The Brief: America’s Infrastructure Problem

Hours after the deadly Amtrak crash in Philly, a debate about transportation funding is already underway.

Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. |Photo by Joseph Kaczmarek/AP

Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tue., May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. | Photo by Joseph Kaczmarek/AP

1. Amtrak Crash Sparks Debate Over Country’s Crumbling Infrastructure

The gist: Last night, an Amtrak train en route to New York City derailed in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood. At least six people are dead, according to city officials and a Temple University Hospital doctor. A minimum of 65 are injured. “It’s an absolute disastrous mess,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “I’ve never seen anything so devastating.” He said the cause of the derailment is currently unknown. “We do not know what happened here. We do not know why this happened.”

Why it matters: More than anything, what matters is that at least six people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. Right now, we have no idea what led to this tragedy, and any speculation to that effect would be irresponsible. Still, last night’s crash has ignited a debate on social media and elsewhere about America’s crumbling infrastructure. That debate is only going to grow louder in the weeks ahead. Congress was already scheduled to consider a bill this week that would cut Amtrak’s funding, even as, according to The Atlantic, “ridership has increased by roughly 50 percent in the past 15 years, and ridership in the Northeast Corridor stood at an all-time high in 2014.” Democrats had previously “been expected to take a run at boosting the bill’s funding for Amtrak, but the debate at Wednesday’s markup is sure to take on more urgency in light of the crash,” Politico reports. The Amtrak derailment may also spur action by state and local officials. After a CSX train derailed in Philadelphia last year, City Council held a hearing on the incident.

2. Another Anti-Kenney TV Is Reportedly About to Hit the Airwaves

The gist: A new independent group has entered the fray in Philadelphia’s mayoral campaign. The Inquirer’s Chris Brennan reports that Leadership Matters, Inc. is expected to start airing a TV ad Wednesday attacking former City Councilman and mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, who is leading the race according to polls conducted on behalf of him. (There have been no independent poll results released so far this year.) No word yet on exactly what the ad is about. “A media buyer keeping close tabs on the race said Leadership Matters put down $76,800 for broadcast TV commercials in the final week,” Brennan wrote.

Why it matters: That’s a paltry sum by the standards of a big-city mayoral race. Add to that the fact that there is less than one week to go until the May 19th primary election, and it’s unlikely that this ad will make much of a difference. For the sake of comparison, American Cities, a super PAC backing state Sen. Anthony Williams for mayor, has committed to spending almost $1 million on ads in the last week alone. Williams, who is trailing Kenney in internal polls, unveiled a hard-hitting anti-Kenney ad earlier this month. But it, too, was reportedly not well-funded.

3. The Prince of Darkness Weighs In On the Mayor’s Race

The gist: Vince Fumo, Philadelphia’s disgraced ex-state Senator, told the Daily News that he is not endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race. (We were waiting with bated breath, too.) But there is someone that Fumo is definitely not supporting: Kenney, who was Fumo’s protégé in a past life. Fumo explained, “I’ve said consistently that I don’t think the city should be run by Johnny Dougherty.” Dougherty, the powerful head of IBEW Local 98, is backing Kenney this year, and his union’s political committee is helping fund a pro-Kenney super PAC.

Why it matters: Kenney’s ties to Fumo and “Johnny Doc” have been among his greatest liabilities during the campaign. When you’re running as a bright-eyed progressive, you don’t want to be associated with a guy who has been nicknamed the “Prince of Darkness” (i.e. Fumo). Kenney has insisted that he hasn’t spoken to Fumo in years. As for Doc, Kenney says he’s a changed man. Fumo did Kenney a favor by saying that he opposes him. Whether he did so wittingly or unwittingly, we don’t know.