City Councilman-at-Large David Oh, through his Black Film Advisory Committee, presents “The Next Step: Black Filmmaking in Philadelphia.” One of the committee’s main objectives is to make Philadelphia a hub for aspiring filmmakers, and tomorrow’s free and interactive event will feature networking and an expert panel discussing what it takes to break into and succeed in the film industry from the Black perspective.
“Providing an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers is a natural fit for the creative/innovation focus of my city council committee” said Councilman Oh, chairman of the committee on global opportunities and the creative/innovative economy. “The goal of this event is to have Philadelphia-based experts who have succeeded in the film industry share their advice and insights with people who want to follow the same career path.”
The expert panel will include Charlie Mack and Jamal Hill, the producer/director team of “Streets”; Tanya Hamilton, writer and director of “Night Catches Us”; Q Deezy of Hot 107.9 Philly FM and producer and actor in “Exit Strategy”; James Elam, producer of several feature films and documentaries; and Rel Dowdell, writer/director of “Changing the Game.” The moderator of the panel will be Michael Dennis (aka Mike D.), award-winning filmmaker and founder of Reelblack.
“Technology has really made it possible for anybody with an idea to execute on a high level as far as production quality value,” explained Dennis, who is a member of the advisory committee. “In the past, when everything was filmed, it was prohibitively expensive for most people to consider themselves making feature films. But with the DVD and digital, there are more opportunities for people to become filmmakers. I think the objective is ‘how do you make better films that people want to see?’ I mean nobody wants to make a film and then have it stuck in a drawer. These people on the panel have actually done it. They are all of the filmmakers that have not only produced feature films, but gotten them distributed nationally. They’ve taken different paths, but we’re calling it the ‘Next Step’ because hopefully, wherever you are in your evolution or development you’ll come away inspired to go further and learn either how to do it or learn from the panelist’s mistakes so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.”
“The Next Step: Black Filmmaking in Philadelphia” takes place on Jan. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street. The free event is open to all aspiring filmmakers in Philadelphia. To RSVP, visit http://bfac.eventbrite.com. For more information, visit facebook.com/PhillyBFAC.
Its first meeting resulted in Philadelphia City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones both supporting its platform.
Now, POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild — hopes to make further inroads with its second “Economic Justice Forum” to be held Tuesday, June 12 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The topic du jour is the planned $6-billion expansion of the Philadelphia International Airport, a project that is slated to create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs. The expansion could take 15 years to complete.
POWER’s officials want to make sure that an equal portion of the jobs created by the project go to qualified minority workers.
Longtime Arch Street United Methodist Church Reverend Robin Hynicka said he has seen the damages wrought by economic inequality, and has prayed that a project like this would come along and revitalize the economy — and certainly the qualified workers among his flock.
“For over 30 years, I have prayed with unemployed and underemployed folks who live in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. While some of my prayers were answered and individuals found work, far too many others in the neighborhood never did. I am still praying but the prayer is bigger, bolder and in unison with clergy and laity from over 36 congregations,” Hynicka said. “Our collaborative prayer includes the vision for 10,000 new jobs for unemployed Philadelphians, the creation of training programs and support systems that provide preparation for these jobs and the passing of legislation that creates a practical pathway to these jobs.
“In particular, this prayer includes support for City Council to enact legislation that will provide opportunity for Philadelphia residents to work at the temporary and permanent jobs that will be created by the Philadelphia International Airport Expansion Project,” he added.
This is the second of four such meetings POWER has established at community locations throughout the city. Council members Johnson and Jones attended the last meeting, and Council members Bill Green, David Oh and Mark Squilla have confirmed their attendance for Tuesday’s meeting, POWER officials said.
The timing is crucial. Earlier this month, the city took a huge step forward in the planning of the expansion, hiring three firms to manage the logistics of the project. Minority firms Delon Hampton & Associates and CMTS Inc. will join CH2M Hill, the lead planning company for the expansion.
The project has met some opposition, particularly from residents of Tinicum Township, several of whom may be dislocated by the expansion. US Airways — one the airport’s biggest users — has also filed a federal lawsuit to block the expansion.
The third time was a charm for attorney David Oh, who appears to be the winner in a tight race against former candidate for mayor, Al Taubenberger for a City Council-at-large seat.
