6 Reasons Why Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court Election Is Absolutely Crucial

Pennsylvania voters get a blessed opportunity to start cleaning up the state’s train wreck of a Supreme Court on Tuesday, when they’ll fill three of seven seats on the high court. This is a huge election, one that could have far-reaching consequences for everything from school funding, to gun control to the political balance of power in Harrisburg.

Theoretically, judges are not partisan actors. But in the real world, a judge’s party affiliation often telegraphs how they’ll rule on a wide array of politically-charged issues. That’s even more true in a state, like Pennsylvania, that elects its judges.

Right now, the court is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, with two empty seats. One of the sitting Republicans leaves the bench in January. It’s not an exaggeration to say the political balance of the court could be decided for a decade or more, depending on who turns out Tuesday. Justices are elected to 10-year terms, and re-election is easy. The judges chosen for the high court Tuesday will likely be with us for a very long time. Read more »

A Bad Night for Dennis O’Brien at No-Holds Barred Debate

So that’s why incumbents and heavy favorites prefer debates with lots of rules and regulations.

Tuesday evening, the Philadelphia Citizen and the Committee of 70 hosted an unorthodox debate featuring (some) of the candidates seeking two City Council at-large seats reserved for the non-majority party.

The rules were there were no rules. No moderator. No time limits on speaking. The candidates were free to ask whatever question they might desire of their opponents.

The results were … entertaining. Illuminating? Less so.

But it was a fascinating experiment. It was also a really bad night for GOP Councilman Dennis O’Brien. The two-term incumbent was heckled by the crowd and roughed up by three lesser-known opponents excited at their chance to punch up.

O’Brien did not handle it well. He ditched the stage at one point to lodge grievances over his maltreatment with debate organizers, then returned to the debate stage, then left again, citing other engagements. Read more »

Bad News in the Blight Wars: Judge Rules Against City’s Most Effective Anti-Blight Program

A blighted, vacant home lacking doors and windows on an otherwise healthy block in West Philadelphia. | Image: Google Streetview.

A blighted, vacant home lacking doors and windows on an otherwise healthy block in West Philadelphia. | Image: Google Streetview.

Philadelphia has a novel and seemingly highly effective anti-blight law on the books known as the Doors & Windows ordinance.

The law empowers the City to order owners of vacant property on otherwise healthy blocks to put real, functional doors and real, functional windows on their buildings, instead of the plywood “doors” or sheet-metal “windows” so often used to seal up vacant structures.

The financial penalties for flouting the ordinance are extreme: $300 per opening, per day.

Although disliked by some owners of vacant buildings for obvious reasons, the ordinance is a simple, elegant, cost-effective way for the City to slow or halt the blighting influence of empty buildings in still-healthy neighborhoods.

But as PlanPhilly reports, a Common Pleas Court judge last month wrote an opinion that calls the legality of the ordinance into question. Judge Linda Carpenter wrote that the ordinance “appears to be concerned more with aesthetics and the appearance of occupancy rather than blight, safety and security.” Read more »

How Safe Are Tasers?



Around 2 a.m. on Monday morning, at Huntingdon Station on the Market-Frankford line, an as yet unidentified man and a SEPTA police officer got into a protracted physical struggle. The officer used his Taser to subdue the man.

The officer radioed for backup, but did not provide his exact location. It took at least eight minutes for help to arrive. When it did, the man was still conscious, but on the ride to Aria Hospital, the man became non-responsive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

No gun was fired, but the encounter was no less lethal for that. So, just how safe are Tasers?

It’s complicated. Read more »

Mayor Nutter Says It’s Time to Disband the School Reform Commission

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter walks down a blocked off Market Street, with City Hall in the background, in Philadelphia on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, before Pope Francis' trip. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.)

In a major education policy address, Mayor Nutter called today for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission, the state-created board that has overseen the School District of Philadelphia for the last 15 years.

“In my opinion and based on my experience – it is time to end the SRC.,” Nutter said. “It’s time for it to go.”

He called for a transition to a local school board comprised of nine members, five directly appointed by the mayor, four picked by the mayor from a list of 12 nominees prepared by City Council. And he proposed making the shift by September, 2017.

Why? Nutter cited two reasons. City control of its own schools will, he believes, increase community commitment to the district. Second, “Local control also eliminates confusion over who is responsible for what,” Nutter said. “Over the last 8 years, we’ve seen a revolving door of leadership everywhere but our local government – three governors, five Secretaries of Education, five School District Superintendents, six SRC Chairs and 17 SRC members.”

“Returning to local control means the voters of this city know who to hold accountable for educational outcomes – the Mayor.” Read more »

The Challengers: Indy Andrew Stober Isn’t Raging Against the Machine, He’s End-Running It

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo credit: screenshot of Stober announcement video.

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo credit: screenshot of Stober announcement video.

This week, Citified is featuring Q&As with leading at-large City Council candidates running for the two slots reserved for minority parties and independents.

