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Freindly Fire’s Best…and Worst…Of Philly

 Who makes the best Bloody Mary in the city? Where is the best brunch?  Freindly Fire has no idea.  Thankfully, though, there are much smarter folks who know the best things in and around the nation’s fourth-largest market. For those gems, see the “Best of Philly” awards in this month’s Philadelphia Magazine.

There are, however, some other non-politically correct Best and Worst Awards that should be bestowed on very deserving winners…and losers.  Following is Freindly Fire’s List:

Best Of Philly

Best snowfall removal: Anywhere but Philadelphia. The streets were absolutely deplorable, with significant snow and ice on major city roads days after the storms, not to mention that many side streets were simply impassable. How did city residents react?  Almost 80 percent voted for Mayor Nutter in the May primary. In comparison, Chicagoans kicked out their Mayor for similar incompetence in 1979.   Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…just don’t complain when you can’t get to work. He’s your Mayor.

Best Political Comeback: IBEW 98 boss John Dougherty.  After losing a bid for the state senate and coming up short in clashes with Democratic party powerbroker Bob Brady, Doc came roaring back.  He garnered huge headlines by trying to reform the DRPA, but most significantly, orchestrated big wins in City Council races.  More than anyone, Johnny Doc has positioned himself to be kingmaker in deciding who the next Mayor of Philadelphia will be.

Best “It’s All About Me” Moment: City Council’s refusal to abolish the DROP retirement program for city employees — you know, the one that makes elected officials rich when they “retire” for a day after being re-elected.  So while the folks who actually foot the bill are struggling just to survive, city lawmakers keep cashing in at the public trough.  Often forgotten in the criticism, though, is Council’s stellar stewardship of Philadelphia. Its leadership has produced the highest rates of taxes, murder, violence, and poverty in the nation, an education system that, by all accounts, is a colossal failure, and a city that is perpetually ranked as one of the dirtiest.  But give ‘em a break.  We’re not Detroit. Yet.

Best “I Don’t Recall” Moment: No, it wasn’t a political corruption trial, but the just-revealed grand jury testimony of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua as he weaved his way around prosecutors’ pointed questioning regarding the ever- widening Church sex-scandal.  The Cardinal’s memory lapse was an oh-so-convenient backdoor for covering his own derriere and evading discussion about his role in the cover-up, leading the grand jury to label him as “untruthful” and “not forthright.” Church officials need to be reminded that sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission, and that ignoring the 8th Commandment is not a prudent way to go through life. So much for always standing behind the kids….

Best Sports Move: Bringing Cliff Lee back. The Phils have been transformed from an organization that made the playoffs only three times in 26 years (and that’s with the wild card), to being perennial contenders. But being “very good” wasn’t good enough, so they brought back pitching Lee.  With Lee rounding out one of the best rotations in baseball history, the Fightin’s are fully expected to win the World Series, and that has them hanging out in hallowed Yankees territory, at least for the present.  Like the Bronx Bombers, the Phillies are now in the elite world where a season that culminates in anything less than total victory will be viewed as a failure. Tough as it will be to swallow if the Phils aren’t World Champions again, that expectation of perfection is rarely seen in any sport, and was nonexistent in Philly. Tip of the hat to the best — and only— sports braintrust in the city that has shown the resolve to do whatever it takes to win.

Best Thing About Philadelphia: Its people. It’s a blue-collar town, through and through, and that makes it as real as it gets. People wear their emotions on their sleeves, and it’s rare to not know where someone stands. Politics? Rough and tumble —- sometimes literally.  Sports fans? The most dedicated, if not always educated, in the country. Run out every play, and you’ll be a Philly Hall of Famer, but cop a ‘tude,  pout, dog it (no Vick pun intended) or just plain suck, and you’ll be run out of town on a rail.  Everyday people? Not nearly as rude as we like to think we are.

That salt-of-the-Earth, you-know-what-you’re-getting character is innately Philly, and, while maddening at times, is beyond refreshing in an increasingly shallow world. Yo Philly, don’t ever change.

Worst Of Philly

Worst Way To Earn A Living: Dealing with the dead.  Not funeral directors, coroners, and grave diggers (although all have been quite busy with skyrocketing murders). They all earn an honest living.  We’re talking about Michael Meehan, the city GOP boss and lawyer extraordinaire who gives the famous movie line “I see dead people” some real-life meaning.

Seems that a dearly-departed soul — a year after dying — retained Meehan as legal counsel to challenge the petitions of people running for Committee posts — in his own Party. Meehan didn’t fare much better with the living, as many of his other “clients” signed affadavits stating that they never met or heard of Meehan, and that the signatures in Meehan’s possession were not theirs.

The Philly GOP led by Meehan may be dead, but the criminal investigation into the matter by the District Attorney isn’t. And who said lawyers couldn’t get any lower?

