Lawmakers Fight for Muslim Holidays to Be Recognized in Philly

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

A group of activists erupted in applause at City Hall Thursday when lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution calling on the city and school district to recognize two Muslim holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. “When we submitted this, the question that came from some good, well-intentioned people was, ‘Well, why now? And should we do this now?'” said Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., who sponsored the legislation. “The best time to dispel myths, the best time to find good-spirited people, is in the height of controversy.”

The Philadelphia Eid Coalition has been fighting since last year to convince officials to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The School District of Philadelphia currently closes schools on Christmas, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and even Columbus Day, but not on those two Muslim holidays. The city government, meanwhile, does not officially recognize either Muslim or Jewish holy days.

Jones, who practices Islam, says it is more important than ever to make Muslim people feel included in Philadelphia.

“Young people needed to know that they’re welcome in this building and in this city,” he said, “so that nobody can come along and lead them astray to some anti-American kind of environment.” Read more »

Helen Gym Draws National Attention in New Role

helen-gym

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 »

Does “Bullet Voting” Really Work?

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

If you want to shake up City Council, many political insiders will tell you to vote for one at-large candidate and one at-large candidate only. This tactic is known as “bullet voting,” and the idea behind it is that by voting for just one candidate, you don’t run the risk of elevating another candidate who could beat your No. 1 choice.

Until now, we didn’t know very much about the prevalence of bullet voting, or how effective it is, in Philadelphia. That changed when City Commissioner Al Schmidt on Tuesday released a study about bullet voting in the primary election. “This was a massive undertaking,” he said in a press release, “and has never been done before.”

Here are seven takeaways from his analysis: Read more »

Op-Ed: Philly’s Charter School System is Falling Apart

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from City Council candidate Helen Gym.)

“As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”

Those were the infamous words of Citigroup Chief Executive Charles Prince, explaining why, amid the collapse of the world markets, his institution would keep on making risky subprime loans right up to the last minute.

They are words that toll with heavy familiarity as the School District of Philadelphia stubbornly pursues reckless charter school expansion while our public schools crumble.

Last week, Superintendent William Hite announced a sweeping plan for the school district that includes closing two public schools and converting three other city schools into charters.

Never mind that just a few weeks ago Hite declared for a second time that charters in Philadelphia had reached a “saturation point.” Never mind that money that is never available to restore basic services like nurses and counselors — or to end class sizes of 70 students per teacher — can somehow be found to expand charters year after year. And never mind that the charter system itself is rapidly coming apart, with mid-year closures, bankruptcies and bad financing deals rocking an already uneven academic performance landscape.
Read more »

David Oh Fights for His Political Life

Photo courtesy of City Council's Flickr

Photo courtesy of City Council’s Flickr

It’s been a bad year for politicians in Pennsylvania, especially those with a “D” next to their names: Kathleen KaneChaka Fattah, Rob McCord. The list goes on and on.

On Monday, Republican Councilman David Oh reminded the public that lawbreaking isn’t exclusively a Democratic affair. In a settlement agreement with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, Oh admitted to taking an illegal campaign donation in the 2015 primary election and agreed to pay a $2,000 fine for his violation.

And with that, the City Council At-Large race this November got a lot more interesting.
Read more »

Why Voter Turnout Sucked in Philly’s Mayoral Race

APTOPIX America Votes

Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

1. Voter turnout in Philadelphia wasn’t always so pitiful.

The gist: Only 27 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Philadelphia’s mayoral primary last week. It wasn’t always like this. In 1991, 49 percent of Philly voters came to the polls. In 1987, 67 percent did; in 1971, a stunning 77 percent did. Other big cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have also seen voter turnout plummet in municipal elections over the past few decades. CityLab’s Daniel Denvir has a theory about why that may be: Read more »

The Challengers: Helen Gym’s Aim — To Make Council Holds Schools Accountable

Helen Gym | Photo by Alex Hogan

Helen Gym | Photo by Alex Hogan

All week, Citified is featuring Q&As with leading at-large City Council Democratic challengers on topics of their choosing. The prompt was simple: if elected, what’s a problem you would you prioritize, and how would you address it? To keep the conversation substantive and on-point, we asked the candidates to focus on a relatively narrow question (i.e., not “schools,” or “crime.”)

Longtime schools activist Helen Gym is running an at-large campaign powered by an enthusiastic grassroots network of supporters, the backing of teacher unions and her own indomitable personality. Her presence on Council would surely shakeup a a legislative body that is, plainly, sick and tired of talking about the city’s struggling schools and the questions of how to fund them.

Gym would make schools her central focus if she is elected to Council. In particular, Gym wants to dramatically change Council’s approach to schools oversight, and that’s the subject she chose to discuss with Citified. Read more »

Did Helen Gym Trip Up on the City’s Campaign Finance Law?

Helen Gym | Photo by Alex Hogan

City Council candidate Helen Gym | Photo by Alex Hogan

[Update, 6:08 p.m.]: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers PAC and the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania PAC both employ the same treasurer, Jack Steinberg, according to the Department of State’s website.

[Original, 2:39 p.m.]: Philadelphia’s campaign finance law is as strict as a nun: City candidates can accept no more than $11,500 annually from an individual political action committee.

Philly even has a rule on the books to prevent donors from evading the limit by making what is known as a “pass-through” contribution. PACs are barred from writing a maxed-out check to a candidate, then writing another check to a separate PAC, and asking that PAC to donate the funds to the same candidate.

Did City Council At-Large candidate Helen Gym just trip up on that rule? Read more »

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