POLS ON THE STREET: Philly Dems Take State Party Posts

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RIDING the Rail Park: On the inaugural day of the first section of the long-awaited trail in Callowhill, swingers included Mayor Jim Kenney, William Penn Foundation Chair Janet Haas and Center City District President Paul Levy. They were given a push by City Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis.

BY JOE SHAHEELI
How powerful is Philadelphia?

In the halls of Pennsylvania government, not much. The Republican supermajority in the General Assembly rules out decisive leadership from this city because there aren’t enough Republicans in the Philadelphia caucus. And our leading voice in their caucus, State Rep. John Taylor (R-Northeast) is stepping down at the end of the year.

Even if the City Republican Party manages to retain Taylor’s seat, they cannot duplicate his decades of experience and respect overnight.

Since Democrat’s control the executive branch of the Keystone State, you might think Democrat-heavy Philadelphians would be well represented in its corner offices. Think again. Philadelphians are under-represented in the cabinet and top echelons of Gov. Tom Wolf, himself a Midstater. Just three of our own come to mind: Patrick McDonnell, Secretary of Environmental Protection; Jerry Oleksiak, Secretary of Labor & Industry; and Denise Smyler, General Counsel. While these jobs matter, they are not pivotal in setting overall administration policy.

NEWLY ELECTED State Committee officers from Philadelphia included Kathy Huggins, 2nd from L, 34th Ward Committeewoman and community organizer, as DSC recording secretary, and State Sen. Sharif Street, as vice chair.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Office often functions as a semi-official voice of geographical balance in the executive branch. But Philadelphia’s Lt. Gov. Mike Stack has been booted from the Democratic ticket in the November election. If Wolf wins re-election, the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion will be occupied by John Fetterman, who hails from Wolf’s native York County and won fame as mayor of a Pittsburgh suburb.

Within Pennsylvania Democratic Party leadership, though, Philadelphia still is able to hold the reins of power. That is, perhaps, only as it should be: One out of every five Democrats in Pennsylvania lives here.

Last week, when PDP met near Hershey to reorganize itself after the May primary, Philadelphians took two of its five leadership posts. State Sen. Sharif Street (D-N. Phila.) was chosen as vice chair and Kathryn Huggins, a 34th Ward protégée of Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.), assumed the role of recording secretary.

It’s up to these two to further causes dear to the hearts of Philadelphians (as opposed, perhaps, to Allegheny County residents) in important statewide counsels. Regardless of party affiliation, city residents must now rely on these two to conduct logrolling on our behalf when time comes to get important things done at the state level.

D.R.S. OWNER Robert Palaima, R, threw an intimate fundraiser at Spasso in Old City for State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr., L, a strong advocate for the Port of Philadelphia. ILA Local 1291 leader Boise Butler was pleased to lend his presence.

Interestingly, though, PDP chose as its party chair Nancy Patton Mills, who is based in – guess where? – Allegheny County. Patton Mills was chosen to lead the state party at the same time she was ousted as chair of her own county’s party. Go figure.

Patton Mills replaces at PDP’s helm Montgomery County’s Marcel Groen, who, whatever else may be said about him, at least lives within commuting range of Philadelphia. Chances are he knows what a cheesesteak is.

Wagner Works Philly Angles

Speaking of York County, its State Sen. Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate to knock off his neighbor Gov. Tom Wolf, is showing unusual interest in Philadelphia.

VICTORIOUS state rep candidate Elizabeth Fiedler treated her campaign volunteers to a party at Pub on E. Passyunk.

Wagner has dedicated digital advertising specifically to target Brotherly Love voters in the fall election. In a recent release, his campaign made a point of swearing his “commitment toward providing an alternative choice for an area of the commonwealth Tom Wolf has taken for granted during his time in office – Philadelphia.

“While the governor has stood by as the Philadelphia school system has fallen apart, the spot displays how Wagner is on a mission to be the first governor in generations, Republican or Democrat, to make the people of Philadelphia a priority and run a campaign focused on helping them.”

It is a different approach from the 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate, Gov. Tom Corbett, who, although he was very approachable by Philadelphians in practice, spent little time addressing Philadelphia issues in his campaigns.

WORKING across the aisle to ensure fair elections, City Commissioner Al Schmidt, R, held a fundraiser at Wissahickon Brewing Co. in East Falls. Sharing goodwill were Republican City Committee Chairman Mike Meehan and City Committee Chairwoman Lisa Deeley. Photos by Wendell Douglas

Wagner has also picked up another cause dear to Philadelphian hearts: raising the minimum wage. While this matters to many Pennsylvanians statewide, it is of particular interest in a city with a high poverty rate.

SB 865, proposed by Wagner, would increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $8.75 per hour in 50-cent increments over three years, but keep a training wage of $7.25 for everyone age 18 and below. It’s not as big an increase as what Democrats are calling for, but it takes a proactive stand on a subject in which hardcore conservatives have long resisted any change.

Wagner’s attention to Philadelphia may reflect a pragmatic, non-doctrinaire approach to policy. Then again, it may have been stimulated by the fact he got beaten in Philadelphia in the primary by ultra-conservative Western Pennsylvania health-care magnate Paul Mango. It is said that Mango’s success locally depended more on liberal contributions to Republican ward leaders than to his ideology. Regardless, Wagner may have decided that he can neither take the city vote for granted nor write it off.

Sessions Keeps Heat on Philly

Speaking recently in Scranton, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointedly made a poster child for sanctuary cities out of Philadelphia.

TANGO nightclub in Chinatown hosted a major fundraiser for Councilman Mark Squilla, whose district includes the heaviest concentration of Asian Americans in the city. Photos by Wendell Douglas

Addressing law-enforcement officials at a closed conference, Sessions said, “It cannot be that someone who illegally crosses the border in El Paso, Texas, and two days later arrives in … Philadelphia is home free,” he said.

Sessions took aim at Mayor Jim Kenney over a video showing the mayor dancing after his Law Department bested Sessions in a lawsuit to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from withhold federal grant money in order to force changes to local law-enforcement policies.

“This is the elected mayor of a major city in America celebrating lawlessness,” said Sessions. Sanctuary cities trigger higher crime and the opioid epidemic, the attorney general told his audience.

Casey Wins N.E. Police Nod

Meanwhile in Scranton, the Casey For Senate campaign announced the unanimous endorsement of the Scranton Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 285 law-enforcement officers.

Citizens Bank contributed $50,000 to CHOP’s South Philadelphia Community Health & Literacy Center on S. Broad Street. Both children and adults are provided with comprehensive health and wellness services, as well as a safe place to play. L-R were Moira Baylson, David Lowing, Mayor Jim Kenney, CHOP CEO Madeline Bell, Citizens Bank President Dan Fitzpatrick, Mike Casper, Peter Grollman and Kathy O’Donnell. Photo by Wendell Douglas

“We’re proud to announce our unanimous endorsement of Bob Casey for the United States Senate,” said Scranton FOP President Paul Helring. “A son of Scranton, Sen. Casey has worked tirelessly to ensure law enforcement officers have the resources they need to serve their communities and guarantee public safety. For years, he’s fought to increase federal investment in the Byrne/JAG criminal justice program, the COPS program, and the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program. Most recently, he worked across the aisle to pass into law the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act to increase educational benefits to the families of first responders killed in the line of duty. Sen. Casey has always had our back and we’re proud to have his in this campaign.”

Brady Slams Family Separation

Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.), like many city political leaders, condemned the Trump administration’s family-separation policy in immigration control.

“I have fought for a humane immigration policy by fighting for sanctuary, opposing deportations and pressing for changes in our laws,” Brady said. “And as a father, I’m appalled by the disgraceful Trump policy of ripping babies out of their mothers’ arms.

“How in good conscience can the U.S. allow immigrant children to be torn away from their parents and put in cages? There is no satisfactory rationale for this. What is the trauma that these children and their parents are experiencing in the land of the free and the brave? We cannot remain silent. We must act.”

Wolf Sends Rendell Best Wishes

Gov. Tom Wolf released the following statement on former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s announcement he is battling Parkinson’s disease.

PATHWAYS to Pardons held Lt. Gov. Mike Stack’s workshop at Frankford Boys & Girls Club, hosted by State Rep. Jason Dawkins, L. Dawkins consulted with Rev. Patrick Hozynski, who stressed the need for returning citizens to eliminate the stigma of a criminal record in order to succeed in society. Photo by Wendell Douglas

“Frances and I are sending our thoughts and encouragement to our friend Ed Rendell today. Pennsylvania has seen few leaders as tough as Ed and we have full confidence that neither has Parkinson’s disease. Ed should know that the entire commonwealth is standing behind him and hoping for the continued success of his treatment and therapy.

“As he always has, he is putting others first by going public with his diagnosis so others can also get the help they need.”

Saidel to Lead Fiscal Inquiry

Mayor Jim Kenney has selected former City Controller Jonathan Saidel to lead a financial-reconciliation task force to investigate the City’s poor accounting for tens of millions of dollars.

It was a good choice. Saidel ran the City’s books well when he occupied the Controller’s Office. He has no direct political connection to either the current or former administration and is widely liked.

‘Om’: Peace in ’Burg, if not on Earth

Fulfilling predictions, the legislature and governor met budget deadline for the first time, without a tax increase yet with more spending for education. It happens to be an election year.

OFFICIALS gathered on Tuesday to celebrate major progress in SEPTA’s effort to re-envision and overhaul the Center City Concourse. The event also served as the official renaming of the underground pedestrian corridor as the “Downtown Link.” SEPTA GM Jeffrey D. Knueppel, R, gives officials including Congressman Dwight E. Evans, C, and Councilman Mark Squilla a tour of the Downtown Link.

Fittingly, the General Assembly started their respective sessions with another first: Hindu prayers from world’s oldest scripture.

Hindu Rajan Zed delivered the invocations from the Rig-Veda and other sacred texts before the Senate and House and sprinkled few drops of water from the River Ganges, considered sacred by Hindus, on the occasion.

Zed, who is the president of Universal Society of Hinduism, recited from Rig-Veda, the oldest scripture of the world still in common use and other ancient Hindu scriptures. He started and ended the prayer with “Om”, the mystical syllable containing the universe, which in Hinduism is used to introduce and conclude religious work. “Lead us from the unreal to the real,” he quoted the scriptures.

Thanks, we needed that.

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