POLS ON THE STREET: Busy Lt. Guv Field Favors Stack

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PLANNING a “Discovery Center” in Fairmount Park East, partners and community members gathered to envision a new public facility in Strawberry Mansion. L-R at Cornerstone Baptist Church were Greg Goldman of the Audubon Society, Katie Newsom Pastuszek of Outward Bound School, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, Jonnetta Graham of Strawberry Mansion CDC, Lorraine Ballard Morrill of iHeartMEDIA, Tyrone Williams of Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Advisory Center and Council President Darrell Clarke’s aide Curtis Wilkinson. Ground has now been broken on this project. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The Democratic primary race is seeing an unusual cluster of early candidates. That sounds like bad news for incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack – but could prove to be good news.

Usually, incumbents are walked on base by their party’s voters. But Stack ran into a patch of bad news earlier this year when allegations surfaced of discord in the staff of his taxpayer-provided residence near Harrisburg. Rivals have sensed the time may be ripe to drive a wedge between Stack and his running mate, Gov. Tom Wolf.

Two hands are already up in the air: Westmoreland County IT executive Aryanna Berringer and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone. Charismatic Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who ran a powerful race for U.S. Senate in the 2016 primary, is also said to be sniffing at this office.

The more, the merrier, should be Stack’s view. Berringer and Fetterman both hail from Southwestern Pennsylvania, rich in Democratic votes; Cozzone typifies the rising Democratic tide in the Philadelphia suburbs. If all three tap into their geographical bases, then they weaken the potential for a statewide tide to turn against Stack.

Stack is ensconced in his native Philadelphia, the Keystone State motherlode of Democratic votes, where he is well regarded across the city. A solid party vote here would top that from either of those two other regions. Furthermore, he has been crisscrossing the commonwealth tirelessly for four years and is well known to the Democratic stalwarts of small misstate counties.

STATE SEN. Anthony Williams held a Health Fair at the Salvation Army on Reed Street in Grays Ferry as part of Williams’ monthlong focus on health and wellness. L-R, Williams, Ward Leader Harold James and State Rep. Jordan Harris teamed up for the health fair.

Waxman’s out, Wirs Is in

Ben Waxman, a young but seasoned political hand who took a hard swipe at State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) in the 2016 Democratic primary, has decided to punt in the 2018 season, despite much avowal that he would take Sims down in the 182nd District this time around.

“After further reflection, I have decided that it is not the right time for me to run for the legislature,” Waxman announced.

Pity. It would have been a fascinating race.

Stepping in to fill the void is Republican Pete Wirs, who has announced he will run as a Democrat in the 4th Senatorial District primary, challenging incumbent State Sen. Art Haywood (D-Northwest).

Wirs, a financial expert with long experience in governmental financial consulting, makes an unusual but intriguing argument: He is running because State Rep. John Taylor (R-Northeast) is retiring.

Without Taylor’s commanding presence in Harrisburg, argues Wirs, Philadelphia’s clout will be drastically weakened on Capitol Hill. It would be wise for even Philadelphia’s Democratic leadership, he says, to ensure that at least one Republican with deep connections in Harrisburg is available to speak for the city – even if he is a crypto-Republican.

Wirs pledges to take no salary while he is in office.

In addition, he cites a rare attribute for a candidate: He is terminally ill from mitochondrial disease.

“Regrettably, I cannot promise that I will complete a four-year term,” said Wirs. “However, per one of JFK’s favorite political heroes, if I do die during my term of office, at least I will die being found in the performance of my public duties.”

Price Is the Man Behind PAC Scandal

A South Philly-based political-action committee was socked with a historic $60,000 fine for blowing its campaign finance reports for the May 2015 primary. This almost added up to the $65,000 that four City Council contestants gave it to boost their candidacies. But any boosting was invisible; at least it cannot be accounted for, said the Ethics Commission.

STATE REP. Donna Bullock organized a Girard Avenue Festival between 26th and 29th Streets last Saturday. L-R were Kevin Bell, owner of Butter’s Soul Food; City Commissioner Al Schmidt; City Council President Darrell Clarke; Councilman Bill Greenlee; and Bullock. Photo by Leona Dixon

The PAC in question is Citizens Organizing for Pennsylvania’s Security, whose treasurer is Democratic 2nd Ward Chair Kevin Price. 2nd Ward Leader Ed Nesmith, however, denies any connection with Price’s PAC.

Price grew up in a politically active family. The question at hand is not whether Price earns a living by selling political juice. It is whether, after selling it, he bothers to actually plug his customers into a socket.

Insiders will follow further research into this PAC with great interest.

Soda Tax Keeps Fueling Feuding

On the heels of adverse news from Cook County, Ill., which quickly reversed its soda (or, as they would call it, “pop”) tax modeled in part after Philadelphia’s, City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a survey that stated more than 60% of businesses that sell soft drinks indicated a revenue loss as a direct result of the new tax.

Of the 650 businesses that reported a decline in year-to-year revenue, more than 400 attributed “most or all” of the decline to the Beverage Tax. Most reported revenue losses of more than 10%.

“The overwhelming majority of businesses that carry products subject to the Philadelphia Beverage Tax feel a significant impact as a result of the tax,” reported Butkovitz.

The City Controller’s Office reached out to 1,600 businesses throughout the city in more than 50 commercial corridors. This included grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and bars, and retail stores. Almost half of the businesses participated in the survey, with a large portion reporting some level of revenue loss.

According to Butkovitz, the areas with the most businesses reporting revenue losses included West Philadelphia along the Market Street and 52nd Street corridors, Hunting Park, and areas around Juniata and Frankford.

“Consequently, these zip codes have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in the city,” said the controller. “These businesses cannot afford a 1% loss in business.”

Grocery stores reported the most revenue losses, followed by convenience stores and restaurants.

AT THE President’s Reception was NAACP Philadelphia Community Service Awardee Sharon Powell, CEO, SP Associates, pictured here with former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, Congressman Bob Brady, Powell and Minister Rodney Muhammad, president, NAACP Philadelphia Branch. Photo by Martin Regusters, Leaping Lion Photography

According to Butkovitz, the city could have achieved the same revenue results and funded many of its promised programs by sustaining the Wage Tax at its current rate.

Philadelphians for a Fair Future, the lobby that supports the Sweetened Drinks Tax, issued its own take on the news from Cook County (which includes Chicago):

“It is a stark reminder that public-health benefits alone are not enough to enact and sustain a new sweetened beverage tax. Today’s events also underscore that the beverage industry, with its virtually unlimited financial resources, will stop at nothing to halt or overturn beverage taxes that threaten its profits and its ability to market sugar-sweetened drinks to the communities it claims to care about.”

Greens: Amazon, Stay Away

On Oct. 19, cities across the country will submit their proposals to become the home of Amazon’s new $5-billion headquarters. The Green Party of Philadelphia City Committee condemns Mayor Jim Kenney’s decision to enter Philadelphia into this competition.

The Greens’ concern is that it ignores “the harsh reality of the poor and working-class citizens of Philadelphia. Far from improving our city, an Amazon headquarters would only exacerbate the crises we already face,” its statement read.

The Greens’ grief is centered on tax breaks for new corporate investments. A fair case can be made that these are often bad public investments.

But the notion that the poor would suffer if 50,000 new middle-class jobs land in Philadelphia – that they would all be better off if no dynamic young industry ever came within a mile of city limits, instead leaving the poor here to stew in their own juices – seems, well, a little green to us.

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