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I Was Wrong To Question The DRPA

 Later this year, it is possible — even probable — that the following individuals will all be in jail: former powerhouse Senator Vince Fumo, former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, Senators Jane Orie and Bob Mellow (both of Leadership), and former Representatives Mike Veon and Brett Feese (also from Leadership). 

 

On the one hand, seeing corrupt politicians brought to justice is a good thing, as is all the money they are giving back to taxpayers via forfeited pensions.

 

But there is a downside. While such offenders should obviously be prosecuted, people’s cynicism toward their government seems to be at an all-time high. Why? Because the rampant corruption still occurring — the kind that directly affects people — just isn’t being tackled seriously. 

 

Despite elements of corruption — both institutional and criminal — so apparent that even a law student could successfully prosecute the violators, nothing seems to get done. 

 

Worst of all are the pols who campaign as straight-shooting, law-and-order reformers, hell-bent on rooting out corruption, yet do nothing of the kind when elected.  Sadly, they often end up as corrupt as those they challenged.  The status quo remains intact, and, save for a bit of window dressing “reforms” here and there, it’s Business As Usual.

 

Nowhere is that more apparent that the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), one of the most powerful — and corrupt — organizations in the entire nation.

 

But wait! Could there be hope after all of reforming the Authority?  Sources say that a report from the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office will be released soon (possibly Monday), and that a gag order has been placed on its contents by the DRPA’s Chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Tim Corbett.  Sounds so cloak-and-dagger that it’s just possible to think maybe, just maybe, this might finally be the time when the bums are kicked out, replaced by honest folks with only one objective: responsible stewardship of the toll payers’ money.

 

After all, on the other side of the river we have firebrand Governor Chris Christie, who, like Corbett, is a former prosecutor.

 

So will this be the day we’ve been waiting for?

 

Fat chance. Very fat.

 

*****

 

Freindly Fire (FF) has been the longest-serving media voice taking on the DRPA and the heavyweights involved with the Authority (Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, the Ballard Spahr law firm, CEO John Matheussen, and past and present Boards, to name just a few). For much of the past four years, FF has been alone in its quest to upend the corrupt regime, eliminate mammoth conflicts of interest, fire double-dipping executives, and bring accountability to the agency.  Joined by FOX 29 in 2010— and pretty much only FOX 29 — a number of the above objectives were met.  DRPA execs were scrambling (some were canned), a few reforms were instituted (though mostly toothless), criminal investigations were launched, and both new governors promised swift and decisive action.

 

But then it all fell off a cliff.

 

While we have moved in the right direction, it is not nearly good enough.  Quite frankly, this report will probably accomplish nothing.  Sure, there will be press conferences with harsh warnings from Corbett and Christie for the DRPA to shape up, Board members will say all the right things, and taxpayer and reform groups will fall for the same empty promises. And you know what will happen?

 

Absolutely nothing.

 

Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a new position regarding all things DRPA — I am apologizing.  In retrospect, I have been wrong across the board these past few years, and it is only fitting to publicly eat crow for those errors. I am man-enough to admit my mistakes.  Here are some of the most substantial:

 

1) I was wrong to think Tom Corbett would make good on his promise to clean house upon becoming Governor (and making himself DRPA Chair).  Instead, he chose to appoint hacks, lawyers (redundant?), former union officials, large-dollar political contributors and lobbyists to the Board, without so much as one reformer.

 

2) I was wrong to think Christie would use his office as a bully pulpit to demand the Jersey Board members (whom he can’t replace until their terms expire) to fire CEO Matheussen, under whose “leadership” the DRPA has become synonymous with “corrupt.”  This is a CEO, by the way, who has been working without a contract for years, makes more than either governor, and stands to pocket a six-figure sum of toll payer money in accumulated sick/vacation days when he finally leaves. Yet he remains because there has been no political will to remove him.

 

3) I was wrong to think the other media outlets (except FOX 29) would jump on board, exposing the DRPA for what it really is.  And I was wrong to assume they were capable of doing so in the first place, despite time and again giving them an exact roadmap for investigative articles.

 

4) I was wrong to think the Philadelphia Inquirer — both under former publisher Brian Tierney’s failed leadership and the current sell-out ownership — would cover the DRPA as a media watchdog should.  Could such inaction have been caused by Tierney begging Rendell for a taxpayer-bailout of the paper? And let’s not forget that, while R.endell was in power, the acting Board Chairman was John Estey of Ballard Spahr — Rendell’s former Chief of Staff, a major Rendell fundraiser, and a fellow member of Rendell’s law firm.  So obviously, I was wrong to even consider the possibility that the paper could objectively cover the matter.

