Off the Cuff: December 2010

Staying optimistic through the holiday season

During the Christmas holidays, I always seem to think about the year that has just passed and take stock of just where we are. I’m encouraged that the economy seems to be getting better, and I was pleased with the results of the recent elections. Though I do worry about the right wing of the Republican Party, especially the Tea Party, because they seem to have forgotten that the art of government is compromise.

And just who is Sarah Palin, anyway?
Hold on
— I promised myself that I’d stay away from politics, which is a good idea, especially in Philadelphia. Instead, in the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to share a few of my favorite things. One of them is that when I drive in from New Jersey, I can see the Comcast Center from Route 41, a shining beacon to how the skyline has changed, and to what’s possible for Philadelphia.

When I cross the new South Street Bridge, I’m reminded of Penn’s great impact on the city (and I wish it would creep across the Schuylkill). It seems to me that Penn Medicine, with the Perelman Center and a cutting-edge proton therapy center, will become our next Mayo Clinic. The Perelman Center creates an environment of such openness and light that it makes a point so often ignored in medicine: The environment in which sick people are treated has a great deal to do with how quickly they get better.

Unfortunately, other parts of the city aren’t so pristine. If you come into town from the airport, over the Platt Bridge, through our back door, past the oil refineries, the car crusher, the awful view of the city that visitors see —

I need to think positively.

South Philly. I’d kind of forgotten about South Philly. Half a century ago, it was a place I always seemed to end up in: the Saloon, Victor’s, Palumbo’s. I recently started getting my hair cut at Laurentius Salon, near 8th and Christian. There’s an energy and vibrancy to South Philly, with its well-swept stoops, and carefully tended rowhouses that seem to stand at attention — a part of the city where you can feel neighborhood life that’s still solid.

As far as other parts of the city, let’s face it: No one knows what to do about them. What’s more, the trade unions make building anything new so difficult, and the unions are still holding our expanding Convention Center hostage to their demands, not to mention the city pension fund that —

Stay positive! The spirit of Christmas!

We are, after all, the City That Keeps On Giving. Consider the DROP program. DROP stands for Deferred Retirement Option Plan; under it, city employees can take home both their salaries and pensions over the last four years of their employment, which is a wonderful gift from all of the taxpayers.

Since 1999, the city has paid out $725 million in DROP money to about 6,500 employees. That’s right: almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. No wonder we’re so broke.

Oh no — here I go again.

But I’ll leave you with this:

The other night I had dinner at La Famiglia, one of the last great, elegant restaurants in the city. The atmosphere is quiet, the waitstaff is professional, and there’s a strong wine list that doesn’t break the bank. It’s my feeling that La Famiglia is the finest Italian restaurant in the region.

Which takes me back, to a state of elegance now so uncommon in Phila —

No. I’m not going there.

It’s still a great pleasure to have a nice night out, and dream a little, about what the City of Philadelphia might be, once again.
Have a nice holiday, everyone.