Feud Grows Between Reading Mayor and Newspaper

There’s an old saying in politics:  never get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer has engaged The Reading Eagle and this the newspaper struck back with a headline story about the Berks County Elections Board investigating his campaign finances.  The story is bogus is because I investigated this (and had the story last August 21st) and found nothing improper or illegal in Spencer’s actions.

Berks County Commissioner launched the probe as a personal vendetta wasting thousands of taxpayer funds (that’s the real story) trying to go after Philadelphia union boss Johnny Dougherty.  The IBEW local gave Spencer’s campaign $30,000.  They used ten grand of it for election day activities (get out the vote operations) and then handed ten thousand each to two Philadelphia City Council candidates.  Philadelphia rules cap such contributions at $10,000.

Candidates always spread money around to each other and through other entities.  Scott himself gave the Pennsylvania Republican Party a ton of cash which they used to post direct mail pieces on his behalf.  Mark Scott and their ilk do so so negative attack ads don’t have their own names on them.  If what Spencer did was “money laundering” then so did Scott.  The problem is there’s no law against it.

Yesterday I published a response from Mayor Spencer’s office attacking The Reading Eagle for its failure to disclose an obvious conflict of interest.  Let me do an aside right now that I take no sides in this conflict I’m simply reporting what is happening.  Reading City Councilwoman Donna Reed is Vaughn Spencer’s chief political foe.  Her husband is the direct supervisor of the reporter covering City Hall.  The Eagle has never disclosed this conflict when reporting on the mayor.  The newspaper has run many negative stories about him (and he’s given them enough to write about) done by Don Spatz without ever disclosing he reports directly to Reed’s husband.  Today’s headline story is again written by Spatz with no disclosure.  It is an obvious response to the Mayor charging them with ethical violations.

Tit for tat and guess who’s going to lose?  Hint:  it won’t be the guy who buys ink by the barrel.

City of Chester in Obama Strong Cities Effort

The Obama Administration launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities yesterday and announced the City of Chester as one of six selected urban areas for particular effort.  The campaign is designed to coordinate efforts by all Executive Departments to work together for the greatest impact and to attract the most amount of private development for each federal dollar invested.

For instance if HUD is going to expand a housing project they would coordinate with Transportation to insure availability of mass transit, HHS for day care, Labor for jobs, etc.  Getting all federal agencies working together would reduce wasted dollars, get the biggest bang for the buck and enable private investment into those same areas to leverage resources.  Chester was chosen as a medium sized city to differentiate the program so it would not only focus on large urban areas.   The initiative was announced via a White House conference call yesterday afternoon.

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Obama Administration launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2), a new and customized pilot initiative to strengthen local capacity and spark economic growth in local communities while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and efficiently. To accomplish this, federal agencies will provide experienced staff to work directly with six cities: Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; and New Orleans, LA.  These teams will work with local governments, the private sector, and other institutions to leverage federal dollars and support the work being done at the local level to encourage economic growth and community development.

Additionally, communities nationwide will be eligible to compete for comprehensive economic planning assistance through a grant competition designed to spark local innovation. By integrating government investments and partnering with local communities, SC2 channels the resources of the federal government to help empower cities as they develop and implement their vision for economic growth.

“Over the past two and a half years, the Obama Administration received feedback from leaders all across the country who described the kind of partnership that would be most useful to them for economic growth,” said Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes.  “The result is Strong Cities, Strong Communities, an innovative new pilot that will help strengthen local communities while also delivering federal resources and assistance more effectively.”  

Added Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, “This is exactly the kind of federal initiative that President Obama pledged to create – one that respects the wisdom of local leadership and helps mayors and other local officials utilize federal resources more effectively.  President Obama has consistently demonstrated his commitment to a robust partnership with America’s cities and counties- Strong Cities, Strong Communities is yet another example of this important partnership.”

