The Challengers: Isaiah Thomas Says ALL City Millennials Need a Voice


All week, Citified will be featuring Q&As with leading at-large City Council Democratic challengers on topics of their choosing. The prompt was simple: if elected, what’s a problem you would you prioritize, and how would you address it? To keep the conversation substantive and on-point, we asked the candidates to focus on a relatively narrow question (i.e., not “schools,” or “crime.”)

In 2011, Isaiah Thomas ran for City Council at large and won 31,515 votes; good enough for eight place in a race where the top five finishers get a job. Still more impressive? He was 26-years-old. Four years later, Thomas is again a serious challenger, with a impressive and wide-ranging clutch of endorsements from the Inquirer to labor unions to the Black Clergy.

Right now, Thomas is the associate dean of students at Sankofa Freedom Academy. This time next year, he’d like to be in City Council, working on a youth-centric agenda. Read more »

Did the Derailed Amtrak Train Nearly Collide With an Oil-Filled Freight Car?

Emergency responders work on an overturned Amtrak car near tanker cars on May 12, 2015. Photograph by Bryan Woolston

Emergency responders work on an overturned Amtrak car close to tanker cars on May 12, 2015. Photograph by Bryan Woolston

There’s a terrifying sight in the background of some photos from Tuesday night’s horrific Amtrak derailment: a series of black rail cars, the color and shape of Tootsie Rolls.

They look like standard rail tanker cars, and while we don’t yet know for certain what was in them, it probably wasn’t corn syrup. In fact, there’s a good chance those tankers were filled with crude oil. Read more »

The Brief: City Council Signs Off on a $7.27 Million Purchase of Land for New Waterfront Philadelphia Prison

The long-closed Eastern State Penitentiary. | Photo by John Van Horn.

The long-closed Eastern State Penitentiary. | Photo by John Van Horn.

1. A City Council committee has authorized spending $7.27 million to buy a new 58-acre parcel on the Delaware waterfront for a new city prison.

The gist: PlanPhilly reports on the council committee’s approval of a bill that gives the Nutter administration a green light to purchase 7777 State Road, reports PlanPhilly. The lot is next to an existing city’s prison, which houses 1,500 inmates. If built, the new prison would replace the aging House of Correction next door, a project that’s estimated to cost between $300 million and $500 million.

Why it matters: City officials are adamant that the new facility is required. Councilman Bobby Henon described the existing facility next door as deplorable. But the huge investment highlights the enormous costs the city absorbs every time it locks somebody up. The city’s prison population stands at about 8,000 now, which is lower than it was in the earliest years of the Nutter administration but higher than it was a 12-15 years ago. The capital costs of a new facility are significant, but they’re paltry compared to the operating expenses. The city’s prisons budget this year is $244 million, more than any other single department in the city except for Police. Read more »

Sam Katz for Mayor? He’ll Decide Within a Week

By the inimitable @dhm.

By the inimitable @dhm.

Sam Katz is about to get off the fence.

The documentary filmmaker and three-time mayoral candidate says he’ll decide whether or not to take one last shot at the big chair before Tuesday’s mayoral primary, which is just eight days away.

Katz, who’s changed his party registration two or 12 times in the last few years, is now a registered independent. In the fall election, he’d be facing off against Republican nominee Melissa Murray Bailey, who is unopposed in the GOP primary, and whoever wins Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Most of the chatter around a potential Katz candidacy has assumed he’d only run in Anthony Williams emerged as the victor in Tuesday’s primary, and then only if he was battered and bruised. Why? Because Philadelphia voters tend to vote along racial lines, and Katz is likely to start with a bigger base if he were to run against a black candidate than if he were to run against a white one.

Now Katz says he won’t wait to find out who wins next Tuesday’s primary election.

“I’ll be making the decision based on what I want to do and not based on what anyone else does,” Katz says. Read more »

The Mayoral Forum Dilemma: Which Group to Offend Tonight?

There were no scheduling conflicts at the first forum of the campaign. | Photo by Patrick Kerkstra.

There were no scheduling conflicts at the first forum of the campaign. | Photo by Patrick Kerkstra.

This morning, Citified highlighted an Inquirer story about a sparsely attended (by the candidates) mayoral forum centered on the question of poverty and hosted by Sister Mary Scullion, of Project Home.

Scullion was angered by the lack of candidates at Project HOME’s event, which was attended by about 400 people. The Inquirer wrote:

“There’s a huge turnout here today,” she said, as people hooted, “and it’s very disappointing that at the beginning of this forum, there are just two candidates here.”

But the missing candidates weren’t at the spa. They weren’t even making fundraising calls or writing policy papers. They were at another mayoral forum, talking to another constituency, which surely was equally irritated at the candidates — Jim Kenney chief among them — that did not turn up for their event.

Read more »

The Brief: En Masse, Philly Political Elites Are Turning on Anthony Williams


Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Anthony Williams’s campaign — once considered a juggernaut — is listing badly. Political elites are jumping ship, and the press has turned sharply critical. Will voters care?

The gist: Press coverage of Williams, never all that flattering, has turned positively biting in recent days as reaction to his head-scratching decision to go after ultra-popular Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey appears to have alienated Philly A-List politicos like Mayor Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams. Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson — of the same editorial page that kinda sorta just endorsed Williams — opined that, if Williams loses, “he should blame it on having a rudderless campaign that never distinguished itself on any issue.” Jackson argues that Williams has run away from his beliefs, downplaying his strong feelings about school choice. At the Daily News, Will Bunch penned a blistering attack headlined “Sorry, But Tony Williams Is Not the New Stokely Carmichael.” Read more »

UPDATED: Worst. Mail. Ever. Kenyatta Hit Piece Pictures Ori in a Hot Tub


[Updated: 8:25 p.m.] Ori Feibush says the photo of him reclining in a hot tub was probably taken from his girlfriend’s Facebook page. He says the shot was taken at a hotel in Florida, not at his house (which, he says, does not have a hot tub).