He will be the first Asian-American member of Council in the city’s history.
“I think it’s a point of pride for Asian Americans in Philadelphia,” Oh told the Inquirer on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we’re all Philadelphians, and it’s important that we all come together to improve our city.”
He did not respond to repeated attempts by the Tribune to reach him.
For a while, it appeared that Oh, who seemed to be jinxed in his attempts to win a council seat, could lose yet again.
Votes tallied on Nov. 8 gave him a razor thin lead of 140 votes. Counting of provisional and absentee ballots — about 2,800 ballots — wrapped up Tuesday giving Oh a lead of 171 votes.
That lead remains unofficial until election results are certified.
But, Taubenberger conceded Tuesday evening telling reporters: “It’s back to my day job at the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.”
Taubenberger is the president of the chamber. Like Oh, he has tried for years to capture a public seat. He challenged Mayor Michael Nutter in his first race for mayor.
Oh’s win makes him the second of two Republicans who will take at-large seats in January. The other is state Rep. Dennis O’Brien.
It was Oh’s third run for a council seat. He also ran in 2007 and 2003.
Four years ago he lost in an extremely tight race to Jack Kelly and vote-counting dragged on for two weeks.
This time around he collected some big name endorsements, but the campaign got dirty in August when several stories appeared in the press that questioned Oh’s military record and publicized his arrest in the mid-1990s on gun charges.
The stories gave union boss John Dougherty the material needed to attack Oh with fliers raising questions about Oh’s suitability for office. Dougherty was apparently trying to weaken Oh, because he would not commit to support Councilman Darrell Clarke for Council president.
Oh, who grew up and lives in Cobbs Creek, served on former Mayor Ed Rendell’s transition team and was Gov. Tom Ridge’s point man on a trade mission to South Korea. He worked as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office and served on a variety of civic boards.
He is just one of six new members to take their seats in January in a sweeping restructuring of City Council made possible by a series of retirements.
Six new council members took their seats Thursday under the leadership of a new president and immediately began weighing several meaty issues, including: a plan to extend bar hours to 3 a.m., creation of a new Economic Opportunity Review Committee, and a proposal to require certain projects funded by the city to hire Philadelphians exclusively.
“To my new colleagues: Guys, you are in for one heck of a ride,” said Council President Darrell Clarke as he opened the meeting welcoming new members: Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Sixth District representative Bobby Henon, Second District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, First District Councilman Mark Squilla and At-Large Councilmen Denny O’Brien and David Oh.
The change in leadership style was evident immediately, as Clarke, now wielding the gavel, made it clear that public comment would be limited to the three minutes required by law — but no longer.
“I intend to hold faithfully to the three minute limit,” Clarke said, adding that after three minutes the microphone would be disconnected. He added, “I reserve the right to limit repetitious comment on some matters.”
It was the first meeting where Clarke presided in the historic council chamber. He replaced Anna C. Verna on Jan. 2. Verna was often lenient with public speakers, allowing them to speak beyond the three minutes required by law.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting Clarke said he hoped he could fill Verna’s shoes.
“Standing up at the big chair … there’s actually a little more going on than I anticipated,” he said.
Several important pieces of legislation were introduced this week.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a proposal to extend bar hours from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. in an effort to raise money for the city’s schools. She estimated the move would generate $5 million in new tax revenue that she said would spent on education.
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. introduced a bill he hopes will beef up minority participation in city contracts.
Goode’s proposal would set up a committee – the Economic Opportunity Review Committee – to review contracts from all city departments to ensure they are complying with efforts to hit the city’s minority participation goals. The five-member committee would draw its members from labor and business, with the proviso that not more than two can be businessmen.
It would also meet quarterly in public to hear concerns about the process, something that is not being done. Goode hopes the hearing will provide a place for the public to help council keep an eye on how contracts are being handled.
“This is not about ‘no snitching.” This is about ‘go snitch,’” Goode said.
The city has a 25 percent overall participation goal, but departmental goals vary. That fact can be used to manipulate the overall participation rate, he said.
As an example, Goode pointed to the Department of Public Health, which had a 2012 goal of 3 percent. In 2011 they achieved a goal of 53 percent.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that an in-depth look at the departmental goals showed only 16 of 42 city departments actually achieved their minority participation goals.
