Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting some perspective...

I've spent much of the last week in Seattle, visiting my mother for her 70th Birthday.  My mother, who was living in Los Angeles in the same year that an earthquake, crime spree, and riot occurred was one of the many Californians who moved to the Emerald City in the exodus of 1992.  Since then, I've been to Seattle over a dozen times and have cultivated lifelong friendships within the ranks of the Seattle Police Department.  

Throughout the years, I have grown a healthy respect for the city of Seattle.  After working in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia; I grew a healthy cynicism toward the ability for municipal government to operate efficiently and without corruption.  Since I've been in a position to know the difference, Seattle has been the only example that I can point to of good municipal government.  You see, for a city of 608,660 nestled in a metropolitan area of 3.4 million, Seattle had only 25 homicides last year, and roughly four for the year thus far.  Compare that with the 103 year to date homicides here in Philadelphia and you can clearly see the difference.  Of course these differences are not just in the realm of crime.  The Seattle Housing authority has created public-private partnerships with the Pike Place Market District to provide a network of subsidized housing, some of which is in exclusive areas of the city; which guarantees that a homeless person requesting help is found temporary housing within 24 hours, and a low-income apartment within six weeks. Older residents of Seattle are guaranteed housing based on their fixed (pension or SSI) income.  In other words, the state and city work together to serve their constituents; if not out of a pure desire to be in public service, then out of fear that they would be grilled in the media for doing a poor job (as was the case with Mayor Paul Schell)

Seattle is not a one-trick pony when it comes to their economy. In the previous generation, the city grew by leaps and bounds when the blue-collar staples of logging and fishing were joined by the industrial workforce of aircraft engineers at Boeing.  When the airline industry replaced greed with pride and started buying cheaper Airbus and Embraer equipment instead of higher quality Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed airplanes; Seattle could have ended up going down the path that Detroit took...but it didn't.  It's citizens improvised, overcame, and adapted...and tax breaks were given to new endeavors in technology, giving the opportunity for folks like Bill Gates and Paul Allen to grow businesses and  an entire computer industry in Seattle.

So for someone entrenched in the Cirque du Freak that exists within the world of Philadelphia politics, I found  my trip a refreshing view into what we as citizens are capable of if we stood up and said ENOUGH to the graft,  patronage, race-bating and machine politics we've been dealing with here for the last sixty years.  The ironic thing I noticed was just how many complaints (many of which were baseless) permeated conversations of Seattle residents.  My friends from within the Police Department were facing scrutiny over uses of force (to include the shooting of an intoxicated Eskimo woodworker who, on video, was told by police to drop the knife he was holding no less than 3 times), a voluntary consent decree with the US Department of Justice, and intensive city reactions to citizen complaints.  Of course I'm thinking, as I type a blog about getting perspective that a citizenry that gives their police that hard a time when they have one of the lowest per capita crime rates in America (a week in Camden would do these Seattle folks some good) , what does that say about us...who gratefully kiss up to a Commissioner who reportedly manipulates numbers to drop property crime statistics while offering us no solution to the violence that plagues our streets and schools (as was the case during his prior tenure in D.C.); to the point where we give him an unscheduled $60,000 raise as a consolation prize to his failed contract negotiations with the Emmanuel administration in Chicago.

What's it say about us that we have a totally corrupt and racially-biased school district and housing authority? How do our elected representatives in city council reflect on us when three of them are the offspring of former mayors and six of them participated in a retirement program that A) most Philadelphians cannot participate in and B) intend on taking their retirement payment and returning to the same job (in a new term) the following week?

In other words...Seattle is not a better city because it's citizens are better than ours are (their propensity for conspiracy theories, recreational drug use, and personal hygiene absolutely gets to you after the first two days); nor is it better because their politicians are better than ours (which may be true, but one must NEVER trust a politician in any city).  Seattle is a better run city because it's voters are 1) vocal, 2) informed, and 3) take an active part in the success and survival of their city. 