 

5) I was wrong to expect that over $35 million in “economic development” money —codespeak for political slush funds used for everything under the sun —except the bridges — would be spent on 1) the long-overdue re-decking of the Walt Whitman Bridge; 2) helping offset yet another toll increase; or 3) paying down some of the DRPA’s enormous debt. 

 

And I would be wrong to end my list here, since there is so much more.  So check back next week for even more wrongs.  And who know?  Maybe all these wrongs might somehow make it right…

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm Comments (0)

Rendell’s Real Legacy: High Taxes, Low Ratings And Clenched Teeth

It was a December night, late 90’s.  My entire family was in downtown Philadelphia taking in the Christmas attractions.  One of our traditions was marveling at the magnificently decorated, larger-than-life tree in the City Hall courtyard.  But when we arrived, the gates were locked.

Viewing the tree wasn’t going to happen.

Disappointed, we started walking away when none other than the Mayor himself came bounding out of City Hall right next to us, clearly in a hurry.  But he saw us, turned around, and shot the bull for several minutes.  Upon hearing our plight, he immediately summoned a police officer from his detail and instructed him to take us up to his office, which “has the best view of the tree,” for as long as we wanted.

That tree never looked so beautiful.

And through it all, that Mayor never asked us our names or where we lived.  Whether or not we were voting constituents had absolutely no bearing on him.  He instinctively did what he thought was right, in much the same way he operated while an Assistant District Attorney, and later, the City’s DA.  He was one of the good guys.

And after his two relatively successful terms as Mayor, hopes that he would lead Pennsylvania in the right direction were not unfounded.

But after eight disastrous years as Pennsylvania’s Governor, Ed Rendell being viewed as a “good guy” is as likely as the Eagles’ winning this year’s Super Bowl: nonexistent.

*****

Up to this point, his legacy was known for three things: the introduction of gambling, which did not live up to the promise of tax-relief; huge tax hikes, coupled with a 40 per cent increase in state spending; and a perception of widespread pay-to-play within his Administration. Of lesser note but still sore subjects were his signing an unconstitutional legislative pay raise and not getting a single budget passed on time — budgets that were full of smoke and mirrors, such as imaginary revenue from the failed I-80 tolling plan.

But now, the image of Rendell that is etched in people’s minds is the Governor blowing his top during one of his final interviews. 

With teeth clenched in a menacing growl, he karate-chops the air and literally screams at 60 Minutes interviewer Lesley Stahl that … “You guys don’t get that. You’re simpletons. You’re idiots if you don’t get that.”   He was defending his position that gaming was good for Pennsylvania, under the rationale that if gamblers are going to lose their paychecks anyway, it’s better for state coffers if they lose them in Pennsylvania.

Truth be told, Rendell’s anger wasn’t really directed at Stahl.  An intelligent man, the Governor is all too aware that, under his watch, the state earned points in all the wrong categories: some of the highest taxes in the country; the nation’s most hostile legal system, causing doctors and companies to flee; a failing educational product; the country’s worst roads, and a decimated manufacturing base.

Pennsylvania’s biggest export is its children, and that, more than anything, has extinguished the hope for a better tomorrow under Rendell.

But if there is ever to be a turnaround, the time is now. Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett will be the state’s new Governor, a leader who has promised to run Pennsylvania in the mold of New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  And he definitely has the horses to accomplish his agenda: the Senate is solidly Republican, and the State House saw a thirteen seat swing to give the GOP a double-digit majority.

Many analysts postulated that Dan Onorato was defeated in the Governor’s race, and the Democrats lost control of the State House, because of the national Republican tidal wave, with Rendell playing little role in that result.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the off-year elections of 1994 and 2010, newly elected Democratic Presidents pushed unpopular policies: Clinton with national health care and gays in the military, and Obama with universal healthcare, cap-and-trade and the stimulus. In both cases, Republicans took advantage of the momentum and captured the U.S. House of Representatives and numerous Governorships, including the gubernatorial victories of Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. 

The State House was a different story. In 1994, the outgoing Governor, Bob Casey, Sr., was a popular conservative Democrat, and his influence helped the Dems maintain their slim majority. But Rendell was an albatross around the neck of Onorato, his protégé, and Democratic incumbents statewide.  Given that Corbett made Rendell’s legacy the focal point of his campaign, the Governor bears the most responsibility for his Party’s shellacking.