Last year, the city hit its 25 percent goal.
Goode would like to see it increased.
“I actually believe the goal should, and can be, higher,” he said. “The goal should be pushed to about 30 percent.”
The committee would also formally create a structure that could allow council to oversee minority participation. At the moment, the administration has that function, but Goode said the fact that goals are set and administered by executive order leaves the process vulnerable with each change of administration.
Goode also introduced a tax credit bill that would set up a $5,000 tax credit against the city’s business taxes for businesses that create new jobs for tax years 2012 and 2013.
In another piece of legislation intended to make sure Philadelphian have access to jobs, Councilman Bill Green introduced a proposal that would require certain public works and non-professional service jobs to be given to Philadelphians.
Under the plan, all jobs stemming from competitive, city-funded contracts over $150,000 would have to go to Philadelphia residents. Beneficiaries of certain subsidies would have to give first consideration to Philadelphians for all new jobs, and Philadelphia firms would be given a 5 percent preference in the allocating of bids.
“Philadelphia sorely needs to create jobs,” Green said, noting that the city’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9 percent.. “It … makes sense to expand residency requirements when we ask contractors to perform work on our behalf.”
Finally, council adopted Clarke’s new rules, which limit public comment to items on its second and final passage calendar. In addition, new rules prohibit public comment on privileged resolutions, since they are not legally binding.
“It’s just a small change,” Clarke said, predicting it would streamline council meetings.
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.”
Pennsylvania’s newly signed voter identification law is an attempt to disenfranchise minority, poor and older voters; and block President Barack Obama’s re-election bid, contend a number of local officials.
Conversely, the local tea party applauded the measure.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed H.B. 934 Wednesday evening, just after the state House approved it, making the commonwealth the sixteenth state to pass such legislation.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by Republican leadership to keep seniors, minorities and low-income citizens from their constitutional right to vote,” said Rep. Ron Waters, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who voted against the law. “Pennsylvania will have the distinction of moving backwards with this discriminatory bill. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it will eventually be overturned at taxpayer expense.”
The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, was approved by the House in a 104-88 vote, dividing members along partisan lines.
It will not affect voting in the April 24 primary, but thereafter all Pennsylvanians to show photo identification before voting.
Corbett said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud.
“I am signing this bill because it protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation,” Corbett said in a statement. “That principle is: one person, one vote. It sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.”
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood scoffed at that notion.
“Give us proof of recent instance of voter fraud,” she said, predicting “chaos” at the polls. “To me the whole crux of this is this — this is a format to stop Barack Obama. Look at the states that have passed this draconian measure, either the legislature is Republican controlled or the governor is Republican.”
“They want to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president,” he said. “This measure violates not only the Constitution, but our own state constitution that says elections must be free and clear and without government interference. This is the same as instituting a poll tax or requiring literacy tests, and will have a detrimental impact on voters.”
Not everyone opposed the law.
“Voter fraud … is a big problem in our state — especially in urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” said Teri Adams, president of the Independence Tea Party Association. “We can no longer tolerate imposters voting for dead people, or fraudulent votes being cast by individuals claiming to live in non-existent residences,” said Adams.
Already the law faces the threat of legal action.
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams was among those who voted against the bill when it went to the Senate last week, and said the fight against the new law is not over. Opponents may take their fight to the courts. In Wisconsin, a judge issued an injunction against a similar law in that state; and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved to block voter ID bills in Texas and South Carolina.
“While I’m disappointed that the state House has continued this march toward voter disenfranchisement, the battle is not over. The Constitutional right to vote is too important to institute disingenuous hurdles at the ballot box, period,” said Williams. “States that already have gone down this road have seen the error of their ways, as injunctions in Wisconsin and Texas demonstrate. There will be a lawsuit filed on behalf of those voters, who, though today eligible, tomorrow would not have their vote counted once HB 934 is enacted.”
Acceptable forms of identification include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver license photo ID, a military ID, valid U.S. passport, county or municipal employee identification, college ID or personal care home ID.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the organization is planning legal action against the law.
