Letters

Winter 2000
Rendell Responds

To the editor:
Your feature, "Why Did Ed Rendell Fizzle Out?" reminds me of the story about Mark Twain, living in England at the time, being told that American newspapers had reported his death. When asked by a British correspondent for his reply, Twain said: "Say the report is greatly exaggerated."

Your long and remarkably—almost determinedly—inaccurate story by Fred Siegel and Kay Hymowitz deserves the same response. What's more, it caught many Philadelphians by surprise. Not knowing that I had "fizzled out," as you so charitably described it, we were operating under the impression that Philadelphia is enjoying what the New York Times described as "one of the most stunning turnarounds in recent urban history." Seven consecutive balanced budgets, seven straight budget surpluses (the last four of which were each the largest in modern City history), dramatically improved City services like trash pickup, public safety, fire protection, recreation programs, street reconstruction and repaving, and even expanded public library hours; all of these got scant attention in your story, but they are making a difference in Philadelphia. And the "faltering economy" you refer to is the same one that has generated an increase in jobs in each of the last three years (following more than a decade of job loss that at one point topped 1,200 jobs per month); not to mention the fact—again, somehow missed by your reporters—that Philadelphia is in the midst of a $2 billion construction boom that will mean increased tax revenues for the City and jobs and opportunity for thousands of City residents. It is not my intention to crow about this renaissance, which has been attested to by almost every (other) journalist who visits our town, but let's at least be fair: Does any of this sound like we "fizzled out"?

If you haven't been to Philadelphia in a while, come and see for yourself how much progress we've made. That's not to say that we don't have many very difficult problems; we do, like most American cities. But there's a. reason for the fact that 15 new hotels are being built here, and the DisneyQuest indoor theme park and Penn's Landing urban entertainment project are underway; there's a reason for the fact that the Republican National Convention is being held here next summer; there's a reason why tremendous new projects like the $245 million Regional Performing Arts Center are under construction, as well as the reconstruction (and revitalization of) the Chestnut Street business district, and the explosion of new building projects on the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, just to name a few. And there's a reason why Philadelphians are believing in themselves and their future once again. That reason is simple: in the course of the worst financial crisis our City had ever known, we learned to work together—mayor, City Council, public employees, and even our citizens, who gave us time and the forbearance necessary to put the City's finances in order—for the good of the City. We will continue that progress under Mayor-elect John F. Street, who comes to this office after having served as a full partner in turning Philadelphia around.

That said, I must correct some of the stunningly inaccurate information passed along to your readers in the story:

I was described as having fought welfare reform, and that is true. It was and is my belief that cities are forced to bear the brunt of the "hidden" costs of welfare reform, chiefly through increased demand for social services in public health, child welfare, homeless services, and uncompensated care in local hospitals. What's more, those who demand welfare reform have an obligation to provide adequate funding for effective job training, child care, and job placement services to make it work. As you will recall, in 1996 the conservative Congressional Budget Office found that the legislation was $12 billion short of the money necessary to create jobs and make an effective transition from welfare to work. But once welfare reform became a reality, we were determined to make it work in Philadelphia. To date, through the outstanding efforts of a program called Greater Philadelphia Works, we have fashioned a welfare reform program that is second to none anywhere in the nation. Indeed, our program alone is responsible for 26 percent of all welfare-to-work job placements in the United States. The U.S. Department of Labor uses our program as a model for cities across the country, and I am consistently asked to speak in other jurisdictions about our success.