This is possible here, too...and it starts by making the right, informed choices in this year's municipal elections; which include:
  • Not voting for ANY candidates who are connected to the existing political machine here (specifically any Democrats backed by Congressman Brady's Democratic City Committee or the Canuso/Meehan Republican City Committee, as there are great candidates on both sides of the aisle who are not beholden to patronage and corruption)
  • Informing yourself on what the row offices do, what they're supposed to do, and which candidate actually understands what they are supposed to do if elected, and have plans to reform their offices if elected (while it's currently popular to demand the abolition of row offices, very few have a detailed plan on who can efficiently carry on the duties of these row offices if they are abolished and, more importantly, can rise to the challenge of reforming these offices so that they can serve the city).  This is extremely vital to the elections of our City Commissioners, who have been ineffective in deterring and combating sweeping election fraud as well as the Sheriff, whose "loss" of $53M and failure to conduct seizure, auction, and collection of revenue has contributed to a budget gap resulting in firehouse, library, and recreation center closures.
  • Staying politically open-minded.  If the city has been run by one political party for sixty years, and the city has steadily declined since then....maybe we should be taking candidates from the minority party more seriously (all I'm saying, folks, is listen to what folks like Al Schmidt, John Featherman, Elmer Money, Joe McColgan, and David Oh have to say.  Traditionally liberal members of the media, such as the Weekly, Daily News, WHYY and the CityPaper have and have written some very hopeful things about these candidates who only currently represent 12.9% of the city's voters
What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion at our Meetup and Facebook causes pages at:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DEBATE: Kelly vs. Canuso (for control of the Philadelphia GOP)

Today, a post on the Philly Decline website described a conversation between conservative talk show host and blogger Aaron Proctor and Joe Eastman where Eastman propsed “a debate regarding the Republican Party in Philadelphia between [Loyal Opposition leader] Kevin Kelly and ["GOP" Chairman] Vito Canuso. Hold it at a neutral site, allow it to be moderated by Larry Mendte, Dom Giordano or anyone else you think might be effective.” 

After hearing Mr. Kelly speak last night, my recent attempt at reasoning with Vito Canuso and Karen Brown, and a discussion with attorney J. Matt Wolfe where I learned that Mr. Canuso was removed from the seat as chairman by order of the State GOP; I can say on behalf of Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership that the public; especially the 12.9% of Philadelphia Residents who are registered Republicans, demand some truthful answers  from Mr. Canuso and Mr. Kelly.

Therefore, Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership; a nonpartisan grassroots watchdog group would like to help make Mr. Eastman's proposal a reality and host a moderated, neutral debate between Vito Canuso (formerly of the Philly GOP) and Kevin Kelly (of the Loyal Opposition).  

  • This debate will be held in a non-political venue with an impartial moderator.  
  • There will be a timekeeper.
  • Each candidate will address a question and have an opportunity to give rebuttal.
  • There will be no interruption.
  • There will be no profanity.
  • All accusations and/or claims MUST be backed with facts that can be checked.
At the outcome of the debate, we hope to be able to resolve (once and for all) the true leadership of the GOP and what direction of the Republican party in Philadelphia will be, so that the city can move toward an ethical two-party system of proper checks and balances.

Please contact Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership if you'd like to be a part of this event.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

REMINDER: Leadership Debate & Council Forum is TONIGHT!!

Reminder - The Republican Mayoral Debate and City Council Forum is tonight at 6:30 (get there by 6 to get a good seat). All NINE council at-large candidates will be there as well as Mayoral Candidates looking to stake their claim on a nomination at the German Society of Philadelphia, 611 Spring Garden St. in the Northern Liberties. This event will be professionally moderated by Larry Mendte with questions effecting a myriad of issues effecting our city (not just questions about the candidates themselves).

See you there!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is the Philly GOP legitimate?

Today on WPHT Vito Canuso claimed that the debate tomorrow night wasn't hosted by a legitamate organization. Really? Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership, a nonpartisan group led by a veteran law enforcement/homeland security subject matter expert and the Loyal Opposition, led by an Air Force Officer. ANYTIME Mr. Canuso wants to debate the legitamacy of our organizations in comparison to his, we will be there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Philly GOP: When will Philly have legitimate two party checks and balances?

Today, on his Facebook page, Dom Giordano of WPHT commented on his interview yesterday with Karen Brown, the Democrat-turned-Republican candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia saying "After my interview with Karen Brown, it's obvious that we must force the state GOP to come in and take over the Phila. GOP"

First, in the interest of transparency, allow me to say that Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership has sent Ms. Brown numerous emails and messages to confirm her attendance at the debate and council forum on the 20th.  As of last check, Ms. Brown did confirm her attendance at the debate with our co-sponsor, Kevin Kelly of the Loyal opposition, as reported by Daily News political writer Chris Brennan yesterday.  

