Sometimes, it’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the most righteous of reasons.
It’s also possible that even when someone does the right thing, their motives are questioned — especially when doing the right thing has eluded them in the past.
Which is the position in which Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett now finds himself.
Earlier this week, Corbett filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, saying the college sports governing body overstepped its bounds when it slapped Penn State with a $60 million fine over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, and only did so to punish the players and enhance their own reputation in the court of public opinion.
“A handful of top NCAA officials simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police under their own bylaws, and one that was clearly being handled by the justice system,” Corbett said at a news conference on Wednesday announcing the suit.
This is a complete turnaround from his position back when the fines were imposed, when he urged the Penn State faithful to quietly accept the sanctions imposed by the NCAA, which includes heavy recruiting sanctions, and disqualification from bowl games, in addition to the $60 million.
Remembering that Corbett, by dint of his position as governor of the state, is already a Penn State trustee, and approved the sanctions, however unfair and draconian, at the time. It is a fact that gives one pause, as it did members of the alumni organization Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, who also smelled a rat in Corbett’s sudden change of heart.
“If he disapproved of the terms of the NCAA consent decree, or if he thought there was something illegal about them, why didn’t he exercise his duty to act long before now?” the group was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
It is a fair question, and one that conjures up images of a typical political grandstanding maneuver — usually employed to save face, sway public opinion, or deflect attention away from an inconvenient truth.
And while I am usually the first to accuse Corbett of using just such a cynical tactic, I’m going to pause here for a moment and consider the possibility, however remote, that maybe he’s just trying to do the right thing for a change.
Sure, I could employ my own hefty dose of cynicism here, and question whether the lawsuit is a tactical misdirection — and a result of Corbett’s recent blunders: smacked down on his vote suppressing ID laws, failing to deliver the state to Romney, and just last week caught playing footsie with his buddies in the gas industry by taking lavish holidays on gas lobbyists cash.
Not to mention the continued public grumblings that Corbett, as state attorney general, dragged his feet on the Sandusky investigation, and that he continued to support and defend Sandusky’s charity, Second Mile, long after it was known that the founder was a child molesting creep.
It is also fairly well known that the incoming attorney general, Kathleen Kane, made the Sandusky mess a major point in her campaign, promising to shine a light on Corbett’s actions (or inaction) before, during, and after the scandal broke publicly. When she takes office, the sparks are going to fly, and Corbett could find himself facing re-election with the kind of baggage no incumbent wants to explain.
Even taking all this into account, it is still possible that Corbett just now sees the holes in the NCAA’s position. And if his take on the matter is to be believed, the man actually has some valid points.
According to the lawsuit, the NCAA punished Penn State “without citing a single concrete NCAA rule that Penn State has broken, for conduct that in no way compromised the NCAA’s mission of fair competition, and with a complete disregard for the NCAA’s own enforcement procedures.” You can certainly make the case that Sandusky, Spanier, Curley and even Joe Paterno violated any number of laws, but they’re not being punished — the football team, students, alumni and faculty are being punished.
And, if the NCAA can really take $60 million from Penn State alumni and Pennsylvania taxpayers, and redistribute that money around the country for its various projects, you have to admit that sounds more than a little fishy.
So yes, it’s possible that Corbett is onto something. It’s possible he may be filing this lawsuit for all the right reasons, and he just wants fairness for the university, as well as Sandusky’s victims.
Of course, it’s also possible that I’ll be mistaken for Denzel Washington.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
The eyes of the nation are on Pennsylvania this week as court hearings opposing the state’s controversial Voter ID law opened on Wednesday.
The law, which opponents say was nothing more than an attempt by Republican lawmakers to hand the commonwealth over to Mitt Romney in the presidential elections under the guise of fighting voter fraud, is being challenged on the grounds that it violates the state constitution. But that’s just one front on which the legislation is being attacked. This week the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped into the ring and has ordered the state to prove the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits voting requirements that would disproportionately impact minorities, which opponents of the law say it was designed to do.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes during a rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol building. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple — and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law is about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Governor Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
From the very beginning the law, which was supposed to be a firewall against voter fraud, came under fire from Democratic leaders who maintained that the legislation was always meant to stack the upcoming November elections in favor of the Republicans. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler and Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed off on it once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the state one of 16 to have such a law. The vote in the House was split exactly on party lines with three Republicans, Reps. Christopher Ross, Marguerite Quinn and Kurt Masser stepping across the aisle to join the Democratic opposition.
