Big Plastic Bag Wins Again

Yuck. | Photo via Shutterstock.com

Yuck. | Photo via Shutterstock.com

Philadelphia lawmakers have tried to both ban and tax plastic bags in the past, only to be beaten by Big Bag.

When Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation this year that would add a 5-cent fee to plastic and paper shopping bags, the outcome was supposed to be different. For one, it was much less costly than the 25-cent fee that Council debated in the past. And two, a significant number of cities and states have altogether banned plastic bags.

But on Wednesday, Squilla said that he is tabling the bill for this legislative session. Read more »

Could This Guy Spark an Independent Revolution in Philly?

Andrew Stober | Photo via Stober's Facebook

Andrew Stober | Photo via Stober’s Facebook

Could Andrew Stober make political independents a real force in Philadelphia, as opposed to the non-factor they are now?

Stober is a 36-year policy geek who most recently worked as chief-of-staff in Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

On Wednesday, he announced that he is running for City Council At-Large this year as an Independent, and he hopes that many others will follow in his footsteps.

His decision to throw his hat in the ring as an Independent, as opposed to running in the primary as a Democrat, is intriguing. By law, two of Philadelphia’s seven City Council At-Large seats don’t go to the top vote-getters overall; instead, they are reserved for those who tally up the most votes out of the smaller pool of candidates who aren’t Democrats. Republicans usually snag those two seats, but they’re also open to Independents and members of the Green Party, Working Families Party, Tea Party and so on.

Though Stober starts out with very little name recognition, there is a chance that Nutter will stick out his neck for him, which would help him build up support. And as an Independent, Stober only needs to compete with Republicans to win, and they draw in far fewer votes than Democrats.

We sat down with Stober in Center City to talk about his platform, his chances of winning, and his dream of sparking an Independent revolution in Philly. Our questions have been paraphrased and his responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Read more »

The Brief: Shane Montgomery’s Mom Presses for More Surveillance Cameras in Philly

Shane Montgomery

Shane Montgomery

1. The mother of Shane Montgomery testified in favor of a bill that would beef up the number of surveillance cameras in the city.

The gist: Last year, 21-year-old college student Shane Montgomery apparently drowned in the Schuylkill River after drinking at Kildaire’s Irish Pub in Manayunk. Kildaire’s did not have a working outdoor camera, and Montgomery’s body wasn’t discovered until weeks after his death. In the wake of the tragedy, Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. introduced a bill in February to require all city establishments that serve alcohol to install a surveillance camera outside. NewsWorks reports that Montgomery’s mother, Karen, told Council on Monday, “I have no delusions that any camera would have saved my Shane. However, I am convinced without a doubt that had video shown his direction upon leaving his last stop, the suffering endured during searches without direction would have been lessened.” Read more »

Progressives Won the Philly Election? You Sure About That?

The victorious Jim Kenney on Election Day| Photo by Jeff Fusco

The victorious Jim Kenney on Election Day| Photo by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia is suddenly a progressive utopia.

At least, that’s what you might believe after reading articles about the city’s primary election in the national media.

Jim Kenney, a former Philadelphia city councilman who has cast himself as a progressive in the mold of Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, handily defeated five other candidates to win the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday,” reads the first sentence of The New York Times article about the race.

The Atlantic went a step further, writing that “progressives scored a victory” because the mayoral race “pitted a crusading left-winger against a charter-school advocate backed by suburban hedge-fund magnates” and “this time, the left-winger … actually won.” Even Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News declared that it was a new day after Kenney, “who ran on the most progressive platform of a major Philadelphia mayoral candidate in our lifetimes,” won in a landslide, at the same time that education activist Helen Gym succeeded in her campaign for City Council.