Second, I would like to applaud Dom Giordano on his excellent interview of Ms. Brown.  In preparing for a fair, impartial debate I have heard and read numerous interviews with both candidates and can therefore distinguish good reporting vs. bad reporting by Mr. Giordano's continuous prying into Ms. Brown's answers...where he broke down statements that were clearly just political cannon fodder to try and obtain solid answers on what steps Ms. Brown would actually take to clean up the republican party in Philly and, if elected, repair the myriad of issues that are turning Philadelphia into a corrupt, broken city.  To hear for yourself, please click here.

After intense analysis of the political landscape of Philadelphia, I must concur with Mr. Giordano's Facebook post.  The political system here is broken and this is in part due to the long-term collusion between a corrupt Philly GOP and the Brady-controlled Democratic party.  Never in my life (and remember, I've lived in NYC, LA, and DC) have I seen a local republican party sell its soul to control a few patronage jobs (and at the Parking Authority, an agency with little political capital at that).  Now before you all think that this is because of my personal desire to see a powerful Republican party in Philly, that's not at all true.  As an investigator and former victim of an unbalanced political system (D.C.), I've seen first hand what a party is capable of if there are not proper checks and balances there to keep everyone honest.  This is the problem in Philadelphia.

Do you think that a democratically-elected Sheriff can steal (or "lose") $53,000,000 and failing to collect owed taxes or a democratically-elected Clerk of Quarter Sessions can fail to collect $1.5 Billion in owed bail revenue if there was an opposing party that was actively jockeying for elections in these offices checking their activities? HELL NO. 

However, the most egregious example of just how petty and corrupt the Philly GOP is can come from their endorsement and running of Karen Brown for Mayor.  At first, I shrugged over the outrage felt by my cosponsors because Ms. Brown was a long-time Democrat that was suddenly courted by the local GOP.  After all, I've seen real politicians like former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Arlen Spector switch parties but still maintain the presence of thought and some ideas on how to serve their constituency.  However, after researching Ms. Brown, this is CLEARLY not one of those situations. 

Karen Brown does not at all seem to be qualified to hold the position of Mayor of Philadelphia.  She goes to great lengths to rail against Milton Street's comical run for the Democratic Mayoral primary (and even cites it as the reason she switched parties), but utilizes the exact same tactics in identity politics; sexual as opposed to racial, that he does.  In the interview, she offered no clear strategies for accomplishing the lofty goals she said she would accomplish and further says she can achieve what the last five Mayors (who held law degrees and former political offices) couldn't because, simply said, she's a woman.  That's it?  That's all you have?  My "B.S." detector is going off and I need you to tell me A LOT more before you can earn my vote, ma'am.

The thing that's most troubling to me as a political watchdog is Ms. Brown's attempt to tap into an ongoing trend in American politics that appeals to a public in need of instant gratification.  I call it "American Idol" politics.  Why take your time and research your candidate based on his/her knowledge of the issues, background, and strategies for change when we can vote for people based on how they look or whether or not you identify with them personally.  During the 2008 Presidential election, we saw interview after interview with young Americans who voted for Obama simply because he was a change from the "Old White Guys" that had run America since it's birth.

This is what is killing us as a nation.  In a good system with two strong, multi-dimensional parties, a completely unqualified...inarticulate candidate like Karen Brown would receive no party support, and get absolutely no popular support from voters.  When America was a society of readers, not reality TV fans, we wanted the smartest, most decisive person in the country to lead us, and would never consider voting for someone based on their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. 

ANYONE who does vote for someone based on identity politics should be ashamed of themselves and should NOT be allowed to exercise their voting rights, as they are poisoning the political system to forward their own personal racist, sexist, or biased beliefs.

As far as Ms. Brown goes, we'll see if she has the intestinal fortitude to show up at the German Society on the 20th and debate her beliefs in front of an audience of voters.  I personally hope the reports of her shutting down parody websites and targeting members of the media because they've insulted her are not true; because a big part of being Mayor is the ability to listen to the gripes of your constituency, and a willingness to be burned in effigy to make your point and serve the citizenry. 

Show me you can do this, Ms. Brown, and I'll consider you more than a shill for the old Philly GOP.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

1st District Council Debate Summary

Last night, at the Veteran Boxer's Association Hall in Port Richmond, we brought four candidates for 1st District City Council together at a table to debate the issues effecting Philadelphia.  Vern Anastasio, Joe Grace, Jeff Hornstein and Mark Squilla participated in the debate, attended by a super-diverse group of people.  Former boxers, community leaders, neighborhood people, politicians, candidates, republicans, democrats, libertarians, the elderly, men and women all packed into the hall to listen to the candidates with an open mind; to make an informed decision on which candidate would be the first new councilman in the 1st District in over sixteen years.  However, in my opinion...something was missing.