Through this pilot, the Obama Administration will focus on three key goals:

v  Improving the way federal government does business:  Cutting through red tape and rationalizing the federal bureaucracy to help deal with the overlapping maze of agencies, regulations and program requirements that are sometimes confusing to local governments;

v  Providing assistance and support – working with local communities to find ground up, not top down solutions:  Providing on the ground technical assistance and planning resources tailored to local governments’ needs and helping them use the federal funds they already receive more efficiently and effectively; and

v  Partnering for growth: Developing critical partnerships with key local and regional stakeholders that encompass not only municipal and state governments, but also new partnerships with the business community, non-profits, anchor institutions, faith-based institutions, and other public, private, and philanthropic leaders.

In addition to building the capacity of local governments, SC2 aims to encourage partnerships among local community organizations, anchor institutions, businesses, foundations and government agencies, helping to leverage federal investments and increase impact. The four components of SC2 include:

v  SC2 Community Solutions Teams: Community Solutions Teams comprised of federal employees from several different agencies will work directly with cities to support mayors in Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; and New Orleans, LA. Community Solutions Teams will assist cities with issues mayors have identified as vital to their economic strategies, including efforts to build on local assets, strengthen regional economies, develop transportation infrastructure, improve job-training programs and support community revitalization.

v  SC2 Fellowship Program: A complement to the Community Solutions Teams, a new fellowship program will select, train, and place early- to mid-career professionals to serve multi-year terms in local government positions to give cities additional capacity.  An intermediary will be selected to run the fellowship program, and Fellows will be selected through a competitive national process. The Program will be funded primarily by philanthropic partners; the Rockefeller Foundation is providing $2.5 million in initial funding.

v  SC2 Economic Planning Challenge: In addition to the six pilot locations, SC2 includes an Economic Planning Challenge designed to help additional cities develop economic blueprints.   This national grant competition will enable cities to adopt and implement innovative economic development strategies to support comprehensive city and regional planning efforts. Six cities will be competitively selected to receive a grant of approximately $1 million that they will use to administer an “X-prize style” competition, whereby they will challenge multi-disciplinary teams of experts to develop comprehensive economic and land use proposals for their city.  The Challenge will be administered by EDA, and EDA will assist cities in the administration of the competition.  

v  National Resource Network: Pending authorization of funding, the National Resource Network (NRN) will aggregate public and private resources to provide a broader set of cities, towns and regions with access to a one-stop portal of national experts to provide holistic policy and implementation support.   Once funds are secured, HUD will host a competition to select an intermediary to run the NRN.  Cities, towns and regions will apply to get access to the NRN, and outside experts will apply to be able to provide consulting services through the NRN.  A menu of customized and comprehensive technical assistance in a variety of policy areas will be available to communities, delivered through on-site training and staff development.  The NRN will also foster peer-to-peer learning to strengthen the network of urban practitioners and thinkers.

SC2 pilot cities were selected on the basis of economic need, strong local leadership and collaboration, potential for economic growth, geographic diversity, and the ability to test the SC2 model across a range of environments.  Federal assessment teams spent time on the ground working directly with mayors and other local officials to determine needs, opportunities and gather input for the pilot initiative.

Pennsylvania Report from the Center for American Progress Shows Positive Effect Unions have on Penn

(This is important information. – promoted by John Morgan)

On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, workers, community members, union activists, and local media gathered for a discussion on the current economic crisis and the union advantage.  Coinciding with this discussion was the release of a Pennsylvania Report by the Center for American Progress that found if union membership increased in Pennsylvania by 5% we could expect to see approximately $852,000,000 pumped into the state economy annually.

Keystone Research’s Labor Economist, Mark Price, presented the findings of the report during the discussion.  Price said, “It’s critical that we free up workers to choose to join unions.  One of the impediments to workers who want to join unions is that Labor Law has been tilted over time against them.  If we can pass the Employee Free Choice Act and grow the labor movement, Pennsylvania can expect to benefit from higher wages, greater access to healthcare, greater pensions for workers, and an economy that produces more broadly shared prosperity.”

