The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program announced Monday the launch of an eight-month-long mural project to honor the legacy, achievements and role of the Grammy Award-winning band, The Roots, in the pantheon of great American bands and continuum of accomplished Philadelphia musicians. The Roots Mural Project will tell the story of The Roots — especially Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s founding of the band — from the genesis to the present day.
Thompson and Trotter met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts and practiced their musical craft on South Street. Since their 1987 founding, they have become icons in the world of hip-hop musicians, lyricists, producers and showmen. Currently, The Roots serve as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC and will release their 13th studio album, “Undun,” in four weeks.
“Even though I’m a musician, I kind of identify a bit more with the visual arts aspect of being an artist because that’s the world that I come from,” said Trotter. “I come from summer art camp at Fairmount Park and Saturday art classes at Fleischer Art Memorial in South Philly. I come from writing graffiti on all these walls, you know, climbing on all these roofs and all these buildings that you see in the South Street area. So, I’m definitely a Philadelphia artist, and that Philadelphia spirit is definitely in me. And, for Philly to be such an artistic city and to be recognized as such a beautiful city because of all these murals that have gone up over the years — to be recognized with one of these murals depicting The Roots is just, like, mind blowing.”
Trotter recalled his early artistic endeavors that landed him in community service time thus making his work with MAP mandatory. “Some of the people, who were in the ’80s writing their names right along with me, are now instructors in the Mural Arts Program,” explained Trotter to a bemused gathering. “I had to do these mural during my summers and Saturdays — it’s just an amazing blessing, and it’s so ironic for there to be a legal mural going up of The Roots. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that something like this would be taking place.”
Members of The Roots will take an active role throughout the development of the project. From participating in Roots 101 and painting with the public at Community Paint Days, the band will be present and involved throughout the eight months, including design review and the final dedication of the mural.
“It really is an honor to be a part of this announcement — a multifaceted, interactive tribute to a couple of our native sons and a Philly-based band,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “These guys really are heroes, and need to be recognized — not just because of their Grammy Awards, the millions of records sold or millions of folk who tune in to catch them on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,’ which are impressive accomplishments in themselves — but these guys are heroes because they took their childhood love of music and their education talent to become respected, talented and innovative professionals from Philly. They could have done anything, they could go anywhere, they could be anywhere, they stayed right here in Philadelphia and made our city their home-base, perfecting their craft and their talent and simultaneously changing hip-hop and the entire music industry.”
Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program made a call for proposals to begin the process of selecting the artist or artist teams that will be responsible for engaging the community in all phases of the mural-making process, from design through execution. The proposal can be downloaded on the Mural Arts Program website here: http://muralarts.org/about/jobs-artist-opportunities. The deadline is Nov. 21.
Gearing up for what is expected to be an ugly battle for the White House, the Obama campaign this week rolled out a Philadelphia “Truth Team” to counter “scurrilous Republican attacks.”
“This is a team of people from across the nation to make sure that people know the truth about what the president has done while in office, and also to respond to anticipated and expected scurrilous Republican attacks,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, one of six local elected officials who announced the launch of the local “Truth Team” Thursday at city hall. “We remain committed to insuring that our constituents know the truth. That would be t-r-u-t-h, clearly a word that the Republican Party and Republican candidates have difficulty spelling and saying on their own.”
Similar teams were put in place across Pennsylvania and the nation.
Members of the Philadelphia team were: Nutter, State Rep. Babette Josephs, District Attorney Seth Williams, state Sen. Anthony Williams, city Controller Alan Butkovitz and city Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
While there is a great deal of uncertainty as to who the Republican nominee will be heading into November, the campaign is likely to get rougher as the GOP fumbles to rally behind one candidate and the focus shifts to that nominee and President Barack Obama.
“We’ve seen these attacks already and know they will be coming soon to Pennsylvania,” Nutter said.
The Republican contest has narrowed, it seems, to three potential nominees: former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney; former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich and former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.
Nutter took a jab at two out of three.
“Mitt Romney will literally say anything to win, distort the president’s record and his own at the same time,” said the mayor. “[Santorum] remains clearly out of step with the needs of most Americans. Pennsylvania voters clearly rejected him, soundly, when his name was last on the ballot.”
