Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jim Kenney for Mayor

The field for the Democratic nomination for mayor appears settled and for me the choice is clear—former councilman Jim Kenney. I’ve always liked Jim Kenney, an intelligent guy with good policy positions, who cares about ordinary Philadelphians, and who would probably be a very good mayor. He is the candidate mostly likely to build the broad based, cross-racial coalition necessary to win and to govern.

Jim Kenney has been out front on a range of progressive issues, a champion of LGBT rights before it was politically safe to do so. According to Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal”Kenney has been a friend of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality for over 25 years, and has sponsored, co-sponsored or supported every LGBT equality measure in Council for the last 23 years.” His recent achievements include the groundbreaking 2013 LGBT Equality Bill and the 2014 LGBT-specific hate crimes legislation.

Jim Kenney was among the first to envision Philadelphia as a global city and to see Philadelphia’s immigrant population as an asset. From Will Bunch’s recollections of Kenney over the years: "‘We as a city government must do everything we can to address our population loss, and increasing immigration is a critical step in the right direction,’ Kenney told an October 2000 City Council hearing that he'd called on the topic.” More recently Kenney has been commended by immigrant rights groups for his work to end immigrant detentions known as ICE holds.

Jim Kenney led the fight for the decriminalization of marijuana focusing on the racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and the tragic consequences of a criminal record for so many young people.

He has pledged to maintain and build upon Mayor Nutter's ethics reforms and he has advocated innovative ideas on planning/ land use issues.

Kenney acknowledges that he does not have a detailed plan for improving public education but he knows that adequate funding is a major part of the problem and rejects using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools as a solution. This is a critical time for public education with one of the leading candidates Anthony Williams on record in favor of a voucher system which would lead to further dismantling of our system of public education.

Working class Philly will have a powerful advocate in Mayor Kenney: From District 1199C President Henry Nicholas : "Jim Kenney has been a lifelong advocate for Philadelphia's working families. He comes from a union home as the son of firefighter and he's earned his own union card at age 17. Jim has worked to protect bargaining rights and has always been a straight talker and in his approach with labor."

Kenney is strong on progressive issues, but particularly for executive positions, it’s not just a matter having the right policies. Leadership ability matters and character matters. Kenney’s legislative successes demonstrate his leaderhship skills and everyone I know who knows Jim Kenney thinks he is a very decent human being. (Yes, the famous Kenney temper can be a cause for concern, and maybe some of his tweets are over the top.)

I got an insight into Jim Kenney’s character when my son was a student and assigned to interview a local elected official. My son reached out to just about every local official but none replied with the exception of Kenney. He spent over an hour with my son answering his questions. Kenney told him that he always tried to honor requests from students; he felt a responsibility to share what he knew about government with a younger generation. My son who is a real Kenney fan reminded me of this recently and it’s consistent with so much of what I have heard from those who have worked with him.

However, there’s no such thing as a candidate perfect in every way and I have some reservations about his candidacy based primarily on his political alliances. But as a good friend reminded me, Kenney is nobody’s puppet; his financial supporters are not likely to control him.

I had hoped to see a mayoral candidate concerned about the current state of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The mayor could use the bully pulpit to argue it’s in the city’s interest to have a cleaner, more open Democratic party—both in terms of increased turnout and in terms of getting talented young people involved in the party. The Democratic Party must change if it is ever to attract young people who expect to have a vote and a voice at the ward level. Maybe it takes a “Nixon goes to China” leader to do this and maybe Jim Kenney might be that leader but I have seen nothing yet to suggest that he’s interested in reforming the Philadelphia Democratic party.

However, I do know Jim Kenney has the capacity to listen to those with different perspectives and that he is capable of questioning the status quo and open to new approaches.

I intend to do whatever I can to ensure he becomes mayor and encourage my friends and neighbors to support him.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The first flower of 2015!

When I trudged out to the garage today to get birdseed and a bag of icemelt, I got a wonderful surprise—-my witch hazel was in bloom! This really lifted my spirits—the start of the first serious snowfall of the year and first flower of the year on the same day.