Not so fast. Read more »

The Brief: Stu Bykofsky’s Candidates’ Comedy Night Is Ending

1. Stu Bykofsky’s 25th Candidates’ Comedy Night will be the last.

The gist: For the past two-and-a-half decades, Daily News reporter Stu Bykofsky has convinced city, state and federal candidates to get up on stage and tell jokes for a good cause. (Well, try to tell jokes, at least. With the exception of state Sen. Daylin Leach, few politicians are actually funny.) All of the proceeds from Bykofsky’s Candidates’ Comedy Night go to Variety, a children’s charity. But Bykofsky says that this year’s comedy night on August 11th will be the final act. Bykofsky explained why he is wrapping up the event in an article today: “Let’s start with the truism that all good things must come to an end. It is an immutable fact I cannot do it forever, and 25 years is a mark often used in retirements.” Read more »

The Brief: Unapologetic Bill Hite Presses His Case for More Cash for Schools

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in Harrisburg last year. He’s got a whole new funding fight in 2015. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

1. With City Council prepped to short the School District, Superintendent Bill Hite urges politicians not to let the district’s ongoing crisis become the new normal.

The gist: As Citified’s Holly Otterbein first reported, City Council is now considering an array of funding options for the schools that will fall short of the $105 million requested by Hite. Probably well short. Council members have telegraphed this for a while, particularly during last week’s district budget hearings, which were a spectacle. This week, City Council President Darrell Clarke said Hite’s request — which totals $300 million overall, including $200 million from the state — represents a “Cadillac version of what [Hite would] like to see moving forward.”

Hite is pushing back. He told the Inquirer’s editorial board: “I respect Council’s position as the authorizing authority for additional revenue. But I’m the superintendent, which means I have to tell you what it costs to educate children.” Read more »

Will Council Fund Schools With a Big Parking Tax Hike?

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

[Updated at 4:20 p.m.]

Philadelphia school district officials are asking City Council to pay a huge bill this year. They say they need an extra $103 million, even after lawmakers have voted to increase funding by $376 million over the last four years.

At budget hearings this spring, Council members have scoffed at Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to foot the bill by raising property taxes by 9 percent.

Now, an alternative plan by Council is beginning to take shape. And, after a dark-money group created by parking magnates backed Council candidates who ran against incumbent legislators, it might include a parking tax increase. Read more »

Stephen Wojdak, Lobbying Titan, Dead at 76

Stephen Wojdak, dead at 76.

Stephen Wojdak, dead at 76.

Stephen Wojdak, a giant figure in Pennsylvania politics credited with creating the state’s first modern lobbying firm, died Tuesday in Boston. He was 76 years old.

A former four-term state Representative who served as chairman of the Philadelphia delegation and of the House Appropriations committee, Wojdak founded his namesake lobbying firm in 1977. In the decades since, S.R. Wojdak and Associates became arguably the state’s most influential lobbying company, with a roster of high-powered clients and access to a wide array of government officials in both Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

“He combined a keen intelligence and a tremendous sense of knowing right from wrong, and trying to do the right thing on behalf of a whole range of issues that impacted people in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia,” said Kevin Feeley, speaking on behalf of S.R. Wojdak and Associates. Read more »

After Losing the Election, Ori Feibush Is Out of the Development Game

Ori Feibush | Photo via OCF Realty

Ori Feibush | Photo via OCF Realty

Love him or hate him, Ori Feibush has been the best-known developer in South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood in recent years.

But now he’s getting out the game.

Feibush, who lost last month’s race for the 2nd District City Council seat, said he is no longer going to develop new homes or commercial properties. He simply doesn’t have the money. Read more »

Wilson Goode Jr. Keeps Fighting

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. Photo | City Council Flickr

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. Photo | City Council Flickr

Let’s give Wilson Goode Jr. some credit. He may have lost the election, but he’s still fighting the good fight.

Here’s what happened: Last week — after his re-election hopes were dashed in the city’s primary election — Goode went back to Council and, like so many times before, went to work on behalf of the city’s needier residents.

At issue? A proposed $55 million tax break for the owners of the Gallery to renovate the old mall and repurpose it for high-end shops. (There were a total of six bills in front of Council for the issue to move forward.) Goode wanted to know if the city subsidy would help produce higher-paying jobs for workers there. The short answer? No. Read more »

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