Right Now, Philly Politics Is Even More Disheartening Than Usual for Latinxs

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L: State Rep. Leslie Acosta (Image via video from PA House) R: State Rep. Martina White (Photo via White’s Facebook)

It’s a really hard time to be a Latina and a local politics wonk.

Leslie Acosta — one of two Latino state lawmakers from Philly, and the only Latina in the state legislature — has been convicted of conspiring to commit money laundering. She hasn’t been sentenced yet, and is reportedly cooperating with the prosecution of Renee Tartaglione, her former boss at a Fairhill mental health clinic who has been charged by the feds with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funding. (Tartaglione has pleaded not guilty.)

Acosta is the daughter of a politician, as is Tartaglione, and both are heavily enmeshed in legacy politics that seem as unscrupulous as they are melodramatic: full of feuds and deals cut over the Puerto Rican version of a cortadito.

Now, the thing about Acosta is that she had appeared, mostly, to be above the mischief and trash talk of Barrio politics, and came off as earnest, thoughtful and affable. So much so, in fact, that it began to appear possible that there would be some sort of détente enacted between the Democratic machine-backed Acosta and the fiercely independent councilwoman the Democratic machine loves to hate, María Quiñones-Sánchez.

But the promise Acosta offered — and the possibility of two industrious Latina pols working in concert to better the lot of some of the poorest residents of the city — has gone up in smoke.

As a Latina who writes about a Latinx community that is too often neglected and far too often underestimated, the disappointment I feel is more than just personal. Read more »

The Soda Tax Battle’s Biggest Winners and Losers

Clockwise: Union leader John Dougherty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke and soda mogul Harold Honickman. | Photos by Jeff Fusco, iStock.com and HughE Dillon

Clockwise: Union leader John Dougherty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke and soda mogul Harold Honickman. | Photos by Jeff Fusco, iStock.com and HughE Dillon

One of the longest and most expensive political wars in recent Philadelphia history has come to an end. On Thursday, City Council voted 13-4 to enact a tax on sugary drinks and diet sodas. The American Beverage Association has spent nearly $5 million since March to flood the airwaves with anti-soda tax ads. But even that doesn’t capture the full scope of the soda industry group’s spending: It worked diligently to fight off a soda tax since 2010 — when former Mayor Michael Nutter first floated the idea — by lobbying Council members and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns.

This year, though, the soda lobby’s deep pockets weren’t enough to kill Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed tax. In the end, only Democrat Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Republicans David Oh, Brian O’Neill and Al Taubenberger voted against the 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on Thursday.

Philadelphia is the biggest city in the United States to approve a soda tax. The only other city in the country with a sugary drinks tax is Berkeley, California. Here, the levy will fund expanded pre-K, community schools, and an overhaul of the parks system, among other things. These are the biggest winners and losers in the city’s years-long battle over the soda tax:

The Winners

1. Jim Kenney

This is a career-defining victory for Kenney. The mayor took on one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States and won, which has boosted his national profile and proven that he has a critical number of allies on City Council. The fact that the soda tax will help pay for the renovation of the city’s parks, libraries and recreation centers — and that the administration will determine how to divvy up that spending with district Council members — means that Kenney could potentially have favors to give out for years to come. But how much political capital has the mayor spent in the fight over the soda tax? We may soon find out: District Council 33’s labor contract expires on June 30th. The city’s blue-collar union was one of the many groups that supported the mayor’s soda tax, which could make it more difficult for him to negotiate with it.
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The No-Bullshit Guide to the Fight Over the Philly Soda Tax

Soda Tax Battle

Clockwise from left: Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and union leader John Dougherty.

For the third time in less than 10 years, Philadelphia City Council is reaching the end of a debate on whether to impose a tax on soda and other sugary drinks. Former Mayor Michael Nutter tried twice to get a soda tax approved, pitching it primarily as a public health initiative with the added benefit of raising revenue. Both times, after intense lobbying from the soda industry, Council rejected the proposal.

Now, Mayor Jim Kenney is hoping the third time’s the charm. In his first budget, Kenney is calling for a three-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. That’s higher than the rates Nutter asked for, but Kenney, despite occasionally pointing out that the tax would help fight obesity, says that this proposal isn’t about public health. It’s about money, he says — money for programs that many Philadelphians and City Council members say they support.