Worst Sports Move: Yes, it was last year’s move, but it’s been so devastating that it bears repeating. Getting rid of Donovan McNabb.  Life is now so boring without Number 5 around.  Just look at all there is to miss: throwing up in the huddle during the Super Bowl, laughing jovially when his team was losing, not knowing the rules of overtime, making racially-charged comments where they had no place, and always connecting with his favorite receiver — the turf —when the game was on the line. Sports in Philly just aren’t the same anymore, especially with Michael Vick being so dog-gone….normal.  Without McNabb’s drama queen theatrics over which to obsess, Philadelphia is on the verge of becoming, dare we say it, a civilized sports city.  Bring him back!

Worst Empty Promise: Philly’s pension will be OK. Anytime a politician admits that something is bad, it’s always worse. So when the Mayor says the city’s pension fund is 45 percent funded (less than 50 percent is considered somewhat catastrophic), you know there just won’t be a happy ending. With no more state or federal money to bail out the virtually insolvent pension, and no possible way Nutter can keep his promise to write an $800 million check to the pension (to make up for several years of deferred payments), look for retirees to start getting pennies on the dollar in just a few short years. Think it can’t happen in America?  Given the fact that the nation came within hours of default — despite its magical power to print money out of thin air— can anyone seriously believe that?

Worst Thing About Philly: Its people. Or more accurately, the people’s complacency. What can you say about residents who, despite the knowledge that things are going the wrong way, time and again reelect the very same people who created the mess? Philadelphia has the potential to be a world-class city, with not one but two major rivers (neither developed). It is ideally situated within a day’s drive of more than half the country.  As a major gateway for overseas travelers, it should unquestionably be a destination rather than a layover stop.  And with major ports, railroads, airports and interstates, it be should a no-brainer for companies to locate their operations in Philadelphia. 

Philly’s stagnant position stems from a lack of leadership. It’s time for Philadelphians to wake up and demand that their city take its rightful place as one of very best. But that mantle simply can’t be claimed until the people show the will to make a change.

Given Mayor Nutter’s virtually guaranteed re-election, though, that may have to wait another four years.  How ‘bout them Phils?

Chris Friend 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 regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm Comments (0)

Newsflash To Nutter: No One Cares About Philly’s Problems

In 1979, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic didn’t effectively plow the streets after a snowstorm — and as a direct result, he lost his primary election several months later. After similar snowstorms in Philadelphia this past winter, the streets were in deplorable shape — and that’s being generous.

The result? Almost 80% of voters just told Mayor Nutter “job well done” in last month’s primary.

That’s the difference. Chicago is “the town that works.” Philadelphia is completely dysfunctional.

Apathy gets you what you deserve. That passive neglect by city residents has led to Philly’s very deserved reputation as a city of colossal failure, with virtually no promise of a renaissance-like turnaround.  And the numbers bear that out. 

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust says it all: those who have the means to leave the city do so — as evidenced by 263,000 white residents (one-third of that population) who fled over the last 20 years.  Those who can’t flee get further crushed by an abusive and incompetent government.

Since voters keep sending leaders like Mayor Michael Nutter back to City Hall by overwhelming margins, the rest of the state — particularly non-city state legislators — have increasingly been sending a message to Philadelphia: “We don’t care about your problems any more. You’ve made your bed — now lie in it.”

It’s about time.

                                                                                                             *****

Up until the 50’s, Philadelphia was the last major city to be run by Republicans.  The GOP had become wildly corrupt, and eventually lost power to the Democrats reformers, who have been calling the shots ever since.

The transformation can be summed up this way: Philadelphia went from competent but corrupt Republicans, to incompetent and corrupt Democrats, to what we have today: just incompetent Democrats.

Sure, there is still corruption, but, to be fair, Nutter seems to be cleaner than some of his predecessors.

That’s simply not good enough.  Truth be told, it’s probably a safe bet that the majority of residents would rather have corruption and competence than just plain incompetence.

                                                                                             *****

Nothing works in the city.  Services are poor and unpredictable, despite the staggering costs that residents and businesses pay for them.  Opening a business is fraught with bureaucracy, red tape, and, many privately say, extortion— both “legal” and otherwise.

The education system not only is in the hole $600 million, despite 70,000 vacancies in the School District’s capacity, but violence is commonplace, making it a deathtrap for many students.  Year after year, its “product” is so bad that a huge number drop out of school, and the rest have virtually no skills to perform even the most menial jobs after graduation.  Only about one-third of its 11th graders are proficient in math, and slightly more than 40 percent proficient in reading, according to standardized tests.  Yet those dismal figures were “earned” despite massive educational spending and smaller class size.  The truth is, the percentages are significantly lower, since the dropouts are not included in the scores.

The pension is catastrophically underfunded, so much that the Nutter has deferred payments for two years, promising to make it up by stroking a check — after his reelection — for $800 million.  There is simply no money for that, so, sooner than later, it is a mathematical certainty that pensioners will begin to receive reduced payments, and, possibly, no payments at all.

Crime is still rampant, yet the Mayor acceded to the Police Commissioner’s implied threat to leave, giving him a $60,000 raise — making him the highest-paid employee in the city.

But rather than embark on a course that would clean up the city and reduce the tax and regulatory burden so that businesses and families would actually want to locate in Philadelphia — thus increasing tax revenue — the Mayor and City Council have done what they always do: put the screws to the residents who can’t afford to vote with their feet.

