Wilson Goode Jr. Keeps Fighting

The lame duck returns to City Council — and keeps up the good fight for the city's needier residents. Will Philly regret not re-electing him?

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. Photo | City Council Flickr

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. Photo | City Council Flickr

Let’s give Wilson Goode Jr. some credit. He may have lost the election, but he’s still fighting the good fight.

Here’s what happened: Last week — after his re-election hopes were dashed in the city’s primary election — Goode went back to Council and, like so many times before, went to work on behalf of the city’s needier residents.

At issue? A proposed $55 million tax break for the owners of the Gallery to renovate the old mall and repurpose it for high-end shops. (There were a total of six bills in front of Council for the issue to move forward.) Goode wanted to know if the city subsidy would help produce higher-paying jobs for workers there. The short answer? No.

KYW’s Mike Dunn depicts the exchange:

“We’re talking about 1,400 new jobs.” said Goode. “What about the quality of jobs beyond what may already be required by law?”

Joe Coradino, the CEO of PREIT, said forcing new retailers to pay higher wages to workers would drive those retailers away.

“We don’t believe that we’ll be able to get retailers to come to the Gallery,” said Coradino, “Given the fact that this would be the only location in Philadelphia where they would pay that level of wages.”

Later, Coradino added that workers at the renovated Gallery would get the “same level of job quality that they would have at Cherry Hill mall, or Moorestown Mall.”

One problem with that notion: Neither the Cherry Hill Mall nor the Moorestown Mall is getting a $55 million tax break from the City of Philadelphia!

No surprises there. America’s big businessmen, whatever their rhetoric, tend to act as though market forces are for commoners and socialism is for the elites. Over in Wisconsin, noted union buster Gov. Scott Walker last week signed off on raising taxes in Milwaukee County to help pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. No money for teachers, but plenty for billionaire owners of sports teams. It was ever thus.

Goode’s stand, though, raised the question: Why exactly did he lose? Was it the Coffee Can of Destiny? Was his name too familiar? Was it the whole weird dustup over coverage of his aide? Goode, like the city he serves, is definitely, even decidedly imperfect. That’s not always been a problem in our politics, though.

Remember: This election also nearly claimed Councilman Bill Greenlee. Greenlee was only the main sponsor behind the paid sick leave bill Mayor Nutter vetoed twice before allowing to pass — aside from marijuana decriminalization, that has to rank as one of the more significant pieces of progressive legislation to come out of City Hall in recent years.

Why did Greenlee almost lose? Two answers come to mind: First, some voters in an anti-charter mood might’ve confused him with controversial former Councilman Bill Green, now on the SRC. Second: Some voters appear to have held Greenlee’s opposition to bike lanes against him.

Bike lanes are a public good, yes. But it’s a weird, short-sighted sort of progressivism — especially in America’s poorest big city — that lets bike-lane bona fides win out over a tangible victory for Philadelphia’s working poor.

The same forces that nearly claimed Greenlee did claim Goode. You could hardly blame Goode if he had decided, in essence, to take his ball and go home. Instead, he spent his first meetings as a lame duck behaving anything but lame — mustering his remaining power on behalf of Philadelphia workers, as he’d done so many times before.

In the end, Council President Darrell Clarke delayed the package of legislation to see if a deal on wages could somehow be found. It’s possible, I guess, that we’ll end up with the same deal we had before. But the delay — and a chance to get a better deal — is happening because Wilson Goode Jr. is on the council. In a few months, that won’t be the case anymore.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.