In addition to the team, the campaign unveiled three websites designed to respond to Republican attacks: KeepingHisWord.com, AttackWatch.com and KeepingGOPHosnest.com. All three are intended to serve as quick, comprehensive resources to help set the record straight. The websites contain videos and information on the president’s record, and fact checks on Republican claims about the president and themselves.
The sites also contain tools for sharing materials via Facebook, Twitter and email. The goal, said a campaign release, is to ensure that “grassroots supporters can take ownership of the campaign and share the facts with the undecided voters in their lives.”
More than a million people took action as part in similar effort called “Fight the Smears” during the 2008 campaign. The goal of the Truth Team is to double that number, reaching two million grassroots supporters.
City Council’s unease with the Actual Value Initiative — the shift from property taxes based on partial values to one based on full market values — was apparent this week during budget hearings.
A number of members are concerned that the shift, which was supposed to be revenue neutral, is actually a tax increase.
“You need to address the outstanding questions as relates to the math of this on the issue of whether or not we are asking the public for a tax increase,” said Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. on Wednesday morning as he summed up concerns about AVI.
Jones was just one member of Council who peppered Finance Director Rob Dubow and Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart with questions and comments over several days this week as Council dug into Mayor Michael Nutter’s $3.6 billion budget proposal.
The administration’s budget numbers show that the move to AVI would provide an additional $90 million in funding for the school district this year, for a total of $673 million. The city, which splits property tax revenue with the district, would collect $458 million, roughly the same amount it collected last year.
Administration officials have avoided calling that extra revenue a tax increase, and instead say it represents the amount captured by increasing property values, which have risen since the city froze assessments in 2010.
But council members, who now appear to be fielding more questions from angry constituents, are nervous.
“This AVI issue is probably going to be the most difficult and angry issue that we’re facing — maybe since I came into council in ’92,” said Councilman Jim Kenney. “I can’t yet find a justification for explaining to people that I represent, citywide, why the additional $90 million makes sense.”
Kenney, like many of his colleagues, voted for property tax increases in several recent budget cycles, and said this week he supports funding for public schools. But, noting that in testimony Monday School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said previous school administrations were guilty of “bad fiscal policy,” Kenney added that he wanted a better idea of how the district would spend the additional money.
His questions and comments suggested that council might feel more comfortable if revenue figures were changed to eliminate the added $90 million for the district.
“Would you agree with me, subjectively, that with the $90 million off the table it would be difficult for people to argue that this is fact a tax increase?” he asked Dubow, who declined to “get into whether it’s a tax increase.”
Dubow then added that he was sure the district was aware that it would need to justify the added money.
Last year council approved a 3.9 percent property tax increase after school officials, led by former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, said if it didn’t the district would be forced to get rid of full-day kindergarten and yellow buses.
“We were spun,” said Jones, agreeing with Kenney that he would need to know where any additional money was being spent.
Council members are also concerned about how the administration plans to roll out AVI.
The mayor wants to see it done this year. Under the administration’s plan, residents will receive their new assessments in October, and bills based on the new numbers in December.
That concerns council members who are being asked to make decisions based on budget numbers that could change as residents challenge tax bills through city appeals and maybe even court challenges.
“If we for some reason go forward and find out what we’re doing here, the formulation, the method is not legal … and all those appeals are granted we’d collect less revenue, correct?” asked Councilman Mark Squilla.
Dubow said the city had factored greater appeals, losses and lower collections when drawing up the budget.
“We’re assuming that goes up substantially,” he said.
At last week’s city council meeting, Squilla emerged as one of the prime opponents of AVI after he introduced legislation that would freeze property tax millage rates and assessments at current levels.
Squilla also raised concerns about a portion of the city’s AVI plan that would create a $15,000 exemption for residents’ primary residence. That portion of the plan needs approval by the state legislature before it can be enacted.
“We’re still at a point where we cannot give the public real information because we don’t know everything that is going to happen,” said Squilla.
Weary of the typical slate of political establishment candidates, Meighan Dorr, a 25 year-old who has never held elected office, is running for mayor in an independent write-in campaign.
“The city is in a state of crisis and we need a humanitarian instead of a politician,” said Dorr, a former non-teaching assistant for the School District of Philadelphia. “People are too satisfied with nothing in this city. We’re satisfied with homeless people. We’re satisfied with the lack of housing. We’re satisfied without adequate education funding.”