Some citizens will lose the vote if this becomes law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But those who want to block the vote should not be fooled into thinking that this is over once the governor signs it. The next stop for this bad idea is in a court of law, and we are prepared to challenge it vigorously. Our legal team is currently mapping a strategy for overturning this voter suppression bill. In the week since the Senate passed the bill, the phone calls and emails from citizens who are concerned they or a loved one will lose the vote have increased dramatically. We are confident that we can show how this bill will disenfranchise citizens.”
Implementing the new law is expected to cost about $4 million, money that would be better spent elsewhere, said Waters.
“It astounds me that there is no money for public education, colleges, universities, the disabled or poor — but there is money for a non-existent voter fraud problem,” he said.
According to Corbett’s office, studies show that 99 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs. They also said a recent poll determined that 87 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor a law requiring identification at the polls.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who also voted against the legislation, called it a “Voter Suppression Bill” and said that even on the national level, based on a study conducted by the United States Department of Justice during the presidency of George Bush, only 86 cases of voter fraud were committed between 2002 and 2007 out of 300 million votes. Hughes also said that in Pennsylvania during the 2008 election, there were only four cases of voter fraud reported.
“We will not allow the voice of so many voters to be silenced because this legislation has been signed into law. We will continue to voice our opposition and fight to see that this erroneous law is stopped, just like in Texas and Wisconsin,” Hughes said.
In city council Thursday morning, members blasted the law with a resolution condemning the state Senate for its approval last week. The resolution passed 15-2, with two Republicans voting against it.
Members Brian O’Neill and David Oh voted against, saying they too disapproved of the law, but that the word “condemn” was too strong.
“It’s too strong for me, and I think it’s unwise,” O’Neill said.
Others had no problem with the language.
“There is no question that this was done during a presidential election year in an attempt to suppress votes,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “It’s just a terrible piece of legislation. It’s been a waste of our legislators time.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said voters should use an absentee ballot.
“This whole issue is just unfortunate and unfair,” she said. “I hope people will consider absentee ballot applications, which certainly is our right.”
The Committee of Seventy is planning a massive public education campaign to counter the possible effects of the law and to make sure people know their rights and what types of identification will be acceptable when they go to the polls.
This enormous undertaking must start right now and continue every day until the Nov. 6 general election.” said Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. “Every possible resource will be tapped — from convenience stores to banks to media outlets to libraries — to let voters know which IDs will be accepted at the polls and where to go if they don’t have one. “If necessary, we’ll drive voters to PennDOT offices to get ID.”
J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP has joined with the coalition forming with the ACLU to oppose the new law. In the meantime, registered voters should show up at the nearest PennDOT center on Wednesday, March 21, to receive the free photo identification cards. Normally they cost $13.
Councilman Mark Squilla has emerged as one of the more influential of the six new members of City Council — a critical voice during the recent budget battle, and one that helped convince Council to delay the Actual Value Initiative — a controversial property tax reform measure.
“It was a good learning experience,” said the freshman councilman, who represents the city’s 1st Councilmanic District. “We learned how to compromise and come up with different solutions from maybe something the administration thought would work.”
Squilla is a member of what council members jokingly call the “serious six.” The six members who took their seats in January and were immediately swept up in an epic budget battle, the perfect storm of tax reform, education crisis and politics.
Looking back — nearly everyone agrees that the new members rose to the task.
“They’ve earned their title,” said Majority Leader Curtis Jones, at the end of Council’s spring session. “They were here to stand up for their core convictions.”
According to Squilla, the group has been energized by a common desire to change the status quo.
“Everybody is really serious about making a difference,” he said. “That energizes some of the other council members that have been there for a long time. We have the willingness to make tough decisions.”
None were as visible at Squilla during the debate, though he downplays his role.
“I didn’t think we were getting all the information that was necessary,” he said. “Once some of the other members started seeing that, they also started saying ‘wait a second.’”
His colleague Councilman David Oh put it this way: “What he did, in an effort, I think, to get more information faster was say, ‘hey look if you don’t get it to us, this is what is going to happen — we’re going to delay it.’”
While Squilla stood squarely in opposition to the mayor’s proposal, and frequently said he thought the move to AVI was premature, comparing it to diving into a pool when you couldn’t see the bottom. His criticism of the administration, Mayor Michael Nutter, in particular was muted — unlike that of some other council members.
