Young, Black and Dead in America

Protesters make their way up North Michigan Avenue on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Chicago. Community activists and labor leaders hold a demonstration billed as a "march for justice" on Black Friday in the wake of the release of video showing an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Protesters make their way up North Michigan Avenue on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Chicago. Community activists and labor leaders hold a demonstration in the wake of the release of video showing an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

According to a report conducted by the Washington Post, police have shot dead 884 people so far this year. On average, police kill more than two and a half people a day in America. That pace is up significantly over the 2014 total.

Last week, we finally learned the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Chicagoan Laquan McDonald. Just 17 years old, McDonald was shot in 2014, but it wasn’t until recently, after a Freedom of Information Request filed by The Guardian was granted, that a video of the shooting was released, and the gruesome details were made clear.

Watching the video, I felt horror and then an all too familiar overwhelming wave of sadness. As a black man in America raising black sons and knowing they are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire what do I tell them this time? What are the rules for not being engaged by the police? Don’t look them in the eye? Don’t pick up a toy gun in Wal-Mart? Don’t be a veteran with a history of mental illness? What exactly do you have to do to not appear to be a threat as black man in America? Read more »

Mike Dunn on the Empty Desks in City Hall’s Pressroom

An old news clipping — provenance is unknown — about City Hall's once robust and now-depleted press corps. | Clipping courtesy of Mike Dunn.

An old news clipping — provenance is unknown — about City Hall’s once robust and now-depleted press corps. | Clipping courtesy of Mike Dunn.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from former KYW City Hall reporter Mike Dunn.)

Decades of history can be found in the press room at Philadelphia City Hall, Room 212: typewritten stories stuffed into rusty file cabinets, yellowed newspaper clips and editorial cartoons taped to the walls, a bulletin board crammed with buttons from political campaigns long past. One day I found a manual typewriter, still functional, and I set it aside in case the power goes out.

Then there was a fraying clip of a magazine article, date and source unclear — perhaps from the 1950s — about the reporters who covered City Hall in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The article included a photograph of the press corp that toiled in Room 212 in 1928.

It is no surprise that the reporters are all male and white; that was, unfortunately, the American workplace of the time. But what is most striking was the sheer number of reporters: 15 (with Administration officials mingled in), representing five newspapers. And while they’re smiling in the photo, its easy to imagine that they spent each day scurrying through the Hall, chasing elected officials, and competing among themselves to break stories about the mayor and City Council.

Competition, of course, has long been the engine of journalism. In my time covering City Hall, I was awed by the dogged, ceaseless competition between reporters posted here for the Inquirer and Daily News. Sure, they keep an eye on what those in the broadcast media were doing, as well the weeklies and, more recently, the bloggers and politically-minded websites like But for decades, the fiercest competition that drove the dailies was simply between each other. It was the Inquirer versus the Daily News. Read more »

Insider: Darrell Clarke Won His Needless School District Power Play

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

The laughter and colliding high-fives you heard recently in the vicinity of lower North Broad Street were those of Council President Darrell Clarke and school boss William Hite (+ entourages) celebrating their sealing of an agreement that allows Council greater access to school budget figures, management details and provide general fiscal oversight.

Clarke says the agreement “is a document that will not only get a consensus, but it will actually require that we see each other a whole lot.” There will be quarterly reports to council on hiring and meetings to discuss those reports and handle general inquiries. CFOs will meet with CFOs, and so forth.

Politicians being practitioners of “the gesture,” there was a real-live signing ceremony to communicate that this was a Very Big Deal. In case we weren’t properly impressed, Clarke and School Reform Commission Chief Marjorie Neff later jointly announced the agreement was “historic.”

The Clark/Neff announcement contains language suggesting the practical independence of the School Reform Commission has been diminished. Phrases like “our common goal,” “we will continue to fight,” “we cannot do this work alone,” all indicate a new concord that has these two in tandem, in agreement on the direction of the district. The governor still appoints a majority of the commission, but the new guv is a Democrat and that’s a difference that makes all the difference.

Given that Clarke, for months, held hostage $25 million to coerce this deal, one might think it was actually — well — significant. It ain’t. City Council has “forever” had annual hearings to review district requests for cash. They’ve always had the legal right to say “nope, not gonna do it.” The mere fact that Council interdicted district loot is proof they have all the clout they really need. Read more »

Insider: Why the Teacher’s Union Didn’t Endorse the Teacher Candidate

Kristin Combs, a PFT member and City Council candidate, did not get the PFTs endorsement.