She faces long odds.
The incumbent, Mayor Michael Nutter, is expected to win overwhelmingly. In addition, Dorr faces two other candidates who have had far more visibility than she has. Karen Brown, running as the Republican opponent to Nutter, has been widely seen and scrutinized. A third candidate, Wali Diop Rahman, has been very visible for months with his independent campaign.
Dorr has pegged her hopes on widespread voter discontent.
“I’m still hoping to win because the Democrats have been running this city for 45 years and they have us living in a city that is practically abandoned,” she said. “People are tired of Democrats and Republicans. People are kind of fed up.”
She decided to run in 2009 after being denied a slot on the city’s Youth Campaign. Initially, she wanted to run as a Democrat in the spring primary. She was kept off the ballot because her petitions were improperly notarized, she said. She switched, becoming an independent and gathered more signatures — 1,650 to be exact — but fell short of the 1,850 needed to garner a place on the ballot.
Undeterred, she set her sights on the general election running as a write-in.
“My experiences, gathering all those signatures, taught me that people are concerned,” she said.
Dorr has ambitious plans to stimulate job growth, tackle illiteracy, provide adequate housing, and turn vacant and abandoned properties into homes and businesses.
Among her ideas, loosening regulations on taxi licensing in an effort to create jobs, giving businesses tax breaks for sponsoring literacy programs for adults and turning vacant and abandoned lots over to non-profits who can put them to productive use.
She’s been hard at work the last few weeks shaking hands and getting the word out.
“I want to prepare a city for [the youth] that they can live in and flourish in,” she said. “We have a lot of resources to turn this city into a wealthy city and all the mayors that we’ve had have never had a plan of action.”
Dorr is a pharmacy technician and full-time student at Community College of Philadelphia, where she majors in cultural science and technology. She is a recipient of the Frank Sullivan Humanitarian Award.
Hours at five local PennDOT licensing centers have been extended to give Philadelphia voters greater opportunity to get a photo ID for voting.
“Extending our hours in the state’s largest county demonstrates PennDOT’s continuing willingness to help customers comply with the Voter ID law,” said Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, a statement released late Monday.
New hours — on Thursdays only — start Sept. 27 and run through Nov. 8.
Licensing centers at 801 Arch St., 1530 South Columbus Blvd., 2320 Island Ave., 919-B Levick St., 7121 Ogontz Ave. will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Though Schoch gave no reason for the decision, Mayor Michael Nutter recently made a personal appeal to Gov. Tom Corbett, asking him to extend hours for licensing centers in the city.
Nutter asked that hours be set from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The citizens most in need of new identification are very likely those who have the least amount of daytime availability and physical mobility, namely workers who do not have flexibility to take time off during the middle of the work day or seniors who are unable to travel far distances or who rely on public transportation,” the mayor wrote in the letter dated Aug. 28.
He also asked Corbett to consider a list of other items, including providing a dedicated counter devoted exclusively to handling voter ID applications.
Since March, when Corbett signed the voter ID law, PennDOT has issued about 7,000 voter IDs at licensing centers across the state. About 2,600 have been issued in Philadelphia.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a suit seeking to overturn the law, but voter advocates continue to urge voters to prepare for the worst and get the state required ID.
“We’re urging people, no matter what the court decides, to continue to get ID,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the state and local chapters of the NAACP, one of the parties seeking to overturn the law.
Critics of the law argue that it will disenfranchise voters – many of them Black.
Estimates vary widely but some suggest as many as 280,000 voters in Philadelphia alone lack proper ID. That number was compiled by a local voter advocacy group. The state’s official estimates suggested that about 187,000 voters lack ID.
The Tribune, in culling through voter data, has estimated that 39 percent of active African-American voters in Philadelphia — more than 152,000 people — lack state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot on Nov. 6.
The “food fight” over Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative intensified Thursday with the mayor and state Sen. Anthony Williams firing back at opponents of the initiative, which appears stuck in City Council.
“Our message is pretty straight forward and pretty simple. At this point, we have a property assessment system that has been broken for … generations,” Nutter said. “Many Philadelphians … because of a flawed system have been paying much more than they should be in taxes. At the same time many individuals have been paying a lot less than they should, essentially being subsidized by the poorest individuals in the city. In the end, all taxpayers are losers.”