The law requires that a registered voter produce either a valid state driver’s license or non-driver’s license identification card. Other acceptable forms of identification would be a valid student’s ID, passport or military identification. One of the problems, opponents say, is many elderly voters don’t have and cannot produce documentation of their birth — a requirement for obtaining the state identification card. Many of those individuals have been registered voters for years and would be turned away from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Many female voters could also be adversely affected since their married names aren’t the names on their birth certificates.
Hughes said that attorneys for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allege there have been no known cases of voter fraud committed in the state. He also said that when Corbett was state attorney general he never prosecuted one single case of voter fraud.
ACLU attorneys think they have a strong enough case to block the law. In May, shortly after Corbett signed the bill into law, the ACLU, the Public Interest Law Center, the Advancement Project and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a law suit against it. The case, Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, argues that the law violated the state constitution, and in their brief, outline several points that will be expounded upon during proceedings:
• The commonwealth now admits that it cannot identify even a single instance in which a person voted improperly in Pennsylvania because they were able to impersonate someone else at the polling place.
• The commonwealth's new estimates of voters without acceptable ID — about three quarters of a million people — are understated based on the commonwealth's own records and based on survey evidence gathered by petitioners, and that the actual number is that one million or more eligible voters do not have the necessary ID to vote in November.
• The commonwealth has not adequately informed the public that they need to undertake a time consuming task simply in order to vote as they have in years past. An estimated 37 percent of residents are not even aware of the voter ID law or believe there is no photo ID law. More importantly, the vast majority of people who do not have valid ID under the law mistakenly believe that they have acceptable ID (13.1 percent of total eligible voters and 11.8 percent of people who voted for president in 2008).
"George Washington didn't need a voter ID card,” said State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams during the Harrisburg rally. “John Adams didn't need a voter ID card. Ronald Reagan didn't need a voter ID card. If it wasn't good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's not good enough for me."
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania - and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also states that Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.” Neither Governor Corbett nor the state attorney general will testify during the hearings, per the agreement.
The United States Department of Justice has also jumped into the legal battle, ordering Commonwealth officials to prove that the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; a law forbidding any voting requirements that would disproportionately affect minority voters. In a letter sent this past Monday to acting secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, the DOJ requested the state turnover the complete voter registration list, including voter history and race of registered voters and the current Pennsylvania driver license and ID list.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts states that: No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
The Justice Department also wants any documents supporting Gov. Tom Corbett's March 2012 statement that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID. The state has 30 days to comply. Similar laws in South Carolina and Texas were successfully blocked by the Justice Department.
“The stipulation says that the state is ‘not aware of’ any incidents of voter impersonation, which the Voter ID law is allegedly designed to address, and that the state is not prepared to present any evidence in support of the existence of such fraud. This should end the argument that the Voter ID law would prevent any voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said State Senator Daylin Leach in a press release. Leach also said that since there is no evidence of voter fraud, Republican State Representative Mike Turzai told the truth when he said at a recent partisan event that the law would help Romney win Pennsylvania.
“Also, filings indicate the Commonwealth will argue that the court should adopt a rational-basis standard for reviewing the law's Constitutionality,” Leach continued. “Anyone who has completed a semester of law school will know this means the administration, incredibly, believes that voting is not a fundamental right. The only remaining justification for the law is to prevent future incidents of fraud, of which there is also no evidence. That’s quite a thin argument to justify a law that disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, and this proves that Representative Turzai was telling the truth. This law is about nothing more than helping Republicans win the election this November.”
Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients is wrong and mean-spirited.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said an asset test will be implemented by the Department of Public Welfare in the coming months, but the administration has not decided its dollar-value level.
In a letter to the federal government late last month, the agency said it was considering a bar on recipients who have more than $2,00 in savings or other assets subject to the rule, or more than $3,250 for people who are over 60 or disabled.
On Thursday at a press conference at City Hall, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Shirley Kitchen urged Corbett to reconsider the plan slated to start May 1.
“This is one of the most mean-spirited, asinine plans to come out of Harrisburg in a long time,” said Mayor Nutter.
Vilsack refuted the Corbett administration’s stated reason for implementing asset tests — cost-cutting and fraud prevention — saying that Pennsylvania already had one of the lowest fraud rates in the nation, and added the program is funded by the federal government.
“It’s not going to save the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a single dime,” Vilsack said.
“The money for the program is federally funded. Number two, it’s likely going to cost the commonwealth of Pennsylvania money because when you institute an asset test you have to make sure that you create a process by which those applications are reviewed.”
On Wednesday, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell warned that an asset test would be expensive to administer and harmful to the economy, particularly in poor neighborhoods where food stamps are often a major source of business for small grocery stores.
“They’re not all minority, they’re not all urban dwellers,” Rendell said at a Capitol news conference with about a dozen state House Democrats. “They’re our neighbors.”