Philadelphia is, cumulatively, one of the highest-taxed cities in the nation.  From the job-killing wage tax to the 100 percent increase in the city portion of the state sales tax, and from the (“temporary”) ten percent hike in property taxes to the business gross receipts tax, taking more of the residents’ money is the only solution known to Philadelphia’s leaders.

And yet, it’s still not enough.  So Nutter has gone back to the tax well yet again, this time resurrecting his soda tax proposal and pushing for big fee increases in parking rates. Oh, and he’s lobbying for another ten percent property tax increase.  Remember, that would be in addition to the ten percent increase passed last year.

Good move.  That’s sure to bring in new businesses. 

Mayor Nutter’s governing strategy is predicated upon only one thing: handouts from the federal and state government. In fact, he admitted that the city would have been unable to pay its bills last year without federal stimulus dollars.

Up until now, his feeding at the public trough has paid off, as the state always came to the rescue with big bucks.  But the game has changed, as neither the state nor the feds have any money left to give. And now that those welfare checks to the city have dried up, the Mayor doesn’t have a clue how to govern.

This should come as no surprise, though, as he has virtually no experience in the private sector.  How often has he ever had to meet a payroll, or navigate the bureaucratic minefield when trying to open or expand a business? When was the last time he stayed up at night, worrying about covering his employees’ health care costs? And has he ever had to look someone in the face while handing him a pink slip — because the city tax burden was simply too great to keep that valued employee on board?

Career politicians who sit in their ivory towers, insulated from reality, govern from the only “experience” they know: academic theory. And as the exodus of Philadelphians shows, that simply doesn’t cut it.

Philadelphia doesn’t have the luxury of being Washington or New York, where being downtown is a necessity.  Very few businesses have to be in the city, so the margin of error for Philly’s leaders is extremely small. And for those empty nesters and white-collar types who enjoy living in Center City, they are one mugging away from packing it up and moving back to the suburbs.

The lesson is simple: a government that overreaches yet remains incompetent results in a vastly reduced tax base — which in turn leads to a death spiral.  It’s a concept any high schooler could grasp, but tragically, is completely lost on this deer-in-the-headlights Mayor.

After years of misguided policies, there are no easy answers, but the future is easy to predict because there is absolutely no political will to affect real change.  Contrary to the fairy-tale fluff spewed forth at nauseating press conferences, nothing will improve, more folks will leave, Philadelphia will continue its sad decline — and the Mayor will retire on an enviably-large pension.

Perhaps only then will he finally reap the whirlwind of his disastrous policies — when his own pension check bounces. 

What a legacy.

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 regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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June 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm Comments (0)

Philadelphia Is The Next Greece

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently urged college students to stay in the city after graduation, stating, “we have a more knowledge-based workforce here.”

Too bad we don’t have a “knowledge-based government.”

Nutter praised the federal stimulus bill for keeping the city solvent, stating, “we would be in a depression (without it).”

Wrong verb, Mr. Mayor.

Philadelphia is already insolvent, so there are only two explanations for Nutter’s incoherence:

1)      He has no idea how dire his city’s situation has become;

2)      He absolutely knows, but will use smoke-and-mirror tactics to get re-elected next year, passing the buck to his successor four years down the line.

Here’s betting on the latter.

*****

Nutter’s 2007 election was met with great fanfare from business leaders and city residents. They naively believed Nutter would usher in a new era by cutting taxes, slashing bureaucracy and playing hardball with union leaders.

Uh…hello?  

As a City Councilman, Nutter repeatedly voted for bills which sunk the city further into the abyss, increasing the exodus of companies and people from the City of Brotherly Love.  

The result?  Philadelphia achieved the nation’s highest murder, violence and poverty rates, while leading the way in school drop-outs.

Nutter’s track record as Mayor has been worse.

Crime is rampant, unions are getting contracts the city can’t afford, public schools are deathtraps, the government workforce has swelled, and the city pension is bankrupt.

And college grads are expected to actually stay here? 

The stimulus is gone, the bailouts are over, and the rent is due. 

But if Nutter can hold off a challenger next year, life is good.

Until the Molotov cocktails start flying.

*****

Whenever a politician admits something bad, reality is always worse.

Nutter has conceded that the city pension is underfunded. Translation: it’s insolvent. 

It stands at 45 percent funded — catastrophically low — and anyone with one eye open knows accounting gimmicks can easily inflate that number. 

According to last week’s Financial Times, of all American cities, Philadelphia has the most immediate cause for concern because “…current pension assets for plans sponsored by Philadelphia can only pay for promised benefits through 2015…”

So in a few short years, the city will be forced to send out letters that could read something like this:

“Dear Retired Police Officer,

Sorry, we didn’t exactly manage your …..

Read the rest at Philly Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/10/19/philadelphia-is-the-next-greece/

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’s column can be read in numerous publications, including the nationally-renowned NewsMax and Philadelphia  Magazine’s Philly Post.  He also serves as a weekly 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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October 19, 2010 at 10:43 am Comments (0)