Witch Hazel can start blooming any time from mid-January to mid February. It forces very quickly. The flowers of branches I broke today were barely in bloom, but after an hour or so indoors the shaggy yellow flowers had unfurled and I could indulge in that wonderfully astringent witch hazel fragrance. It helped a lot.

For lovers of witch hazel, Morris Arboretum has an extensive witchhazel collection with guided tours on the second Saturday of February and March. If only I had room in my garden for another witch hazel!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me.

The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me. The Martin Luther King “Day of Service” always struck me as a distortion of King’s legacy. I don’t mean to denigrate traditional service oriented volunteerism—it plays an important role in our society, but King’s legacy was primarily about social change, not individual charity.

I wanted to support a march that sought to reclaim King’s true legacy but I had that coming down with a cold feeling and wasn’t sure I wanted to drag my 70 year old body out into the cold. I thought with all the marches and demonstrations I’ve been to in my lifetime, maybe I deserve a break. Fortunately, my son encouraged me to go with him and I’m very glad I got it together to take a few aspirin and go.

It was a very diverse group of people – young and old, representative of Philly’s racial and ethnic mix. The young were the dominant group; there does appear to be a social movement developing among young people and it may have more staying power than the evanescent Occupy movement. Yes, Occupty did put income inequality on the front burner but it seems to have disappeared without much of a trace. Starting a conversation just isn’t enough.

I wish there had been more NOW signs at the event, but I'm afraid NOW doesn't resonate all that much with young folks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Florence Cohen, Social Justice Activist and Committed Feminist

We lost Florence Cohen on January 10, 2014. Her obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer described her as a life-long civil rights and community activist. I would have added “and committed feminist.” Although the obituary cited her work as project director of the Pennsylvania Program for Women and Girl Offenders, her passionate commitment to women’s rights was not mentioned. (Granted, when a woman has had such a long and illustrious career as Florence Cohen’s, it’s difficult to include everything.)

I became aware of the role Florence Cohen played in the Philadelphia feminist movement when doing research for Feminism in Philadelphia, The Glory Years: Philadelphia NOW 1968-1982

A member of the National Organization for Women and the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus(PWPC), in the early 1970’s she was the organizational genius behind an effort spearheaded by PWPC to get more women invoved in local politics. This was an exciting time to be involved in grasrootos politics, as electoral politics and social movement politics were closely intertwined in Philadelphia in the '70’s. African-Americans (many of whom had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement)and feminists (usually under the banner of the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus) organized against the Democratic machine, fighting for inclusion and fair representation as elected officials and as Democratic Party ward leaders and committee persons.

Florence Cohen organized a series of political education workshops sponsored by PWPC which dealt with the basics of the political structure in preparation for the 1972 primary election. According to Cohen, “We have to get a new type of woman--an independent woman--involved in politics.” In a handout she prepared on the political structure, she defined what she meant by an “independent,” someone motivated by issues rather than by political allegiances and loyalties.

Florence was well aware of the distaste many feminists had for partisan politics; she challenged the attendees at a December 1971 political workshop to overcome their reluctance to get involved: “Politics is dirty but we MUST have a part of it. The machine will control parties to the extent that there is apathy, to the extent that we are disorganized. We must use our collective strength--women are 52% of the electorate.” She noted that in 1971 only 7 out of 66 Democratic ward leaders were women, but according to Cohen “none whom you’d call independent women.”

When Philadelphia NOW in 1998 and again in 2002 organized a series of workshops to encourage women to run for committeeperson, we thought we were doing something new and different. But unknown to us, Florence Cohen had spearheaded a much more successful effort 3 decades earlier.

I saw Florence for the last time in December 2013 when I spoke to a group of residents of the Watermark Retirement Community where Florence resided at that time. Although she was experiencing physical disabilities, her mind was as sharp as ever and her commitment to gender equity as strong as ever. The feminist community has lost a powerful advocate for women’s rights.