Your story claims that I have been unwilling to "grapple with the deeper structural problems that virtually guarantee Philly's continuing decline. "You list high taxes, failure to expand our privatization efforts, and inability to shrink the City's workforce. Truth is, if anyone is unwilling to "grapple" with the deeper issues, it's your reporters. What passes for research at your magazine? Philadelphia has reduced its wage and business taxes in each of the last five years, and the FiveYear Financial Plan I submitted in January pledges to continue the cycle of tax cuts in each of the next four years. That's nine straight years of responsible tax cuts that will save local taxpayers more than $1 billion, while also sending a powerful message to business leaders that Philadelphia is worth their investment. We've also eliminated the City's personal property tax. All these tax cuts have been made at the same time that we improved services and achieved record fund balances. In fact, while the loss of personal property taxes revenues in the counties surrounding Philadelphia led those counties to increase other taxes, Philadelphia actually continued to lower its wage and business privilege taxes even after we eliminated the personal property tax. The fact is, no other large city in America has reduced its tax burden more than Philadelphia during these past eight years, an incredible feat considering our financial condition at the start of my term in office.

What's more, services continued to improve while we cut taxes. Some samples include: increasing the number of miles of streets resurfaced by City workers, from 44 in FY96 to 183 by FY99; increasing the number of adoptions finalized from 146 in FY94 to 5 10 in FY99; opening, for the first time in the City's history, every one of the 52 branch libraries at least six days a week during the school year, as compared to the four branches that had six-day service in FY91; and dramatically increasing the number of children participating in recreation leagues and programs, to the point where, in FY99, there were more than 210,000 participants in sports leagues, summer camps, and after-school programs. Just one such example: In FY91, the City had no formal after-school recreational program to keep young children off the streets and engaged in sports, cultural, or educational programs. By FY97, the City's fledgling after-school program had 520 participants. In FY98, the number tripled, to 1,550 participants. And by FY99, that number had doubled, to 3,200 participants.

And a drop in the level of privatization? Your story credits us with contracting out 15 municipal services. In fact, we have contracted out 52 separate services, and completed five more initiatives in-house, while also giving our workforce the opportunity to compete—successfully, in several cases—for the work. All told, these initiatives are saving taxpayers almost $51 million a year. It is incredible that your reporters were so inaccurate in detailing the extent of our privatization efforts. This grievous error casts doubt about the credibility of the entire story.

Your story asserts that the City's failure to contract out sanitation services cost $30 million a year in potential savings and lost efficiency. Once again, you are misleading your readers. In fact, the City has used new vehicles, more sophisticated routing, and tighter management to reduce costs by more than $40 million from FY92 to FY99. These cost reductions were made at the same time that the on-time collection rate for trash increased from 64 percent in FY92 to 96 percent in FY99. Rather than criticizing the City for failing to private sanitation services, you should be acknowledging the fact that City government found a way to pick up trash faster and cheaper.

Your information about the failure to shrink the City's workforce is similarly inaccurate. During my administration, it is true that we have invested in expanding our Library staffing to establish new after-school programs and six-day branch service. We also have invested in additional staffing to support a 40 percent increase in our Emergency Medical Services (EMS) squads, rebuilding a critical service that desperately needed it. We have augmented maintenance staffing at our neighborhood recreation centers, addressing long-ignored problems of deferred maintenance and helping to reclaim abandoned playgrounds. Perhaps most significantly, we have added over 750 uniformed police officers to our force as part of our commitment to combating crime. In addition, state and federal mandates have driven growth in prison staffing (despite our contracting out the prison commissary, food services, and facilities management), along with a more than 500-employee increase in our human services department (which deals primarily with child abuse and juvenile justice). Nonetheless, even with all of these targeted and mandated increases, our General Fund workforce has declined from 25,239 employees at the end of FY90 to 24,221 by FYOO. That's a four percent reduction in absolute terms, and well over a 10 percent drop when controlled for mandates and service improvements.

