The Brief: 130-Year-Old Water Main Bursts in West Philly, Eats Cars

Is it time for the federal government to get involved in fixing our aging infrastructure?

1. A water main ruptured in West Philly, wrecking homes and swallowing up cars.

The gist: As you can imagine, the water main break on Sunday in West Philadelphia was a huge pain the butt for everyone involved. City officials evacuated 14 residents from the neighborhood, and dozens of cars were damaged. Jason Nark of the Daily News reported:

No one was killed or injured when the massive, 130-year-old water-transmission line burst on 52nd Street near Pennsgrove Street, but 8 to 10 million gallons can ruin a Sunday in a hundred different ways, and the ripples of inconveniences could already be felt after the waters receded, locals said.

“Look at my car, it’s done. I can’t call to set up a ride for work because the power is off, and I can’t charge my phone,” Wyalusing Avenue resident Albery Canty said, motioning to his muddy Cadillac.

[Robert] Johnson, 68, was supposed to be in South Jersey working on a customer’s bathroom and instead was sitting on his front porch complaining about federal infrastructure funding, while a worker readied a water pump and generator beside his basement window. The hoods were propped up on his pickup truck and his minivan, the mud drying to dirt in the heat, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be out of work.

Why it matters: The water department doesn’t know what caused this exact water main break. But Philadelphia’s infrastructure is old – this main was built in 1885 — and much of it is in desperate need of repair. As Mayor Michael Nutter put it this weekend, “One of the wonderful things about Philadelphia is that it’s a great, old city, and one of the challenges of Philadelphia is that it’s a great, old city.” Here’s the problem: Experts say that replacing Philly’s 19th-century water mains will require the combined financial support of the city, state and federal government. A 2011 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that it would cost $84 billion to update the country’s water infrastructure.

2. City Council tightens the rules for super PACs.

The gist: Philadelphia City Council voted last week to require any super PAC “that spends $5,000 or more to influence a city election … to file a detailed report six weeks before the election, and three times after that, with the last report due a week before Election Day,” WHYY’s Dave Davies reported. Candidates’ political action committees will not have to abide by this new schedule, though they will have to file one additional report before Election Day.

Why it matters: In a post-Citizens United world, there isn’t much more that Council can do to rein in super PACs than force them to disclose their spending more often. This year marked the first that time that super PACs got involved in a Philadelphia mayor’s race. Candidates’ committees could use more sunshine, too, and it’s not clear why they aren’t being held to the same standard. Elections attorney Kevin Greenberg said “the best system would be a uniform set of requirements that could be met with one electronic filing shared with everyone,” wrote Davies.

3. After voters booted him from Council, Ed Neilson may get elected in a special election … again.

The gist: Officials have set a date — August 11th — for a special election to replace two corrupt Philly pols who have pleaded guilty in the famous sting case that Attorney General Kathleen Kane abandoned and District Attorney Seth Williams revived. The seat vacated by former Rep. John Sabatina, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election, will also be filled in the special election this summer.

Why it matters: KYW reports that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, head of the city’s Democratic Party, “says his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from potential candidates” for the seats. Ward leaders from both parties will select the nominees in the special election, and because this is Philadelphia, that means that whoever is handpicked by the city’s Democrats will almost certainly get elected. Brady said that Ed Neilson is one of the ward leaders’ favorites. Neilson just lost his reelection bid for City Council after first being elected in — you guessed it! — a special election to replace former Councilman Bill Green. Democracy!

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