Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. has responded to the controversy surrounding Rev. Kevin Johnson’s invitation to speak during the college’s baccalaureate service.
The controversy began after Johnson wrote an op-ed article in the April 14 edition of the Tribune that was critical of President Barack Obama’s lack of African American appointees in his cabinet.
Johnson, who is the senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, had been invited to be the sole baccalaureate speaker May 18 at his alma mater. After Johnson’s article appeared, Wilson contacted Johnson by phone and stated that the article was “untimely” given that Obama is Morehouse’s 2013 commencement speaker. He amended his decision to have Johnson appear as the sole speaker and opted to add two more baccalaureate speakers. Johnson refused the offer on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker and all initial representations made to him.
Last Friday, Citizens for Change, a group of prominent Morehouse alumni, decried Wilson’s decision to amend his invitation to Johnson. They called for Wilson to honor his original invitation to have Johnson appear as the sole baccalaureate speaker.
“The idea that Dr. Johnson’s views disqualify him as a candidate to deliver the Morehouse baccalaureate address is quite disturbing. The views expressed in the article in question are consistent with views he has expressed in his monthly columns and national media appearances. If the goal here is to subject potential speakers to an ideological litmus test as a precondition for speaking during this historic weekend at Morehouse, the college administration should have done its due diligence in thoroughly vetting the potential speaker in advance of extending the invitation, ” Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. said in a release.
“Dr. Johnson represents the best of the Morehouse tradition and the best of engaged political support of President Obama, even if at times critical of the president. Whether one agrees with Johnson or not, the coalition of Obama supporters consists of people with varying viewpoints, and of varying points of agreement and disagreement with the Obama Administration. Punishing the expression of political dissent is the wrong message to send young African-American men charged with being global citizens in a diverse world.”
Wilson addressed the issue in an open letter to the Morehouse community.
“In brief, I extended an invitation to a distinguished alumnus to speak at our upcoming baccalaureate service. I subsequently made a decision to adjust the format of the baccalaureate program and opted for a more creative, multi-speaker approach that is used by many leading institutions. This sharing of the stage comports with the spirit of upholding democratic ideals, including freedom of speech and expression, and is entirely consistent with the spirit of camaraderie that Morehouse holds dear,” Wilson wrote.
“As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college. In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”
Wilson said his decision was wrongly construed by some as an effort to “disinvite” Johnson.
“He was not disinvited, but rather declined to participate in the format. Worse yet, this decision has led to allegations of censorship, which of course has no place in any viable academic institution. These allegations are fundamentally deleterious and are undeserved,” he wrote.
“In brief, this matter is not and has never been about censorship. Nor has it anything to do with stifling or limiting ‘prophetic voices,’ disturbing the ‘King legacy,’ or deviating from any of the proud traditions of the College.”
When asked to respond to Wilson’s letter, Johnson told the Tribune that he has no response at this time.
After two years of federal oversight, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has reverted back to local control.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Sandra B. Henriquez presented a declaration to the city releasing the agency from federal control during PHA’s board meeting held Friday afternoon.
“It’s a new day for PHA. We’re looking to the future with excitement and seizing every opportunity that comes our way. We’re not looking back. We’re not looking to the past with regret and disappointment anymore, we’re looking forward,” said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah.
Since March 2011, PHA has been under HUD control with Estelle B. Richman, senior advisor to the HUD secretary, serving as the sole member of the board.
Richman has been replaced by nine new members, who were appointed by Mayor Michael A. Nutter and approved by City Council.
“I take pride and pleasure in having this opportunity to leave this agency with the team we have in place,” and Richman.
“The time has come for HUD to step aside and allow this agency to continue the progress in has made independent of the federal government.”
The new nine-member board is chaired by Lynette Brown-Sow, vice president of marketing and communications for Community College of Philadelphia.
Brown-Sow says it’s important for the new board members to listen to the concerns of PHA residents.
“I think that the key thing is being able to work together and make decisions on how to move the housing authority forward and how to help people have the best kind of quality housing that they can have and also have services that can help them move their lives forward,” said Brown-Sow.