If the Corbett administration’s plan is costly and unnecessary why is it being proposed?
The answer is gutter politics.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s attacks on the food stamps program and calling President Obama “the food stamps president,” were thinly disguised racial code words that helped him win the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
Gingrich linked food stamps with Blacks although the majority of the people using food stamps are not African American. According to 2010 Census numbers, about 26 percent of food stamp recipients are African American, 49 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic.
At a time when Americans are facing sustained unemployment and rising food prices, Corbett and conservative Republicans are shamelessly attacking one of the most reliable safety nets for families who suddenly find themselves unable to pay for food.
Shipyard signs $400M contract with ExxonMobil
A Houston-based affiliate of ExxonMobil and the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard signed a $400 million contract for two oil tankers on Monday, sealing a pact expected to create more than 600 local jobs.
The additional jobs will push the total number of jobs at the shipyard to over 1,000, officials said, trumpeting the project for the jobs it would generate.
“This will take our numbers back up to more than 1,000 highly skilled, highly competent craftsmen and women who work on these new ships,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “What a spectacular achievement right here in Philadelphia. It’s a spectacular achievement that we’re still making ships here in the Navy Yard. It will only continue. It will only grow.”
The event drew a number of the state’s most prominent politicians to the shipyard for a ceremonial contract signing between SeaRiver Maritime and Acker in front a hulking segment of a ship — not one of the tankers — already under construction.
They all echoed Nutter, extolling the project as something that set a pattern for future growth.
“An investment here, in the people of Philadelphia, in this shipyard, is an investment on behalf of all Pennsylvania,” said Gov. Tom Corbett. “Because anywhere that Pennsylvanians succeed all Pennsylvanians succeed.”
One of the first acts of Corbett’s administration was providing the shipyard with $42 million in state funds.
Asked by reporters why he approved the funds at a time when the state was facing a deficit of more than $1 billion, Corbett answered that he viewed the move as an investment that would pay dividends for the state.
“We’re going to get it back through the employment here,” he said, meaning that ultimately the tax revenue generated by employees and the yard itself would cover the state’s investment.
“If Philadelphia grows Pennsylvania grows,” he said. “It is the job of government to help business create jobs for all of you, and that’s what we were working for.”
All of the jobs created through the construction of the two ships will be union jobs. According to Kristian Rokke, CEO of Acker, contracts were recently ratified with 11 unions involved in ship construction, allowing the shipyard to move forward.
“These people are highly skilled and motivated,” Rokke said. “They give me the confidence to say, “We are going to build these vessels to high standards. We’re going to deliver them on time and on budget.”
The latest incarnation of the shipyard, now the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, opened in 2000, reinvigorating the stagnant facility. Prior to that, the shipyard, then the Naval Shipyard, employed roughly 7,000 people when it closed in 1995, raising doubts as to the future of what was once one of the busiest shipyards on the east coast.
Construction of the two ships is expected to begin in mid-2012 with SeaRiver Maritime taking delivery of both vessels in 2014. When completed, the two ships — Liberty class tankers, each 820 feet long, 115,000 tons — will be used to transport crude oil from Alaska to ports along the West Coast. Each double-hulled tanker will be able to carry 34 million gallons of crude. Both ships will be equipped with state of the art navigation equipment, oil mist and gas detection systems, and cleaner burning engines.
They will be the 17th and 18th ships built in Philadelphia by Aker.
“When these ships set sail they will sustain jobs in Alaska and in ports of call along the west coast,” said Andy Swiger, senior vice president from ExxonMobil. “And they will support good jobs at refineries and plants across America.”
On Sunday August 12 at 6 p.m., area clergy leaders will band together to host a “Voter ID Rally” at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 12th Street & Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
According to Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law, Act 18 of 2012 (starting with the upcoming November 2012 General Election), state law now requires voters to show an acceptable photo ID to vote at the polls. All IDs must contain a name, a photo and an expiration date that is current, unless otherwise noted. And there are restrictions on what’s considered acceptable identification.
“A number of clergy from the Philadelphia community have decided to come together, because we are very upset with the efforts in Harrisburg to suppress the votes, particularly in the African American and Hispanic communities,” said the Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. The rally is designed to educate the voters on what proper identification they will need to vote in the upcoming November election.
“This rally is so important that we’re asking for all people, here in this great city, to come to Bright Hope Baptist Church on Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. … this election is too crucial, our people have fought too much, bled too much, died too much, during the early part of the 20th century, we cannot allow their hard work and sacrifice to be in vain, simply because we’re not educated and registered to vote.”
