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Dinosaurs invade University City

(03/25/98 10:00am)

The largest-ever dinosaur exhibit is expected to provide a boost to tourism in the city. An immense Tyrannosaurus rex and about 125 other dinosaur re-creations have invaded West Philadelphia. Don't be afraid, though -- the monsters are about to pump some serious money into the city's economy. Two days from now, the Philadelphia Civic Center will open its doors for Dinofest, the largest dinosaur exhibit in the world, featuring lifelike re-creations of dinosaurs from all corners of the world. The month-long exhibit -- which includes a three-day symposium for 100 paleontologists -- is expected to boost the city's overnight tourism and attract half a million people from the Northeast, according to Liz Carey, a spokesperson for the event. Carey, who works for the Academy of Natural Sciences -- which is sponsoring the event -- described Dinofest as an "art show, a scientific symposium and an education initiative." Officials from the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that the event might provide a $15 million surge in the city's economy, mainly from tourists staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, visiting other city attractions and buying souvenirs. The bureau is working with five area hotels to create attractive package deals combining Dinofest admission with room and restaurant costs, according to Sue Schwenderman, a spokesperson for the office. "We're happy Dinofest is happening during [many people's] spring break because people are thinking of traveling then," Schwenderman said. She also stressed that the bureau is making sure visitors are aware of other Philadelphia attractions -- most notably the new Dinosaur Hall at the Academy -- when they visit Dinofest. "Dinosaurs kind of cut across demographics," Carey noted. Dinofest is not only about dinosaur bones, however. It has a "dinomation" exhibit with robotic dinosaurs spitting out water. Another exhibit, "A Walk Through Time," shows the remnants of prehistoric mammals, including giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses and human beings, some of which are displayed in battle scenes. One of the highlights of the exhibit is its original art show, which extends for several thousand feet and displays "the most famous works of dinosaur art in the world," according to Ned Gilmore, a specialist from the Academy. Scattered throughout the exhibit are collections of dinosaur eggs, embryos, fossils and amber, as well as China's fabled "feathered dinosaur." The symposium, lasting from April 17 to 19, will feature a keynote speech by prominent Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould. It will also feature a $60-a-plate banquet called "Dinofeast," which will serve "prehistoric-type foods." Carey said Dinofest focuses on the idea that "science isn't completely abstract." She has already planned satellite field trips with the Philadelphia school system. Don Wolberg is the man behind these dinosaurs. A paleontologist from New Mexico, Wolberg created the Dinofest concept in 1994, when it premiered in Indianapolis. It made its way to Tempe, Ariz., in 1996. But Dinofest is not a traveling exhibit, Wolberg said, since its components are sent back each time to their owners across the world. Wolberg said teaching children about dinosaurs opens students' minds to the larger world of science. "When most kids in school can't find Canada on a map, and think the language spoken in Latin America is Latin, they all know Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops," he said. "These are powerful concepts." The Civic Center, located at 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard, has been closed for two years, but has reopened for flower shows, auto shows and concerts. Recently, it served as a sound stage for the film adaptation of the novel Beloved. Admission to Dinofest -- which will close on April 26 -- is $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-12 and free for kids 2 and under.

SEPTA contract talks make little progress

(03/23/98 10:00am)