Kenyatta Johnson spokesman Mark Nevins pushed back on Citified’s description of the mailer as “distasteful,” characterizing it as just “a funny picture of a guy in a hot tub.” Says Nevins: “The most distasteful thing in this campaign so far has been Ori’s use of the word ‘retard’ to describe Mayor Nutter. This is the guy who launched his campaign in Philadelphia magazine by insulting Kenyatta, by calling him a ‘poverty pimp,’ and a terrible human being who uses his office for evil. So it’s not exactly like Ori occupies the high ground.”

And how does Feibush feel about the mailer? “I couldn’t even get mad at it. I was laughing so hard. He spent $20,000 to let people know I haven’t gone to the gym in a while.” Read more »

Allan Domb Throws Big Bucks Into Council Campaign

Photo of Allan Domb in the lobby of Parc Rittenhouse by Laura Kicey Read more at

Photo of Allan Domb in the lobby of Parc Rittenhouse by Laura Kicey

When developer and real estate mogul Alan Domb got into the race for an at-large seat on City Council, there were two pressing questions. Question 1Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Question 2: How much money would he spend on the race?

We have a partial answer to question two. Domb has contributed at least $250,000 to his campaign, according to a release from the Philadelphia Board of Ethics. That’s a big enough check to double the contribution limits for all at-large City Council candidates. That means individuals can donate up to $5,800 to any at-large City Council campaign, and PACs can contribute up to $23,000.

Who does this help, apart from Domb? City Council incumbents. Incumbents are far more likely to get PAC cash than are challengers. And coming so close to election day, the doubling of the limits really only helps those candidates that are supported by PACs.

We don’t know exactly how much Domb has sunk into his campaign. It could be millions, or it could be $250,001. Either way, Domb has given a big assist to council incumbents, which is likely to revive speculation that his candidacy is a stalking horse bid orchestrated by City Council President Darrell Clarke. Domb has said repeatedly he’s in the race to win.

Of course, it’s possible for a campaign to serve more than one purpose.

The Brief: Right Now, Jim Kenney Is Winning This Election

Jim Kenney and Doug Oliver. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Jim Kenney and Doug Oliver. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

1. Kenney attacked, in debate and (potentially) on TV, and Doug Oliver generates the most poignant moment of the campaign.

The gist: Jim Kenney was again the top target at a mayoral debate, and the subject of a new attack ad launched by the Anthony Williams campaign (more on that ad later today).

Earlier, at a different mayoral forum organized by Ed Rendell, Doug Oliver asked an audience of schoolchildren for a show of hands: first, he wanted to know, who thinks of the police as friends? Second, he asked, who thinks the police are not your friends? Brian Hickey at Newsworks reports that fewer than five hands were raised in response to the first question; more than 60 to the second. Writes Hickey:

“Poignant,” is the word that former mayor and governor Ed Rendell used to describe it.

Oliver later said that it was a moment of “overwhelming sadness” for him.

Sensing that there might have been adult-intervention in crafting what seemed to be a loaded question, Oliver said he wanted to get a read on the life experiences of the fourth and fifth graders in the room.

“My assumption was that they didn’t [have personal experience with police brutality]. I didn’t want to poison the well, so I asked affirmatively. What I saw required the next question,” he told NinetyNine.

“When I saw all the hands, I almost lost my train of thought. If this is what you feel as fourth and fifth graders, we have a lot of work to do,” he continued. “There’s an overwhelming sadness that the seeds of bad relationships are already being planted and we have to get to work on this as early as the first grade. It’s not just the adults in the communities. These are bright kids with a positive worldview. Adults, we’re to blame for this.”

Why it matters: Internal polling from more than one source shows that Kenney is opening up a sizable lead in this race. But more telling that any poll is the behavior of the candidates. The fact that Kenney is being attacked by all sides strongly suggests that — at least at this moment — he has the lead, and perhaps a substantial one.

And Oliver’s string of strong performances continues. More than any candidate in the race, Oliver seems to be creating a reservoir of goodwill that, if he chooses to, he can draw on in the future. Read more »

The Brief: The Inquirer* Endorses Anthony Williams, Philly Mag Endorses Jim Kenney*

media endorsements

Photos by Jeff Fusco.

1. Philadelphia magazine’s editors endorsed the “New” Jim Kenney for mayor, while the Inquirer (or at least Inquirer editor Bill Marimow) chose Anthony Williams.

The gist: The magazine’s endorsement reads:

To a large extent, the fundamental question of the current election is this: If elected, which of the two Jim Kenneys would show up in the mayor’s office? The Jim Kenney who’d lead us forward? Or the Jim Kenney who’d send us careening backwards to the bad old days of city government?

Frustratingly, the last few months haven’t really given us a definitive answer. Indeed, in many ways we’ve gotten the campaign we feared we’d get — largely uninspiring, devoid of big visions, creative ideas and concrete solutions to Philadelphia’s biggest problems. (It says something that the most crafted and thought-through plan for school funding has come from a non-candidate, Sam Katz, who’s only likely to jump into the race if Tony Williams wins the Democratic primary and Katz can mount a credible charge as an independent.)

Still, Jim Kenney has shown enough in this campaign to make us believe that of the candidates before us, he’s the best choice….

Jim Kenney feels right for this moment — a man who can continue Philadelphia’s transformation from old to new because he himself has transformed from old to new.

Read more »

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