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thebellcurve CP’s Quality-o-Life-o-Meter

[ 0]

Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation, says city officials chose a costlier, less far-reaching light-rail system than the one proposed by a French company because it had a more realistic timeline, among other reasons. Dear God, are we doomed to be plagued by corruption and shitty public transportation forever? Yours, Philadelphia. Dear Philadelphia, Oh God, yes. Sincerely, God.

[ + 5] Police apprehend a thief after he took pic-

tures of himself with a woman’s stolen cell phone, which she had programmed to send images directly to her. “Also texted her my address,” he says. “I’m a shitty thief.”

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D E C E M B E R 1 0 - D E C E M B E R 1 7 , 2 0 0 9 | C I T Y PA P E R . N E T

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Reps from savethemummers.com meet with city officials to discuss the future of the parade. “So what you’re saying,” says city official, “is that without our help you’re not gonna be, and let me make sure I’ve got the terminology correct, ‘feathery enough’ nor ‘sequinny enough’ while you march down the street pretending to be ‘banjo-playing hobbits and stormtroopers,’ even though those movies are, like, way, way old. For the record, have I correctly stated the purpose of this meeting?”

[ - 8] The former owner of the Khyber Pass is charged with conducting surveillance for the 2008 Mumbai massacre that killed 166 people. Plus, he’s the guy who kept booking The Interpreters.

[ - 1] The organizers of the Dad Vail Regatta re-

quest a hold on the Schuylkill River despite moving their event to Rumson, N.J. Sounds like somebody’s getting scull-fucked.

[ + 1] Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders, in

Philly for a game, is hit by a truck outside a Starbucks in Old City. “Oh man, I am such a shitty driver,” says the Flyers’ Riley Cote. “On the upside, I finally know what it’s like to knock somebody down. See, I’m a shitty fighter, too.”

[ - 1] Former Eagle Freddie Mitchell is arrested because of an outstanding warrant for nonpayment of child support, but is released in time to return to his radio show on 97.5 The Fanatic. “I made the mistake of sending the money via FredEx, which I’ve since been informed is something I made up.”

This week’s total: -4 | Last week’s total: 11

GONE FOR GOOD? Brett Mandel, former director of Philadelphia Forward and failed candidate for city controller, has disassociated himself from Philly’s political scene. For now, anyway. NEAL SANTOS

[ man vs. machine ]

YOU CAN’T FIGHT CITY HALL Disappointed in Michael Nutter, good government activist Brett Mandel checks out of Philly politics. By Andrew Thompson n May 19, Brett Mandel sat at Zeke’s deli on Fifth Street, surrounded by a team of staffers he hired to help him win his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for city controller. Mandel looked alert and composed, but exhausted. His stop at Zeke’s was one of the last in 100 consecutive hours of nonstop campaigning, save for a handful of abbreviated naps. “I feel good,” he assured a City Paper reporter. There’s no way that could have been true. He’d just spent days wreaking havoc on his circadian cycle. Within hours, the election results would come in (ultimately, Mandel would lose handily). Were that not weighing on his mind, he would not be human. But then again, Mandel’s self-descriptions often seem at odds with obvious emotional forces. Mandel’s campaign was his final hurrah of Philadelphia crusading, his last resort after abdicating his position as the executive director of Philadelphia Forward, an organization that started in 2004 as a tax-reform advocacy group, but grew to oppose the whole gamut of Philly waste — row offices, patronage jobs, the money that goes somewhere but doesn’t really

O

do anything. In February, Mandel — the nonprofit’s only paid employee — announced he was shutting Philadelphia Forward down. Officially, he blamed the economy: “Foundation support for Philadelphia Forward is drying up as the economy tanks,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Several weeks later, he announced his race against City Controller Alan Butkovitz. And then he lost, and no one heard from Mandel again — at least not in the capacity in which he was known. These days, Mandel is executive director of the National Education Technology Funding Corp., a nonprofit that secures interest-free financing for schools. He splits work between his home office in Center City and Washington, D.C., working a job totally divorced from Philadelphia politics. He posted a brief essay to his Web site in November, excoriating the city for its alleged ineptitude, but the fight has become more of a hobby. “I can participate as just a fan or an advocate. I can root for the Phillies while not feeling that if the Phillies lose, I have failed,” says the native of Northeast Philly, who frequently falls into the distinctly Philly habit of using Phillies allegories to explain the world. If one of Philly’s most tireless advocates for reform has thrown his hands up after the mayor he endorsed won — the mayor

A clearcut enemy was more effective for reform than a lukewarm friend.