More than a week of contract negotiations between SEPTA and its union has passed. And both sides have little to show for it, besides blasting each other at daily news conferences. The inconsequential and increasingly acrimonious negotiations continue into their ninth day today. Leaders from the Transport Workers Union Local 234 vowed over the weekend to again delay a possible strike that would shut down the city's buses, subways and trolleys, leaving people fumbling for other ways to get around. With officials from the union and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority still talking more than a week beyond the original contract deadline of March 15, it is unclear whether the TWU is willing to settle with what it calls an inflexible SEPTA management. "It's like we're all standing here in Philadelphia, Pa., and the TWU is somewhere around Mars," SEPTA's chief negotiator David L. Cohen told reporters yesterday at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, where negotiations are taking place. "We've got plenty of room to move around in Philadelphia? but we've got to at least get ourselves on the same planet," he added. TWU President Steve Brookens said the union has yielded as much as it can on the issues of wages and pensions for its 5,300 members. Those issues spurred a union rally yesterday outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where SEPTA General Manager Jack Leary was making opening remarks to a conference of the American Public Transit Association. At the rally, Brookens shouted to a fired-up crowd of 200 that "we have no contract here in Philadelphia, and we're not going to tolerate it." Still, the union is reluctant to call a strike, making riders wonder whether the stalemate will ever end. At best, negotiations have crept forward since last week, but by some indications they have actually slowed down. Cohen, who is Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's former chief of staff, insisted yesterday that the outcome of the talks is dependent on the union. He said no contract has been approved yet because the negotiations backtracked with the union's most recent proposal. "The document we received last night [from the union] is not at all responsive to the central issues at stake in this negotiation," Cohen said, adding that the union did not attempt to compromise on SEPTA's desire for a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, as well as management's plan to cut benefits. "If the union is interested in negotiating seriously and in good faith, we will be willing to do so," Cohen said. Cohen emphasized that the speed of negotiations has in fact decelerated since March 14, when the union called off a strike one hour before the scheduled walkout. But TWU spokesperson Bruce Bodner called Cohen a "dictator" and an "emperor." Bodner blasted SEPTA management for leaving the hotel early yesterday without responding to the union's latest proposal. He added that the union cannot accept all the conditions of the management's framework. "There's no way the Transport Workers Union is going to turn over to SEPTA $12 million over 3 years to help finance their overpaid managers and their lucrative benefits package," Bodner said. Bodner was referring to the amount SEPTA's proposal would save the agency. The union claims that SEPTA does not need to save that much. City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia, stopped by the hotel yesterday to stress her support for the union. "We believe the public sentiment is on [the union's] side," said Blackwell, who was wearing a black satin TWU jacket. "This has been a union town, and none of us believe in union busting."

SEPTA, union still at odds over contract

(03/20/98 10:00am)

If employees strike, the city's subways and buses would be paralyzed. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its union continue to leave more than 400,000 riders wondering when the uncertainty over a possible strike will end. Meeting face to face last night for the first time in two days, leaders from the Transport Workers Union Local 234 discussed SEPTA's latest contract proposal with negotiators from the agency. The face-to-face meetings may indicate that negotiations have inched forward since Tuesday night's standstill, when union members stormed out of the downtown hotel where negotiations had been taking place. Still, both sides cautioned yesterday that their flexibility was nearing a breaking point. "To this point I don't think there has been significant movement," said TWU spokesperson Bruce Bodner, adding that the union's "patience is wearing thin." The two sides have been talking since Saturday night, when the union decided to remain at the bargaining table as long as talks were progressing. A strike by the 5,300-member union would shut down most buses, trolleys and subways in the city, forcing passengers to seek out other ways to get around the area. Regional rail lines would not be affected, since those workers are in a different union. One of the main issues still dividing SEPTA and its union is management's desire to suspend employees without wages for work inefficiency, poor work attendance or accidents. Union members favor the existing program, which allows employees to meet with managers to smooth out the problems. Another area of contention is SEPTA's call for a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy. SEPTA wants to fire employees after one offense, but union members favor the existing policy of providing rehabilitation and a second chance. The union has also complained that SEPTA wants to strip benefits from employees who have been injured for six months or more, and that management wants to abolish the "safety awards" program that gives good employees monetary gifts. Also, SEPTA wants new employees to begin work at a lower hourly wage and lengthen the amount of time for a wage increase. In yesterday's mid-afternoon briefing, Bodner said the differences between SEPTA management and its union are an example of "class warfare" that's being waged against members of the TWU. But SEPTA's chief strategist David L. Cohen, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's former chief of staff, denied such allegations. "There's no class warfare here," Cohen said. "The interests that we have expressed and the interests the union has expressed have produced a framework that is to the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the TWU." Cohen added that there has been little material change in SEPTA's most recent proposal to the union. Bodner also said there are still major issues dividing the two sides, indicating that last night's face-to-face meeting will likely not be a make-or-break discussion. He reiterated the union's promise that it would not walk out in the middle of the day. SEPTA reported a decrease in ridership as high as 15 percent this week as a result of anxiety over a possible strike. But Bodner suggested that "SEPTA's ridership is falling off much more than they are reporting." Cohen maintained that SEPTA's proposal to the union would result in a "win-win-win" situation for the union members, the authority and the riders.

