Darrell Clarke’s School District Power Play

Darrell-Clarke-Bill-Hite

Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by City Council and Associated Press.

City Council President Darrell Clarke has grown profoundly frustrated with the School District of Philadelphia in recent years. Now he looks poised to turn that frustration into action — and the impact on the district could be huge.

In private and in public, Clarke in recent weeks has ratcheted up pressure on the district and the School Reform Commission. He’s laying the groundwork for a campaign — one that likely will begin in earnest after likely next mayor Jim Kenney takes office in January — that is designed to win back some local control over the district, particularly its finances.

What’s his latest beef? Ostensibly, it was over a number of recent hirings and promotions in the school district’s central offices, which, after three straight years of fiscal crisis, is now staffed by a skeleton crew. Seriously. The number of empty desks in the (admittedly too big) district headquarters at 440 N. Broad is both depressing and alarming.

Clarke’s point, though, is that Superintendent William Hite came to City Council in the spring seeking cash on account of the dire needs in classrooms, not district HQ. He says, in essence, that Council didn’t approve $70 million* in new funding for it to be spent on senior bureaucrats making six figures. Read more »

Insider: Why the Jim Kenney & Darrell Clarke Bromance Means Great Things for Philly

Jim Kenney and Darrell Clarke

Jim Kenney and Darrell Clarke. | Photo courtesy of City Council.

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

Before the primary election on May 19, the previous 18 months of a lame duck mayor and no sure-fire favorite to win the Democratic nomination created a power vacuum at the top of city government. If you know the mayor isn’t aiming to be the next governor (see Rendell, Ed), then beyond the first term there’s no incentive to play nice when you can simply just wait him out. If you didn’t like Mayor Nutter or his policies, or you felt that working with Nutter put you at odds with council, the smart play was to see who had next and work on that.

But power abhors a vacuum. In times of uncertainty people seek and gravitate towards strong leadership, even when they don’t agree with the leader. Key players can’t operate on the sidelines for long without knowing who is going to be running the show. Businesses plan in 5-10 years cycles. Developers plan in 10-20 year cycles. Everyone likes to talk about change, but it is the other two C’s — continuity and contracts that keep a city humming.

The recent mayoral primary was not a referendum on policy or politics: 75+ forums, town halls and debates effectively eliminated any opportunity for candidates to truly distinguish themselves on policy. After the past eight years, what we were looking for was leadership style.

Much digital ink has been spilled in these pages about the burgeoning power and emerging prominence of City Council President Darrell Clarke. I think strong leadership in council is a good thing. During the past 18 months Council President Clarke has filled the power vacuum. He’s the prom king and he’s looking for a solid date and dance partner for the next eight years. Read more »

Council’s New Hires: $105K for a Graphic Designer & a Social Media Maven

Screenshot 2015-08-27 17.29.15

A sample of City Councils new graphic designer at work.

There’s no arguing that City Council could use a little help with its image. And it’s getting it, in the form of two relatively new staff positions in the Office of City Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

The hires? Anthony Buford, a full-time graphic designer, who was put on Council’s payroll in January, and Patricia Gillett, a full-time digital media director, hired in July. Their salaries are $50,000 and $55,000, respectively, plus generous city benefits.

Citified heard about the new positions this week, when council staffers were invited by the “Council Creative Team” to a “quick, 1-hour training course for finding, selecting and preparing photos for print and digital uses.” Also on the agenda? “A short introduction to the new City Council logo…” Read more »

$25 Million for City Schools, Suddenly in Doubt?

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last spring, which feels like eons ago, City Council grudgingly agreed to increase funding to the School District of Philadelphia by $70 million. That was $30 million short of what the district was asking for, but $70 million really is a big round number, and it took a bevy of tax hikes — including a 4.5 percent hike in the property tax rate — to raise the funds.

City Council was grouchy in the extreme about coming up with that $70 million. So grouchy that it opted to hold onto $25 million of the $70 million — to be released to the district only when and if Council decided to do so.

Well, the school year hasn’t even begun, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke already has some real problems with what the district is doing; specifically Superintendent Bill Hite’s spending of $1 million on big new promotions and hires for central office administrators. Read more »

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 »

If Fattah Goes Down, Who Would Voters Replace Him With?

Clockwise from the top: Mayor Michael Nutter, Council President Darrell Clarke, District Attorney Seth Williams and state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

Clockwise from the top: Mayor Michael Nutter, Council President Darrell Clarke, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and District Attorney Seth Williams.

It finally happened: Philadelphia Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was indicted on corruption charges Wednesday.

Already, political insiders are wondering if the congressman will resign in the coming months or simply choose not to run for reelection in 2016. If either scenario unfolds, who would replace him? And how would that work?

The question has been bubbling up ever since two members of Fattah’s inner circle pleaded guilty last year. You can expect more names than ever to be bandied about now.

Some of the bigger ones include Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke, District Attorney Seth Williams, Councilman Curtis Jones, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, state Sen. Anthony Williams, state Sen. Daylin Leach, state Rep. Brian Sims, School Reform Commission member Bill Green, former mayoral candidate Doug Oliver, ward leader Daniel Muroff and real estate analyst Dan Kessler. That’s not even a full list. Check out some other possibilities here.

Watching some of these candidates confront each other in an open election would be a sight to see, but there’s no guarantee that’s what would happen. Indeed, there are five distinct scenarios that could unfold here. Let’s run them down.
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 »

The Brief: What Will Happen to the Homeless During the Pope’s Visit?

Pope Francis | giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

Pope Francis | Shutterstock.com.

1. Organizers say they are carefully considering the needs of homeless people as they make preparations for the Pope’s visit.

The gist: On Monday, Mayor Michael Nutter got in a physical confrontation with a homeless man who said that he was worried about the city’s plans to sweep the Benjamin Franklin Parkway of the homeless during Pope Francis’ visit in September. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that organizers say that is not quite what will happen: Instead, everyone — including the homeless — will be required to leave the Parkway before the Pope arrives for security reasons, but then will be allowed back inside through gates. The World Meeting of Families has also formed a committee whose aim is “to protect the dignity and rights of people who are homeless, to make sure there is no detrimental treatment,” Project HOME’s Will O’Brien told the Inquirer.

Read more »

Darrell Clarke Moves to Quash Big Tax Reform Plan

Darrell Clarke is not impressed. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Darrell Clarke is not impressed. Photo | Jeff Fusco

City Council President Darrell Clarke has forcefully come out against the ambitious plan spearheaded by Paul Levy and Jerry Sweeney to overhaul the city’s tax structure in a way they say will promote economic development and job growth.

This is a big deal. Tax reform — which is usually shorthand for lowering Philadelphia’s extremely high tax rates on wages and businesses — has been hotly debated in the city for decades. Proponents see it as the single best answer to Philadelphia’s anemic job growth. Opponents question the assumption that lower taxes would generate jobs, and they worry that it would starve city government of badly needed revenue.

But this tax reform plan, which is backed by an unusually broad mix of business and labor interests called the Growth Coalition, is a bit different that earlier proposals. It would slash wage and business taxes, yes, but the coalition proposes to pay for those tax cuts by increasing real estate taxes on commercial properties by 15 percent.

And the coalition is selling the package as a net revenue winner for the city, which is a large part of the reason why this plan has some real momentum (most of the mayoral field embraced the rough outlines of the plan, for instance).

But Clarke clearly isn’t buying it. He’s naturally suspicious of sweeping plans that purport to solve big problems at little-to-no cost (excepting those he hatches himself, naturally enough). Look at his position on the sale of PGW, or his doubts about the Land Bank. 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 »

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