>>> continued on page 10


the naked city classifieds | food | the agenda | a&e | feature

<<< continued from page 8

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D E C E M B E R 1 0 - D E C E M B E R 1 7 , 2 0 0 9 | C I T Y PA P E R . N E T

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10 | P H I L A D E L P H I A C I T Y PA P E R |

[ the naked city ]

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who campaigned on a platform in line with the same agenda as Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s â&#x20AC;&#x201D; something was wrong. Indeed, something was. â&#x17E;¤ â&#x20AC;&#x153;HE PROMISED A RENAISSANCEâ&#x20AC;?

Sitting at Cafe Lutecia at 23rd and Lombard streets in late November, a few doors from his home, Mandel recounts the last days of Philadelphia Forward and the aftermath of his failed campaign the same way he tells everything â&#x20AC;&#x201D; calmly, enunciatively, matter-of-factly. When asked if he felt frustrated that he â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a candidate endorsed by both dailies, three state representatives and Councilman Frank DiCicco â&#x20AC;&#x201D; lost to Butkovitz, a politician who Mandel believes is little more than a Democratic Party machine hack, or that he had garnered fewer votes than even former Judge John Braxton, Mandel breaks down the electorate, and opines that electoral forces simply werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t in his favor. â&#x20AC;&#x153;You had the folks who always turn out to vote, and basically the party-driven vote, so it basically makes it harder for any outsider to win,â&#x20AC;? he says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;And donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t underestimate the fact that [Braxton] was the only African-American candidate in the race. Had the turnout been 20 percent, 30 percent, in the city, then you would have spent days and weeks wondering where you went wrong.â&#x20AC;? In a low turnout election, Butkovitzâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and Braxtonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s political bases proved too difficult to overcome. And though he says he wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t frustrated, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no way that could have been true. Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s run came on the heels of an unexpected estrangement with the Nutter administration â&#x20AC;&#x201D; even after Mandel wholeheartedly backed Michael Nutterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s platform in the 2007 mayoral election. And, though earlier this year he blamed the sour economy for Philadelphia Forwardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s collapse, that was only half-true. In reality, he says, Nutter supporters â&#x20AC;&#x201D; his nonprofitâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s base of support â&#x20AC;&#x201D; were reluctant to turn up the heat to make sure the mayor delivered on campaign promises. Meanwhile, the administration itself seemed uninterested in building a street-level coalition to push through the reforms Nutter had laid out during the campaign. â&#x20AC;&#x153;When Philadelphia Forward was building a constituency to fight the policies of [former Mayor] John Street, lots and lots of people were willing to support that effort,â&#x20AC;? Mandel says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;When we were trying to support the policies of Michael Nutter, we were still able to find support. When it became clear that what we were pushing for was not being delivered, there was less of an appetite from folks to participate.â&#x20AC;? The William Penn Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation and the Philadelphia Association of Realtors didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t renew funding in 2007; the Knight Foundation followed suit in 2008. (Spokespersons for the Penn and Philadelphia foundations wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t say why they halted their financial support for Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s group. Representatives for the Realtors did not return phone calls seeking comment. A spokesman for the Knight Foundation said the group could not find any records of donations to Philadelphia Forward.) In other words, a clear-cut enemy was more effective for reform than a lukewarm friend. And even though itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tough to ascribe policy changes to any one actor, the issues Philadelphia Forward helped put in the spotlight did see some success during Streetâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tenure, such as the wage-tax reduction (for which Nutter has taken credit, even though it was enacted before his election) and the creation of a board of ethics. But after Nutterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s election, the election that prompted Mandel to send a jubilant e-mail to his followers, titled â&#x20AC;&#x153;CHANGE!!!â&#x20AC;?, Nutter seemed less willing to engage. In November 2007, Mandel sat down with city Finance Director Rob Dubow. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I said, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;These are the things that are important to us. You tell us how we can be helpful to you. If itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s helpful for us to push hard, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll push hard. If itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s helpful for us to back off, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll back off. If itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s helpful for us to push behind the scenes, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll push behind the scenes.â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;?