Union walks out of SEPTA negotiations

(03/18/98 10:00am)

Union officials refused to comment as they left the hotel, signaling a possible breakdown in the talks. In a sign that contract talks between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its union may have reached a standstill, negotiators from Transport Workers Union Local 234 last night walked out of the hotel where they had been negotiating but refused to answer reporters' questions. It was unclear last night whether the union planned to strike today. Contract negotiations had continued virtually around-the-clock since midnight Saturday, when union representatives agreed to extend their talks beyond the March 15 deadline. The union has said it would continue to negotiate as long as talks were progressing. But late yesterday afternoon, TWU President Steve Brookens announced that the union would call a strike for today if SEPTA -- the nation's fifth largest public transportation system -- refused to bend. As of late last night, the union had not announced a walk-out. A strike by the 5,600-member union would shut down most buses, trolleys and subways, leaving the transit system's 450,000 weekday passengers searching for other ways to get around the city. "We are quite a distance apart at the present moment," Brookens said yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, SEPTA's chief strategist David L. Cohen, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's former chief of staff, told reporters at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel that "within that framework there is virtually no more room for SEPTA to move," and that the union has made a "small give? on some of those issues." The negotiations, which have been ongoing since late December, continue to focus on the issues of work rules, employee absenteeism, SEPTA's ability to sustain itself financially, workers' compensation and health benefits, according to Cohen. He cited the past contract as allowing an "abusive over-utilization" of benefits, in which employees collect money even when they are not on the job. But union officials have consistently blasted several SEPTA's contract proposals, stressing that they give management too much power over union employees. SEPTA -- currently plagued by a $150 million operating deficit -- wants to delay wage increases for the union employees, hire part-time bus and train operators, change the current health benefits system and rewrite work rules to move away from the seniority system. But union leaders complain that SEPTA is deliberately trying to cut employees' pay. The current negotiations began in reaction to an 85-page contract SEPTA proposed in late December, which left the union claiming management would have too much power. At the time, the union countered with a 15-page list of contract proposals, which included changing the company's pension system to allow employees to retire earlier.

SEPTA union agrees to postpone strike

(03/17/98 10:00am)