More from Price here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

In addition to Mark Price, Allegheny Labor Council President Jack Shea participated in the discussion along with 3 local workers and the Vice President for the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).  Workers included CWA Local 13500 member John Vignovic, Geneva Taylor from UFCW Local 325, and USW Local 1408 member Keli Vereb.

President Shea is a champion for working people in Allegheny County and believes now is the time for the Employee Free Choice Act.  President Shea cited a survey conducted by the AFL-CIO that found over 60 million people would join a union today if they had the opportunity and weren’t faced with coercion, harassment, and discrimination from their employer.  President Shea shared with the audience that workers forming unions through majority sign-up is not a new practice.  “Last year alone almost ½ million workers joined unions, the vast majority through majority sign-up.”

More of President Shea’s comments here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

John Vignovic is an employee at Verizon in the Small Business Retention Department.  John’s been a member of CWA Local 13500 for 11 years and a union steward for 9 years.  “My union job gives me certainty in uncertain times,” said Vignovic.  He went on, “Without my union job I could not be putting my daughter through college right now, much less have paid off my own student debt.”  Vignovic worked hard during Labor 2008 to ensure President Barack Obama was elected and he says he plans to work just as hard until the Employee Free Choice Act is passed.  John closed his comments by asking the crowd, “What time is it? Employee Free Choice Act time!”  

Video from John Vignovic here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Geneva Taylor serves as the Secretary-Treasurer for UFCW Local 325 and is an employee at Bay Valley Foods.  Geneva spoke to the crowd about being a working mother of two who still finds the time to participate in actions for the Employee Free Choice Act.  “We need people to realize how important the Employee Free Choice Act is to workers, employers, and to our economy.  We all need to get involved in passing this legislation because all workers deserve the right to choose to join a union and get the benefits I have,” urged Taylor.

To hear more from Geneva Taylor, follow this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

USW Local 1408 member Keli Vereb also shared a compelling story with the audience Wednesday.  In 1992, Vereb was a single mom attending school during the day and working at night while living with her parents.  After graduating college Vereb could only find positions offering just over the minimum wage with few benefits.  “When U.S. Steel called me about a union job, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Vereb.  “My wages more than doubled, I had full benefits, and a pension,” she explained.  Keli Vereb, like John Vignovic, is also looking forward to her daughter graduating from college soon, an accomplishment that may not have been possible without her union job she admits.  

More from Sister Vereb here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Jamaal Craig, Vice President for the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), highlighted how unions have helped uplift the African American community in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S.  Craig said, “Unions have helped African Americans break glass ceilings and overcome countless obstacles and barriers in the workplace.  We want to continue on this road and that is why the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists fully supports the Employee Free Choice Act and our members will work tirelessly until it is passed in Congress.”

Follow this link to hear the rest of Jamaal Craig’s comments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Visit the PA Labor blog for more information on the Employee Free Choice Act!!!

http://employeefreechoice.type…

Hate Crime in York County, PA

An affluent housing community in Seven Valley, PA was assaulted with a racial slur earlier this morning. An unknown person scrolled the words, “Full of Ni***rs” on a billboard-size sign in the Grayson Homes community at Logans Reserve, a newly built house development. It is an area with more diversity, because of the new population influx from Maryland for more affordable property, less taxes and an easy commute to the Baltimore area. Jacobus/Seven Valleys, PA is 10 miles from the Maryland border. No word yet of whether a police investigation into the matter will be done. There are a lot of children, especially young, African American children, that will be forced to see it and be mentally-affected by the dirty deed. This is indeed an assault on the hard-working families living in the nice, quiet community vying for a better life for their children.

This is no doubt a hit to me personally. My wife works in that area for a family living in that community and she is appalled about the audacity some in the town would feel their urge to express white supremacy and jingoism. Hopefully, the community will bond together and try to work proactively to help keep the local enforcement officials accountable in pursuing hate crimes and spur this racially-charged vandalism from happening in the future.