The Rev. Dr. William Moore, senior pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church said: “We want to push for a large [voter] turnout, not a low turnout. We want people to participate in this election in November, in this political process, as they’ve never done before. … We want this [year’s voter turnout] to make a statement in the political process.”
Including Johnson and Moore, the other key Voter ID clergy coordinators for Sunday’s Voter ID Rally include:
·The Rev. Charles Quann, Bethlehem Baptist Church
·The Rev. James Baker, President of AME Minister’s Alliance of Philadelphia, Harrisburg & Vicinity
·Bishop Audrey Brunson, Sanctuary of the Open Door
·The Rev. Wayne M. Weathers, Miller Memorial Baptist Church
·The Rev. J. Daniel Jones, President of Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity
Some prominent Pennsylvanian Republicans disagree with the thought that the Voter ID Law is a form of voter suppression. They earnestly believe that it’s a way to protect and ensure the integrity of the voting process and individual voter rights.
Responding to the groundswell of foul-cries from Pennsylvanians, the media, and the legal communities regarding the new Voter ID law, Carol Aichele, secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, issued a recent statewide letter to Pennsylvanians to quell tensions and to educate voters on requirements to vote in the upcoming November election. Aichele wrote: “My goal, as secretary of the Commonwealth, is to make sure that every eligible voter has an opportunity to vote and that every vote counts. Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law requires voters to show a photo ID … This gives one person one vote.”
On Aug. 6, Gov. Tom Corbett told The Tribune at the Governor’s Mansion: “in this day and age, when everywhere we go, we’re asked for photo ID, why [is] everybody so upset about that? I think everybody wants to ensure, that: A, they have the right to vote, and this [voter ID law] isn’t stopping anyone from the right to vote; and B, that they vote one time, and where they’re supposed to vote. That’s all we’re asking for.”
According to Aichele, the following is a list of acceptable photo IDs issued by the U.S. Government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:
·Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT photo ID card (valid for voting 12 months past expiration date)
·U.S. military ID (active duty and retired military IDs may designate an expiration date that is indefinite). Military dependents’ IDs must contain a current expiration date.
·Employee photo identification issued by federal, Pennsylvania, or a Pennsylvania County, or municipal government
·Photo identification issued by an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning
·Photo identification issued by a Pennsylvania care facility
In the case of a voter who has a RELIGIOUS OBJECTION to being photographed, acceptable IDs include the following:
·Valid without-photo Pennsylvania driver’s license
·PennDOT without-photo identification card
What if a voter does not have an acceptable form of ID?
·A person who is registered to vote, but does not have an acceptable form of ID, may obtain a FREE PHOTO ID for voting purposes at a PennDOT Driver’s License Center.
Pennsylvanians can view or download a free copy of voter identification requirements and related information by logging online to:
For more information about the voter ID rally, contact the Rev. Kevin Johnson at 215-232-6004 or the Rev. William Moore, 215-787-2780.
Leroy Nunery seeks continued test score growth, better rapport with union
In a wide-ranging meeting with The Philadelphia Tribune earlier this week, acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery spoke optimistically about his future with the Philadelphia School District, enthusiastically about getting students up to speed in a digital age, with trepidation about the relationship between the district and the city’s teachers’ union, and not at all about his role in the Martin Luther King High School quagmire.
The runner-up to former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for the job in 2008, Nunery, who has lived and worked in the city for the last 13 years, said if he does not succeed in his present job, there is no need to even think about leading the country’s eighth-largest school district.
“I’m not going to put any further thought into it,” Nunery said. “If I don’t do the job that I’m tasked with doing today, then it won’t matter in three or four months, so that’s where I am.
“Do I believe I have the qualifications? Yes,” said Nunery, adding that he has not spoken with Mayor Michael Nutter about the job. “I’ve already been vetted through the process once. I’ve been in this seat and, quite frankly, I’m doing my old job as deputy superintendent in the current job as acting superintendent at the same time.”
Nunery, who served as Ackerman’s deputy for 14 months before she agreed to a $905,000 buyout of her contract in August, knows that there will be a national search to fill the position.
He does, however, think that he has shown the commitment required to do the job. For years he worked with Edison Schools in New York, but continued to raise his family here.
“I’ve been around a lot of folks, from labor union heads to presidents of universities, community leader and public officials,” Nunery said.
“That doesn’t mean that those things are going to buffer me, but at least I know my way around town. It’s not starting from scratch; it’s more about having a running start and there are some real advantages to that. But if I don’t get the superintendent’s job, if I decide that I’m interested in it, I’ll still be in education because this is what I’ve been called to do. As for the national search, the whole idea of looking for the best talent is something that the city is owed.”