Both sides will continue to work towards a new contract agreement. Officials from the the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its union continued intense negotiations for a new labor contract yesterday, two days after the union delayed a threatened strike that would shut down most of Philadelphia's public transportation. On Saturday, the 5,600-member Transport Workers Union Local 234 announced its delay of a threatened walk-out, extending contract negotiations with SEPTA -- which faces a $150 million operating deficit -- beyond the March 15 deadline. The two parties agreed to prolong their time at the bargaining table at a downtown hotel in an effort to avert a possible strike that would leave the system's 450,000 weekday passengers searching for other ways to get around the city. Union spokesperson Bruce Bodner described yesterday's negotiations as "positive." Although Bodner could not say when both parties would settle, he promised that SEPTA riders would be given sufficient notice if a strike is called, and that the system's daily riders would not be left "stranded" in the middle of the day. A strike would close down the operation of most city buses and surface trolleys, while the Market-Frankford and Broad Street subway lines would be operated by SEPTA managers, offering limited service Monday through Saturday. The subway-surface trolley line would operate only between 13th and 40th streets. Since workers on SEPTA's regional railroad lines are in a different union, those lines would remain unaffected and operate on schedule. But all passengers would be required to buy roundtrip tickets before boarding the train. SEPTA, the fifth largest transportation system in the country, reported early yesterday that "rider uncertainty and anxiety" about being stranded by a strike had contributed to a 10 to 15 percent decline in ridership. For most of the past two days, both sides worked independently in private negotiating areas five floors apart in the Franklin Wyndham Plaza Hotel at 17th and Race streets. By mid-afternoon yesterday, both parties had had one face-to-face meeting at the table that day, and were expecting to have another later in the evening, according to Bodner. "Throughout this process, we have had our proposal, [SEPTA] has had their proposal and it's a question of trying to bridge the differences between the two," Bodner said. Nevertheless, the union is preparing for a strike. Thousands of strike signs have already been distributed and strike captains have been organizing members at assigned picket locations while checking in with TWU headquarters on 22nd and Spring Garden streets for breaking news. Several SEPTA riders yesterday said they were worried about the possibility of a strike. "If SEPTA strikes, I won't be able to get to work," said Tameka White, 20. Michelle Toler, a junior at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science who works to pay her way through school, echoed White's concerns. "It's a big inconvenience to say the least, if SEPTA strikes," Toler said. "It's like if I can't get to work, obviously I can't get paid." Extending the negotiations beyond the deadline may have been an indication that the parties are coming closer to resolving the dispute. SEPTA management wants to delay wage increases for the union employees, hire part-time bus and train operators, change the current health benefits system and rewrite union work rules to move away from the seniority system. The current negotiations are in reaction to an 85-page contract SEPTA proposed in late December, which left the union claiming management would have too much power. At the time, the union countered with a 15-page list of contract proposals, which included changing the company's pension system to allow employees to retire earlier. Negotiations have been ongoing since December 26. The last city transit strike occurred during a two-week stretch in 1995.

Wounded student not mad at U.

(03/05/98 10:00am)

Senior John LaBombard said he is doing well after being shot in the leg Sunday. You have to take it all in stride. That's how College senior John La Bombard feels about being hit in the thigh by a stray bullet Sunday afternoon while working in the Blauhaus at 33rd and Chestnut streets. The 22-year-old Alpha Tau Omega brother and member of the wrestling team described himself as "completely fine" and joked about the incident yesterday in a telephone interview from his home in Queensbury, N.Y. La Bombard seemed hardly fazed by the incident. He also does not blame the University for Sunday's deadly shooting outside the Palestra that killed one man and wounded two others besides La Bombard. La Bombard was released from Allegheny University Hospitals-Hahnemann Monday afternoon after being treated for the gunshot wound. He is presently on crutches, and he expects to return to campus after spring break. "I just want to go back to school and graduate," he said. La Bombard, who is studying to be an architect, was working on a Design of the Environment project at about 4 p.m. Sunday when he felt a sharp pain in his leg. Initially, he though a table saw had caused a projectile of wood to hit him. "I didn't see anything? I thought I got hit by a piece of wood? [I] just saw a pool of blood coming out of my leg," said La Bombard. And when the Design of the Environment major -- lying immobile in a pool of his own blood -- realized he had been shot, he began to make jokes, telling several friends in the room that he "hopes he can get an extension on this project." He added that he was not angry about the incident, especially since the bullet missed the bone and major arteries in his leg. "I'm just glad it didn't hit my penis," he said. La Bombard complained, however, that he was the last person paramedics attended to at the scene of the crime. He estimated that an ambulance arrived about five minutes after he was shot. "I was getting worried because it took forever for the freakin' ambulance to get to me," he said. And although he was shot following the basketball tournament, La Bombard said he believes the University should invite the Philadelphia Public League boys basketball championship back to the Palestra next year. Police investigators have said the shootings were unrelated to the game. "The University should? help out the community by sharing our facilities," he said. "It's just a shame that those kids use the Penn campus as a neutral battleground to shoot each other," he added. And La Bombard said he does not blame the person who shot him, noting that "it's not the kid's fault, it's the socioeconomic issue of inner-city kids and what goes on." Police have yet to arrest a suspect in the shooting. Anthony Davis, 22, of North Philadelphia, was the sole fatality. But La Bombard's close friend Jeremy Bailer, a College senior, said he was angry that the University invited the basketball championships back to Penn this year after gunshots were fired after last year's games as well. "I'm just hoping administrators can see the trend and they won't invite the tournament back next year," Bailer said. "This kind of thing scares me, that fights and riots like this can break out with Penn hosting events," the fellow ATO brother said, stressing his fear of the University playing host to the Penn relays in April. The annual event has also spurred security problems on and around campus. La Bombard said he still feels safe at Penn, adding that "the University has done a lot to handle the crime issue here." "I actually feel bad for the University, because this is just an unfortunate incident where the Philly natives came onto our campus and used it as a battleground," he said. This weekend, La Bombard -- who said he was still fatigued by painkillers -- plans to attend the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships at Lehigh University, adding that he "doesn't care if he's in a wheelchair." La Bombard wrestled at Penn for four seasons.