That something was candor.

While nobody wants an episode of Geraldo to break out during a debate, I found most of the responses to the questions eerily alike, making me wonder just how different these four candidates were on the issues at hand.  For those of you who were unable to make it, let me summarize:
After opening statements, the candidates were asked a question on what may be the primary reason that they are even able to run for the 1st District seat at this time...and that of course is DROP. 
When asked on their opinion of DROP and if they’d support any candidate who has participated in DROP for public office and/or leadership roles, the candidates resoundingly dammed the program and those who used it, making it clear that they’re in tune with the public outrage on this issue and are able to read Stu Bykofsky’s column in the News.  However, there were two distinct nuances, first, by Vern Anastasio who outright pledged to draft legislation to ban DROP from any city employee except members of the Police and Fire department, which drew applause in the room.  Second, Mark Squilla who stuck to the point that DROP is revenue neutral (which is true if it’s administered properly) and did not discuss the commitment to retire upon DROP collection, which is the central inflammatory issue in the court of public opinion. 

Next, the candidates were asked about their plans to close the $850M-$2 billion budget deficit. Many responses were both centered around land use and management, where some wanted to give out unused/abandoned land, instituted a homestead act, and start land use taxes (as opposed to property taxes).  One mentioned taxation.  The interesting point I find notable is that NONE of the candidates suggested a fix of the bail system and Sheriff’s Office to collect the over $1.5Billion in uncollected revenue already owed to the city or a sale or lease of either or both of the municipally-owned utilities (which are evaluated at a great deal of our deficit). 

We further asked them if they support the Mayor’s recommendation of full market valuation for property taxes, despite a steady decrease in Philadelphia property values. The answers were all over the map, but non of them were detailed, business friendly solutions to our multiple taxation issues.

Another interesting moment came when the candidates were asked if they support the “ban the box” legislation, despite criticism that it will cause undue expense to employers needing background investigations.  All four candidates danced around the issue, shifting the attention in the room to whether or not a person deserves a second chance after the correctional experience.  However, none of the candidates answered the question on whether they’d support the new legislation or work to repeal it.  Finally, I flat out asked them to show hands on which they’d do, which they all said they would work to modify the bill.  Politics at work.

Then, the candidates were given a bit of a test regarding their knowledge of the agencies they would be responsible for budget approval if elected.  Each candidate was given a different set of agencies to rate with hopes that they’d explain how they would use their budget oversight authority to improve the agency’s performance.

Jeff Hornstein was asked to speak about PGW & PWD, which he used to highlight the innovative water metering systems in place and agency performance.  What he failed to address was the crumbling infrastructure effecting these utilities, and how this has led to multiple gas leaks, water main breaks, cost the life of a 19-year old PGW worker, and has created hundreds of street closures in the last year.  What I was looking for was one brave soul who, as an academic, would analyze the idea that we could sell or lease these services to a private utility who would manage our infrastructure in a more professional manner and gladly pay the city for the privilege to do so.

Mark Squilla was asked to discuss the Office of the Inspector General & Ethics Board, partially because he was linked to backers who have had run-ins with both organizations. Mr. Squilla lauded the work of both organizations but failed to mention that they are mutually redundant and did not comment on Council’s continuous rejections to Inspector General Amy Kurland’s request for independent, citywide authority which would cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse in all city agencies and line offices and at the same time eliminate the need (and/or budget) for the Ethics Board and PHA Inspector General’s Office. 

Joe Grace was asked to speak about PHA, partially because his former employer,
John Street
, was the presiding board chair responsible for overseeing disgraced Director Carl Greene.  While Grace condemned Greene, he failed to address the patronage-ridden appointments to the PHA board that led to the Greene scandal, the redundant and ineffective PHA Police Department, and the ridiculous waste of money spent to have retreats at resorts or in outside legal council. 

Finally, Vern Anastasio addressed the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. He spoke on the two Deputy Sheriffs assigned to traffic court who intervened in the beating that killed a pregnant woman recently.  He spoke as to why the office should be an appointee and not an elected line office, and spoke as to why you should be able to fire the Sheriff for gross mismanagement.  However, he didn’t speak as to what he, as a councilman would do to reform the Sheriff’s Office.  Namely, any councilman has the authority to vote against the Sheriff’s budget until they show a plan to mobilize their deputies on collection operations and seizures throughout the city (as is done nationwide), which would be the boots on the ground necessary to deploy his property plan for balancing the city budget.  