Nunery spoke glowingly about the smooth start to the school year. However, he acknowledged that the budget cuts — the result of the effort to close the $680 million budget gap — have left the district with a skeleton staff. Cuts have reduced staff at central headquarters on Broad Street by 50 percent.
Overall, the district staff, according to Nunery, has been reduced by 30 percent.
Since schools opened last month, Nunery has busied himself by “getting out to as many schools as possible in the community, meeting with business and community leaders.”
Whether or not Nunery ultimately becomes the superintendent, the disparity and apparent inequity in the awarding of contracts to city businesses will continue to be an issue. As recently as 2003, in an overwhelmingly African-American school district, minority and women-owned businesses just got 2 percent of the pie. An anti-discrimination policy adopted that year boosted that number to 27 percent in 2010. However, fewer than half of those dollars went to African-American contractors.
Nunery said that African-Americans must do a better job of providing the goods and services that the school district needs. He used as an example the purchasing of textbooks, saying that not a lot of African-American companies sell text books.
In the past, African-American companies, according to Nunery, have benefitted in areas of providing social and support services. But in order to receive a larger piece of the pie, Nunery said, businesses will have to provide the services that the budget-strapped district requires.
“There will be more opportunities in construction, retrofitting buildings and things of that nature. That is where you are going to have more opportunities. We have got to turn some of these buildings into more energy-efficient buildings. So there are going to be a lot of opportunities for local businesses.”
Although Nunery says the district is not where it wants to be in terms of graduation rates and improving academic performance, it can point to nine straight years of rising test scores.
Nunery says this is not enough. He said that too many children are graduating from schools — not just in Philadelphia, but all over the country — needing remedial help once they get to college. He referred to a recent conversation with a local administrator in which he was told that three-fourths of the students coming out the school district need remedial assistance, mostly, he says, in technical areas.
“We have to get our kids up to speed in the areas of science, technology, math and science so that the district can be more market responsive,” he said. “We want our children to be more digitally proficient. If that is going to happen, the teachers are going to require more training in that area. It’s that simple.”
Nunery also hopes to develop a better working relationship with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. He knows that the union does not favor teacher evaluations — the city’s union chose not to participate in the state’s pilot program.
However, Gov. Tom Corbett, in releasing his education agenda earlier this week, highlighted improved standards in teacher evaluations as one of his main goals.
“This is coming, the whole idea of teacher evaluations.” said Nunery, adding that he has had a number of good conversations with union boss Jerry Jordan. “The conversation for us is about getting both sides on the same side.”
What isn’t coming any time soon from Nunery is an explanation of what he meant when describing a meeting about Martin Luther King High School becoming a charter school as being like a scene from “The Godfather.”
Nunery attended the meeting — along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, former School Reform Commission Chair Robert L. Archie and Mosaica Turnaround Partners President John Porter. Mosaica had been chosen to manage King over Evans’ charter partner, Foundations Inc., just hours earlier.
Mosaica backed out following that meeting, King never became a charter, and last month a scathing report out of the mayor’s office determined that Archie’s and Evans’ actions were inappropriate.
“What I said is in the report,” said Nunery, refusing further comment.
It has been a difficult, challenging, and news-filled week here in Philadelphia, and for that matter, across the nation. That’s not a complaint — as a columnist, I prefer having a wide choice of subjects to grouse about, as opposed to staring at a blank screen for a half hour, waiting for inspiration.
President Barack Obama finally produced his promised common sense proposals on gun control — to the anger and consternation of the National Rifle Association and their trigger-happy supporters, who insist that owning powerful assault rifles and high-capacity magazines that you can’t possibly use for legitimate home defense purposes are still somehow an inalienable right of citizenship. Next they’ll tell us that the Second Amendment also covers tanks, bazookas, battleships and armed drones.
Locally, we had a horrific kidnapping — some sick piece of work decided to snatch a child from her elementary school classroom. Thank God the baby was found relatively unharmed — if you call being left half-naked and freezing on a playground in the middle of the night unharmed. As the father of a daughter who is the light of my life, I cannot imagine what hell those parents went through, but I can tell you this — if it were my child, I would make every effort to find the perpetrators myself. Our criminal justice system is far too merciful to give them the punishment they truly deserve.
The School District of Philadelphia’s immovable object of a plan to close three dozen schools by the end of the year has finally been met by the irresistible force of angry parents and advocates who are tired of watching schools be picked apart piece by piece. First the non-teaching assistants, school nurses, and librarians get the boot; then the art and music programs are deemed unnecessary, then finally the whole building gets padlocked. People are angry, and sooner rather than later, expect the villagers to gather with the pitchforks and torches.