Students join protest against welfare reform

(03/04/98 10:00am)

The protest marked the first anniversary of a massive overhaul of the American welfare system. One year after national welfare reform went into effect, about 100 people -- including about 10 University students -- rallied yesterday morning in front of the state office building in Center City to protest what they called a misguided policy that comes down too harshly on the poor. The protesters claimed the state program, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, unfairly puts a five-year limit on welfare benefits including cash assistance, medical aid and food stamps. The policy hurts poor Pennsylvanians, cuts benefits to immigrants and limits educational opportunities, the protesters charged. But officials from the state's welfare department stressed that the new policy helps poor people get off welfare, requiring them to find work after two years of receiving benefits. The program also gives welfare recipients the opportunity to pursue education while working. Protester Wendy Heller, however, said she doubts the efficacy of the reform, noting that finding a job is hardly an easy feat to accomplish. "[Legislators] just put this policy into effect, and they have no clue how it's going to actually play out," said Heller, a College and Wharton senior. The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organization of poor and homeless families that has been active in fighting against the welfare changes, organized the rally. From the state office at Broad and Spring Garden streets -- where ralliers marched with signs and religious leaders led prayers for homeless people -- the protesters marched to the unemployment compensation office on 13th and Fairmount streets. Once there, the protesters filled out employment applications and held a banner reading "Freedom from Unemployment, Hunger and Homelessness." According to KWRU organizer Amy Miller, 57,000 Philadelphia residents will be kicked off welfare this year. But Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell predicts an influx of only 10,000 new jobs -- causing a situation that may render thousands of city dwellers homeless, Miller said. "We think people should definitely work, but they need to be sure they can find work and at a living wage," she said. "But I don't think the city of Philadelphia is prepared or even able to provide enough jobs." Miller said City Council members and Rendell's administration were invited to attend the rally, but none of the city's political dignitaries made an appearance. State welfare department spokesperson Jay Pagni stressed that "welfare reform is a system that is set up to support an individual on the road to self-sufficiency." Prior to the implementation of TANF, the old welfare system -- entitled Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- enabled recipients to stay on the system indefinitely, while "TANF empowers someone to leave the system," Pagni said. Under TANF, 50 percent of a recipient's employment earnings is disregarded when calculating his benefits, thereby earning him or her more assistance. And total monthly benefits increase from $987 to $1,492 when the family moves from full welfare to 20 hours per week employment at minimum wage. When an individual earns $1,160 per month, he or she becomes ineligible for TANF but can receive transitional child care and medical coverage for one year. Welfare reform, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, has been one of the most controversial issues in recent years. The new program generally allows states to craft their own approaches to helping the poor.

Rendell chronicler causes 'Buzz' at U.