It’s legacy time for the Governor, and his approval ratings are downright dismal: twenties throughout much of the state and only thirties in his home base of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Poll numbers don’t lie, so when the vast majority of people say that Rendell’s eight years at the helm were a disaster, the realization of failure sets in, and backlashes occur — hence the uncontrolled outburst on 60 Minutes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Rendell’s unpopularity is that it occurred despite the media’s cozy relationship with the Governor.  That free pass culminated when…

Read the rest and post a comment at Philly Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/11/rendell%e2%80%99s-legacy-high-taxes-low-ratings-and-clenched-teeth/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newsApapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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January 11, 2011 at 11:14 am Comments (0)

Rendell’s Fast-Sinking Bailout: Build Ships With No Buyers

But Corbett Can Drop Anchor On Governor’s Taxpayer Boondoggle

In the movie Dave, Kevin Kline plays a presidential lookalike who finds himself running the country after the real President falls into a coma.  Convening a Cabinet meeting, this political novice uses common sense to expose the ludicrous mentality of the entrenched Business As Usual crowd.

Kline asks the Commerce Secretary about an ad campaign his Department has implemented to boost consumer confidence in the American auto industry.  “It’s designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase,” the Secretary proudly explained.

Speechless at first, Kline fires back, “We’re spending millions for somebody to feel good about a car they already bought? I don’t want to tell an eight-year-old kid he’s gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?”  The shocked Secretary (finally) sees the light, and the program is eliminated.

Incredibly, that mentality isn’t limited to fictional Hollywood scripts, but is a large part of the way our governmental leaders operate. Look at what Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell is trying to pull off before he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion a few weeks from now.

Shortly before leaving office, Rendell authorized $42 million in taxpayer money to be sent to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to help bail out the sinking Aker Shipyard in Philadelphia.

The funding, we are told, would prevent Aker from going under, since it would be building two new tanker ships.  

Of course, there’s one small problem.

There are no buyers for the ships.  And the prospect of that changing course anytime soon is virtually nonexistent.

Thousands of ships worldwide are lying at anchor because of the global recession, idled indefinitely because the demand for shipping is dismally low.  It’s gotten so bad that some ship owners are even scrapping their vessels to eliminate harbor costs, receiving pennies on the dollar. But the remaining glut of vessels is still huge, depressing prices for the foreseeable future.

So, let’s be “Dave” for a second and get this straight.

Rendell wants to spend money — our money, since there’s no such thing as “state” money — to build ships…that no one is going to buy, ostensibly so some 1,000 workers can keep receiving a subsidized paycheck. And since there aren’t any buyers, the ships obviously wouldn’t be built-to-order, further devaluing them and making their eventual purchase all the more difficult.

Rendell may not care, but I certainly wouldn’t want to tell a mother that her child died in a bridge collapse that resulted from a lack of maintenance — because $42 million was spent on ghost ships instead of bridge repairs.

But what type of Rendell move would it be if he didn’t take care of his political pals and big-time fundraisers?

The Chairman of the PRPA is none other than John Estey, former Rendell Chief of Staff and a longtime partner at Ballard Spahr, the Guv’s old firm which has received the lion’s share of millions in no-bid legal contracts from the state.  And guess who the outside counsel of PRPA was?  Ballard Spahr.

This is the same John Estey who is also Chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which is intricately linked to the PRPA, sending millions their way over the years.

The DRPA couldn’t dole out legal contracts fast enough to Ballard when it served as its outside counsel — over $3.2 million since Rendell was elected in 2002, up from $480 the year prior. And when Chairman Estey voted to approve those legal bills, he was, in fact, approving funds that went directly to Ballard — his own firm. 

Ballard and its associated entities, by the way,…..

Read the rest and post a comment at Phily Mag’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/07/another-rendell-bailout-build-ships-with-no-buyers/

 

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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January 7, 2011 at 10:16 am Comments (0)

Tierney and the Teamsters? God Help Us

Webster’s defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed.”

But there should be another entry: Teamsters Local 628.

You see, these are the guys who destroyed months of work by those trying to resurrect the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News papers.  The Teamsters were the ONLY union out of 16 who chose not to negotiate in good faith (READ: common sense) with the papers’ prospective new owners.