Unless you’re a City Council member, you don’t get to vote on whether to approve, reject, or amend the soda tax. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of industry lobbyists and advocacy groups from trying to sway the outcome. We’re likely to find out where it will land Wednesday, when Council holds its last scheduled budget hearing before taking a summer recess. At the moment, lawmakers seem to be uniting around a compromise soda tax, but that could very well change as anti-tax advocates turn up the pressure today.

Not sure how to feel about it all? Here’s the deal. Read more »

City Officials Target Illegally Towed Cars

istockphoto.com | Slobo

istockphoto.com | Slobo

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez has introduced legislation that could help prevent private companies from illegally towing cars.

It’s an issue she said is prevalent in her district, which includes parts of rapidly developing neighborhoods like Fishtown. She says her office hears often from people who have had their cars towed from legal parking spots.

According to CBS 3, the District Attorney’s office is reportedly investigating some private towing companies, but the office declined to comment to Philly Mag about the report.

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Ethics Board Fines Two PACs That Supported Manny Morales

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics announced on Monday that it had reached a settlement with two political committees that supported Manny Morales, who narrowly lost a challenge to 7th District City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez in last year’s primary election. The 7th Ward/Friends of Angel Cruz PAC and the Latinos United for Political Empowerment PAC have agreed to pay a total of $8,000 in fines for making in-kind donations to Morales’ PAC that exceed campaign contribution limits, according to the terms of the settlement.

The two PACs coordinated spending and get-out-the-vote efforts with the Morales campaign, the Board of Ethics found in its investigation. LUPE spent $22,000 in coordination with the campaign, exceeding the $11,500 limit for donations from a political committee to a candidate in one calendar year. The 7th Ward/Friends of Angel Cruz PAC spent $48,325 in coordination with the Morales campaign, according to the settlement. Both PACs failed to disclose the in-kind contributions on campaign finance reports. Each of the four violations — two excessive contributions and two failures to disclose — each carries a fine of $2,000. Read more »

Clarke: Lack of Diversity in Some City Departments Is “Problematic”

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L to R: Darrell Clarke and Jim Kenney. | Photos by City Council’s Flickr and Jeff Fusco

Mayor Jim Kenney was elected last year with a very broad, diverse coalition. Once in office, he promised to make his staff just as diverse.

At a budget hearing Wednesday, City Council members expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of diversity in the top staff of departments overseen by Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Rhynhart. They include the Office of Innovation and Technology, the Fleet Management Office, and the public property, procurement and records departments, among others.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said at the hearing that only 22 percent of the executive staff in those departments are people of color. (This figure does not include the records department, for which data was not immediately unavailable.)

“That’s clearly problematic,” said Clarke.

Council members also said no minorities hold the top jobs at the Department of Public Property. In the Office of Fleet Management, there isn’t a single woman executive, lawmakers said.

“Based on research from boards across the country, when you have diverse boards, you actually get different and oftentimes better decisions,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. “And so that’s why it matters to us that we have a city, particularly those in leadership, in executive positions, that look like the city of Philadelphia.”
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Here’s What You Missed at Last Night’s Lively Town Hall on the Latino Vote

Latino-Vote-1

Clockwise: Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, School Reform Commissioner Farah Jimenez, state Rep. Angel Cruz, former presidential assistant Daniel Restrepo and state Rep. Leslie Acosta.

Wednesday night, five politicos sat in a row, most wearing blazers and glasses perched on their noses, fielding questions from a pair of journalists who framed them, one on either side. There was a patriotic backdrop, and there was wine. Never mind the fact that two of the five, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez and state Rep. Angel Cruz, have a tense political rivalry.

Along with School Reform Commissioner Farah Jimenez, state Rep. Leslie Acosta, and former presidential assistant Daniel Restrepo, Sánchez and Cruz spent the evening talking with Al Día’s executive editor Sabrina Vourvoulias and Philly Mag’s deputy news editor Holly Otterbein about the Latino vote in Philadelphia and beyond. The group dropped a lot of knowledge. Here’s what you need to know: Read more »

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