Kristin Combs, a PFT member and City Council candidate, did not get the PFT’s endorsement.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Maybe you’re having a rough fall. At least you’re not Chris Christie.

Voters don’t like Christie. They don’t like him in New Hampshire, they don’t like him Iowa. That’s a problem when your goal is to win a national election. But it’s worse across the river in New Jersey, where more than two-thirds think he should quit running for President because he’s been a lousy governor.

What went wrong? Here’s my take: Christie’s campaign was over the minute he was caught in a joyous, 4-year-old-who-just-unwrapped-a-pony moment with Jerry Jones, President of the Dallas Cowboys.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with rooting for the Cowboys, or sitting in a box seat, or being excited about sports. Christie’s problem is that he became the guy we all hated in High School — the Teamhopper.

If you grew up in the late 80s or 90s, this is the guy who rooted for the Lakers, the Yankees, and “The U” until Florida State came along. He loves Mayweather. His Dad got him sweet tickets to game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semi-finals, but you haven’t seen him in Flyers gear since.

We hate guys like Christie because they believe one can experience the thrill of 2010 without the wretched agony of 1993.

Christie thought rolling with winners made him a winner. He was wrong. Read more »

Op-Ed: A Once-in-a-Generation Chance to Strike a Great Deal with Comcast

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writers Hannah Sassaman and Gretjen Clausing.)

Thousands of Philadelphians live their lives online. Coordinating with coworkers. Connecting with family. Pursuing education. Searching for affordable healthcare. Maybe reading this blog, getting the information we need to make our city better.

But Philly has the highest rate of deep poverty of any big city in the country. That poverty means we have one of the lowest rates of internet access nationwide. Low-income Philadelphians often can’t afford to get or keep internet connections when feeding a household month to month. Seniors face both limited budgets and a steep curve in adopting internet as a new technology. Poverty means a limited tax base to fund our public schools, so our students face deeply uneven access to tech education and access to computers across our school district.

Our West Philly neighbor Ms. Tracy Emerson lost her job while dealing with a major foot injury and pursuing a degree. Her Comcast service cost too much – so she cut it out of her budget. Now she tethers her phone so her son can look for work. Her daughter stays late at school to fill out college applications. “Even if I go to the laundromat, I bring my computer so I can do my homework,” says Tracy. Similar stories abound citywide.

At a recent City Council education committee hearing, Superintendent Bill Hite noted that new computers were needed by many principals and their schools, alongside nurses and counselors. While some schools have great technology, many classroom machines are over 10 years old, he said. And the teachers who volunteer to maintain tech systems and integrate tech into curricula understandably struggle to do that while also serving as substitutes and dealing with other crises in our underfunded schools.

In Comcast’s hometown, we should never hear these stories. But though access to the internet is a veritable utility for most of us – something we can’t do without – choices are shrinking for broadband in many communities, not growing. Sprint bought the CLEAR network, which provides fast wireless to thousands in Philly – and is shutting it down November 6th. FIOS still isn’t available to many.

For years, the City has been trying to improve this as they work to renegotiate Comcast’s “franchise” – the lease that lets Comcast use city-owned streets and utility poles to sell their services. That 15-year agreement expired this month. The city likely won’t get another chance like this for another 10 or 15-years. Read more »

Insider: Mayor-to-Be Kenney, Please Make Poverty a Cabinet-Level Priority


Photo | Bradley Maule

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Philadelphia’s problematic poverty rate is an issue that demands strong action, and a cabinet-level position to address poverty is exactly the kind of strong action our next mayor must take.

I believe that a Mayor can accomplish anything if he tries; even reducing Philadelphia’s embarrassing poverty rate in a major way. Call me naïve, but I believe it. We know the numbers. But for those who need a refresher: Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the nation. From 2007-2013, Philadelphia’s poverty rate rose from 24 percent to 28 percent. Just last year, we finally got the needle moving in the right direction, as the rate declined to 26 percent. But that number is still very high. More than 12 percent live in deep poverty.

Philadelphia cannot be a world class city with poverty rates this abysmal. While it was nice to have the Pope, I’d rather have lower poverty rates.

