In 2016, Jim Kenney Reminded Us How Effective a Seasoned Politician Can Be

Illustration by Nathan Arizona

Illustration by Nathan Arizona

Jim Kenney doesn’t want to be here. It’s mid-October, and we’re meeting in his sprawling office in City Hall to talk about something that should make him want to regale me like Homer: his first year as mayor.

The year 2016 may have been a disillusioning, disgusting, degrading slog for many Americans, but for Kenney, it was phenomenal. He shoved a soda tax through City Council, making Philadelphia the country’s first big city to pass such a levy and crushing the omnipotent beverage lobby in the process. He convinced lawmakers to spend a boatload of cash on his campaign priorities: expanded pre-K, community schools, and a $500 million overhaul of city parks, libraries and rec centers. He also persuaded 53 percent of Philadelphians that he’s doing a good job.

But Kenney isn’t happy, at least not at the moment. “There are good days, and there are bad days,” he tells me when I greet him. His eyes are bloodshot. His shirt and tie don’t match. Read more »

How Rodin Square Strikes a Balance Between City and Suburb

The Rodin Square development. | Photo: Courtesy International Financial Corporation.

The Rodin Square development. | Photo: Courtesy International Financial Company.

In her recent column on the now-open Rodin Square development, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron gave the project a B-plus for its organization and an F for its appearance, lamenting both the suburban scale of its anchor tenant and the bland metal monotony of its residential tower.

That apartment building, whose name — Dalian on the Park — will now be what just about everyone around here will call the entire complex, could indeed have had a lot more panache and dignity. But what’s inside counts a lot, too, and as a way of squaring two circles, Rodin Square has raised the bar to a level I hope other local developers will emulate. Read more »

As Rail Park Rises, Chinatown Tries to Stay Chinatown

North 10th Street, Chinatown | Photo by Jared Brey

North 10th Street, Chinatown | Photo by Jared Brey

Construction is finally underway on Philadelphia’s much anticipated Rail Park, which will convert the abandoned Reading Viaduct into an elevated greenway. It’s a culmination of sorts, as it took nearly a decade of advocacy and fundraising before the project could get off the ground.

The park itself, raised above street level and cutting diagonally across a broad sweep of northern Center City, is set to become a crown jewel in Philadelphia’s already excellent park system. But the real intrigue is on the ground, where developers, real estate agents, and neighborhood groups have been grappling for years over the identity of the surrounding neighborhood — even over its very name. Read more »

Only 24% of Eligible Philadelphians Voted for Mayor — Which Is Not That Bad, Comparatively

A dog at a polling place in Center City Philadelphia

A doggy at a Philadelphia polling place in 2015. | Photo by Dan McQuade

A new report found that only 24 percent of eligible Philadelphians voted for mayor in the most recent election. This sounds depressing, until you compare us to other large American cities: Of the 30 largest cities in the country, Philadelphia ranks 12th.

It’s not top-10, but not we’re just ahead of Nashville (23.8 percent) and Denver (22.6 percent) and right behind Detroit (25.1 percent). Among East Coast cities, Philly ranks behind only behind 9th-ranked Boston (29.7 percent).

Portland has the highest percent of eligible voters casting ballots in mayoral elections, with 59.4 percent turnout in the most recent election. Then again, Portland’s version of “Umbrella Man” is a beloved institution instead of piece of public art so hated it’s eventually sold and taken off the streets. So maybe we don’t want to pay too much attention to Portland. Read more »

Why SRC Haters Finally Have a Real Shot at Abolishing It

William Deadwyler, left, joins about a dozen students as they lock arms outside Philadelphia's school administration building Wednesday, April 17, 2002, forming a human chain and refusing to allow anyone inside. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission, set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups will be given control of some 75 schools in the district, decided to postpone the meeting for two hours and move it to another building several blocks away rather than make a forced entry. (AP Photo/Brad C. Bower)

In 2002, student activists locked arms outside of the building where the Philadelphia School Reform Commission was set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups would be given control of some 75 schools in the district. | Photo by Brad C. Bower/AP

The School Reform Commission is astonishingly unpopular in Philadelphia: Only 11 percent of residents think it should exist. Donald Trump has more support than that here!

And it’s been like this since the beginning: When the SRC was created in 2001 as a compromise between Mayor John Street and Republican leaders in Harrisburg, education activists were furious. The deal gave the governor the ability to appoint three members to the SRC, while the mayor only got two — and it led to the turnover of several local schools to a for-profit company. “In the first few months, their meetings were incredibly raucous. People would yell at the chairman,” says Paul Socolar, who was editor of the Public School Notebook at the time. “There was a view that it was a takeover being engineered to put the GOP’s buddies in charge of the school district.”