(02/27/98 10:00am)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Buzz Bissinger attended a discussion in the Writers House yesterday amidst a panel of former city dignitaries who were dressed to impress. But the 1976 College graduate left his tie at home and his top button open. Bissinger's informal style was reflected in the easy-going manner in which he spoke with a standing-room-only crowd of about 40 University students and administrators yesterday about his recently published book, A Prayer for the City, which offers an insider's perspective of Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's tumultuous first term. The event was moderated by College senior Mike Madden, former managing editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian, and English professor Peter Conn, who taught Bissinger during his days at the University. Other panelists included Penn Vice President of Finance and former City Treasurer Kathy Engebretson; Penn Budget Director Mike Masch, a former city budget director under Rendell; former Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning Joe Torsella, a 1985 College graduate and the current president of the National Constitution Center; and Mike Nadol, former city labor relations director and current deputy water commissioner. In writing the book, Bissinger, 43, got unlimited and unprecedented access to Rendell's office and City Hall for four years. Bissinger said he wanted to write it because he was "struck by the sorrow" of a city whose streets and neighborhoods were plagued by "devastation and destruction." "These houses were not meant to be this way. They were not meant to disintegrate and rot," Bissinger said, recalling a visit to North Philadelphia. A former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Bissinger covered Rendell's failed campaign for mayor in 1987. After Rendell's surprise win in 1991, Bissinger said he was curious about how the new mayor would fare in "managing the unmanageable," since Philadelphia was on the brink of bankruptcy. Bissinger said the purpose of the book was to assess what can be done to save a "dying place." In an effort to humanize and animate the book's coverage of municipal government, the author explored four other characters who were affected by city-wide decisions, making the book read almost like a novel. Bissinger stressed that despite Rendell's efforts at improving Philadelphia's economic outlook, the needs of the city extend beyond any short-term reforms. Addressing Rendell's specific achievements, Bissinger asked: "You can balance the budget and put down the unions, but how much impact does that have on the people who live there?" "The needs of the city just seems to be enormous," he added. After Rendell's 1991 victory in the mayoral election, Bissinger spoke for 10 minutes with then-Chief of Staff David Cohen about arranging exclusive access to the Rendell administration. The self-confident Rendell was surprisingly willing to let the journalist dissect him and his administration. "I really think [Rendell] thought I would probably never do it," Bissinger said. The panelists, all of whom worked for the city government during Bissinger's endeavors in City Hall, said they were struck by the difficulty of having to consider themselves as potential characters for the book. "It's interesting to think of oneself as a potential character," Nadol said, adding that such a thought worked to "frame" the way the politicians presented themselves to Bissinger.

SEPTA contract talks going nowhere fast

(02/25/98 10:00am)