In doing so, they have jeopardized thousands of jobs.

The deal is off, and the papers are going back on the auction block. 

Worse still, former publisher Brian Tierney, whom the Teamsters unabashedly supported, is not out of the newspaper business yet. 

In fact, Tierney allies Raymond Perelman, a billionaire who bid with the Tierney group during the last auction, and the Carpenters Union , who lost every penny of its original pension fund investment but mysteriously keeps throwing more money on the table — have once again submitted a bid.

God help us.

*****

It was under Tierney’s reign that the newspapers were driven into bankruptcy. 

When investors backing Tierney bought the papers in 2006, the “local ownership” angle was spun by the former PR exec as being the saving grace of journalism in the state.  Local ownership of the papers, we were told, would produce the stories that mattered — the ones the public was thirsting to read. 

Instead, it became the exact opposite.

Thorough “no sacred cows” reporting virtually died, with only two major investigative stories being produced in Tierney’s four years at the helm. 

Given the papers’ vast resources, coverage of Philadelphia’s corruption could have, and should have, produced daily stories. 

But it didn’t happen.

And in the area that provided the lowest-hanging fruit — the administration of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, with more conflicts than could be counted — there was virtually nothing of substance coming from the papers.

Where were the stories on the Delaware River Port Authority’s unchecked conflicts and cronyism?  The Philadelphia Housing Authority and its widespread abuses?  The millions upon millions of secretive no-bid contracts doled out to huge campaign donors — including Ballard Spahr, the guv’s former firm and a huge beneficiary of the Administration’s largesse?

In fact, Ballard was so cozy with Rendell that it performed $773,000 in legal work for the state — with NO contract.

And where was the state’s biggest media watchdog, with its vaunted local ownership, for any of these stories?

Nowhere to be found.

Pathetically, it seemed that the most important question the Inky’s reporters asked the Governor was his thoughts on the prospect of an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.

The journalistic demise of the once-proud papers should have come as no surprise, however, given Tierney’s close relationship with Rendell.

After all, Tierney sought a taxpayer-funded bailout of his ailing papers from Rendell himself.  Millions were on the table, from “economic development” grants to state pension investments to housing state workers in the Inquirer building.

That’s right.  Publisher Tierney expected the public to believe that the papers would have objectively covered Ed Rendell and state government issues despite the Governor’s saving the company from bankruptcy.

Just as disturbing, though, was that Rendell was ready, willing and able to oblige.

Until the deal was exposed by a media entity not afraid to tackle the tough issues, wherever they led.

A week later, the papers filed for bankruptcy. Following  a bitter dispute lasting over a year, the creditors finally took control after winning the bankruptcy auction.

Or so we thought.

Enter the Teamsters.

*****

More often than not, rank-and-file union members are not to blame when their union does something greedy or idiotic (which, this being Philadelphia, happens a lot). 

Union workers rightfully place faith in their leaders, with the reasonable expectation that Leadership will act in the best interest of the members.

The Teamsters’ rejection of a…….

Read the rest and post a comment at FreindlyFireZone.com:

http://www.freindlyfirezone.com/index.php/national-news/item/94-tierney-and-the-teamsters?-god-help-us

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX 29.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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September 23, 2010 at 8:00 am Comments (0)

DRPA Vice Chair Jeff Nash: Conflict With Wife’s Company?

In a February, 2008 media report, Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) Vice Chairman Jeff Nash, also an elected Camden County Freeholder, ominously warned that “…the deck of the Walt Whitman (Bridge) HAD a 50-year life span….We’re at 50 years, two months.”

Two and a half years later, the decking project of the Walt Whitman has not yet begun.  Why?  Lack of money, we are told, which is in part why the Port Authority just went further into debt by borrowing $320 million.

Of course, as with all things DRPA, that’s not the whole story.

The money was there.  They just chose to ignore the bridges, instead channeling huge bucks to perks and political patronage deals.

The DRPA has squandered nearly $400 million in so-called “economic development” projects that have nothing to do with the bridges, and now finds itself more than $1.5 billion in debt.

Due to intense media scrutiny, a series of reforms have been suggested by Ed Rendell, who, as Pennsylvania Governor, appoints the DRPA Chairman.  After his election in 2002, Rendell appointed himself Chairman, and last year made his former Chief of Staff and longtime political fundraiser and confidante John Estey —a partner at Ballard Spahr, the Governor’s former firm — the Chairman.