Andrew Stober is an unusual City Council candidate in a number of ways, starting with the fact that nobody really knows if he has chance of winning in next week’s election.

There’s never been a candidate like Stober in the city’s recent history. He’s an independent, which argues for writing off his chances as improbable at best. But he’s also well-funded, endorsed by the likes of Mayor Michael Nutter, former Gov. Ed Rendell, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Fraternal Order of Police. Which obviously argues for taking him very seriously indeed.

Stober, 36, also has an atypical resume for Council. He was, until the campaign, a senior manager in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. His marquee accomplishment there was getting the city’s Indego bike system up and running.

Now he’s looking to prove that Republicans don’t have a stranglehold on the two City Council at-large seats the City Charter reserves for candidates who aren’t a part of the majority party (which has been the Dems, these last 60 years).

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read more »

You Don’t Drive? Doesn’t Matter: You’ll Still Pay at Least $1,100 a Year So Others Can

Owning a car is expensive. Turns out, not owning a car is expensive as well.

The average U.S. household subsidizes car ownership to the tune of $1,105-$1,848 a year, according to a detailed, deeply researched report released this spring by U.S. PIRG, a left-leaning non-profit advocacy group. (The PIRG report was highlighted again yesterday, by the Atlantic.)

That cost is borne by all households; including those that do not own a car of their own.

For some of our more car-averse readers, this might seem obvious. But the myth that car owners pay their own way in the form of gasoline taxes and other fees remains widespread.

They don’t. At all. Read more »

Temple Trustee: Yeah, We Want to Build That $100M Stadium

The Temple Owl mascot leads the team onto the field during an October 10, 2015, game against Tulane at Lincoln Financial Field.

Good morning, Philadelphia, and happy Friday. Here’s what you need to know today:

Temple University wants to build a $100 million, 35,000-capacity stadium at the north western edge of its campus.

7-0 Temple just cracked the AP college football Top 25. So what better time to formally acknowledge that the university aims to build an on-campus football stadium near 15th and Norris Streets? Temple University Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor told the Inquirer that the matter would be discussed at a December trustees meeting, and said “we have already gotten some seven-figure commitments” for the project. Said O’Connor: “We don’t want to use tuition dollars for this.” Read more »

The Politics of Fighting Media Exclusion

Left to right: Elmer Smith, Barbara Grant, Cherri Gregg and Mustafa Rashed. | Photos courtesy of Felicia Harris.

Left to right: Elmer Smith, Barbara Grant, Cherri Gregg and Mustafa Rashed. | Photos courtesy of Felicia Harris.

The much-criticized October cover of Philadelphia magazine — which features a photo of seven city public schoolchildren, none of whom are African-American — was the jumping-off point Wednesday night for a wide-ranging political strategy roundtable on the lack of diversity in mainstream newsrooms and how best to pressure and influence news organizations so that they more accurately reflect the communities they cover.

Front and center was Philly Mag, and that October cover.

Roundtable moderator Marshall Paul Mitchell, pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, opened the discussion in part by saying: “If you think there’s an educational problem for white students in Philadelphia, you should see what the problems look like for African-American and Latino and Asian students.”

Philadelphia magazine editor Tom McGrath apologized for the cover three weeks ago, shortly after it hit newsstands. McGrath’s apology read, in part, “To include not even one African-American child on the cover fails to reflect not just the diversity that exists at the Greenfield School (where the photo was taken), but also that within the city of Philadelphia.” Metro Corp, which owns Philadelphia magazine, has also released a new diversity policy.

Panelist Cherri Gregg, a KYW Newsradio reporter and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ), recalled that Philly Mag made similar (though less detailed) public statements following the publication of the controversial article “Being White in Philly,” in the March 2013 issue of the magazine.

And yet, she and other panelists said, the magazine has failed in the time since to either diversify its newsroom or to devote meaningful coverage to people of color.

“Every cover they do is what it’s like to be white in Philadelphia,” said Barbara Grant, owner of Cardenas-Grant Communications.

Said Gregg: “I feel like we have to stand up and say, ‘You can’t ignore us. We are here and we do matter.'”
Read more »

Philly Citizen to Award $10,000 to Randomly Selected Philly Voter

Screenshot 2015-10-22 11.10.33

So says the Philadelphia Citizen. And they mean it literally. | Image a screenshot of Citizen story announcing its new lottery.

So … it’s come to this.

The newly re-launched Philadelphia Citizen will pay $10,000 to a randomly selected Philadelphian who makes the herculean effort of spending two minutes in a voting booth on Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 3.

The Citizen is calling it a lottery. But let’s call it what is is: a bribe. And not even a big one. It’s crass, it’s insulting.

It’s also a gimmick, of course. A relatively inexpensive, attention-grabbing stunt for a new outlet that’s got some interesting ideas, but not yet a whole lot of readers.

Let’s set all that aside. Might it actually work? Is there actual merit to the idea of compensating voters (or a single voter, in this case) for doing what we’ve long been taught is a basic civic duty? Read more »

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