AVI would change the way the city assesses real estate, moving from assessments based on a fraction of property value to the full market value.
“No more fractions. No more complications. You should not need a math degree to be able to figure out what your taxes are,” said the mayor.
Williams was a little more outspoken in his defense of the plan, chastising members of the city’s delegation in Harrisburg for breaking ranks in Harrisburg.
“I’ve watched some public officials tear to shreds the validity of AVI, so I found it very important to go public,” he said, accusing opponents of “fear mongering” and adding that the divisions among local lawmakers could ultimately dissuade the state legislature and governor from taking action on several state bills needed to implement AVI.
“Harrisburg is watching us. Those bills were moving through the state legislature quite effectively, the governor was prepared to sign them until Philadelphia decided to have its own food fight,” he said.
Williams declined to call out legislative colleagues for their opposition.
But, two weeks ago a group of state legislators — joined by Councilmen Bill Green and Mark Squilla — announced their opposition to AVI, calling on the administration to delay implementation for another year. At that time, state Sen. Larry Farnese announced that he was introducing legislation in Harrisburg that would give Council the option to wait another year.
Waiting is not an option, Nutter said this week.
“Once the new values are in, we have to use them,” Nutter said, adding that not to was “asking for litigation.”
Critics cite three reasons for their opposition. First is the fact that new assessment figures will not be available until July, after City Council is expected to vote on a budget based on Nutter’s AVI figures. Second, because Nutter’s proposal includes an additional $94 million in revenue for the school district, critics charge the mayor with trying to push through a tax hike by another name. And, finally, many worry that AVI will mean higher taxes for their constituents.
Nutter countered all three arguments at his press conference.
Implementing property tax reform this year is needed, the mayor said, because the system has been “broken” for generations. The additional revenue is not a tax increase, he argued, simply a way to “capture” the increase in property values since the last reassessment in 2004. And, while admitting that taxes will go up for some, they will come down for others.
Ultimately, the fate of AVI lies in the hands of City Council, which has been debating the issue for months. Members are now looking at 14 budget related proposals.
Council leaders have been reluctant to discuss what direction those talks have taken.
“I never say what a majority of members are interested in until they do it,” Council President Darrell Clarke told reporters after this week’s Council session.
He did say that Council seems committed to providing some added funding for the school district, but would not say if it would meet the district’s request for $94 million.
“The biggest question centers on where that money is going and how it’s going to be spent and what levels of accountability can be put into place,” he said.
A proposal by Clarke would provide about $85 million. Several council members have said they would like Council to have more input on how district money is spent.
“Whatever process is established in this particular funding cycle for the school district, we would like to see a little more dialogue.”
Majority Leader Curtis Jones compared Council’s approach to that of a pilot preparing his plane for takeoff. Members are looking at several options and will decide which one to take on after factoring in a variety of conditions.
“We are a plane that has to have several runways — and we’re running out of time to take off,” he said.
Jones would not be drawn into a discussion of which of options might be gaining traction, calling all of the proposals as “alternate Plan A’s.”
“We want to be prepared for any eventuality,” he said.
Council seems prepared to put its muscle where its mouth is, this week approving a resolution urging the School Reform Commission to go back to the negotiating table with SEIU 32BJ in an effort to avoid the layoff of 2,700 union employees in a district effort to balance its budget, which is includes a $218 million deficit.
Much of Council’s negotiations are now going on behind the scenes.
This week members met in small groups — to avoid violating the state’s Sunshine Law — in private meetings to discuss their options.
“Our process, particularly at this point, is a process that requires significant conversations within the body,” Clarke said. “Trying to do that in an extremely public way is probably not conducive to us getting a budget.”
A public hearing has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday and Council will meet for its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday.
Technically the deadline for budget approval is June 1. But, Council has often recessed, rather than adjourned, its last meeting in May allowing a vote beyond the deadline.
Clarke said Council would have a budget passed by July 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year. He noted that many of the proposals before Council also require some action by the state legislature, which would need to approve, for example, a homestead exemption.
In other news, Council unanimously agreed to change the name of the Criminal Justice Center to the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. A chorus of civic leaders urged Council to rename the court building in Stout’s honor. A long serving municipal court judge, she was the nation’s first female Black judge and the state and nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice.