The reforms, while noteworthy, do not resolve the immense conflicts of interest which have gone unchecked for years and still permeate the entire Authority.

Like the fox being given oversight to “guard” the henhouse, Rendell and the DRPA audaciously expect the forgotten tollpayers — on whose back the DRPA has trodden — to believe that the reforms will be effectively implemented by the very people who are knee deep in all the conflicts.

For an example, let’s look at a conflict involving Vice Chairman Nash….

Read the rest at Philly Mag:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/08/03/more-questions-and-conflicts-at-drpa/

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August 3, 2010 at 11:06 am Comments (0)

Open Letter To Gov. Christie: Five Reasons To Dump DRPA Chief John Matheussen

 Governor Christie:

Political courage.

That is the description you have earned as Governor.  And for good reason.

You have successfully confronted the most powerful special interests in the state, sending a message that there are no sacred cows. In doing so, to the pleasant surprise of millions, the entrenched “business as usual” crowd is finally on the run.

In that regard, I want to discuss what is perhaps the most patronage-laden and inefficient entity in the state — the Delaware River Port Authority.

As you are aware, the contract of Authority Chief Executive John Matheussen expired July 17. While he is still functioning month-to-month as the CEO, his future rests with you.

There has been much coverage devoted to the largesse of the DRPA, specifically the $400 million in “economic development” funds that were spent on everything under the sun — except the bridges — leading to massive debt and rising tolls.

In addition to the misuse of the people’s money, there are a number of other factors to consider when deciding whether Mr. Matheussen’s contract should be renewed by the Board and approved by you.

Following are several examples of John Matheussen’s failed leadership:

1) Permitted Immense Conflicts Of Interest

Without question, Matheussen’s greatest failing is his toleration of the unfettered conflicts of interest that permeate the DRPA Board.

Upon assuming office in 2002, Governor Rendell appointed himself Chairman of the DRPA. One of the major beneficiaries has been his former firm, Ballard Spahr. In the three years preceding Rendell’s election, Ballard received $25,000 in legal fees from the Port Authority, including only $480 in 2001. From 2002 until the 2009, Ballard has received over $2.7 million.

Ballard, its attorneys and associated entities have contributed $1.5 million to Rendell’s campaigns.

Two of the governor’s former top aides, John Estey, his former chief of staff and Adrian King, his former deputy chief of staff, are currently partners at Ballard, and both hold or have held influential positions related to DRPA.

Estey has chaired virtually every Board meeting since 2002, and Mr. King served as the Authority’s Outside Counsel. Mr. Estey and Mr. King are brothers-in-law, and together have contributed over $35,000 to Mr. Rendell’s political coffers.

Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin Wiessmann, who had been a Rendell appointee, sits on the DRPA Board. Her husband, Ken Jarin, also a partner at Ballard, served as DRPA Outside Counsel and occasionally chaired board meetings

Incomprehensibly, Matheussen never raised an eyebrow when Estey, King, Jarin, and Wiessmann voted to “accept and receive” Ballard’s legal bills to DRPA, since that action amounted to money going into their law firm’s pocket, and, ultimately their own.

As you know better than most, Governor, the toughest challenge of being a leader is to buck the crowd and do the right thing, no matter how difficult.  But instead of illustrating that trait, John Matheussen was an instrumental part of the go-along, get along crowd — to the detriment of all but the insiders

 

2) The Campaign Finance Report Conflict Of DRPA Executive John Rogale ….

(Read More at Philadelphia Magazine: Comments welcome)

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/07/21/its-time-to-clean-house-at-the-drpa/

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July 21, 2010 at 11:04 am Comments (0)

Chambers Of Horrors: Chambers of Commerce Have Sold Their Soul

Chambers Of Commerce Have Sold Their Soul

“The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting regional economic growth…and advancing business-friendly public policies.”

So says the Mission Statement of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce.

It further states that it is, “dedicated to supporting and encouraging the continued growth” of its members by striving “to influence business-friendly legislation in all levels of government, participate in initiatives to improve education and the community.”

And its Public Policy department is supposed “…to address pro-business legislation directly with the policy-makers who can make a difference.”

Wow.

If only the Chamber put just a small fraction of that mission into reality, maybe Philadelphia wouldn’t be such a dismal place to live and work.

But the city Chamber is not alone in selling out its members.

Last month, the Montgomery County Chamber, in an act that defies belief, issued a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Governor Ed Rendell at a “Celebration of Excellence” event. 