Board members include Leslie D. Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in North Philadelphia; the Rev. Bonnie Camarda, director of partnerships for the Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware; Nelson A. Diaz, a former city solicitor, Common Pleas Court judge, and general counsel for HUD who currently serves as a partner at Dilworth Paxson, LLP and Shellie R. Jackson, a PHA resident who lives at Hill Creek Apartments in Northeast Philadelphia.
The other members are attorney Joan Markman, the city’s chief integrity officer and a former assistant United States attorney; attorney Kenneth A. Murphy, a partner and vice-chair of the products liability and Mass Tort Practice Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP; Vernell Tate, a PHA resident and president of the Spring Garden Resident Council and Herbert Wetzel, the executive director of Housing and Community Development for City Council.
The new board has a challenging road ahead. Last month, the housing agency announced that it would have to cut more than 80 jobs due to cuts in federal funding.
“There are a number of issues that the new board will be tasked with almost immediately. There’s the financial positioning of the agency. We’ve suffered a $32 million sequestration funding reduction. We also have over 140,000 people waiting for housing, so the expectation is that we will work collectively to bring on line additional public housing units,” said Jeremiah.
Under a law passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly last year, the number of board members was increased from five to nine, with the mayor nominating all commissioners, subject to approval by the City Council.
“Now with PHA’s return to local control, the city of Philadelphia has the opportunity to better coordinate housing policy, related investment decisions and neighborhood revitalization in a transparent and coherent manner that involves all housing agencies and stakeholders for the benefit of the people who live in PHA housing and all Philadelphians,” Nutter said in a press release.
“Equally important, the re-establishment of local control with a new governance structure means real accountability. The authority in all its actions is responsible to the mayor who, in turn, is answerable to the voters. This significant reform could not have been achieved without the strong support of the Philadelphia City Council, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Pennsylvania Senate and Gov. (Tom) Corbett. Under PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah’s leadership, PHA has instituted strong internal controls and now with a talented board of commissioners prepared to carry out its duties, a new era of accountability responsibility and transparency begins that will benefit PHA residents and staff and all Philadelphians.”
Over the last two years, PHA has put in place stricter internal controls, a stronger management structure and a robust audit and compliance department. The agency also has a fully functional Human Resources and Office of General Counsel.
PHA meetings will now be held every third Thursday of the month. The next board meeting is May 16 at 3 p.m.
PHA serves about 80,000 residents of Philadelphia.
More than 200 attendees turned out to mark the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware’s 20th anniversary during its annual meeting.
The event, which was held Thursday evening at The Enterprise Center, served to highlight the role that the AACC plays in supporting the African American business community.
“The chamber is absolutely on a path of growth and sustainability. This organization understands the importance of helping African American businesses develop and making sure our needs are addressed and resolved on a business and legislative level,” said Shalimar Blakely, AACC executive director.
“The key to our goals is membership. Now is the time for the African American community to be a stronger, more effective voice. The voice of 5,000 Black businesses is stronger than the voice of one or two.”
In a move to boost its numbers, the chamber has embarked on a goal to add 400 new members by December.
During his keynote address, Kevin Dow, chief operating officer and deputy of commerce, city of Philadelphia gave an overview of the AACC beginnings and the city’s economic climate at the time when the organization was formed.
“The African American chamber is the leading advocate for Black owned businesses in the Delaware Valley and Southeastern Pennsylvania. Its purpose, to enhance growth and effectiveness of African American businesses in the Delaware Valley and improve the economic conditions within the African American community, remains as critical to our city today as it was 20 years ago,” said Dow.
The chamber was formed in 1993 in response to the legal challenge by the contractor’s associations that African Americans experienced discrimination in city contracting.
The chamber was started with $60,000 after organizers asked 30 businesses to invest $2,000 each.
When the organization was founded, its organizers were questioned as to why there needed to be a separate chamber that focused on serving the African American business community
Dow said Philadelphia’s African American community is still facing some of the same challenges that it did 20 years ago. Back in 1993, Dow said the city was near bankruptcy, the construction of the Pennsylvania Convention Center was prolonged by fights with building trades unions about the lack of minority participation and African American businesses were receiving no more than seven percent of city contracts.
