It's rare when so many of the things that we talk about when we talk about Philadelphia come together in one thing, in one place.
Yet the planets will be in rare alignment on Thursday -- in a hearing room at City Hall, of all places.
The wealth and prosperity of Center City versus the struggles of the outlying neighborhoods? Check.
I've been in the news business a long time, and there some days I can get pretty jaded about the headlines, as if I've seen everything. But some days there's a headline that makes me bolt upright and take notice. When you're a middle-aged white dude like me, you're bound to pay attention when the New York Times reports: "Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds."
After stopping to check my pulse, I read this:
Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.
It was the summer of 1996 and I'd only been at the Daily News for a year when I was fortunate enough to latch onto the politics beat. As you'll remember, '96 was a presidential year -- Bill Clinton's re-election didn't seem at all guaranteed after some low moments in his first term, and Bob Dole was gearing up his campaign for the GOP.
My editors wanted me to cover the presidential race, but not cover it very much. The only thing that really mattered in Philadelphia, I was assured, was the mayor's race -- even though the replacement for then incumbent Ed Rendell wouldn't be picked for another three years. And it was front-page news over the next year or so when the likes of state Rep. Dwight Evans or city councilwoman Happy Fernandez jumped in that '99 race. Covering that election consumed three solid years of my life in journalism.
Philadelphia also elected a new mayor on Tuesday, its 99th. If you weren't playing close attention, you're forgiven. In the fall election, the Democrats' massive 7-1 registration edge has helped create a chicken-or-egg downward spiral. Does the ever-shrinking news media not cover general elections in Philadelphia because it knows Republicans have no chance of winning, or do GOP candidates have no chance of winning because there's such little media coverage? And the more elections that the Republican Party loses, the more it sends out unknown, underfunded candidates who -- even when they are an appealing fresh new face, as this fall's Melissa Murray Bailey was -- are certain to get buried.
Same as the old boss? We'll have plenty of time. Eight years, if history is a guide. Eight looooong years.
More on Philadelphia politics, soon...I promise.
There's a stench of phoniness and hypocrisy (nobody could have predicted, right) over this endless controversy over the CNBC Republican debate the other night -- which now has the GOP candidates trying to, ahem, collectively bargain for a better deal with different debate partners who'll ask easier ...excuse me I meant to say more substantive...questions. As 912 people have pointed out before me, nothing says that you'll stand up to Putin from the Oval Office better than confessing that you're afraid of policy questions from "flaming liberals" like the capitalism cheerleaders of CNBC (including, for cryin' out loud, the inventor of the Tea Party!)]
First of all, this is Politics 101, especially for Republicans -- when all else fails, run against the news media. It started with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (if not earlier) and has continued straight through to Newt Gingrich four years ago and Ted Cruz in this election. That said, I've read the CNBC debate questions (so can you -- they're compiled here) and while a few of them aren't what I would have asked, only one or two of them remotely resemble "gotcha questions." Unless your idea of a "gotcha question" is a fair, hard-hitting query about the seeming contradictions in one's policy positions or past statements. (For actual embarrassing "gotcha questions" about trivia like lapel flag pins, check out the 2008 Democratic primary debate in Philadelphia.)
That said, I actually agree that journalist debate moderators generally aren't great, and that they tend to ask questions that aren't what the typical American schlub on his living room couch would ask. You know who does ask really good questions about those kinds of issues (like college tuition or health care)? Actual citizens. Indeed, there was more of this in 2008 and 2012, including a mostly citizen-question debate run by YouTube that I recall as the best candidate event in a while. So if the GOP candidates really want to mix things up, this would be my solution -- give more power to the people.
I've noticed recently that newspaper editorial pages really, really want a lot of people to resign or stop running for office or at least stop doing whatever the hell it is that they're doing. This is not totally a new phenomenon -- the Inquirer (and some other big papers) famously called in 1998 for Bill Clinton to resign over the Monica Lewinsky affair, a classic case of what-newspaper-editorial-writers-care-about being way out of whack with the everyday concerns of regular folks who, at least potentially, buy newspapers.
It's just that it's happening more often. Earlier this year, I wrote about how I strongly disagreed with the Inquirer and its call for Pa. AG Kathleen Kane to resign before she's had a chance to defend herself in court, even though to say I'm not a huge Kathleen Kane fan would be an understatement. This week, we saw the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale call for Florida homeboy Marco Rubio to resign from the Senate because he's missed so many votes and told friends he hates it there.
Then today, the New York Times editorial board threw down this:
Did you hear the one about the runaway blimp that attacked Pennsylvania? No, this really happened on this Wednesday afternoon in America, as anyone who wandered by TV set tuned to cable news or logged onto to Twitter or Facebook knows. Indeed, there were moments on Twitter when it seemed like all the runaway-blimp memes -- the Michelin Man or Chris Christie or Moby Dick or the loft airship dressed as a New York Met or whatever -- seemed destined to collide in cyberspace, a 21st Century version of the Hindenburg disaster. Oh, the virtual humanity!
I guess the good news is that the large unmanned Army surveillance blimp that broke loose from its mooring (haven't we all, at times?) in Maryland and then flew across a good chunk of the Keystone State didn't harm any people -- or cows -- when it finally came down in a rural area near Bloomsburg, Pa. The bad news is that it sliced through power lines and put as many as 30,000 people in the dark.
Oh, and it also probably sent $180 million of our tax dollars -- the cost of the errant blimp -- down the drain, unless someone knows the name of a decent blimp repair shop around these parts. And that's not the worst of it. It turns out that just last month, the Baltimore Sun wrote a remarkably prescient investigative story about this $2.7 billion (with a "b") military blimp program. and it sounds the biggest waste of government dollars since, well, a few dozen other wasteful military programs, but still...