Helen Gym Draws National Attention in New Role

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Helen Gym, the longtime education activist, is drawing national attention this week: She joined City Council as an at-large member on Monday, the first Asian-American woman elected to that body.

NBCNews.com featured an interview with Gym on its “Asian America” site Monday, highlighting her new role and interviewing her about her history of activism. If she continues to receive national attention — she was honored by the White House in 2014, and received support from the American Federation of Teachers during the City Council race — that could help her raise campaign funds in the future.

Some highlights from the NBC article: Read more »

How To Win Elections Without the Democratic Machine

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(Editor’s Note: This is an op-ed from Andrew Stober, an independent candidate in the 2015 general election.)

This year, I ran for City Council at-large as an independent, giving voters the opportunity to elect a progressive candidate who wasn’t indebted to a political machine. I was ultimately unsuccessful. But, as I emphasized throughout the race, I was running to blaze a trail for other independent candidates to follow. In that spirit, here are a few key lessons that I learned in the campaign.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll do it again.

1. Know what your obstacles are.

We started the election with a lot of challenges. The race for City Council at-large is what political scientists call a low-information, low-salience race. That means voters don’t know the candidates and don’t particularly care about the election. In this already challenging environment, we asked voters to understand the nuances of the Philadelphia’s political system, which ensures that two City Council at-large seats are not held by the majority party. To put a finer point on it, we asked voters to change 60 years of voting behavior.

The party machines turned out predictably strong, straight-ticket votes, rewarding Democratic candidates with a minimum of 113,700 votes and Republican candidates with 19,800 votes. Our campaign earned 16,301 votes, and a winning position in 16 wards across the city. When you add these results to the impressive efforts of Green Party candidate Kristin Combs and independent candidate Sheila Armstrong, the vote total for progressive-minded independent campaigns tops 33,000. That is more than five times the number of votes received by the most successful independent candidates for City Council in past elections. Read more »

City Council Unanimously Approves Comcast Franchise Deal

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia City Council has voted unanimously to approve a 15-year franchise agreement with Comcast.

The tech and media giant will pay $250 million in franchise fees over the next 15 years and provide data technology to 200 city locations like municipal buildings and recreation centers. Comcast will also expand its Internet Essentials program, which offers Internet access to low-income residents at discounted rates.

Here are more details: Read more »

What You Need to Know About Comcast’s 15-Year Franchise Agreement That Just Advanced to City Council

Comcast negotiator Mark Reilly and Philadelphia's Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid face the City Council's Public Property Committee. (Photo by Jared Shelly)

Comcast negotiator Mark Reilly and Philadelphia’s Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid face the City Council’s Public Property Committee. (Photo by Jared Shelly)

Philadelphia City Council has taken a big step toward inking a new 15-year franchise agreement for Comcast. On Thursday its Public Property Committee passed an agreement that expands services for low-income residents, promises that Comcast will pay prevailing wages and offers contingencies regarding Comcast’s historically unpopular customer service. The deal saves the city $50,000 per month on its technology bills while bringing new tech to more than 200 city-owned buildings like recreation and health centers.

The two sides have been negotiating for months on a new deal and rescheduled Thursday’s hearing twice while both sides deliberated throughout the day. In the end, they passed an amended version of the agreement on Thursday — meaning it can be passed before Council’s session ends for the year.

Councilman Bobby Henon (chair of the committee) said the negotiation process “tested, at every level, the relationship between Comcast and the city.” The deal in place “will prove that Comcast has put Philadelphia first,” he continued. “That’s what we demand and that’s what Philly deserves.” Read more »

City Council Members: “Porngate” Prosecutors Should Resign

The binder of Porngate emails, available at the Supreme Court Office of Prothonotary at City Hall. | Joel Mathis

The binder of Porngate emails, available at the Supreme Court Office of Prothonotary at City Hall. | Joel Mathis

Nine members of Philadelphia City Council signed a resolution calling for the resignation of three city prosecutors involved in the Porngate email scandal. The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who was one of the leaders of a press conference of City Councilwomen last week.

In addition to Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Wilson Goode Jr., William Greenlee, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones Jr., Marian Tasco, and Maria Quinones Sanchez signed on to the resolution. The full City Council will vote for it next week; with the support of that many members, it will pass.

They join State Sen. Anthony Williams, Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty and even Milton Street in calling for the jobs of city prosecutors Patrick Blessington, E. Marc Costanzo and Frank Fina. The three worked for the state when they received emails on state accounts from colleagues that many have deemed pornographic and/or offensive.

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams has said the three have been disciplined, and ordered to undergo sensitivity training; Williams said only Fina sent such emails.

“Who conducted it? When was it conducted? What kind of training was it?” Bass told City Council today. “These are all very valid questions that the citizens of the city of Philadelphia want to have answered. And we call on our district attorney to do the right thing and tell us.”