You fault the City for supporting the effort to revive the former Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard. Considering that the Yard was the subject of nearly $340 million in state and federal subsidies, not to mention the $300 million investment made by Kvaerner ASA to transform it into the only modern commercial shipbuilding facility in America, I am troubled by your criticism. The City contributed $59 million in loans to the project, all of which are federal "pass-through" dollars made available from HUD 108 loans and federal defense conversion funds, and all of which must be repaid by Kvaerner. Under the circumstances, are you seriously suggesting that the City should have rejected such a terrific opportunity to jump-start the American shipbuilding industry in Philadelphia, an initiative that still promises to generate 1,000 shipbuilding jobs and 5,000 to 8,000 support jobs over the next decade? Kvaerner was and is a tremendous opportunity for the City. Even critics of the deal publicly acknowledged as much. Said one: "From Philly's perspective, it's a no-brainer." (Philadelphia Daily News, October 1, 1997)

Your criticisms of the Empowerment Zone designation awarded to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., in 1994 are similarly misplaced. Far from being a "useless patronage operation," the three Empowerment Zones—one in North Philadelphia, one in West Philadelphia, and one on American Street in Kensington—have brought 426 new businesses to Philadelphia, a 56 percent net increase in businesses in the Zone communities. And the Zones have enabled us to attract or retain more than 1,400 jobs. On American Street, the old Sovereign Oil site underwent a massive environmental cleanup, and the site became the new headquarters for Asia Foods. That enabled us to retain 46 jobs, and as a result, the Company expects to double its workforce in the next few years. In North Central, we attracted the $50 million JumpStreet USA development project, which will bring upscale retail shops and a movie theater complex to North Broad Street while providing 546 full-time jobs. And West Philadelphia is the site of a $15 million retail center that includes a 50,000 square foot grocery center, the first of its kind in a neighborhood that has long needed an economic development and community anchor.

What's more, the Empowerment Zone program was a national competition in which dozens of cities and rural areas battled hard to win the designation. Your story criticizes me for "set[ting] out to get federal money for an empowerment zone." While you have the right to criticize the creation of the program at the federal level (and I believe the program overall is a good one), are you seriously suggesting that Philadelphia should not even have competed for an Empowerment Zone? That's not just bad public policy; it's plain silly.

I will acknowledge that in the two projects your reporters mentioned, there have been difficulties in bringing planned development to completion. Not every development project can be successful. But the sites in question remain the subject of intense development interest, and as a result, I am confident that these two sites will eventually join the growing list of successful Empowerment Zone development projects.

Your reporters' description of "the continuing collapse of North Philadelphia" is again remarkable for its factual inaccuracy. North Philadelphia has fought its way back from despair, so much so that last year the New York Times described it as a "Neighborhood Reborn." What did the Times see that you missed? How about the $107 million Apollo of Temple center, or the $50 million JumpStreet U.S.A. project, or the newly renovated and expanded North Philadelphia Train Station Mall? Or maybe this fact: after four decades of population loss and decay, North Philadelphia is the site of almost 300 new housing units, including many single homes aimed at attracting middle class families. This program alone has been so successful that, for the first time in two generations, property values in North Philadelphia are rising. Somehow your reporters missed this telling fact, as they did all of the development in North Philadelphia.

Your analysis of local politics, particularly on crime and policing issues, is laughable. You declare, without benefit of the facts, that "D.A.s (and) mayors . . . criticize cops at their political peril," and you accuse me of playing by "the old political rules." Having been both a DA (who not only criticized cops, but prosecuted them) and a mayor (who won re-election without the support of the local Fraternal Order of Police), I can assure you that I have never "bowed to pressure from the FOP." I appointed Rich Neal as police commissioner in 1992 because he was widely considered to be the most qualified man for the job. When he resigned in 1997, I wasted no time in contacting John Timoney and offering him the job. He has been an outstanding police commissioner, and I will continue to provide the full support of the mayor's office to help him reduce crime in Philadelphia. The facts support no other conclusion: as most experts agree, two of the most credible crime statistics to measure are the homicide rate and the auto theft rate. In Philadelphia, homicides are down 29 percent from FY96 to FY99, and auto theft has dropped 22 percent over the last four years. Having said that, even Commissioner Timoney agrees that the strength of the nation's economy and the declining consumption of crack cocaine play a role in the reduction of crime nationwide. For the record, the Commissioner also would remind you that Operation Sunrise, which you rightly praise for its teffific results against gun and drug-dealing in Kensington and Fairhill, was developed under former Commissioner Neal. Smart cop that he is, Commissioner Timoney immediately implemented the program when he came to Philadelphia.