“I know that people tried to get a fight between Council and the administration, but even though we disagreed on a lot of things [Council] was still able to work with the administration,” Squilla said, crediting Council President Darrell Clarke with his deft handling of the tensions.
“We’ve always been able to be straightforward with each other,” Nutter said. “He seems to be a guy that wants to get things done. He’s not looking to do something else or anything. He seems like he has principles and things that he cares about.”
Ultimately, Squilla was so persuasive that Council voted to delay AVI for another year.
His philosophy, Squilla said, is one of making things happen.
“My philosophy as a whole is to get things done. I hate when people tell me things can’t be done,” he said. The goal of Council should be ‘let’s get it done.’”
Surprisingly that even applies to AVI — provided it’s done right.
“Let’s get it done,” he said, his voice rising. “We can help the mayor do something that nobody else was able to do, but it speaks well for Council. Let’s get it done. It’s a hard thing to do. Let’s not pass it off because it’s going to make some people mad.”
Squilla, who replaced long-serving Councilman Frank DiCicco, has no prior experience in holding elected office but was, since 2008, president of the Whitman Council, and boasts of two decades of community service on his résumé. When DiCicco announced that he would not be seeking re-election he endorsed Squilla. He also collected Nutter’s endorsement during his bid for Council.
Though AVI is likely to dominate Council’s agenda well into 2013, Squilla hopes to get some things done in his district and to tackle other issues faced by the city — jobs and crime. He doesn’t have all the answers, but is open to suggestions.
“Let’s try some new things, even if they don’t work, we’re trying,” he said.
Squilla also hopes that Council exerts a greater influence over the school district by keeping a firm grip on the purse strings.
“Without education, our city is going to fail. We have to make sure that they’re accountable and the only way we can do that is withhold money,” he said. “We have no other say.”
A graduate of St John Neumann High School and La Salle University, Squilla has been married for 22 years to Brigid, a nurse anesthetist. The councilman’s three daughters and son currently attend high school and college in the Philadelphia area.
He’s optimistic about the city’s future.
“I think we have the potential to really move forward,” he said. “The changes we need to make over the next three or four years are very, very important because if we cannot make positive changes — improve our schools, decrease crime — the people who have given the City of Philadelphia a chance will move. This is our time to make it work.”
SEPTA drivers and other transit workers rallied at SEPTA headquarters at 12th & Market Street on Thursday April 26 to demand that SEPTA act to protect its workers.
“We have operators who have been spat on, guns have been pulled on them and, in some cases, and we have operators who are getting shot. A female operator was sexually assaulted,” said John Johnson, Jr., president of Transport Workers Union Local 234. “It’s very common in our world. Unfortunately it doesn’t get the coverage that it should get so we can bring attention to the issue.”
Despite the attacks, members of local 234 feel their fears and concerns may be falling on deaf ears.
“If we don’t do anything else, we have to bring attention to this situation,” said Johnson. “This is not what you signed up for when you signed up to get the job. You didn’t sign up to be a victim.”
The members of the union were not alone, as members of other organized labor unions, elected officials and concerned citizens gathered at the rally.
Sen. Christina Tartaglione was on hand to support union members and demand passage of Senate bill 236, which if ratified, would place transit workers in the same protected class as police and firefighters - and she had strong words for her colleagues in Harrisburg who failed to act on the measure.
“We’re back again on an issue that Harrisburg just doesn’t get,” said Tartaglione “They don’t get the fact that every time you get on the bus, your life is on the line and so are the lives of your passengers.”
Tartaglione told the crowd of supporters that they needed to get together to fight for passage of SB 236. “For the past 8 years I have been trying to do it. The Judiciary Committee says that they don’t even want to bring it up because they [transit workers] shouldn’t be in a protective class,” she said.
“My grandfather drove a bus for more than 30 years,” said Ed Nielson, newly elected state representative of the 169th legislative district. “I look forward to voting on the senator’s bill; hopefully it’s the first vote I cast, a positive vote on 236 in the House.”
Councilman David Oh recalled hearing of an incident in which armed men shot at a SEPTA bus. The attack was captured on camera and posted on You Tube.