Twenty years later Philadelphia is still struggling financially.
The city faces an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, Dow said, noting that groups are fighting for African Americans to benefit from the $6 billion airport expansion project and the push continues for minority business owners to receive their fair share of city contracts.
During the event, AACC cofounders A. Bruce Crawley, Bilal Qayyum, Councilman Curtis Jones and Bill Miller were hailed during a special presentation.
Crawley said the current environment is not as supportative of Black businesses as it was when the chamber was founded.
“As tough as we thought it was back then, it is worse now,” Crawley said.
“We’ve got to be aware of the fact that the media and our elected officials are not as sensitive to the issues and needs of Black business people as they used to be 20 years ago.”
The meeting also served to honor business owners and nonprofit organizations. Honorees included Joshua Dingle of Love Arts Design Studios, who received the Entrepreneur of the Year award; Small Business of the Year, Defined Clarity; Non-Profit of the Year, Urban Affairs Coalition; Corporate Advocate of the Year, United Bank of Philadelphia and the Vanguard Award, PRWT Services, Inc.
When she accepted Non-Profit of the Year Award, UAC President and CEO Sharmain Matlock-Turner noted that the organization has just created a new microlending program with Finanta, a Philadelphia-based lending corporation. Finanta was recently chosen by the U.S. Small Business Administration as one of the top minority lenders in the country.
The AACC has been on the forefront of efforts to lower both the wage and business income and receipts taxes.
A region-wide initiative is now under way to show support for those affected by the tragic events in Boston.
Independence Blue Cross, the city of Philadelphia and Cadient have announced “From Philly to Boston With Love” to honor the victims, their families, and the city of Boston at the Blue Cross Broad Street Run on May 5.
The initiative was launched during the IBC’s National Walk @ Lunch Day, held Wednesday afternoon in Rittenhouse Square.
The expected 40,000 runners and thousands of spectators at the Blue Cross Broad Street Run are invited to wear “From Philly to Boston with Love” stickers over their hearts during the race to express their support for the people of Boston. The stickers will be given out to runners before the race and to spectators and volunteers at the race.
“Boston is a great American city and its people showed tremendous courage on the day of the Boston Marathon. Bostonians have come together to help one another and Philadelphia admires their strength,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
“We’ve created ‘From Philly to Boston with Love’ to express our support for Boston, a city that has a distinctive culture, a passion for sports, and a profound historical significance in the American story — like Philadelphia.”
Area residents are encouraged to make a donation to The One Fund Boston, created by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to help those affected by the tragedy. IBC has made a $10,000 donation to The One Fund Boston, and Cadient Group has donated $10,000.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that occurred in Boston last week and feel it is important to honor those affected at the upcoming Blue Cross Broad Street Run. Runners have taken it upon themselves to show support for their brothers and sisters in Boston, and it has been truly inspiring,” said Daniel J. Hilferty, IBC president and CEO.
“We encourage our fellow Philadelphians to join in our efforts to show support for our neighbors in Boston by using the ‘From Philly to Boston with Love’ logo, and donating to The One Fund Boston.”
“After the tragic events in Boston last week, we felt strongly that there was an opportunity for Philadelphia to send a unified message of support for the people of Boston,” said Stephen Wray, president and CEO of Cadient Group, a digital healthcare marketing agency.
“We salute the leadership demonstrated by the city of Philadelphia and Independence Blue Cross to make ‘From Philly to Boston with Love’ a theme for participants in this year’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run. Our hearts go out to those impacted by this horrific tragedy, and we encourage the greater Philadelphia community to join us in pledging support by donating to The One Fund Boston.”
The “From Philly to Boston with Love” heart-shaped logo will be available on the Blue Cross Broad Street Run’s Facebook page in a PDF format. Area residents are encouraged to share the logo on social media channels to show support for the victims in Boston. Philadelphians can also interact with “From Philly to Boston with Love” on Twitter by using the hashtag #philly2boston.