The union has said it will strike if an agreement is not reached by March 15, the date the current contract expires. Plagued by "antagonistic" negotiations, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its 5,600-member union have not made much progress in their efforts to create a new union contract by the March 15 deadline, the union said. Such a deadlock increases the likelihood of a system-wide strike. Neither SEPTA nor the Transport Workers Union Local 234 would comment on the likelihood of the labor dispute ending by mid-March, when the existing 1995 contract expires. But if the two parties cannot find common ground, the union has threatened to strike. SEPTA General Manager Jack Leary said he expects the negotiations to make progress "in the last few weeks." But March 15 is only 2 1/2 weeks away, and SEPTA management is still "not understanding the current situation," according to TWU spokesperson Bruce Bodner. "[SEPTA] is unable to articulate any real justifications for their proposals," Bodner said. "They're unable to show factually the premise behind any problem." Bodner denounced SEPTA for its "inexperienced bargaining team," and for managers -- including Leary, who came to the agency in February 1997 -- who are new to the company and therefore "impeding the parties' abilities to make progress." Leary would not comment on the content or the tone of the negotiations. "It's very important that the conversations occur at the table, and it's in no one's interest to talk about the details of the discussion," he said. Although a strike would clearly be destructive for both the union and SEPTA, the union is convinced that "SEPTA seems determined to provoke a transit strike," Bodner said. He added that SEPTA's massive publicity campaign is designed to demonize the workforce and strip union members of important rights. The union has been running a publicity campaign of its own blasting SEPTA. The TWU issued a progress report last week suggesting that SEPTA is proposing unlimited subcontracting coupled with a plan to privatize and dismantle the entire transit system. Leary refused to comment on those suggestions. He stressed that the changes SEPTA is undertaking in an effort to modernize might be the reason for the TWU's anger, since "change is always difficult for a lot of people." And while he would not comment on the likelihood of a potential strike, he said SEPTA is preparing for "every condition." Responding to a decline in ridership, a $150 million operating deficit and the possible union strike, SEPTA recently announced a five-year strategic plan to revamp the nation's fifth largest public-transportation system. The plan includes proposals for automated fare collection, station renovations, new buses and subway cars and secured waiting areas, while also aiming to improve relations with the TWU. But negotiations between the parties have been rocky for months. Although neither side wants to see a strike, union workers reacted angrily to a proposed contract, which they claim gives the management excessive power. SEPTA officials gave the union a copy of the proposed 85-page contract last month. At the same time, the union presented SEPTA with a 15-page list of contract proposals, which included changing the company's pension system to allow employees to retire sooner. The TWU complains that Leary, at $184,990 a year, is paid more than Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and ranks as the highest paid transit administrator in the country, while the wages of SEPTA's bus drivers rank only 24th in the nation.

Phila. to up hotel space

(02/24/98 10:00am)

the move is part of a big effort to draw potitical conventions in 2000. Make no mistake about it: A major political convention in Philadelphia in the year 2000 would mean $100 million in revenue, a boost for the city's profile and a big influx in tourism dollars. With an eye to such potential benefits, city officials are doing everything they can to lure the Democrats, the Republicans or both to Philadelphia. But crucial to the attempts to attract such conventions in the summer of 2000 is the city's guarantee that there will be enough hotel space to accommodate the 35,000 visitors and members of the media the events would draw. That explains officials' rallying cry these days: "2,000 by the year 2000," a slogan indicating the need to build 2,000 more hotel rooms within the next two years. Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell has charged the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., an economic-development group, with the task of making sure those hotel rooms materialize. And although the city has large plans currently underway to create at least 3,000 more hotel rooms by 2000, two major projects -- the construction of a 350-room Hyatt Hotel at Penn's Landing and the conversion of the Loews PSFS building at 12th and Market streets to a 600-room hotel -- are facing unexpected delays. But city officials involved in Philadelphia 2000, the organization in charge of attracting the conventions to the city, said the delays will not harm Philadelphia's chances of hosting both parties' politicians in the same year, a feat the city has not accomplished since 1948. "We have more than enough hotels to accommodate delegates, attendees and the press," said Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for Rendell. The two parties differ in how they will determine the host site. The Democratic National Committee will send out an official "request for proposal" in March, to which city officials need to respond by April. The DNC will then send out a site-selection team to scope out the city for three days. Officials will choose the 2000 convention site by September of this year. The Republican National Committee, however, has already issued a "request for proposal." The city must respond by April 24, and the party's site visit will occur by June. But the official decision will not be made until January 1999. Penn's Landing Corp. Vice President Jim Cuorato said the Hyatt project on the Delaware River has been delayed because the developer is rearranging the hotel's financing. But he still expects the Hyatt to be ready before the summer of 2000. Rendell's former chief of staff David Cohen -- who is co-chairing Philadelphia 2000 -- said, however, that he does not believe the hotel projects are facing any delays. The hotels are scheduled to open at the end of 1999, and "that was the same schedule announced two years ago," he added. Several other hotels currently under construction include the 370-room Grand Bay Hotel on Broad Street; the 210-room expansion of the Philadelphia Marriott into the Reading Terminal Headhouse at 12th and Market streets; the Hawthorn Suites Convention Center Hotel at 11th and Vine streets; the 280-room Hilton Garden Hotel on 11th and Arch streets; and the 500-room Marriott Courtyard to be built on 13th and Filbert streets. The economic impact of luring one or both political conventions to Philadelphia would translate into about $100 million in revenue for the city, according to Feeley, who said that "it's one of the most powerful and lucrative conventions the city could have. "But more important is the kind of exposure a city like Philadelphia could get from hosting one of the political conventions -- in terms of increasing our visibility, it is a bonanza for the city," Feeley added, stressing the conventions' ability to increase tourism in Philadelphia. To some, the idea of hosting political conventions would be a symbol of Philadelphia's "arrival" as a city. According to Philadelphia 2000 Executive Director Karen Bucholtz, the city has many things going for it -- including the CoreStates Center arena, prominent political leaders and a vibrant cultural life -- which should appear attractive to both the Democratic and Republican site selection committees. "There are two main reasons for doing this: for economic development and for tourism," Bucholtz said. "It's really an opportunity to showcase the city."

