, not a mayor. But today, he credits the Prep for making him into a man capable of doing his job. Not 48 hours after he was first sworn in as mayor in 2008, Nutter went back to the Prep to speak to the students. It was a raucous, emotional scene. “I think it should be clear to you what your mission is,” Nutter told the students. “You’re being trained right here to be leaders of your community.”

Is Rob McCord the Tom Corbett Slayer?

Four hours into my morning with Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord—after he’s analyzed the state of race relations in Boston, filled me in on his fitness regimen and his love of squash, demonstrated how best to ask rich people for money, outlined the strengths and weaknesses of Philadelphia’s nascent tech sector, and name-dropped the likes of George Stephanopoulos and Newt Gingrich—he stops talking, for just a moment, to quickly down a protein bar and a zero-calorie Powerade.

“I’m an aging jock,” the 53-year-old McCord says (for the third time that morning). “Got to stay lean.” And then he’s off again, this time on a five-minute soliloquy on the great buying opportunities presented by sub-investment-grade debt in Europe.

Brilliant babbling—if there is such a thing—is a McCord hallmark. The words tumble out of his mouth so relentlessly that talking to him feels less like a conversation than an unedited simulcast of his inner monologue. “So I fell in love with my wife, and also with microeconomics,” he says at one point, as segue to a riff on the wrongheadedness of GOP opposition to tax incentives.

At times you want to roll your eyes. And yet the overall effect is undeniably impressive. Ebullient, inquisitive and, yes, a bit undisciplined, McCord is unlike any prominent politician to cross the Pennsylvania stage in years. And he’s obviously having an awfully good time.

As well he should. Life has been very good to McCord, an ambitious Main Liner and venture capitalist turned political aspirant. He is a rich man gifted both with the right connections and the talent to maximize those advantages. Born into an academic family, he was schooled at Harvard and Wharton. He was mentored in politics by two-time U.S. Cabinet Secretary Norman Mineta, and in business by legendary former Safeguard Scientifics CEO Pete Musser. He made millions investing in tech start-ups, then waltzed into statewide elected office four years ago as a first-time candidate. And in early November, he was easily reelected to a second term as state treasurer.

And so, in a state Democratic Party short on high-profile talent, McCord’s profile is surging, and the calls for him to challenge Governor Corbett in 2014 are growing louder. State Democratic chairman Jim Burn says McCord is a “top-tier” name “held in the highest esteem” by party bosses. Congressman Chaka Fattah pronounces himself a “big fan.” Philadelphia Democratic Party boss Bob Brady considers him “formidable” and “probably our strongest candidate.”

What makes this establishment enthusiasm for McCord so interesting is the fact that he in no way resembles gubernatorial candidates of the past. Pennsylvanians tend to be traditionalists when it comes to their elected leaders. Governors Corbett and Rendell are both redolent of the 20th century, with old-fashioned political résumés and brands (Rendell the charismatic operator, Corbett the sober uncle). So were Dan Onorato (a longtime lawyer and pol) and Lynn Swann (the ex-athlete trope).

McCord, though, is a thoroughly modern politician. He’s run a think tank and a series of investment funds. He’s considered a critical early leader in the development of the region’s tech industry. He has an African-American wife. And he entered politics late in life, mea­ning he has ascended without the benefit—or b­aggage—of a machine to call his own.

All of which makes him one of the most intriguing figures to appear on Pennsylvania’s political stage in some time. Can a candidate as novel and contemporary as McCord win in a state this conventional? He seems sure to test that question. But when?

8 Trends That Prove Philly Is Changing for the Better

For too long, Philadelphia was a city besotted with its past, disinterested in its future, and stagnating in the present. Innovation was for other cities. San Francisco would corner technology. New York would figure out how to cut crime and scrub blight. Chicago would take the lead on gentrification and redevelopment. Philadelphia? We had Rocky. And Tastykake. And the memory of relevance.

But that’s changed. Somewhere in Philadelphia’s long escape from the urban Dark Ages of the ’70s and ’80s, the city began to craft a character that was a bit more in step with the times. We saw the emergence of higher education and medicine as the indisputable new economic anchors. Center City was recognized for the ideally sized and eminently walkable gem of a downtown it is.