It’s no small point that Rendell, more than anyone, is responsible for the carnage that is Pennsylvania’s economy.

*****

Chambers of Commerce are, and should be, non partisan.  They should work with, and support, candidates who advocate pro-business policies.  Even more important, they should be vocal —and unified —in opposing those who favor policies contrary to their mission.

Call me crazy, but Ed Rendell fits into the latter category.  Of this, there can be no dispute.

Maybe Rendell’s vision has been shaped by the belief that government knows best, and wealth should be redistributed from those who work to those who don’t.

Or maybe it’s because he’s been on the public dole for virtually his entire working life, which certainly gives one a different perspective from those in the private sector creating jobs, meeting payroll, and growing the economy.

Either way, Rendell’s policies should have been opposed at every turn by the Chambers, whose primary responsibility is to fight for a pro-business legislative agenda.

But too many didn’t.  And for a Chamber of Commerce, even one sell–out is one too many.

In the Montco Chamber’s case, maybe leader Al Paschall wanted to be liked by Rendell; maybe it was an ego boost to have the Governor know his name.

That’s fine if you’re a regular citizen, but not if you run a Chamber of Commerce.

So how could Rendell, of all people, have earned anAchievement Award?

 Difficult to answer, given the governor’s fiscal record.  Consider:

Read the rest of Freindly Fire’s column at:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/05/12/chambers-of-horrors/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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May 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comments (0)

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Gov. Should Not Try To “Partner” With The Media

BY CHRIS FREIND

Ed Rendell just doesn’t get it.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor has always had a long history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, but an article in the Aug. 24 New Yorker magazine confirms that Rendell either doesn’t know about the line between government and the media — or just doesn’t care.

It was reported that Rendell had approached billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year to buy the financially ailing Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Mr. Rendell was quoted as saying, “We discussed a few things, and I tried to convince him to come down and buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News.”

After being questioned on his statement, a Rendell spokesman said the governor was just kidding.

Sure he was.

After all, joking about the Inquirer’s demise ranks among the funniest things in the world.

If Fast Eddie didn’t have a track record of wildly overstepping his boundaries, maybe his “joke” excuse would be believable.

Consider:

Earlier this year, Rendell publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action “unconscionable.” Yet he didn’t say a word about the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.

Could that disparity have something to do with the amount of campaign money both entities contributed to the governor?

Since the 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to Rendell.

During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350, with Comcast spending an additional $100,000 on the gov’s inauguration festivities in 2007.

But beyond the money trail, the larger question is why a governor is budding into the business affairs of a private-sector company. One of the fundamental principles of this country – at least until recently – is that businesses be allowed to operate free of government interference. Public officials and bureaucrats have no right to force their way into affecting corporate policy because they happen to disagree with a company’s internal business decisions.

Worse than that, however, has been Rendell’s foray into the news media.

The Fourth Estate, as the media is known, is afforded constitutional protections that allow it to be the independent watchdog for America. Once the line is crossed between a media entity and a government official discussing a partnership, all credibility is irreparably lost, on both sides. Attempting to say that such a close relationship would not affect unbiased and objective reporting is simply ludicrous.

But that’s exactly what Rendell has been doing.

Before the current owners of the Inquirer and Daily News bought the papers in 2006, the governor had approached billionaire Ron Burkle, urging him to make a bid. Burkle, a huge player in Democratic politics, contributed $10,000 to Rendell, and another $100,000 to the state Democratic Party. Additionally, he had raised over $1 million for Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and he also contributed $20,000 to the Philadelphia Future PAC, which makes this deplorable situation come full circle.

The Philadelphia Future PAC pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers, and is registered at the offices of the Ballard Spahr— the law firm where Rendell worked before being elected governor.

The PAC’s treasurer is David Cohen, arguably the governor’s closest ally, and Executive Vice President at Comcast. Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell, is a longtime Rendell confidant and fundraiser, serving as chief of staff when Mr. Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr. Cohen’s wife Rhonda donated $156,000 to the governor.

Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of the secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell administration. The firm has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Mr. Cohen also serves as chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.  Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and chamber member, no action was taken by the chamber to defend the company.

See a pattern here?

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when yours truly broke the story earlier this year that Rendell was engaged in talks with Brian Tierney, publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News, for a taxpayer-funded bailout for the papers. At Gov. Rendell’s request, meetings also took place that explored the two largest state pension funds bailing out the newspapers.

