Why Philly’s Special Election Matters

Photo by Derek Hatfield/Shutterstock.com

Photo by Derek Hatfield/Shutterstock.com

In a special election on August 11th, a small sliver of voters will choose Philadelphia’s three newest representatives in the state House. The winners are virtually predetermined, but the race is still worth watching. No, seriously. We promise. Don’t stop reading!

The candidates are Democrat Ed Neilson and Republican Timothy Dailey in Northeast Philly’s 174th District; Democrat Joanna McClinton, Republican Charles Wilkins and Independent Tracey Gordon in the 191st District, which stretches from Southwest Philly to Darby Township; and in the 195th District, which includes parts of North and West Philly, Democrat Donna Bullock, Republican Adam Lang and write-in candidate Judith Robinson.

The Democratic candidates — who were selected by their party ward leaders, not voters — will very likely win because 1) there are innumerably more Democrats than Republicans in these districts; for instance, consider their beastly 13-1 voter registration edge in the 195th district. And 2) it’ll be a low-turnout election in which only diehards will show up the polls. But the races still matter for a few reasons: Read more »

Will Bill Green and Sam Katz Team Up for Surprise City Council Run?

Green-Katz

Bill Green and Sam Katz.

Bill Green and Sam Katz — two of the city’s most capable and pugnacious political pot-stirrers — are considering running for City Council at-large as a two-man slate in this November’s election, Citified has learned.

If they were to run and win, they could upend a political system that, by design, traditionally awards Philadelphia’s under-powered Republican party two at-large City Council seats. It would be an enormous blow for the city’s GOP.

A Katz-Green victory could also change the balance of power in City Council, and present likely next mayor Jim Kenney with a pair of well-informed and high-profile potential critics. Read more »

Finally, Someone Explained Councilmanic Prerogative

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

WTF is Councilmanic prerogative?

That’s a question that has been asked by countless journalists, developers, political junkies and people trying to buy city-owned property in Philadelphia for decades. Put simply, it is a potent combination of city law and tradition that gives Council members an astonishing amount of power over land use in their geographical districts. It not only bestows lawmakers with the power to decide whether a large portion of city land should be sold or not, but also whether some bike lanes should be installed and if certain types of businesses should be banned in specific parts of the city.

In fact, it gives those lawmakers the power to shape development in their districts — and who gets to do the developing. Not everyone is always happy with the results: Developer Ori Feibush sued Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in 2014 over his use of Councilmanic prerogative, saying the lawmaker obstructed his plans to purchase two city lots as political retribution. Johnson strongly denied the charge.

The more you learn about Councilmanic prerogative, the more you realize how much you don’t know about Councilmanic prerogative. It’s that pervasive and opaque.

That’s why it’s a big deal that someone finally wrote a definitive guide to Councilmanic prerogative in plain English: On Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trusts released the report, “Philadelphia’s Councilmanic Prerogative: How it works and why it matters.” (Full disclosure: Citified editor Patrick Kerkstra authored the paper along with others. He had no part in writing or editing this story.) Read more »

Did Philly’s Biggest Dark Money Group Break the Law?

1. The dark money outfit Philadelphia 3.0 may have violated city law — and been a flop.

The gist: A new, intriguing organization sprung up this year that was aimed at taking out some City Council incumbents and replacing them with more business-friendly faces. Parking magnate Robert Zuritsky founded Philadelphia 3.0, which includes both a traditional political action committee and a more secretive nonprofit corporation. NewsWorks’ Dave Davies reports that the Philadelphia 3.0 PAC raised 72 percent of its funding in 2015 from its own nonprofit, which is not revealing its donors. Is that legal in Philadelphia? Campaign finance expert John Dunbar said “there’s nothing in federal court rulings that prevent cities from requiring disclosure from nonprofit corporations like Philadelphia 3.0, and the city Ethics Board has said it expects such groups to disclose their donors,” writes Davies.

Read more »

How Johnny Doc Almost Took Out Maria Quiñones-Sánchez

Sanchez-Doc

From L to R: Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and electricians union leader John Dougherty.

How in the world did an allegedly gay-hating, voter ID-loving racist who no one has ever heard of nearly beat an incumbent Democratic Councilwoman who both John Street and Bill Green III believe will be mayor one day?

That question has stumped political insiders since the Philadelphia primary battle between Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the two-term Councilwoman, and Manny Morales, whose Facebook page likened gay men to flatworms and did a whole lot of other crazy stuff. Sánchez won the election with only 53 percent of the vote.

Reporter Max Marin offers a potential answer in Al Dia that is pretty intriguing — and which has big implications for the Sánchez’s political future. Read more »

Philly Is Getting an 8.5% Airbnb Tax

Photo courtesy of Airbnb

Photo courtesy of Airbnb

Airbnb is about to get a lot less laissez-faire in Philadelphia.

City Council passed a bill, 15-0, Thursday, which is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Michael Nutter, that will force anyone who rents out their home on Airbnb or similar websites to pay Philly’s 8.5 percent hotel tax. That’s just the first new rule that will go into effect under the legislation: Hosts who rent out their homes for more than 90 days will have to get a rental license, and no one will able to rent out their homes for more than 180 days annually.

Currently, many people who use Airbnb in Philadelphia are technically part of the city’s black market, since short-term rentals are not permitted in residential areas. This new bill will legalize the industry. Read more »

The Brief: Mayor Darrell Clarke Launches Big, Bold Affordable Housing Plan

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 story has been updated with additional information from Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh.)

Mayor City Council President Darrell Clarke launches 2,000 unit affordable housing plan.

The gist: Last year, City Council announced an ambitious plan to build 2,000 units of affordable housing in (largely gentrifying) neighborhoods across the city. Yesterday, Council and Clarke celebrated the imminent ground breaking on 32 of those units in Francisville.

The plan is an interesting one. Unlike a lot of affordable housing, this initiative is targeted squarely at working class and middle class residents earning 80 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income. As Newsworks reported: Read more »

The Brief: 130-Year-Old Water Main Bursts in West Philly, Eats Cars

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

1. A water main ruptured in West Philly, wrecking homes and swallowing up cars.

The gist: As you can imagine, the water main break on Sunday in West Philadelphia was a huge pain the butt for everyone involved. City officials evacuated 14 residents from the neighborhood, and dozens of cars were damaged. Jason Nark of the Daily News reported:

No one was killed or injured when the massive, 130-year-old water-transmission line burst on 52nd Street near Pennsgrove Street, but 8 to 10 million gallons can ruin a Sunday in a hundred different ways, and the ripples of inconveniences could already be felt after the waters receded, locals said.

“Look at my car, it’s done. I can’t call to set up a ride for work because the power is off, and I can’t charge my phone,” Wyalusing Avenue resident Albery Canty said, motioning to his muddy Cadillac.

[Robert] Johnson, 68, was supposed to be in South Jersey working on a customer’s bathroom and instead was sitting on his front porch complaining about federal infrastructure funding, while a worker readied a water pump and generator beside his basement window. The hoods were propped up on his pickup truck and his minivan, the mud drying to dirt in the heat, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be out of work.
Read more »

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