“When you’re not safe, the citizens aren’t safe, and if people don’t ride our buses, then our economy grinds to a halt,” said Oh. Oh, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia, said that his wife catches the bus every day. “I’ll be supporting you with the other members of city council.”
“My sister works for SEPTA as a driver, and has been a driver for 15 years,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, “ and in that 15 years she has been robbed on the bus, she has been spit on, she has been threatened on the bus, she has been hit on the bus. She’s had passengers overdose on the bus.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke’s head is full of ideas, and he just wants to get on with it already.
“I have a sense of urgency,” Clarke said, as he reflected on his first few months as president. “I’ve got to do stuff. I’ve got municipal marketing. I’ve got a development district. And, the other members too, we’ve got projects.”
Some of his ideas — like municipal marketing, selling advertising space on city property — have been controversial. But, Clarke, at a recent Tribune editorial board meeting, said it's time for city government to begin looking at fresh ways to generate revenue.
He’s going to keep throwing out ideas until he’s solved the problem.
Clarke has been portrayed as something of a sphinx – quiet, diligent, a man who worked best behind the scenes. That’s pretty much how he’s operated since being first elected to council in 1999. He held a leadership role, majority whip, but it was one that allowed him to remain in the shadows.
That’s impossible as council president. Yet, his tendency to shun the spotlight is evident in his leadership style.
“I guess I’m decentralizing the council president’s authority. I think it’s been very helpful, and I think it’s been good for the members,” he said.
Already the tenor of council has changed.
For the first time, a council president, who has traditionally exercised great authority in what legislation moves, when and who on council is involved, has delegated quite a bit of that authority.
“I think I’ve tried to be fair,” he said. “Every council person chairs a committee, which is unprecedented.”
As an example, he pointed to Councilman David Oh, a freshman and a Republican, two strikes against him under traditional council leadership, but Clarke has put in him charge of the Committee on Global Opportunities.
“He’s supposed to be chairing that committee,” Clarke said.
As president, he also expects every member to pull his or her weight.
“Don’t expect me to do the follow up,” he said. “You do the follow up and make sure the legislation gets enacted properly. They love it.”
Clarke recognizes that to get some of his ideas put in place he’ll have to collaborate even more – primarily with Mayor Michael Nutter.
“The reality is that the legislative branch of government cannot implement programs. That is, to a large degree, some of the frustration that a legislator suffers. Because at the end of the day, you can have nine million great ideas, but if the mayor chooses not to implement it that’s all it is, an idea,” he said.
The relationship between the two men – often acrimonious – is evolving.
“To be determined,” was how Clarke described it.
He stepped into the city’s top legislative job in January during a period that was deceptively quiet. Council, now knee-deep in budget hearings that are convoluted with concerns over a move to a property tax system based on full property values, and this week’s bombshell about the school district’s budget, is wrestling with issues that will shape the city’s long-term future.
Critics worried that the influence of his political mentor, former Mayor John F. Street, would be too evident.
Nutter campaigned vigorously behind the scenes against Clarke’s election to the presidency. The mayor backed former Majority Leader Marian Tasco.
Clarke doesn’t seem to hold a grudges.
He joked about Tasco’s recent participation in Dancing with the Philadelphia Stars, a charity dance contest Tasco won.
“It was a little bit rigged,” he said laughing.
As far as Nutter is concerned, Clarke admits that for progress to be made the two men will have to collaborate. The city made little progress under Mayor Bill Green, who was constantly at odds with council, he said. W. Wilson Goode had a better relationship with council but the city was broke at the time. Ed Rendell, during his tenure as mayor, managed to work well with Council President John Street.
“Street sat down and said ‘this is what I want’ and Ed said ‘this is what I want’ - they worked a deal and stuff happened,” said Clarke.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
In any event, Clarke now has a greater respect for former Council President Anna C. Verna, who steered council from 1999 to 2012.
“Every day I think about Anna Verna with a newfound respect,” he said, adding that he hoped he could be an example for his colleagues. “We’ve been given a significant opportunity and responsibility — and we need to treat it as such.”
NAACP, others vow to fight plan
Many African-Americans have voiced concerns that the school district’s plan to close more than three dozen schools hits Black and poor students harder than others.
“There are racial implications to this plan,” the Rev. Alyn Waller, minister at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, told council members this week.