After a public uproar, Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the papers, filed for bankruptcy.

Despite criticism from the Wall Street Journal, which called taxpayer-bailouts for newspapers “the worst bailout idea so far,” George Will’s syndicated column, and the Dick Morris’ New York Times bestseller Catastrophe, Mr. Rendell still doesn’t see anything wrong with exerting his influence in the private sector.

Undoubtedly, he would have been better off focusing on the duties for which he was elected. If he had, Pennsylvania wouldn’t be facing a $3.2 billion deficit, and his approval rating wouldn’t stand at a dismal 39%.

The governor’s repeated efforts to be an integral part of the very media charged with covering his performance is repugnant. If he wants to be part of a newspaper upon leaving office, good for him. But until that time, he needs to do his job— and hopefully the rest of the media will do the same.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent newspaper columnist whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. His home publication is The Philadelphia Bulletin. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 21, 2009 at 7:26 am Comments (0)

Open Letter To Gov. Rendell: Why Your Approval Rating Is So Dismal

Open Letter To Gov. Rendell: Why Your Approval Rating Is So Dismal

BY CHRIS FREIND

Dear Gov. Rendell:

I noted with interest that your current approval rating stands at just 39% — the lowest point in your career. Despite denying my repeated requests for a one-on-one interview, I nonetheless offer my thoughts as to why you have fallen out of favor with so many Pennsylvanians.

Conflicts Of Interest

First and foremost, the citizens of the Keystone State are fed up with what they see as huge conflicts of interest permeating every level of your Administration, with you being the focal point of many.

The appearance of a governor showing favoritism and special treatment to his big-dollar political donors, close friends, campaign fundraisers, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, one’s former law firm, raises eyebrows and sinks people’s faith in government.

For example, Ballard Spahr, the law firm where you worked from 1999 to 2002, billed a total of $25,000 in legal fees to the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) in the three years which preceded your election as governor. Since then, Ballard has billed over $3 million. Considering that you were the self-appointed Chairman of the Authority during this bonanza time for Ballard, many still wonder at this peculiar arrangement.

Making matters even more suspect, your former Chief of Staff, John Estey, voted on your behalf as the Chairman-designate at virtually every meeting. Since you made him the outright Chairman three months ago, he continues to vote to receive and accept Ballard Spahr’s legal bills to the DRPA. As a partner at Ballard, Estey is, therefore, voting to put money into his own firm’s coffers — a situation that offends many of your constituents and would never fly in the private sector.

Additionally, Mr. Estey is also the chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), an agency of the Commonwealth which you control. Not surprisingly, Ballard Spahr also happens to be the PRPA’s outside counsel.

But what takes the cake is Ballard Spahr performing nearly $800,000 worth of legal work for the Pennsylvania Turnpike privatization initiative with no contract. That’s not a no-bid contract, mind you. It’s no contract at all. Must be nice to be Ballard Spahr.

From assisting Al Boscov (of Boscov’s department stores) with a $35 million taxpayer-funded bailout, after Boscov and his family contributed $164,000 to your campaigns, to awarding a no-bid contract to a Houston law firm, whose lead partner donated $91,000 to your campaign efforts, an increasing number of Pennsylvanians are, quite frankly, skeptical of your integrity. Addressing that should be your first priority.

Your Comcast “High-Speed” Connection

Earlier this year, you publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action “unconscionable.” Yet you were notably silent concerning the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.

Why the disparity? A look at the campaign money trail might well provide the answer.

Since your 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to your campaign, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2,650.

During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350 to you. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on your inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated a“Benefactor,” the highest level of contributor.

One of your closest allies, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen (and your former Mayoral Chief of Staff), has contributed $80,000 to your campaigns. His wife, Rhonda, donated an additional $156,000. Interestingly, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr prior to joining Comcast. (Comcast is represented by Ballard Spahr).

Speaking of Ballard Spahr, the firm has contributed $481,000 to the your campaigns, and its attorneys donated an additional half-million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee, registered at the Ballard office, pumped $471,000 more into your coffers. Mr. Cohen serves as that PAC’s treasurer.

And the address on your campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

It all ties together, doesn’t it?

No New Taxes

Being a member of the media means that I’m not very bright, but pushing for new taxes might not be the best idea for winning the budget fight. We have never taxed ourselves into prosperity, but to increase tax rates during a severe recession is simply ludicrous. Your budgetary math has been fuzzy, to say the least, further reinforcing the notion that you are completely out of touch with reality.