Now, at last, there’s an unmistakable momentum to the city’s reinvention, an almost palpable dynamism that you used to have to travel to New York or Boston or Washington, D.C., to feel.

Finally, Philadelphia is doing what cities are supposed to do: evolving. But into what?

That question will be answered in large part by the new Philadelphians: that big and growing class of immigrants, students and young professionals, the ones filling Center City to capacity and spilling out into the neighborhoods beyond. Just as consequential is the continued flight of Philadelphia’s working class, not just from the white ethnic rowhome neighborhoods that have been emptying out for decades, but from once-stable black communities as well. This population churn—a massive exchange of very different classes of people—is already having profound effects on the city.

A new appreciation for the critical role of public space is taking hold. Universities are exerting an ever larger sway. And the influence of the new Philadelphians can be felt everywhere. They are ditching cars, clamoring for school reform, and launching the start-ups that could one day reshape our economy. And that’s to name just a few of the innovations that are changing the character of a very old city, and will very likely continue to do so in years to come.

There are downsides, of course. Income inequality is on the rise, and so are gentrification tensions. The trends that are working so well for Center City are having far more limited effects in poorer neighborhoods. And there’s a sense that Philadelphians are losing their common history; they seem not to understand one another quite as well as in the past.

We can lament what’s been lost, but this is what urban progress tends to look like in America. Better to face it than to continue stewing in Philadelphia’s special blend of cultural stasis and economic decay. So. Let’s talk about what’s next:

>> The Manifest Destiny of Eds & Meds

What Will It Take for New Philadelphians to Clean Up City Hall?

The new Philadelphians just keep coming. From too-big exurb mini-m­ansions and too-small Manhattan studios; from San Francisco and Shanghai; from the beat-up ’burbs of Delaware County and the dormitories of Penn, Drexel and Temple. They’re young professionals and empty nesters, Cambodian immigrants and Kensington-bound hipsters. And there are many more of them than you likely realize.

In 2007 alone, an estimated 56,000 new residents made Philadelphia their home. A year later, there were another 62,000. Then 64,000. In 2010, the tide reached 70,000. Somehow, someway, they’ve kept coming.

And thank God for that. It’s terrifying to think where Philadelphia might be were it not for these new residents, who have both reversed a 50-year pattern of population decline and breathed new life into a tired old post-industrial city. They are remaking neighborhoods, invigorating the arts and restaurant cultures, giving employers reason to again consider doing business here.

But where you don’t see much impact—at least, not in the traditional sense—is in the corridors of power. For all they’ve done to change the city, these new Philadelphians, as a class and voting bloc, are political also-rans—when they bother to run at all.

Six new City Council members took office this year. But not one of the new members is a new Philadelphian. Just one City Councilperson didn’t grow up in this town, and the vast majority of the 17 members have spent their entire lives in Philadelphia. The 2015 mayoral field could be one of the most crowded in city history, but all six of the most oft-mentioned contenders are native Philadelphians, or near enough to make no difference.

Indeed, with the huge exception of Mayor Nutter—a man whom new Philadelphians tend to like and support—the city’s political scene today looks much the same as it did before the new Philadelphians arrived en masse. A few of the players have changed (see Fumo, Vince). But old-fashioned political power is still pretty securely in the hands of a few big interests and institutions. Unions. The Democratic City Committee. Big business and the Chamber of Commerce. And long-established political factions, like the Dougherty and Fattah organizations.

So what is it with these new Philadelphians? They have time for night markets and guerrilla gardening, but direct participation in local politics is beneath them?

Well, yes and no. Both skeeved out by the nature of the city’s political culture and intimidated by its strength, the new Philadelphians have made an end run around the traditional political system, channeling their civic energy into nonprofits, neighborhood associations, and loose networks of like-minded activists. Consciously or not, the new Philadelphians have decided they don’t need to take over City Hall in order to remake Philadelphia in their image.

But there are limits to this apolitical brand of activism, and the new Philadelphians are starting to reach them. Sooner or later, they’ll be forced to realize it’s in their interest—and, I’d argue, the city’s as well—for them to spend a little less time organizing co-ops and a little more time building real political power.

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »