What a week
The gang declares a no fly zone, council sets a special election, a bribery trial begins // PLUS: a new album by Bel
Clown-world got you down? It’s been a wild week in Philadelphia politics. Let’s work backwards from here:
“This” refers to City Council spending its precious time debating a resolution “urging NATO to establish a limited no fly zone over humanitarian corridors over Ukraine.” As soon as council watchdog Lauren Vidas sent out the tweet, people seized on the absurdist nonsense:
Greg Price @greg_price11What I am about to tell you is not a joke: The Philadelphia City Council spent this morning debating a resolution to urge the White House to establish a no fly zone over Ukraine. Philly set records for violent crime in 2021, and the city council is busy debating foreign policy.
Obviously, even if the resolution was passed, it would’ve had no real-world impact. The White House doesn’t look to Philadelphia City Council for foreign policy advice. But as ridiculous as the resolution seems, you might be wondering if all the criticism (there was a great deal of dunking) is really necessary. It’s just one measly resolution, right? Wrong:
Sean Walsh @sbcmwHave you been wondering where Philadelphia City Council members stand on the feasibility of limited no-fly zones in Ukraine? No? Well, here you go: https://t.co/AL9JZMrp9g
Alright, but how often is “all the time,” really? Turns out, it’s about 55% of the time:
So, yes, the criticism is warranted, and our pundits have rightly been pouring it on. Here’s a passage that I found especially potent from a Charles Ellison-Mark Gleason op-ed taking City Council to task:
Philadelphia residents… don’t want to worry about being gunned down on a daily basis…. They want their trash picked up... And while City Council is more than capable of tackling these issues, they are actively choosing not to do so.
City Council is overwhelmingly Black, and nearly all members come from the same Democratic party. They don’t have separatist and Far Right colleagues to blame for stalled or blocked legislation. According to a report produced by Billy Penn and PlanPhilly, “Philadelphia City Council introduced over 15,000 bills and resolutions in the last two decades … all legislation that made it to a floor vote has passed—with just five exceptions.”
If the members of City Council want to pass a bill, they can pass a bill.
The upshot here is that City Council has absolutely no excuse for not getting shit done. The only explanations for inaction are: (1) lack of know-how or (2) lack of interest. When it comes to complex issues like violence and addiction, I can, to some extent, accept lack of know-how as a relevant factor. Not so when it comes to the trash crisis. If clean streets were a priority for the city, we would have clean streets. Which begs the question: what exactly are the priorities of our elected officials? And this question plunges us further into the clown-world week we had.
On Wednesday, “Council President Darrell Clarke set May 17th for the special election to replace Bobby Henon, who resigned after being convicted of federal corruption charges.” So, we were already short one councilmember due to a corruption conviction when, on Thursday, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s bribery trial officially began. In 2014, Johnson pushed a zoning change through council that benefitted a developer who had recently paid his wife over $66,000 for a “consulting job” that, suspiciously, required very little of her time. The trial concerns whether or not the seemingly phony consulting payment amounted to a bribe. But as Larry Platt pointed out for The Philadelphia Citizen, the trial’s outcome is almost moot:
One insider observed to me that Universal may have thought they were bribing Johnson and Chavous [his wife], but that Johnson and Chavous might not have shared that understanding—an interesting distinction. We’ll see. Maybe the facts will show it’s legal to use the power of your office to benefit a political benefactor who hired your wife as a consultant in what the feds, at least, characterize as a no-show job. But, surely, in our court of public opinion, it is safe to say that that sure sounds counter to the interests of the common good.
Whether Johnson is convicted or not, he was up to some shady shit. He’s used the power of his office for his own financial gain. Now he’s another name on the long and ever-growing list of Philly’s elected officials who’ve been either credibly accused or actually convicted of corruption. And perhaps the most absurd thing of all is that, lately, some of the other names on that list have emerged as voices of reason concerning our most pressing problems.
The main focus of that Platt article is the issue of councilmanic prerogative, and Platt looks to a name from the list for insight:
“Hell, yes, it’s a big problem,” says former councilmember Rick Mariano, a Johnny Doc apparatchik who was convicted on bribery charges and went to prison for four years in 2005…
Now Mariano is a returning citizen who has the scars to see through all of council’s B.S. “Councilmanic prerogative creates winners and losers, you know? You should just focus on constituent service. It’s easier to help everybody than to worry about all that stuff. One guy on council even said to me, ‘I don’t talk to nobody unless I met them at one of my fundraisers.’ You believe that shit? And I’m the guy who went to prison?”
Mariano’s a colorful guy who takes responsibility for his misdeeds in public office, even though he says he didn’t understand them at the time. (“I ain’t ever heard of ‘theft of services.’”) But he makes an important point: Councilmanic prerogative works against the ability of government to be equally responsive to all its citizens.
Then there’s Seth Williams, Philly’s former DA, who served three years in prison for “accepting gifts” and is now a prominent voice talking a lot of sense on gun violence. As bizarre as City Council’s no fly zone resolution was, this last link is my personal nomination for “greatest example of absurdist Philly nonsense ever.” Amid an historic surge in gun violence, the acting DA sluffs off responsibility onto the former DA, thereby provoking the fallen leader, fresh out of prison, to pen an op-ed critiquing the current leader for his undeniable ineptitude and, further, proposing some rather sensible alternatives.
In Philly, we have special elections to replace convicted councilmembers, other councilmembers bogged down with active corruption trials, those not facing charges spending 55% of their time passing irrelevant resolutions, once-incarcerated officials being the voices of reason, and, oh yeah, our former mayor making a habit of publicly trouncing our acting one. It’s enough to make your head spin, and, of course, it reminds me of a Tom Waits song:
The bald-headed senators are splashing in the blood…
Their families shout blue murder but tomorrow it's the same…
And the madness of the crowd is an epileptic fit…
No justice here, no liberty, no reason, No blame
But, as I’ve said repeatedly, above and before, there’s one problem facing Philly to which “tomorrow it’s the same” most definitely need not apply. That would be the trash. Amid all the madness, it’s both politically and logistically feasible to get the garbage off our streets.
On the one hand, you’d have to be crazy to want to hold office in Philly right now. On the other, the bar has literally never been lower:
Please, for the love of God, do better.
Respectfully (as I’ve signed once before),
Voters who’d kiss the ground beneath your feet if only it wasn’t buried in garbage
Check out Bel’s debut album, Beaches! According to her Spotify bio:
Bel is the project of Isabel Furman, a Philadelphia-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her intimate, emotive songs evoke indie rock and dreamy folk, anchored by an earnest and poetic songwriting style. Bel’s songs center on personal narrative and orbit around imaginative and intricate guitar playing, influenced by techniques of jazz, folk, and rock. Growing up in a family of musicians, Bel learned the most about music from her brothers, who are her favorite collaborators; her older brother, who makes music as Frankie Furm, produced her single “Amelia” and her upcoming album. Bel also has performed as part of the Philadelphia band Air Devi and collaborates with musicians around the city.
Her debut EP Medicine, released in February 2020, was recorded in bedrooms and basements by Bel and friends, and exudes the vulnerability of these spaces. Bel’s 2021 single Amelia, an upbeat, indie-pop rumination on gender, takes a different direction sonically, indicating a shift away from her lo-fi folk sound. Her single “Beaches,” an anthemic indie-rock ballad, is the title track off her upcoming debut full-length album, set to be released in March 2022.
Well, it’s March 2022, and Beaches has indeed been released. Here’s the album cover, featured in her Instagram post announcing the release:
And here’s my personal favorite track:
If all of me’s a bruise yellowing, I know I’d fade to pale again
The soreness just a phantom limb, just a sign that I had bled
As it stands this gradient remains, varied shades of red
Like a burn that can’t be iced or fed
With niceties and friendship
Alright, y’all — bundle up for a few days of cold weather. More warmth is on the way. Happy Friday.