A group of activists opposed to cuts in city services is outside the Mayor's Office in City Hall right now, protesting the decision to close some public pools. The group, which is still calling itself the Coalition to Save the Libraries after its fight last year on that issue, is now comparing the city to The Valley Club, the Huntingdon Valley swim club thrust into the national spotlight recently for rejecting a group of mostly minority children from a Philadelphia day camp.
The group, including about 50 adults and children waving signs and chanting slogans, gathered around a plastic baby pool filled with toys outside City Hall before coming inside. Two of the children held signs saying "Closing our pools = changing the complexion of our city." That's a reference to an initial statement from the president of the Valley Club, who said the day campers were rejected because "there was a concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion" of the club. He later said that was a terrible choice of words and didn't reflect the safety concerns behind the decision.
Eric Braxton, a long-time Philadelphia activist, took the comparison a bit further in a speech to the protesters. "While we should condemn the Valley swim club, let's recognize that the city of Philadelphia has done the exact same thing to thousands of young people in Philadelphia." Braxton later said accusing the city of discrimination was fair because many of the closed public pools served "poor and working class" neighborhoods.
Forty-six of the city's 73 public pools are being opened this summer. Mayor Nutter is in Harrisburg today, lobbying for the budget deal he struck with City Council to increase the city's sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar and to make changes in the city's pension plan. Those issues must be approved by the state General Assembly, which is locked in its own budget battle. Without those changes, the city will implement a back-up budget that includes larger cuts, including to the city Police Department and Fire Department.
UPDATE, 1:40 pm: Clay Armbrister, Nutter's chief of staff, came out to speak with the protesters, who greeted him with catcalls about the city budget. "What people need to understand is we're in a very, very dire economic situation," Armbrister said. He was interrupted by Sherrie Cohen, a regular participant in these protests and daughter of the late Councilman David Cohen, who tried to start a chant of "So are we." It didn't take.
"It was unfortunate that we had to make some choices," Armbrister responded when one of the children asked who decided to close the pools. "We didn't have enough money to keep all the pools open."