And while it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of the previous stories, there was the matter of Chip Kelly, the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, who is now the head coach of the hapless Philadelphia Eagles. This probably means several more painful seasons of sub-par football, with lots of talk about “rebuilding the franchise.” Goodbye playoffs, see you in 2018.
But a heavy news week also brings with it an unforeseen hazard - the old under-the-radar political move. You know the drill - while we’re all distracted by guns, kidnappings, and Shawty Low’s baby mamas, savvy politicians know that the time is right to enact the crazy, the untested, and the unpalatable ideas they’ve had floating around a while, waiting for the perfect opportunity.
This week’s misdirection and sleight of hand comes to us courtesy of an expert in the craft - our old friend Gov. Tom Corbett.
While you were worried about closing schools and assault rifles in the hands of maniacs, Corbett was selling the state’s lottery system right out from under you - to some British firm who was the only bidder on the contract.
I’m not saying the deal wasn’t on the up and up, only that it smells fishy. Why the rush to get it done right now, in spite of the objections of many in his own party? Now folks are asking the right questions, and newly sworn-in Attorney General Kathleen Kane has 30 days to review the deal. I hope she has her staff working nights and weekends for the next month, and goes over this thing with a fine-toothed comb.
And finally, as the topper, Corbett has gotten together with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on a plan to rig the next presidential election. That’s right, I said rig.
You may recall from November that President Obama won Pennsylvania and the 20 Electoral College votes that come with it, a winner take-all-system that has worked just fine until now. Well, the Priebus-Corbett plan would allocate electoral votes by congressional district, rather than by states as a whole, meaning that in states that consistently vote for Democratic presidential candidates, the gerrymandered Republican congressional districts would get shares of the electoral vote, even when their candidate loses the state.
What it means, in a nutshell, is that Mitt Romney would have won the bulk of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes, even while losing the popular vote to Obama. Multiply that by the number of states Priebus plans to rig, and Plastic Man would be sitting in the White House right now.
See what happens when you’re distracted during a busy week?
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
Now resuscitated, program had been dead for over a year
The crucial Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program has new life, and thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners can finally exhale in relief, thanks to the commonwealth receiving its share of a multi-million dollar, federal settlement with five of the nation’s largest mortgage grantors.
The bulk of Pennsylvania’s share — $66.5 million — will go toward HEMAP and other housing-related services.
“With the receipt of these funds, HEMAP will now begin accepting applications,” Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett said. “The foreclosure prevention assistance provided by HEMAP directly helps families in danger of foreclosure. This multi-year funding for HEMAP will not only help troubled homeowners, but will play a role in restoring the health of our state’s housing industry.”
In June, Corbett signed Senate Bill 1433, which became the Homeowner Assistance Settlement Act, which authorized the disbursement of the state’s share of the settlement.
According to Corbett’s office, HEMAP will receive 90 percent of these funds over the course of several years, with the remaining ten percent going to several consumer protection services overseen by the attorney general. HEMAP will also receive an additional $6 million to deal with the anticipated backlog of applications.
Homeowners who are at least three months delinquent on mortgage payments are eligible for HEMAP; information is available on the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency website: www.PHFA.org.
“We’re grateful to Governor Corbett, Attorney General Kelly and the legislature for making this funding available,” said Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency Executive Director and CEO Brian A. Hudson Sr. “HEMAP has a proven track record for working to keep families in their homes, which helps communities as a whole.
“Many families and neighborhoods will benefit from this renewed funding for HEMAP.”
The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Unemployment Project both hailed HEMAP’s resuscitation.
HEMAP was started in 1983 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure mining bust in Western Pennsylvania that ravished the homeowner base at the time. During the last 29 years, HEMAP has provided foreclosure prevention assistance to more than 46,000 families and the program has maintained an 85 percent success rate for helping families stay in their homes.
“This is great news and is the result of a year-long campaign by advocates around the state to get the program reinstated after it was closed due to budget cuts in July 2011,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Liz Hersh, who referenced a recent report by The Reinvestment Fund, which provided a synopsis of what housing in Pennsylvania would look like without the existence of HEMAP. “HEMAP actually reduced the foreclosure rate in Pennsylvania during the depths of the crisis; it is 85 percent effective in preventing foreclosure and it ends up saving the Commonwealth money.
“Most importantly, it buffers homeowners facing foreclosure through no fault of their own due to job loss or illness, by giving them a bridge loan until they get back on their feet.”
Philadelphia Unemployment Project Executive Director John Dodds and Hersh have led several caravans to marches on Harrisburg over the matter, and have petitioned several politicians to refund HEMAP, and Dodds believes the efforts were worth it.