Company officials also announced that IBC hosted a record 26,000 people from 105 employers in Rittenhouse Square and locations throughout the region during the sixth annual National Walk @ Lunch Day, a national effort sponsored by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association to demonstrate how easy it is to take a walk at lunch and fit exercise into the busiest of schedules.
The choice of J.P. Morgan Securities and Loop Capital Markets as lead brokers for the potential sale of Philadelphia Gas Works is being questioned by the union that represents workers at the utility company.
“For a mayor who supposedly places a high value on ethics, it’s shocking that his administration would select two firms that are tainted by past ethical scandals right here in Philadelphia,” Frank Keel, spokesperson for Utility Workers Union of America Local 686, wrote in an emailed statement.
“This questionable decision should be of real concern to members of City Council and the PUC, many of whom are already skeptical about the city’s proposed sale of PGW. If this ill-advised sale occurs, it will lead to escalating rates and the loss of hundreds of family-sustaining union jobs, and will leave thousands of poor in Philadelphia without gas because low-income families will lose their subsidies.”
Mayor Michael Nutter held a press conference on Wednesday to announce the broker team. This marks the city’s latest step toward privatizing the nation’s largest municipal utility.
The process of involving a broker involved weighing several factors, such as knowledge of the utility sector and mergers and acquisitions experience. Officials said the team of J.P. Morgan and Loop Capital stood out on all these factors.
J.P. Morgan is a leader in municipal finance and utility transaction advisory work. According to the city, the firm has advised on 15 gas utility transactions representing more than $20 billion of transaction value since 2000.
Loop Capital is a minority-owned investment banking firm and a leader in public finance. It is an active adviser on mergers and acquisitions, private and investor-owned companies in the infrastructure, power, utility and energy sectors. Since its inception in 1997, Loop Capital has co-managed more than $6.4 billion in municipal bond financing for the city.
Both J.P. Morgan and Loop Capital were implicated in the “pay to play” case of late attorney Ronald White, when John Street was mayor.
“That has nothing to do with the transaction or the relationship going forward,” Nutter said when questioned by reporters.
He said a sale will only occur if it benefits Philadelphia taxpayers and PGW customers.
“That requirement remains in effect and is the primary focus,” he said.
Nutter said the utility’s growth is a reason to pursue selling it now.
“If you believe in buy low and sell high, then you’ll understand why the time is right,” he said.
The firms will manage the process toward a potential sale on a contingency fee basis, which means they will only be paid if the sale of PGW is completed and approved by City Council and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). The process is expected to take a year.
If a sale occurs, the J.P. Morgan and Loop Capital would receive commissions of 0.45 percent of the sale price up to $1.6 billion and two percent of the sale price above that amount.
The city agreed to pay up to $140,000 of the brokers’ expenses if a sale is not completed. Nutter said the brokers are not allowed to represent potential buyers.
Paul Dabbar, managing director of J.P. Morgan’s global mergers and acquisitions group, said utilities are being valued at an all-time high in today’s market.
“We anticipate robust interest from companies wanting to buy PGW and we intend to use our knowledge, skill and experience to attract a compelling offer that meets the objectives of the city and its constituents,” said Dabbar, who will lead the broker team.
Nutter said the buyer of PGW would have to take over the utility’s existing collective bargaining agreement and keep rates stable until 2016. He said that the sale would not result in the elimination of programs that help low-income residents. However, Keel said Local 686 disputes that claim.
During the next several months, the brokers will identify and solicit qualified bidders, review responses from those bidders and provide analysis and guidance on the bids to the city and PGW.
PGW faced bankruptcy throughout the 1990s and was financially unstable in the mid-2000s. The utility company has an estimated $1.3 million or more in liabilities.
Between 2004 and 2010, PGW failed to make its annual $18 million dividend payment to the city because it was not financially able to do so. The city had to lend it $45 million to keep it afloat financially. The $18 million payments resumed in 2011 and the $45 million loan was repaid in 2008. Officials say that the company is currently financially sound.
In 2010, the city hired Lazard to conduct an in-depth assessment of a sale. Lazard completed the study in 2012 and estimated that the sale could net about $1.85 billion.
Founded in 1836, PGW serves more than 500,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers.