Philly Clout: Lew Blum tells Council, 'Stop calling us thieves'

'Towing is my dream job,' says Lew Blum, owner of Lew Blum Towing and third-generation towing royalty. He began working for his grandfather at age 8.

Lew Blum is not happy. In fact, he's downright miserable.

Yes, we're talking about Mr. Unauthorized Parking Prohibited, the towing mogul with so many friggin' signs plastered around this city that our colleague Inga Saffron once called Blum "one of Philadelphia's biggest celebrities."

Blum, we've learned, is having a bad day, a bad year, a bad future, since man-of-the-people Mayor Kenney signed legislation this week to cut down on predatory towing. Blum says it's going to cut deeply into his profits. Sad face.

"I ain't doing too good, man," Blum told Clout on Thursday. "I don't know why they got to pick on businesses the way they do."

Now, if Blum's soldiers have ever hooked one of your cars, this is probably like watching President Trump slip on a banana peel. Ice-cold schadenfreude.

"The city," Blum vented, "doesn't respect us."

You might be right, Lew. The new law, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and takes effect next week, will prevent Blum's and other companies from towing vehicles from private lots and driveways without the vehicle first being ticketed by a city law enforcement agency.

Last week, Blum sent us a late-night message - his email address contains the word hookasaurus - with a copy of a letter he'd fired off to Council members accusing them of slandering the entire industry over the actions of a few bad apples.

"We expect your support just like you needed our support to get you elected," he wrote.

When we got Blum on the phone Thursday, he casually mentioned that he'd get requests from certain Council members to help out certain constituents, but that now they're turning their backs on him.

"I get calls from Council people," Blum said. "They're saying, 'You towed one of my constituents, what can you do for me?' "

Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more. But good luck getting Blum's help when you call now.

The towing industry was slammed with negative publicity last year after news reports that one company - not Blum's - apparently scammed scores of motorists by, in some cases, posting "no parking" signs after drivers had parked and walked away. Police say others actually have towed cars into illegal spots, then snapped a photo and whisked them away. An Inquirer editorial called them "asphalt pirates."

Blum insists that most of the industry is clean.

"None of us has been arrested for stealing," he said. "Stop calling us thieves."

Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said police still are probing reports of predatory towing.

As for Quiñones-Sánchez, the sponsor of the new towing law that Blum says could erase 70 percent of towing profits, she declined Clout's invitation to return fire at the city's most famous tow-truck maestro.

"He is always worked up," she emailed. "I will not respond to his stuff!"

Quite a spreadsheet

We got our hands on a magnificent spreadsheet Wednesday night that shows the city Revenue Department's decisions on properties that the Land Bank wants to acquire.

Magnificent is not a word we typically use to describe a spreadsheet. Does anyone? But this one is special.

Under the column titled "Revenue final decision," some of the answers about whether the Land Bank can acquire land for community gardens, affordable housing, and other projects are listed as "Hell No." Other entries include "discussing," "TBD," and, naturally, "Hell Yes."

When we asked about the labels, the city didn't shy away from the lingo. "Hell No" apparently includes properties ineligible for sheriff's sale and those already sold, a spokesman said. "Hell Yes" means a low likelihood of collection.

We're guessing this part of the spreadsheet wasn't meant for public consumption, but we appreciate the enthusiasm about land disposition nonetheless.

Ethics bored?

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a bill Thursday that would mandate ethics training for Council members every four years.

Clout thinks a refresher is in order, because city law already requires ethics training for elected officials - annually.

An Ethics Board staffer tells us that Johnson last signed into ethics training in October 2014. We suspect he might have dozed off, because he doesn't recall being there. Johnson said Thursday he hadn't been in training since taking office in early 2012.

"I only remember taking ethics training when I first came here," Johnson said. "And so I want to make sure we do it mandatory. Every time we get reelected, we should take a class."

Clout later pointed out to the councilman's staff that doing so would turn an annual requirement into a quadrennial one. After a few hours, those staff members reported back that the legislation would be amended.

The bill now will mandate annual training for Council members and also for Council staff, who aren't currently required by law to go.

Sorry, staffers, we didn't mean to get you caught up in this.

Staff writers William Bender, Claudia Vargas, Julia Terruso, and Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this column.