“We are really happy that HEMAP is now available to homeowners again after over a year closed due to budget cuts,” Dodds said. “Organizations and homeowners from around the state came together in the PA Save Our Homes Coalition and worked on restoring the program for the past year. Restarting HEMPAP is one of the few good things that have come out of this year’s budget process.”
TAMPA, Fla. — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney finished the GOP’s 40th Republican National Convention yesterday by giving his vision for America to the American public and the more than 5,000 delegates in Tampa.
Dr. Jason Johnson is an African-American professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio. Johnson, who also is a contributing writer for the Politics365 website, attended this year’s GOP convention and said Romney and Ryan’s speeches played well to the GOP party faithful, but he’s not sure if it swayed independents and African-Americans enough to swing the election for Romney.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney is going to do any better with Black people than [Arizona U.S. Sen.] John McCain [in the 2008 general election],” Johnson said. “He [Romney] may go up another percentage point, but he will not break five [percent of the nationwide African-American vote] and that is what he is looking at. He is looking at a situation where he would need to depress turnout for Obama, keep his turnout high, and keep a lot of people from registering to vote if Romney actually has a chance to win the election. Those are three clearly complicated things. They can be accomplished — but they would sort of require a perfect storm for Mitt Romney.”
Finding African-American voting delegates and alternative delegates at this year’s convention was difficult.
The Republican National Convention Press Office tells The Tribune the party does not breakdown delegates by race, so they are not able to provide racial breakdown numbers. This year, 2,286 voting delegates and 2,125 alternative delegates attended the Convention.
Time Magazine’s Swampland website reports that just 46 African-American delegates were at this year’s convention, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The number of African-American delegates was at its highest at 167 in 2004, 16.7 percent of the overall total.
In the delegations representing the Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware), New Jersey had the largest number of African-American and minority delegates with five. N.J. GOP Party spokesman Douglass Mayer said they are voting delegates Aubrey Fenton, Mt. Laurel; Keith Walker, Camden; Ronald Perry, Rahway; Harold Edwards Sr,, Newark; and alternate delegate Evern Ford, Woodstown.
Pennsylvania’s delegation has two African-Americans and one Asian as part of the delegation. Philadelphians Lewis Harris, chairman of the Philadelphia Republicans of Color, and Calvin Tucker, Republican 22nd Ward leader, were elected delegates and had a vote on the floor.
Long-time Pennsylvania Republican Renee Amoore attended the convention in her role as party vice chairwoman. City Councilman David Oh attended as a non-voting alternative delegate appointed by Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason.
Delaware GOP Chairman John Sigler said grassroots activist Mark Parks of Bear, Del. is the lone African-American in his delegation. Parks is an alternate delegate. Delaware had 17 voting delegates and 14 alternate delegates.
The African-American delegates interviewed say they share a deep pride in the 2008 historic election of the nation’s first African-American president but they feel the Romney/Ryan ticket is the best shot for future economic prosperity for everyone.
“Historically, I was proud that Barack Obama became the president [in 2008],” said Tucker, who is also co-chair of the Philadelphia Black Republican Council. “I didn’t vote for him. I didn’t support him…Just like a lot of presidents they make significant missteps and they do good things. On the average, (Obama’s) missteps have been things that haven’t advanced our cause as an African-American group.
Dr. C.T. Wright, who was president of Cheyney University from 1982-85, attended the convention along with his wife, Mary. Wright was an elected alternative delegate from Arizona, and the only African-Americans among that delegation’s 29 delegates and 28 alternative delegates.
“I did not support Obama four years ago, and one reason is that Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain was running,” Wright said. “I really admire President Obama, and he has some great policies as well…the thing I am disappointed with in Barack Obama is the fact that he has not been as successful in bringing this country together. We need some leadership to bring this country together. “
Wright doesn’t support the Obama’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion. He says Romney will win Arizona, but he would not predict whether the Romney/Ryan ticket will win on election day.
Rachel Kemp is an African-American female delegate from Boston who attended her first convention. She was also chair of the government reform subcommittee for the party’s platform committee. She believes the Romney/Ryan ticket must stress job creation in order to win the White House.
“Everyone is thinking about jobs and within the African-American community the unemployment rates have been double digit,” Kemp said. “We need to talk about how we’re put the infrastructure back in place so the public knows they are not being kept out of the equation.
“ I’m an American first,” Kemp continued. “I’m not an African-American or a Black American—I’m an American first. I need to think what is best for this country. I don’t think he (Obama) was necessarily prepared to become President of the United States and it was that experience that was lacking.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation to the convention, said minorities should strongly consider looking at voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket this year.