Finally, you took the City to task for its "increasingly outworn belief that more money, rather than systemic restructuring, is the true key to fixing the public schools." Real reform is underway in Philadelphia, and test scores have shown improving student performance in each of the last three years. In fact, 164 schools (65 percent of all public schools), demonstrated marked improvement from FY97 to FY99. Moreover, with just 12 percent of Pennsylvania's public school enrollment, the School District received over a quarter of the $13.3 million in FY99 State funds awarded to local schools for improvement in attendance and test scores. I believe that puts Philadelphia in a class by itself when it comes to public school reform. But there is no question that Philadelphia's public school students—many of whom come to school poorer, more in need of health care and other basic services, and less prepared to learn than their counterparts in more affluent communities—need increased state support for public education. When adjusted for inflation, the state's basic education subsidy per pupil in Philadelphia has declined by 5.9 percent over the last six years, while rising by 17.9 percent throughout the rest of the state. Have the benefit of the facts before you conclude that Philadelphia is simply engaging in the "tired approach" of demanding more money. We are making real progress in our public schools, and the School District has greatly reduced the cost of its operations. Based on the recommendation of a private sector task force, it achieved $47 million in management and productivity savings from FY97 through FY99—two years ahead of the schedule set by the task force for achieving that level of savings. Moreover, from FY91 through FY99 the School District reduced its administrative staff from 1,439 employees to 1,075 employees.

But the fact is that without increased state support—similar to the support the state of Illinois granted to the City of Chicago when it tackled "systemic restructuring" several years ago—the task of reforming public education in Philadelphia ultimately is doomed to failure.

I have not—and will not—respond to the general mean-spirited tone of the piece, except to note that when read in conjunction with its astonishing lack of factual accuracy, the nasty and negative tone of the story says far more about your reporters' fairness than it does about my performance as mayor. Instead, I recommend that in the future, your publication and your readers would be better served if your reporters stuck to the facts.

I have never contended that in eight years we solved every problem of the City, many of which were decades in the making. In fact, I speak openly of the continuing challenges that remain unresolved in Philadelphia in a way that few incumbent mayors do. However, the last years have been especially great ones for our City: the greatest surpluses in our history; declining business and wage taxes; the highest level of economic development in the past two decades; the fastest-growing hospitality industry in the country; incredible growth in housing opportunities for middle and low-income families; declining crime rates; and an educational system that is making determined progress in spite of its problems. By any fair analysis, we have made remarkable progress in Philadelphia. And by any standard, that hardly qualifies as "fizzling out."

Edward G. Rendell
Mayor City of Philadelphia

Fred Siegel and Kay S. Hymowitz respond:
Poor Ed Rendell: after all his success in spinning local reporters with low expectations, some out-of-towners come in and blow his cover by noting the discrepancy between his PR and his practices.

For all the huffing and puffing in the mayor’s lengthy response, in much of it he merely reiterates points we had already made about Philadelphia successes, while he continues to deny Philadelphia’s failures. In one gem regarding the hole in the ground know as his Empowerment Zone, he writes: “Not every development project can be successful. But the sites in question remain the subject of intense development interest.”

Rendell’s response to our article is best characterized with his own introductory sentence, which says that the “almost determinedly inaccurate story by Fred Siegel and Kay Hymowitz deserves the same response.” Well, he certainly succeeded in being inaccurate—as with his whopper about how he appointed the nondescript “Rich Neal as police commissioner in 1992 because he was widely considered to be the most qualified man for the job.” This is of a piece with Rendell’s long-held claim that Philadelphia, which had been systematically lying about its crime statistics while he and Neal were in charge, was “the safest big city in America.” The man believes his own spin.