Waller is one of several prominent Black leaders who have publicly opposed the plan. He and others testified Tuesday at city council hearings on the affects of the district’s Facilities Master Plan, which includes a proposal to close 37 schools across the district in an effort to save $28 million, part of a larger plan to deal with ongoing budget problems. If implemented as presented, the plan would displace approximately 17,000 students.
The proposal has met with outcry from the public, and generated significant opposition on council, which has authority to appropriate city tax revenue for the district.
A report by city Controller Alan Butkovitz noted a disproportionate impact in poor neighborhoods with largely Black populations.
“This … will affect more than 10,000 students, disproportionately concentrated in some of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods,” said Butkovitz in the report. “Nearly 80 percent of the affected students are African-American – in a district that is 55 percent Black.”
The state conference of the NAACP is against the proposal, said President J. Whyatt Mondesire.
“The NAACP will oppose this consolidation plan by every means necessary,” he told council members. “We will resist it at meetings, public forums, in the courts and even with civil disobedience if warranted.”
Nearly a third the schools slated for closure are in North and Northwest Philadelphia. West Philadelphia also sees a major reshuffling of schools under the proposal.
Waller, in a previous interview with the Tribune, noted that few schools in the Northeast were affected by the plan.
Superintendent William Hite said that district officials selected schools to be closed based on a number of things, chief among them student performance.
“Their student achievement levels are dismal,” he told council. “We have too many young people, particularly poor and minority children, who are sitting in schools that are not offering them the type of education we should be providing.”
Hite said that ultimately the plan will help poor and minority children by offering them a better education in a more efficient school district that is able to give them more resources.
“Our whole attempt is to come up with a better, more educationally sound plan for all of our schools,” he said.
Falling enrollment across the district was another important factor. Continuing to operate the same number of schools with fewer students was a disservice to taxpayers, he said.
“We cannot spend money that we do have on empty seats. Only two-thirds of our schools are being used,” Hite told council.
Hite faced a barrage of questions from city council members, for nearly two hours Tuesday. He said repeatedly that district officials were making an “educational decision” based on school performance and enrollment, not one based solely on finances.
Few members of council seemed to believe him.
Councilman David Oh asked if the plan was “spurred by financial failure?”
“We have borrowed too much year after year to finance operations,” Hite said. “This is the unfortunate product of a lot of things that have not been managed over the last several years.”
School officials contend the plan is a reaction to a falling student population, which has dipped by 60,000 students from 2003 to an enrollment of about 149,000 students.
Council members pressed Hite for more details before the School Reform Commission votes on the plan on March 7.
He said the plan was being revised and would be announced next week and made available to the public and city leaders.
“We have listened and are continuing to listen – these are not forgone conclusions. There are some places where we have re-thought the recommendations,” Hite said. “It would be premature for me to talk about that today.”
In the meantime, council members sought more details of the current proposal.
“There are lot of unanswered questions,” said Councilman Curtis Jones, who quizzed Hite about how district officials decided which schools to close and whether they investigated how those closures would affect kids asked to attend schools in different neighborhoods that might be on different “turf.”
“I would be hard pressed to ask my colleagues to make a decision on half information,” Jones.
“We do have to answer those questions,” said Hite.” We do have to have a plan in place for safety and support. We are still in the process of reviewing recommendations. We’re asking parents to work with us.”
“The number one concern has to be our babies,” said Jones.
Others questioned how much the plan would really do for the perennially cash-strapped district.
“This is really small potatoes at the end of the day,” said Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., referring to the $28 million savings.
It was an assertion Hite refuted.
“I don’t characterize it as small potatoes,” he said. “It’s a pretty significant amount.”
Goode was not mollified and said he could not support any plan without a greater level of detail.
“Don’t ask for $28 million, don’t ask for $58 million, don’t ask for $78 million unless you tell us what it’s going to spent on,” he said. “Do not come to us asking for more money unless you can tell us where it’s going to be invested.”
Budget negotiations between council and the district have been acrimonious for the last several years as district officials have repeatedly asked for more money to help it end an ongoing budget crunch. In each instance, council raised taxes in response. That seems less likely this year.
Council recently approved a resolution calling on the School Reform Commission to delay the plan for one year.