Finally, Councilman Brian O’Neill introduced a bill that would give grandchildren of firefighters and police officers at 10-point advantage on the exams required to secure departmental jobs. A similar break is already given to children of both.
Cities United aims to build national movement
On Monday, Oct. 24, in the Philadelphia suburb of Darby Township, there was a drug-related shooting that left an 18-year-old Black male in critical condition and a 16-year-old under arrest.
Witnesses told police they had seen three young men talking about drugs in the Briarcliff vicinity around 3 p.m. Then a shot was fired and witnesses told police the 16-year-old fled the scene to a nearby house, where he was subsequently arrested. Police found 30 bags of marijuana at the scene of the shooting.
This one incident could easily be described as a microcosm of how violence is precipitated among young Black males — not just in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, but from coast to coast across America. Virtually every major city has a monstrously high murder rate among young Black males. And that level of violence, experts say, is far beyond a crisis. It has been allowed to become a catastrophe of horrific proportions.
Reducing, if not ending that violence is the focus of numerous community programs and organizations — and on Tuesday of this week, a group of mayors from across the state and nation gathered at the National Constitution Center to strategize on how to truly and adequately deal with the problem.
The gathering, called Cities United: Building Communities to Reduce Violent Death Among Black Men and Boys, was started by mayors who were joined by community leaders for the purpose of moving beyond just talking about the problem and taking action that goes above the programs, initiatives and solutions already in place to amplify them into a national movement.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who spearheaded the gathering, said what every resident of the Black community already knows: murder is the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 24.
That violence and the consequential fallout of incarceration and unemployment, Nutter said, has depleted the presence of Black men in the community.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” Nutter said. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories, all of which contribute to a degradation of the overall quality-of-life in Black neighborhoods.”
According to figures culled from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19. Across the nation, Blacks accounted for 49 percent of all murder victims in 2005. Black males accounted for 52 percent. That violence, say those working the streets, is rooted in hopelessness, desperation and despair. It is also rooted in a sub-culture that acts out what it assimilates from a popular media that glorifies murder.
“I can actively count the number of murders that I’ve personally seen,” said Jordan Harris, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission and the co-founder of Youth Action Inc. “Growing up in South Philly, I watched people being killed. Many of our young people feel like they could be the next one killed - or the next one shooting someone. Part of the problem is that too many young men don’t have men in their lives. If that father figure is not present in the home, the streets will provide it.”
Brandon Jones, a young outreach worker with Philadelphia Cease Fire, agreed.
“Our young men are filled with hopelessness and they are desperate. If we want to solve this problem we have to bring them to the table and then listen, carefully, to what they have to say,” Jones said. Jones, who was recently released from prison for a drug-related shooting said one-on-one intervention is essential to ending the cycle of violence.
“It’s not easy to forge trust or relationships with these young men. We have one client that took six months to come around. I didn’t come from a broken home, I had a good family — father and mother — but I wanted to fit in. I now call it being a part of the ‘in crowd’ because you either end up incarcerated or in an early grave. I didn’t want to take the slow way to success.”
While participants shared information on the various causes of the high murder rate of African American males — absent fathers, poverty, joblessness, lousy public education — one issue kept returning to the top of the list: illegal guns.
“In our schools, our young people don’t have new books, but they know where to get an illegal gun,” Harris said. “It’s not hard to get an illegal gun, they know where to get them and if they get them and if they feel disrespected or otherwise insulted — for any reason — they will use them.”
Mayor Nutter, who said that illegal guns have become a plague in the Black community, pressed representatives from the federal government concerning what should be done to stop the flow of illegal firearms. Those representatives shared what is being done; but Nutter said he knows what federal prosecutors are doing.
“I know you’re prosecuting gun traffickers and federal time is federal time — you’ll do every bit of it. But this is what’s being done on the back end. We need to interrupt the flow of illegal guns on the front end. If someone opens up an envelope and finds powder inside it might just be Gold Medal flour but in a matter of minutes that entire area will be surrounded by federal officers. If someone finds a suspicious bag at my airport, my airport will be closed — shut down in minutes. I’m amazed by how quickly federal resources can be brought to bear anywhere in the country. We can fire a missile and put it in someone’s bedroom on the other side of the planet. Why can’t we get that same level of attention to the problem interrupting the flow of illegal guns? I would just like to hear the federal government say this is a problem. This is not a Second Amendment issue, I’m all for the Second Amendment, this is about stopping illegal guns from getting into the hands of young Black men.”
