The Gritty Italian Market Wants That Center City Sparkle

Photo credit: User Josepha via Flickr

Photo credit: User Josepha via Flickr

Business owners in the Italian Market have been talking about cleaning up the place for years, and now they seem to have landed on a solution.

Earlier this month, City Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a resolution authorizing a hearing on a Business Improvement District for the area surrounding the storied 9th Street market. BIDs, such as the well-known Center City District, levy an extra tax assessment on commercial properties in order to fund services that business owners want. In this case, according to the preliminary plan that was attached to Squilla’s resolution, the 9th Street Area BID would pay for street- and sidewalk-cleaning crews, a parking inventory, marketing, and additional lighting and security cameras. Read more »

Meet the Dark Money Forces Behind Philly’s Soda Tax

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at the Rising Stars APM Preschool Center in Philadelphia. Kenney in his first budget is asking for a soda tax to help fund initiatives including universal pre-K. The William Penn Foundation announced grant to increase the availability and accessibility of high-quality early learning opportunities throughout the city. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks during a news conference at a city preschool in March. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Mayor Jim Kenney defeated Big Soda this month, successfully convincing City Council to pass an historic tax on sugary drinks and diet beverages that will enable thousands more kids to attend pre-K.

Dozens of other cities and states had previously tried to enact soda taxes, only to be shellacked by the deep-pocketed beverage industry that vehemently opposes them. Some argue that Philadelphia prevailed where they didn’t because Kenney is a skilled politician who used his honeymoon phase and close relationships with Council members to his benefit. Others believe it was because Kenney pitched the soda tax as a way to raise money for popular programs like pre-K instead of as a nanny-state health initiative.

All of those things certainly played a role. But an organization founded by Kenney’s allies to promote the soda tax was just as critical to his victory, if not moreso. Known as Philadelphians for a Fair Future, it aired TV ads, funded polls, and partnered with an army of volunteers to help persuade lawmakers to support the tax. On one hand, the group’s experience gives other cities a much-needed guide to fighting off super-rich business lobbies. On the other hand, Philadelphians for a Fair Future is a 501c(4) — essentially a dark-money nonprofit — that can raise unlimited amounts of money without needing to disclose anything about some of its donors.
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Why a Special Election to Replace Chaka Fattah Could Get Messy

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L: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP) R: State Rep. Dwight Evans (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah resigned Thursday after apparently realizing that Republicans (and, hell, even some Democrats) weren’t cool with his plan to stick around for an extra three months after being convicted of corruption.

Soon, Gov. Tom Wolf might schedule a special election to fill Fattah’s seat in the 2nd Congressional District — and if he does, things could get messy.

During special elections, a/k/a/ elections held to replace officials who quit or die or are sent to prison before the end of their term, ward leaders choose the nominees. In Philadelphia, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1, that means Democratic ward leaders essentially handpick the winners of every special election. (That’s how we do it in the birthplace of American democracy, everybody!) You might think Democratic state Rep. Dwight Evans would be the natural pick for ward leaders here: Evans defeated Fattah in the April primary, and is expected to win the general election against Republican James Jones.

But don’t be so sure: I asked Philadelphia Democratic Party boss Bob Brady if Evans would have enough support among leaders to be nominated if a special election were held. “I don’t know if there’s enough support,” he said, “but there will be [some] support for him.”
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Chaka Fattah to Resign After Federal Corruption Conviction

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah speaks outside of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on August 18, 2015.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah speaks outside of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on August 18, 2015.

Days after his federal corruption conviction, U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah announced Wednesday that he plans to resign in three months.

Fattah was convicted Tuesday on 22 counts, including racketeering conspiracy, fraud, bribery and money laundering. He plans to leave office on Oct. 3rd, a day before his sentencing hearing.

He’s been called on to step down sooner. Republicans urged Fattah to resign before he submitted a letter. Some want him expelled. House Speaker Paul Ryan told him to step down “immediately.”

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Kenney: Philly Will Not Buy an Armored Vehicle for the DNC

armored vehicle

Philly is not buying one of these for the DNC, says Jim Kenney.