It’s clear that our article has helped produce a change. A recent sub-headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer explains why: SEVEN YEARS, 11 MONTHS, TWO WEEKS INTO HIS MAYORALTY, IT HAPPENED: ED RENDELL ADMITTED MAKING A MISTAKE. The article reads “The mayor who never errs conceded last week that, yes, he moved too slowly in overhauling the city's police force.” It then quotes Rendell as saying “‘I think I made a hu—,’ he said, stopping himself from finishing the word huge, then completing the sentence with ‘very significant miscalculation dealing with the police. . . . I didn't understand that we were a police force like most American cities that was driven solely by reaction to 911. And rather than that, we should have been a police force that was doing proactive policing.” Excellent mayor, it’s nice to see—your letter notwithstanding—that we’ve helped you to recognize at least one of the errors of your ways.

Despite Mayor Rendell’s exhaustively catalogued activity, our argument still stands: in Philadelphia, crime remains high, schools fail, job growth is wan, and all the economic activity the mayor cites is government subsidized. After all Dr. Rendell’s treatment, the patient still can’t walk.
 

The Facts on Diallo

To the editor:
When I heard the initial reports of the shooting of Amadou Diallo, I listened to all sides and read all accounts and waited for the truth to come out. At least, that's what I thought I was doing. After reading Heather Mac Donald's "Diallo Truth, Diallo Falsehood" [Summer 1999], I realized that I may have been dangerously naive about the press's political agenda, which puts truth—and people—at risk.

Ms. Mac Donald charges that the New York Times (the national newspaper of record!) took an active role in creating "anti-police Diallo coverage" in an effort to discredit the Giuliani administration.

Research is my profession and my hobby, so I double-checked. I was unable to find a single statistic cited by Ms. Mac Donald that was not independently verifiable. I was unable to find a single New York Times article, among the 170 on the shooting, that painted the Giuliani administration, the NYPD, or the officers involved with an unbiased brush. Indeed, I was unable to find any significant New York City newspaper story—with the exception of Murray Weiss's page one exclusive in the March 30 New York Post—that attempted to relate calmly the facts of the incident. Why is the truth so low on our list of priorities?

Roger S. Moran
Lindenhurst, NY
 

Follow That Cab!

To the editor:
Howard Husock's "New York's Unsung Taxi Triumph" (Autumn, 1999) is a model of careful and original analysis, and the most thoughtful piece I have read in a long time about an important and neglected industry. I plan to assign it to the students in my transportation policy class next spring. Just don't charge too much for copyright permission!

Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
 

Double Standard

To the editor:
I was gratified to see Stefan Kanfer's "The Dung Hits the Fan" (Soundings, Autumn 1999) pinpoint the problem with the press's reaction to Rudolph Giuliani's financial salvo against the Brooklyn Museum: had the besmeared image been Muslim, gay, or feminist, Kanfer muses, we wouldn't hear cries for First Amendment protection and "artistic freedom." Indeed, the cries would be for hate-crime indictments. The double standard is clear: skewer Catholics, sure, but lay off those whose victim status is accredited by the PC police.

Were Chris Ofili not the irreverent hack he undoubtedly is, and had his painting not included pornographic images and elephant feces, we'd hear cries from this same bunch demanding the Madonna's removal and the withdrawal of public funds on the grounds of strict church-state separation. Bet on it.

Keep up the good work.

Alex A. Smythe
Maclean, VA
 

The Mating Game

To the editor:
Please keep up your very interesting stories on modern romance, love, mating, etc. I think you've struck a rich vein. Many of us in our prime single years are wondering, "What's happening? What went wrong?"

Steven Wardell
Harvard Business School
 

Praiseworthy Enterprise

To the editor:
"Why the Founders Are Back in Fashion" (Autumn 1999), by Jean M. Yarbrough and Richard E. Morgan, was extraordinarily helpful and wonderfully clear, considering the abundance of material covered. I've never read anything so comprehensive on the subject in such a compact, tight essay.

Michael Novak
American Enterprise Institute