“The economy that we have seen and the lack of growth in the economy over the last four years has affected, more so, people in the minority communities than anywhere else and they should be looking for a change,” Corbett said. “We’re going to try and present that change to them.”
In 1996, Republican Bob Dole received 12 percent of the African-American vote to Democrat Bill Clinton’s 82 percent. In 2000, George W. Bush received nine percent of the African-American vote to Vice President Al Gore’s 90 percent. In 2004, then President Bush received 11 percent of the African-American vote. And in 2008, John McCain received four percent of the African-American vote.
“ They (GOP) have generally won presidential elections without a lot of minority voters,” Johnson said. “They don’t make the African-American community a priority. If Republicans really wanted to attract black people, they would talk about policies that are applicable to Black people and they don’t. They primarily talk about policies that are beneficial to the while middle class.and that is why Blacks tend to flock to the Democrats.”
When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his school reform plan last fall, he said, “When we have failing schools, we know we have failing students.”
Except as the case study of the Chester Upland School District shows, it’s not the kids who are failing. It is we as a commonwealth who are failing them.
There is nothing unusual, unfortunately, in school systems facing bankruptcy — Philadelphia and Reading are alarmingly wobbly. But Corbett’s refusal to advance funds that are due to be distributed to Chester Upland later this year — and his willingness to leave 3,650 mostly low-income youths from the district with literally no place to learn — has made some of us who invest in the district wondering what he is thinking.
A recent order from a federal district court judge to transfer $3.2 million to the district has averted a total shutdown. Now the governor says that the schools will stay open for the rest of the year. The crisis isn’t over, though, not in Chester Upland or the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The bitter debate about who is responsible for this disaster has essentially been a replay of the battle that warring educational ideologies have been fighting for two decades. Along the way, the well-being of children, their community and Pennsylvania’s economy are being ignored. How can we expect these students to grow into productive, law-abiding, responsible adults when today’s leaders can’t deliver the most basic building block of education?
It isn’t the children or their families who are to blame. It is the elected and appointed officials who opt not to invest in their future. Numerous studies have proven the net savings and benefits from investments in education.
A study by the Economic Policy Institute projected that providing universal pre-school in Pennsylvania would have an 8:1 benefit by 2050. Studies also highlight the financial impact of the education gap. A report by the McKinsey Corp. showed that if minority student performance had reached white students by 1998, the GDP in 2009 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher — or approximately 2 percent to 4 percent of GDP. The report also says the achievement gaps in this country are the same as having “a permanent national recession.”
Cutting the dropout rate in half would yield $45 billion annually in new federal tax revenues or cost savings, according to a report by Columbia University’s Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College.
With its budget cuts, the commonwealth is reneging on our 150-year social contract to provide a quality education for all children, the kind of education that provided a lifeline to earlier generations and that enables the mobility that is central to the American dream. And it is the sort of regressive thinking that will saddle our grandchildren with ongoing social costs.
It isn’t fair and it isn’t smart. Helping children overcome the barriers they face from poverty (and its companion, violence) is the leading educational challenge of our time, and the only way to deal adequately with a sagging economy.
Budget cuts in state education funding have forced all Pennsylvania’s public school systems to cut back. But because the poorer districts rely more on state funding, the cuts affect their students more profoundly. These young people have been denied opportunities that children in wealthier districts still enjoy. They have been devalued, under-educated and not provided the tools they need to succeed.
This goes well beyond Chester, and it has ramifications beyond even individual successes and failures. “Many of these students, (who) have seen so much tragedy, loss and rejection in 16 years than most will see in a lifetime now ... are hit again,” a Chester Upland teacher emailed Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. When the students thought about the possibility of being sent to other school districts, the teacher wrote, a common response was, “they won’t do that; nobody wants us.” Is this the Pennsylvania we have become? Is this the national and international news we want to create?
We at the Stoneleigh Foundation have seen what a modest investment in Chester’s young people can accomplish. Expanding youth courts in several Chester Upland schools and from there to the rest of Pennsylvania is helping young people who have been in trouble to learn respect, practice responsibility and become more engaged in school. Imagine what adequate and stable state funding could mean to them.
We owe all our children more than they are getting. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to support an educational system where they can not only survive but thrive.
Gov. Corbett had it right last fall when he said, “We can’t guarantee their success, but we owe all students a fighting chance. We’re talking about our children, and we owe it to them to reform the system.” Fine words, but they need determined actions to back them up. — (AP)
Cathy Weiss is executive director of the Stoneleigh Foundation, which funds the work of Greg Volz who launched youth courts in the Chester Upland School District.