Mandel says Dubow told him, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get back to you.â&#x20AC;? They never did. Dubow, for his part, remembers the meeting but not the specifics of the conversation. When asked why the administration never reached out to Philadelphia Forward for help pushing budget reforms, Dubow responds, â&#x20AC;&#x153;In that first budget, we proposed tax changes and got the wage tax below 4 percent for the first time since the â&#x20AC;&#x2122;70s. We had a schedule for getting rid of the gross-receipts tax, and there wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t any push back on it.â&#x20AC;? The wage-tax reduction began during Ed Rendellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s administration and continued with John Street â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Nutter just kept it on track. And what about the rest of the reforms Nutter promised? â&#x20AC;&#x153;If [Mandel is] talking ethics and row offices, that really wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t my area,â&#x20AC;? Dubow says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;[Nutter] didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t promise that we would tread water. He promised a renaissance,â&#x20AC;? Mandel says. â&#x17E;¤ WALKING AWAY

Nutter also promised, specifically, to reach out to Philadelphia Forward â&#x20AC;&#x153;to design a process for our city that will build a meaningful role for citizen involvement in setting priorities and making choices,â&#x20AC;? according to his 2007 campaign platform. Nutter promised an unprecedented level of civic engagement, both with citizens and private organizations â&#x20AC;&#x201D; and to an extent, he has donned the financial crisis as an amulet against criticism of unfulfilled promises, even if those things he promised could potentially save the city money. From Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perspective, Nutter doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even seem to be trying. â&#x20AC;&#x153;There are two narratives you can follow,â&#x20AC;? Mandel says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;One is, Mayor Nutter campaigned as an outsider, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s going to bring change, rip the tower off City Hall, rah rah rah. That message wins, he gets in, and he runs into the wall of, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;This is how weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always done itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; â&#x20AC;Ś and he canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get through the reforms he wants.â&#x20AC;? The other narrative, the â&#x20AC;&#x153;one thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more troublingâ&#x20AC;? than that of the mayor as a naĂŻve idealist, is this: Nutter was a part of the machine all along, and never intended to push through the reforms he promised. Instead, he was the reformer alternative to candidate Tom Knox, the independent businessman who almost entirely financed his own campaign. In this version, Nutter was set up to be the machine candidate to take down Knox, promising reforms he never actually meant to legislate. Either way, Mandel chalks up Philadelphia Forwardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s demise, and his campaign for city controller, to Nutterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s supportersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; unwillingness to hold their guy accountable, and Nutterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own unwillingness to work outside the system heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d promised to turn upside down. And when the campaign was over, he threw up his hands and walked away. â&#x20AC;&#x153;For the last two decades, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been screaming and yelling about Philadelphia, inside city government, outside city government,â&#x20AC;? he says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;That can be frustrating. Dealing with the political structure is a pain.â&#x20AC;? Many of Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s campaign staffers went on to volunteer for Republican Al Schmidtâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bid for city controller â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a candidate whose platform nearly mimicked Mandelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. Schmidt, of course, lost, as well. After the campaign, Mandel nearly vanished from Phillyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s political scene. Nearly. In June, he became a committee member for Philadelphiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Eighth Ward. Just as a hobby, he says. (andrew.thompson@citypaper.net)

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Nutter didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t promise that we would tread water. He promised a renaissance.â&#x20AC;?


You Can't Fight City Hall