And I know the next mayor can do it, if he tries. I have seen firsthand what a mayor can do when he takes an issue on as a top priority and appoints a cabinet-level position to make sure that it happens. I’ve seen the Nutter administration do it with ethics and crime. Everyone knows Mayor Nutter’s record on ethics.

Let’s talk about what he did on crime. Read more »

Insider: Tired of Philly Politics As Usual? Quit Complaining and Run For Office


From L to R: State Reps. Donna Bullock and Joanna McClinton. They ran for office. So should you. | Photos courtesy of Bullock’s and McClinton’s Facebook pages

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

During the past few years, I’ve noticed a recurring theme in the months following municipal elections. There are two conversations that occur constantly among plugged-in Philadelphians, which creates two distinct political groups. The first is what I like to refer to as the “Inspired Camp.”

The Inspired Camp observes X, Y or Z Candidate run an upstart campaign against the odds and beat the machine/establishment/tradition. That, in turn, inspires them to do the same. Since the primary election took place in May, I’ve heard dozens of aspiring candidates say they were excited by the election process and have since thought to themselves, “Hey, why not me? Why not now?” Call it the Barack Obama effect. From the outside, it looks easy: A candidate puts together a magical campaign, everything comes together, and victory is earned.

There’s a bench of young, civic-minded leaders that are being built in Philly right now. They want change, and they see themselves as the best chance to make that change happen. Some are doing the work on their own. Some are part of traditional political camps. But make no mistake about it: There will be a solid next generation of leaders.

Sheila Armstrong is on the ballot in November as an Independent candidate for City Council. Omar Woodard is pursuing the State Senate in the 3rd District. Kellan White has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the House of Representatives in the 200th. The same has been said about Abu Edwards in the 198th, Darren Lipscomb in the 192nd, and Francis Nelms in the 179th. Read more »

Insider: What Philly Mag’s Awful Cover Reveals About School “Choice”

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider. Check Citified next week for a different take from at-large City Council candidate Helen Gym.)

My first reaction to the cover of Philly Mag’s new issue was, wow, they can’t be serious. But that reaction was followed by the realization that the photo ironically represents an unfortunate reality: in Philadelphia, the ability to choose a school for your child – the topic of the issue – too often belongs to those who can afford it, a whiter and wealthier population than the city as a whole.

As the articles show, the school choice process in Philadelphia is really complicated, even for those with the resources to navigate it. There’s a myth that increased options are THE problem; the variety of schools of different types with separate applications have made it too complicated for families. The common refrain goes, “Why can’t we just make all neighborhood schools great? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about navigating choices, applications and deadlines!”

That argument ignores this fact: those with the ability to buy it have always had and taken advantage of school choice. By buying a home in a different school district or paying for a private education, middle and upper-income families like mine have exercised school choice for decades. Today, even in neighborhoods with the strongest neighborhood schools, many families are choosing another public option. For example, according to the most recent data available, less than two-thirds of public school students living in the top-performing Greenfield Elementary neighborhood catchment attend the school, while the other 36 percent are choosing a charter, magnet or transferring to another neighborhood school. And I would bet that a very significant number of families in this Center City neighborhood are choosing a private school.

Read more »

Insider: African-American Leadership Is Rolling Over for Casino Deal


[Update: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 3 p.m.] After publication of this op-ed, Philly mag learned that the author performed public relations work for the National Action Network, an organization that is a central player in this controversy. That fact should have been disclosed to readers. Citified regrets the omission.


(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider. McCalla is a policy consultant who has provided pro bono advice to mayoral candidate Anthony H. Williams and other candidates this election cycle.) 

To quote the lyrics of famed Rapper Flo Rida, “It’s goin’ down fo’ real”!

At the August 18th meeting of the City Planning Commission, fat-cat executives and exquisitely dressed lobbyists from the Cordish Companies presented their preliminary plans for Live! Hotel & Casino, to be located in the South Philly Sports Complex.

It was there and then that Paula Peebles, local founder and chair of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, informed commissioners that her organization was aware of and concerned by unresolved lawsuits alleging racial discrimination at casinos Cordish operates (eight have been filed since 2010, in which plaintiffs say, for instance, the company used dress codes as pretense to keep black patrons out). Peebles warned that NAN would conduct its own probe and, if the group found the allegations credible, she would lead it in a battle to oppose commission and City Council approval of the gambling house.

This put NAN nose to nose with the politically potent Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Read more »

« Older Posts