Philly will not buy an armored vehicle for the Democratic National Convention this July, Mayor Jim Kenney said yesterday at a press conference in D.C.

The armored vehicle was originally discussed in a $27 million budget approved by a City Council committee last month, according to CBS.

As part of $43 million granted to Philadelphia from the U.S. Department of Justice, the city also approved expenses like a bus system for delegates, police gear and parking lot rentals at the stadiums, CBS reports.

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The Chaka Fattah Verdict Is In: He’s Guilty

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

A jury has found U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah guilty on all counts, including participating in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bribery, mail fraud, bank fraud, and falsification of records.

Three of his co-defendants, Robert Brand, Karen Nicholas and Herbert Vederman, were convicted of RICO, among other things.

Federal prosecutors said Fattah used taxpayer money and charitable donations to pay back an illegal $1 million loan to his unsuccessful mayoral campaign nearly a decade ago. Fattah has long maintained his innocence and claimed that he is a victim of a vendetta. After being indicted in July, he said, “This has been an eight-year effort by some in the Department of Justice to link my public service career to some form of wrongdoing.”

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The Soda Tax Battle’s Biggest Winners and Losers

Clockwise: Union leader John Dougherty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke and soda mogul Harold Honickman. | Photos by Jeff Fusco, iStock.com and HughE Dillon

Clockwise: Union leader John Dougherty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke and soda mogul Harold Honickman. | Photos by Jeff Fusco, iStock.com and HughE Dillon

One of the longest and most expensive political wars in recent Philadelphia history has come to an end. On Thursday, City Council voted 13-4 to enact a tax on sugary drinks and diet sodas. The American Beverage Association has spent nearly $5 million since March to flood the airwaves with anti-soda tax ads. But even that doesn’t capture the full scope of the soda industry group’s spending: It worked diligently to fight off a soda tax since 2010 — when former Mayor Michael Nutter first floated the idea — by lobbying Council members and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns.

This year, though, the soda lobby’s deep pockets weren’t enough to kill Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed tax. In the end, only Democrat Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Republicans David Oh, Brian O’Neill and Al Taubenberger voted against the 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on Thursday.

Philadelphia is the biggest city in the United States to approve a soda tax. The only other city in the country with a sugary drinks tax is Berkeley, California. Here, the levy will fund expanded pre-K, community schools, and an overhaul of the parks system, among other things. These are the biggest winners and losers in the city’s years-long battle over the soda tax:

The Winners

1. Jim Kenney

This is a career-defining victory for Kenney. The mayor took on one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States and won, which has boosted his national profile and proven that he has a critical number of allies on City Council. The fact that the soda tax will help pay for the renovation of the city’s parks, libraries and recreation centers — and that the administration will determine how to divvy up that spending with district Council members — means that Kenney could potentially have favors to give out for years to come. But how much political capital has the mayor spent in the fight over the soda tax? We may soon find out: District Council 33’s labor contract expires on June 30th. The city’s blue-collar union was one of the many groups that supported the mayor’s soda tax, which could make it more difficult for him to negotiate with it.
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Beverage Lobby Spends Whopping $700K on Last-Minute Ad Blitz Against Soda Tax

Screenshot of the American Beverage Association ad

Screenshot of the new American Beverage Association ad

City Council is expected to approve a tax on sugary drinks and diet beverages Thursday, making Philadelphia the biggest city in the country with a soda tax and giving Mayor Jim Kenney a major first-term victory. Lawmakers preliminarily approved the tax last week; since then, Council President Darrell Clarke and others have penned an op-ed in favor of the levy.

In other words, the fight appears to be done. Well-done. If the soda tax battle were a burger, it would be overcooked. But that isn’t stopping the soda industry from spending boatloads of cash.

The American Beverage Association is paying $700,000 to flood the airwaves with a new anti-soda tax advertisement between June 14th and June 16th. That’s an enormous sum for such a short period of time. For the sake of comparison, the ABA has spent a total of $4.9 million on ads since March (including this one), and the pro-tax coalition Philadelphians for a Fair Future has spent $1.4 million on commercials. Read more »

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