All candidates are in support of term limits for city council, and seem to agree upon three, four year terms.

The Interesting moments of the night came in section two, when I asked each candidate two specific questions relating to their background and experience.

Mark Squilla was asked comment on his endorsement for the 1st District Council seat by Councilman DiCicco, Congressman Brady, State Rep Keller (whom you once ran against) and union leader John Dougherty.  Please explain how you intend on bringing change (and what that change entails) to Municipal Government from within the same machine that has held the seat for over twenty years. He was also asked his thoughts on these facts relating to your endorsers:
1.      Councilman DiCicco – Whose DROP participation resulted in his retirement.
2.      Congressman Brady – Who is known as the bastion of Patronage in Philadelphia, as exhibited by his wife’s appointment to the PHA Board.
3.      State Rep Keller – Who is under FBI Investigation resulting in warrant service at his home and office.
4.      Union Leader John Dougherty – Also under FBI Investigation and is on the DRPA board that has been highlighted for waste, fraud, and abuse by news media in both states.

Mr. Squilla said he was happy to have endorsements from such a diverse set of people, and noted that Lynne Abraham also endorsed him; saying that he intends on working with all people in city government, and that these folks were still a vital part of Philadelphia city government.  We know this, of course, but are extremely weary of someone who wants to work closely with a pack that has led Philadelphia into a pit of debt, theft, and patronage.

Jeff Hornstein was asked how, with a background in labor organization, he would you be able to make decisions in the public interest that required heavy union concessions and/or layoffs to which he said that he would be uniquely suited to do so since he understood the unions and could talk to them.  He was also asked, as someone who is connected to the education sector and the American Federation of Teachers, to comment on the state of public education in Philadelphia, to include the performance of Supt. Ackerman.   He used this question as a segway to praise teachers and condemn the budgeting of school districts, but gave no direct commentary about Supt. Ackerman and the poor state of safety in our schools.

Joe Grace  was asked how he could win he public’s trust in your ethical campaign assertions despite your prior work with Mayor street, who he had served as the Communications Director for during the administration, when Cory Kemp and Rom White were prosecuted and the Mayor was himself under FBI investigation for public corruption. Mr. Grace sidestepped the question, saying that he didn’t work for
John Street
, he worked for the city of Philadelphia.  He failed to condemn the actions and racial politics of the street administration and the corrupt legacy that the Street brothers have cast on our city. 

He was also asked, as the Executive Director of CeaseFirePA, to comment on any plans you may have to intensify municipal gun control laws, you opinions on recent supreme court rulings in DC and Chicago upholding the 2nd Amendment, and if you believe gun control is proven to control crime in Urban America. He stated that he was not a supporter of gun control and only wanted to enforce current gun laws, which is a first for any urban democratic politician I’ve ever met.

Lastly, Vern Anastasio was asked how he’d expect to change the face of municipal government from within the same party that is responsible for the patronage and nepotism that he claims to be running against. He pointed out that he has been a perennial candidate who has children in city schools, and that he has worked on his own time to change city government on a voluntary basis for many years.  When asked how, as someone who was born, raised, and lived in Bella Vista, he plans to serve these traditionally underrepresented sections of the 1st District, Mr. Anastasio pledged to put a council office in Port Richmond, which shall have evening hours to serve people in a part of the district who have a long-standing tradition of going to Republican State Rep John Taylor for constituent service because they cannot get Frank DiCicco’s attention outside of South Philly.   

All in all, I feel as if I could have done a better job in making the candidates explain their answers.  What was witnessed last night was political theater, highlighted by the fact that there was a debate between four democrats and no republicans; which meant the candidates were hedging their bets and being polite to one another, in the event they need to run for office in their party in the future. 

With a four-candidate debate to run, I was concerned with the time; but since the media was in the room, it would have been more responsible to harp on making the candidates give specific answers on what they intend on doing to fix the problems effecting Philadelphia and move beyond the promise of “change” and the reiteration of the problem, which is classic political theater. 

Next time, on the 20th, we will concentrate on the details and plans of the candidates, and not the political rhetoric.

However, if I was to endorse any of the four candidates based on their performance last night, I would say that Vern Anastasio was the candidate that spoke his mind, and from the heart; and seemed to have genuine, realistic solutions for some of our city’s problems.