Hitting the pavement, Mayor Michael Nutter and newly elected Councilman Kenyatta Johnson took a walking tour of the Point Breeze neighborhood this week, launching a larger tour as Nutter seeks to take the entire city’s pulse as he enters his second term.
“I like to see what’s going on myself,” said the mayor, who with Johnson, who now represents the 2nd Councilmanic District, and several ranking police officers took a walking tour along 21st Street near Mifflin Street on Wednesday morning. “You’d be surprised what you can learn if you keep your mouth shut and listen.”
The section of Point Breeze — part of what is sometimes known as “the box” — is notorious for crime and drug activity. Philadelphia Weekly named it one of the top ten drug areas in the city in 2007.
As he opens his second term, the mayor is visiting neighborhoods across the city to highlight key priorities — crime reduction, education and poverty.
“We have to drive our crime rates down and education rates up,” he said.
Point Breeze was chosen because it is one of the neighborhoods selected to take part in the Philly Rising Collaborative, a plan that aims to revitalize neighborhoods using resident input and participation to drive change.
“The community can only move forward … if the people participate,” Johnson said.
After a routine start, and a sit-down with several community leaders for a brief question and answer session, Nutter and Johnson took a walking tour through the neighborhood to inspect some of the alleys cleared out by Philly Rising, in one of its neighborhood improvement initiatives.
On his first of several planned neighborhood tours, Nutter got a true taste of the streets.
At a couple of houses, knots of curious residents stood on their porches, eyes following the entourage as it moved north on 21st Street. One man got into a brief confrontation with police officers after voicing concerns that the group had “pushed up on him.” Nutter kept moving. The man was quickly quieted down by police brass and ambled south on 21st Street, where he lounged at the northwest corner of McKean smoking a cigarette and talking to buddies — who kept a watchful eye on the group of officials.
Just a few steps more and Nutter ran into Michelle Burton, whose son — Stephon, 24 — was murdered Nov. 14 at 21st and Mifflin.
“Why don’t they have his murderers arrested?” she asked, her voice rising as she gave the mayor and Johnson her version of events.
According to Burton, her son was gunned down at about 7:30 p.m. by people everyone in the neighborhood knew, and his murderers were still roaming the streets. One, she said, was still attending school and going about his daily routine as if nothing had happened.
“They’re still running the streets,” Burton said, characterizing the men she suspected as ‘wannabe thugs.’ “I’m trying to get them off the streets.”
The two men listened patiently as the distraught woman talked — then Nutter quietly asked her a few questions. Were people helping police?
“People is afraid to talk,” answered Burton.
She didn’t seem convinced that it would help anyway.
“Five people died in this block, and we saw no police cars,” she said.
As he pressed on, Nutter urged Burton to talk to one of the officers accompanying him.
“One murder is too many,” he said, adding that crime in the Point Breeze section had fallen in every category over the last year. He admitted that statistics were little comfort.
“There is the numbers, and then there is how you feel,” he said.
Some residents do feel better.
“From summer to now, I see a change in the area,” said Adell Mack, a long-time resident.
The alley cleanup done by Philly Rising may seem like a small thing, she said, but it changes the feel of the neighborhood. The alleys were often a conduit for crime, providing cover for thieves and drug dealers.
In addition, Philly Rising has given residents a place to turn when they need help.
“We just needed someone to call,” she said, adding that in the past, calls to city officials were ignored. “They fell on deaf ears.”
Now, she hopes the momentum of change will help transform the character of the entire neighborhood.
“We’re looking to do more,” Mack said.
Philadelphians great and small are reacting with great passion to the crisis facing the School District of Philadelphia — and that’s good.
Because, let’s be honest, a substantial share of what’s wrong with the District exists because taxpayers and stakeholders have been far too apathetic for far too long.
We sat idly by while district officials swept in and then out of town, taking with them suitcases full of taxpayer money. We looked the other way when highly paid consultants were awarded millions in district contracts; and we stood by idly while an entity established for the educational benefit of Philadelphia’s children re-established itself for the financial benefit of Philadelphia’s politically-connected adults.
But now, the well has run dry. The district is facing a financial shortfall next year somewhere north of $200 million, despite having instituted sweeping financial reform measures and deep cuts to personnel and programs.
Those cuts, and the district’s recently proposed blueprint for financial turnaround, have come under fire from several sides.
Tonight, parents and interested stakeholders will join such diverse groups as Occupy Philly, ACTION United and the Service Employees International Union at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia for the second in a series of school district-themed community meetings sponsored by local churches. The first meeting, held at Enon Baptist Church, drew a crowd of more than 2,500 residents who gave School Reform Commission representatives a lesson in civic discourse by strenuously objecting to a school reform plan which they say weakens our schools — and public education.
Local 32BJ, the blue-collar union that represents nearly 3,000 bus drivers, janitors and other Philadelphia school employees, is planning a large rally tomorrow in Center City to protest mass layoffs and what they see as attempts to privatize public education. All of those employees have already received layoff notices, effective at the end of the school year.
Several legislators have begun to push forward an alternative plan, one that counters Mayor Michael Nutter’s goal of using funds from property reassessments to restore $94 million to the school district’s budget. Calling the mayor’s plan nothing more than a back-door tax hike, they plan to use other methods, such as adjusting the city’s wage tax for non-residents, to add the needed boost to district coffers.
The reorganization blueprint, opponents argue, is long on cuts and belt-tightening measures, but short on any actual benefit to students. Drastic cuts to art, music, sports, and after-school and extracurricular activities may boost the bottom line, they say, but deprive students of a fully rounded educational experience.
It has been too long since Philadelphians were fired up over a single issue, and we’re glad it’s this one. Few things are as vital to our city’s future as the state of public education, and if it takes a crisis to bring people together to unite for our youth, then at least that crisis has a silver lining.
The city has agreed to use union labor for city-funded construction projects over $5 million — and the city’s trade unions have agreed to higher local, minority and female participation goals on those projects, in an agreement announced this week.
“Fifty percent of the hours for those jobs must be set aside for Philadelphia residents,” said Mayor Michael Nutter at the press conference Tuesday. “At least 32 percent of those are for minority males, and 7 percent for women.”
Nutter, along with officials from the Greater Philadelphia Building Trades Council, announced the agreement at a press conference where the mayor signed an executive order reinstituting project labor agreements, contracts that lay out the terms of work for the unions in city projects.
For decades, the city has been trying to force the trade unions to include more minorities and women on union jobs. Though this agreement used the word “goal” rather than language that would require those participation rates, union leaders promised the goals would be met.
“Every craft has committed to meet their goals,” Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, told reporters.
The trades council represents a number of unions or crafts. Blacks are most heavily represented in the laborer’s union, in which members are less skilled and lower paid than in others.
Nutter said a third party organization would be chosen to monitor participation in each contract. None had yet been selected. The goals will apply to all contracts over $5 million and those that require the involvement of more than one building trade.
Unlike more detailed participation goals for standard city contracts, which lay out different goals for different ethnicities, the project labor agreements lump all non-white groups into one category with one goal.
The city and the trade unions have been at odds for many years — as city officials tried to pry open the unions and force them to employ more minority workers — something the unions strenuously resisted. For example, City Council and the unions had a lengthy showdown during the construction of the $700 million addition to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The unions resisted minority participation, and defied Council attempts to try and find out how many union workers were minorities.
Ultimately, Council did impose goals on the project. But, the fight and the publicity it generated obviously lingered in Gillespie’s mind because he said he hoped this week’s agreement would end the widely held view that “[We’re] just a bunch of fat, white guys from the suburbs. That’s not the case, never has been the case, but that’s the way we were characterized.”
Nutter said the new agreement would assure that diversity is automatically part of future contracts.
“Diversity is vital as we put our city’s residents back to work with these projects that improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians,” he said.
The project trade agreements do more than establish participation goals. The agreements will also prevent strikes and allow for cost savings. Nutter’s executive order also established an advisory committee for Project Labor Agreements, which will monitor and review all PLAs and will make periodic evaluations of the use of PLAs. The members of the Committee are the mayor’s chief of staff, the city solicitor, managing director, director of finance, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities and deputy mayor for economic development.