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”

RK

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 »

The Latino Vote Series — Join Us for a Different Kind of Conversation

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

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

Would a Donald Trump nomination drive Latino voters to the polls in November? Will Hispanics in Wyoming, New York and Pennsylvania back Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? If Ted Cruz won a contested nomination, would that help the GOP attract more Latino votes?

In the 2016 presidential race, the much-coveted Latino vote has been a hot topic of conversation. But as Al Día writes, many of these discussions have been “from the outside looking in at the Latino community nationally, regionally and locally.”

Join us for an event that will be completely different: On Wednesday, April 13th at 5:30 p.m., Al Día is hosting a town hall about the Latino vote with Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, School Reform Commissioner Farah Jimenez, state Rep. Angel Cruz, state Rep. Leslie Acosta and Daniel Restrepo, the former special assistant to President Barack Obama. Al Día executive editor Sabrina Vourvoulias will moderate the discussion, joined by Citified editor Holly Otterbein. This is the first event in a series on the Latino vote. Read more »

Bill Would Create Municipal ID in Philly

quinones city hall

Maria Quiñonez-Sanchez

City Hall may soon issue its own “municipal ID” to Philadelphia residents, a new form of identification modeled on programs in New YorkSan Francisco and other big cities with large populations of undocumented immigrants.

Though immigrants aren’t mentioned in the press release Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez issued in support of the legislation — which she introduced at today’s Council meeting — she pointed to New York’s year-old IDNYC program as a model for the Philly effort. That program has been heavily promoted, and heavily covered, as aiding undocumented immigrants in that city, as well as homeless residents who otherwise find it difficult to obtain state-issued IDs.

Sanchez’s effort has the backing of Mayor Jim Kenney.

“There is no question that something must be done to help bring Philadelphians out of the shadows,” Kenney said in the press release. “Our entire city benefits when all of our residents can legally own an apartment, open a bank account, and otherwise participate in our economy and society fully.” Read more »

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez Wants to Make Philly the “BCorp Capital of the World”

Maria Quinones-Sanchez | Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez | Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Sometimes, a business can do well by doing good.

That’s the idea behind so-called “BCorps” — businesses that pledge to achieve social goals while making profits. It’s an idea that’s gained popularity in the post-recession era — and attracted the eye of Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. On Thursday, she introduced a pair of bills to attract and keep such businesses in the city.

“BCorps keep an eye on the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit — proving that you can do well and also do good,” Sánchez said in a press release announcing the initiatives. “By expanding our existing sustainability incentives, we can make Philadelphia the BCorp capital of the world.” Read more »

The Sánchez Insurgency

MariaSanchez_01

Photograph by Jared Castaldi

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez woke to the smell of her house burning down. It was around 5:30 a.m. on March 28, 2014, and the Democratic City Councilwoman was in the middle of the bravest and possibly most boneheaded political campaign of her life. She had persuaded her Harvard-educated husband Tomas and three of her bright young Council aides to run against a group of entrenched Democratic incumbents in the General Assembly, even though they had little money, no profile and no meaningful allies.

Democratic Party boss Bob Brady and his ward leaders — especially those from Sánchez’s district — were aggravated. Sánchez had defied the party for years, but this? This was rebellion.

Smoke curled around Norris Square, a Puerto Rican community in North Philly. Sánchez and her husband were staying a few blocks away from their house at the time, at her brother-in-law’s apartment. They’d relocated, in part, because Tomas was challenging State Senator Tina Tartaglione, and Sánchez’s house was just outside Tartaglione’s district, while the brother-in-law’s was not. That maneuver infuriated the ward leaders all the more.

A man knocked on the door. As soon as Sánchez opened it, she knew what had happened. “Please don’t tell me that’s what I’m smelling,” she said aloud, and yelled for her husband. “He just started to cry,” she says. “He didn’t even go down there for hours. He just couldn’t.”

Sánchez, though, bolted down the road in her pajamas. She arrived, panting, and stared at the three-story rowhouse that had been her home for 17 years. It was engulfed in flames. This was where she’d married Tomas, raised her two sons, and built herself into one of the city’s most powerful political figures. Now, the windows were blown out. Her beloved Latino art collection was stained by smoke. Her family photos were melted. “I had been saying, in particular to my son Tomasito, ‘Let’s take a moment and scan all these pictures.’” They never got the chance.

Later that day, police showed her video footage of a possible arsonist. She couldn’t believe who was on the screen. “I was like, ‘This looks like Edwin. But it can’t be Edwin,’” she remembers.

Edwin Diana was a close friend of her oldest son, Edgar. Sánchez had known him since he was a little boy. She had just seen him, actually. “He was on the scene of the fire with us,” she says. “He brought us coffee. He was like, ‘Is there anything you need, Maria?’”

But as Sánchez saw it, there was something even more chilling about Edwin’s face on that grainy video: At the time, Edwin was living with the great-nephew of State Senator Tartaglione, Tomas’s opponent in the upcoming primary election. Sánchez feared that the Tartagliones — a powerful political family — might have been involved. She still has no evidence of that; Diana was convicted of burglary but acquitted of arson. (His lawyer argued that the fire was caused accidentally when Diana lit a candle in the home.) As for the Tartagliones, they adamantly deny any connection to the fire. That didn’t matter to Sánchez. “My son had seen a bunch of stuff in our political lives, but for the first time, I really felt he was scared,” she says.

“I told Tomas, ‘We need to get out of this business. This is not worth it.’” Read more »

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