Just one more suggestion. The next time someone asks you the amount of your paycheck, you probably shouldn’t answer, “I wouldn’t have a clue what I get paid in a month.” It doesn’t come across too well for the 99.9% of Pennsylvanians who do actually need to know what their income is. After all, they have budgets to balance.

Your Teflon is fading, Governor. You need, for once, to forget your own interest and think of those whom you swore to represent. It’s time to get Pennsylvanians working again and re-instill a faith that their governor is a man of integrity.

Otherwise, the only legacy you will leave will be one of greed and personal ambition.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 5, 2009 at 12:02 pm Comments (0)

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Conflicts of Interest Pervade the Relationship

BY CHRIS FREIND

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s recent decision to criticize the Sunoco oil company for laying off 750 workers raises a number of intriguing questions. While the governor saw fit to hold a press conference solely to excoriate Sunoco, calling the company’s decision “unconscionable,” he has been notably silent concerning 3,000 layoffs — four times the Sunoco amount — which Comcast has executed in the past year.

Since the governor’s election in 2002, SUN PAC, the Sunoco political action committee, has contributed $55,000 to Mr. Rendell, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2650.

During that same span, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives donated $634,350 to the governor. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on Mr. Rendell’s inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated “Benefactor” by the governor, the highest level of contributor.
The David Cohen Factor

The governor’s closest ally at Comcast is Executive Vice President David Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell. Mr. Cohen is a longtime Rendell confidante and fundraiser, serving as Chief of Staff when Rendell was Mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Cohen was Chairman of the Ballard Spahr law firm, where Mr. Rendell worked while campaigning for governor. Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell Administration. In addition, it received almost $800,000 for work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike without any contract.

Ballard Spahr LLP has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future political action committee (PAC), registered at the Ballard offices and whose treasurer is Mr. Cohen, pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers.

The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia. Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Cohen also serves as Chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and Chamber member, no action was taken by the Chamber to defend the company.

The Comcast High Speed Money Connection

The Comcast money trail doesn’t end with Mr. Cohen. Ralph Roberts, Comcast’s founder, his son Brian, who serves as Chairman and CEO, and several other executives are strong Rendell backers. The elder Roberts contributed $52,500, and the son, $48,500. Comcast Chief Operating Office Stephen Burke donated $32,000.

According to Department of State records, the spouses of Comcast executives also made high-dollar contributions to Mr. Rendell. Rhonda Cohen donated $156,000, and the Roberts’ wives, Suzanne and Aileen, respectively, combined for another $25,250. Gretchen Burke contributed $5000.

The Comcast Corporation PAC contributed $93,500 to Rendell campaigns.

Rendell: On The Comcast Payroll

In addition to his $145,000 salary as governor, Mr. Rendell has also worked as a part-time football commentator for Comcast, earning a reported $20,000 per year. This arrangement has led many to question the apparent conflict, but the governor simply brushes off such criticism. As governor, Mr. Rendell has also collected a paycheck from the University of Pennsylvania, where Cohen serves as the Chairman-elect on the Board of Trustees, for his services as a lecturer. The university is a recipient of substantial state aid.

Comcast Aid: An End Run Around the Legislature

In constructing its new Center City headquarters, Comcast executives lobbied the state government for financial assistance. The firm sought a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) designation for its building, which would have provided local and state tax relief. Despite the fact that KOZ’s are intended to spur development in areas of blight, not prosperous Center City locations, the $30 billion company almost succeeded with the help of Gov. Rendell. Had the Comcast effort prevailed, the company would have been exempt from state and local business taxes until 2015.

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania legislature defeated the efforts of Comcast and the governor.

The governor then made an end-run around the legislature, funneling nearly $43 million in taxpayer money to aid Comcast and pay for infrastructure near the Comcast building, prompting outrage from many. Comcast’s direct incentives were nearly $13 million.

The economic development funds equated to roughly 10% of the building’s cost.

A Cynical Public

At a time when political corruption trials, pay to play scandals and conflicts of interest are rampant, polls show a public with an increasingly cynical view of their government and elected officials. The Pennsylvania legislature has responded by introducing a number of bills aimed at how state contracts are awarded.

Under the Rendell Administration, over $1 billion in no-bid contracts have been awarded.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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March 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

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