But for the last 15 years, the legions of SRC critics had no real chance of abolishing it — until now. Read more »

ThinkFest Preview: Asa Khalif on the Black Lives Matter Movement


Critics of Black Lives Matter haven’t been shy in airing their skepticism of the movement. Where is their agenda? Where is their inclusiveness? How is this movement sustainable? And, seemingly at every turn, Black Lives Matter activists have responded: releasing a multi-point platform of demands, building coalitions with politicians and other groups, and, most impressively, demonstrating time and time again how much they have staying power. Read more »

The Very Slow, All-of-a-Sudden Transformation of Northern Liberties

2nd and Fairmount | Photo by Jared Brey

2nd and Fairmount | Photo by Jared Brey

Three and a half years ago, this magazine published a list of Hot Neighborhoods, in which Northern Liberties was described as a place that was “Not just for artists anymore.”

To make sense of that description, you have to accept a few assumptions. The first is that an “artist,” in this usage, is anyone who makes a decent-enough living doing something either creative or blue collar, and who lives outside of Center City both by necessity, because they can’t afford the rent, and by preference, because the outlying neighborhood has some aesthetic or historical character that appeals to the artist’s self-image. The second thing you have to accept is that Northern Liberties was once a place that appealed primarily to those types. The third is that its appeal had broadened. If we were to remake that list today, we could probably shorten the description. Northern Liberties: Not for artists anymore. Read more »

People Aren’t Taking This Miracle AIDS Drug, And That’s a Big Problem for Philly

Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP

Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP

The eyes of Damon Jacobs were slowly filling up with tears.

It was a warm and busy day in late June, and at a national HIV conference in Philadelphia, Jacobs was talking about the time that he first learned about AIDS. He was 14, and Rock Hudson, a movie star known for his all-American good looks and sense of humor, had contracted the disease.

“There was lots of media coverage contrasting this healthy 1950s heartthrob image with a very ill, very thin and sick man,” says Jacobs. That portrayal made Jacobs and his fellow gay friends afraid that if they came out of the closet, they might someday end up unhealthy and frail like Hudson. From the summer of 1985 until 2011, Jacobs says, he carried that fear on his shoulders.

After 26 years, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, lifted that burden—but only briefly. Better known as Truvada, PrEP is a pill that can prevent HIV if taken once a day. When Jacobs first read about it after seeing dozens of friends die from AIDS, he was sure that people would flood the streets with joy. But the opposite happened: “Nobody was talking about it,” he says.

Jacobs is now a family therapist who works in AIDS research in Manhattan. He says he regularly sees young men in his practice who have tested positive for HIV, but who have never heard of PrEP. Jacobs blames this on primary care physicians and government agencies alike. “I encourage us all to think about how to get information to the people who need it the most,” he says.

According to the most recent statistics, there are more than 17,000 people living with HIV in Philadelphia, 12,000 of whom have full-blown AIDS. There is no data tracking exactly how many people use PrEP in the city. But national statistics are troubling: A study by the American Society of Microbiology found that white people, who make up 27 percent of new HIV cases in America, account for 75 percent of PrEP’s user base. Conversely, African-Americans, who make up 44 percent of new HIV cases in the nation, only constitute 10 percent of PrEP’s users; Hispanics, who make up 23 percent of new HIV cases, represent 12 percent of users.

In a majority-minority city with a HIV high rate, that’s a major cause for concern. And at least two measures show that PrEP is being underutilized in Philly: Philadelphia FIGHT, the city’s largest AIDS service organization, counts just 250 active PrEP users on its rolls. Meanwhile, only 170 people are taking advantage of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s free PrEP program, though nearly 700 have been referred to it. Read more »

28 Days Later, Still No Answers From Henon About the FBI Raid

Photo via City Council's Flickr

Photo via City Council’s Flickr

Next week, when City Council starts its fall session, Bobby Henon is going to have to be in the same room with a reporter. For now, he’s still not answering questions about the fact that the FBI raided his offices four weeks ago. Just like the time before and the time before that.

I happened to be in City Hall today, so I stopped by Henon’s office to see if I could ask him a question or two. He was up in the district office in the Northeast, his spokeswoman said. She said she’d get in touch with him and ask if he would answer the questions that Philadelphia magazine has repeatedly sent him. (Here are a few: Have you been interviewed by the FBI? Has your staff? Are you going to keep your part-time job with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, the union whose headquarters was raided the same day as your offices?) Read more »

Johnny Doc Finally Comments on His FBI Raid Outfit

John Dougherty, in his trademark outfit

IBEW Local 98 business manager John Dougherty wore a white button-front shirt, shorts and a Philadelphia sports hat for the announcement of the NFL Draft location today (right) — and the FBI raid of his home on August 5th. | Photos: Bobby Allyn, Newsworks/WHYY (left); Dan McQuade (right)

When John Dougherty was raided by the FBI on August 5th, many reporters took note of the outfit he wore: white button-down shirt, khaki shorts, Sixers hat. Your humble correspondent wrote a guide to dressing like Johnny Doc for your Halloween costume or everyday errands or whatever.

Dougherty, the business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, was at the city’s announcement today that the NFL Draft would be held in Philadelphia next year. Ron Jaworski thanked him personally from the podium, saying the NFL Draft would not be held in Philadelphia if it weren’t for Johnny Doc. (Mayor Jim Kenney, for the record, said it was thanks to the hard work of a private/public partnership.) Read more »

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