Williams talked to Citified’s Holly Otterbein about Porngate in September. “I know Frank Fina and Pat Blessington and Marc Costanzo,” he told her. “Could they in the heart of their hearts have things I don’t know? Yeah, I don’t know what’s in the heart of everyone. But from what they demonstrated as employees here, from their work product, from people who go to lunch with them, from people reviewing their emails here, I can safely say that I think that they can operate and be productive and add to the District Attorney’s office here in Philadelphia as we try to mete out justice for everybody.”

In state-level developments in the porngate scandal, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin called for the Judicial Conduct Board to wrap up its investigation and forward the case directly to the Court of Judicial Discipline. (JCB investigates ethics violations and files charges; CJD decides cult or innocence, and imposes punishment.)

Eakin was the “John Smith” who received pornographic and offensive emails. After the Daily News reported he was a friend who helped out Eakin’s re-election bid, JCB chief counsel Robert Graci stepped aside from the investigation.

“In an effort to alleviate any mistrust of the process, I have asked the Judicial Conduct Board to forgo further deliberation of this matter, and remove the matter to the Court of Judicial Discipline immediately,” Eakin said in a statement. “The Board’s process is set forth in the Constitution and involves confidentiality, which has led to unfortunate and wholly misguided accusations against the integrity of its process, as well as the integrity of the Board’s members and staff.

“The CJD, however, is not bound by the same strictures and allows a fuller airing of the facts before a dispassionate body, which will have the opportunity to express without hyperbole the reasoning behind whatever result the Court may reach. It is my fervent hope that advancing the Constitutional procedure will in the end assure public confidence in the process, and its result.”

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 »

Is Ed Rendell Trolling Philly’s Democratic Machine?

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

Former Gov. Ed Rendell is up to something. He’s one of the most popular Democrats in the city, and yet he keeps throwing his weight behind candidates who are not backed by Philadelphia’s Democratic Party.

One of his hand-picked hopefuls isn’t even registered as a Democrat. This week, Rendell endorsed Andrew Stober, an Independent candidate for City Council. Back during the primary campaign, Rendell supported Council candidates Allan Domb, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Paul Steinke, none of whom were endorsed by the Democratic City Committee. And while he didn’t officially endorse Doug Oliver — a long-shot mayoral candidate in the spring who didn’t get any love from the city’s party leaders — Rendell certainly boosted his profile by saying lots and lots of nice things about him. (Rendell eventually endorsed Jim Kenney, the Democratic mayoral nominee, but not until August.)

Is Rendell trolling the local Democratic Party? Or, to put it in less clickbait-y terms, is he trying to push for change in the party? What’s going on? Read more »

Independent Council Candidate Andrew Stober Endorsed by Nutter and Rendell

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo credit: screenshot of Stober announcement video.

Andrew Stober announcing his candidacy in June. | Photo Credit: Screenshot of Stober’s announcement video

Independent at-large City Council candidate Andrew Stober’s unprecedented campaign got a big — if expected – boost today, in the form of endorsements from Mayor Michael Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Conventional wisdom — and long history — argues that Independent candidates don’t stand a chance in Philadelphia. But Stober is anything but a conventional Independent candidate. Read more »

The One Race to Watch in November’s Philly Election

From L to R: Council members David Oh and Dennis O’Brien | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

From L to R: Council members David Oh and Dennis O’Brien | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

Most of the municipal races this year are like the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons: fun to watch, but we all know how they’re likely to end. Jim Kenney will beat Melissa Murray Bailey. Incumbent Sheriff Jewell Williams will sack Republican challenger Chris Sawyer. Register of Wills Ron Donatucci will destroy GOP nominee Ross Feinberg.

The race for City Council at-large is different. It could end with an incumbent or two being kicked to the curb, a millennial could get elected, and the local Republican party just might suffer a devastating setback.

In other words, it’s a real, actual, competitive race. Read more »

Allan Domb: The Condo King

Allan Domb in his Rittenhouse Square office. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Allan Domb in his Rittenhouse Square office. Photograph by Colin Lenton

There are two distraught gentlemen in Allan Domb’s lobby, flipping out about the Pope. The date is July 29th, almost two months before Francis and a million of his admirers are to plunge the City of Philadelphia into holy sacramental chaos. Domb’s visitors are emissaries from the restaurant world, here to bang warning gongs about the culinary gridlock they foresee: marooned employees, bewildered customers, spoiled meat.

“There doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan at all. Just, ‘Hey, you guys are fucked.’” This is Greg Dodge, manager of the wine bar Zavino. Either Greg’s face is really tanned or all the blood has rushed to his head. He’s wearing one of those shirts where the collar is white but everything else is blue. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” Read more »

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