Many developers have eye on Penn's Landing

(02/18/98 10:00am)

Due to a large amount of open space, the area could soon house more movie theaters than Center City. There can be such a thing as too much revitalization for Philadelphia. If all of the pending economic development projects for Penn's Landing go through as planned, the city will have more movie theaters than it needs, officials say. And most of those screens will be east of Center City, a move that could essentially shift the center of entertainment further eastward. Three development companies have their eyes on the site along the Delaware River as a suitable location for projects that could result in more than 60 screens on the waterfront. The companies are attracted to Penn's Landing because of its available space. Center City, by contrast, does not have many large open areas to build multi-screen cinemas. The riverfront already has one large theater complex, the United Artists Riverview, which has eight screens. Still, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell is not worried that the projects may detract from Center City, according to his spokesperson, Kevin Feeley. Rendell endorses the project, hoping it will help attract more overnight visitors to Philadelphia and aid the city in its lack of long-term tourism, Feeley said. "Movies are not exclusively the domain of the riverfront," Feeley said. "The idea is to bring people to town." In an attempt to rectify the potential division between Center City and Penn's Landing, the mayor is implementing a plan to incorporate the new project with the rest of Center City by organizing themes in both locations and designing walkways between the two areas. The major project planned for Penn's Landing is a $200 million Family Entertainment Center to be developed by the Indianapolis-based Simon DeBartolo Group. The center will likely include a 24-screen movie theater as well as several themed restaurants and retail outlets. There is no current timetable for the construction of the complex, but officials expect plans to be finalized in June. Feeley said the mayor wants the center to include an entertainment and cultural venue called the American Experience, set to be built around a historical theme. Other possible tenants involved in the 510,000-square foot project include NikeTown, a Virgin Megastore and FAO Schwartz. Jim Cuorato, vice president of Penn's Landing Corp., said Penn's Landing officials hope to negotiate with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to implement a shuttle system to and from the complex once it materializes. Part of the funding for the project -- expected to create more than 1,000 new permanent jobs -- may be supplied by the city itself, as City Council's is expected to vote soon on a proposal to allocate $50 million towards the project. And these are not the only plans for waterfront revitalization. The New York-based Waterfront Renaissance Associates reportedly wants to build a smaller entertainment center with a 14-screen cinema just a small distance north of Penn's Landing on Delaware Avenue. Additionally, riverfront planner Bart Blatstein is developing retail space and an 11-screen movie theater and restaurant complex along Delaware Avenue south of Washington Street, roughly a mile south of the construction at Penn's Landing. Although Cuorato said he doesn't think "all those 60-plus [screens] will be built," most of the plans for the projects have been finalized, making it likely that many of them will ultimately be constructed.

Center City getting better, survey says

(02/12/98 10:00am)

But students are still not opting to live downtown after graduating college. Center City is just a pit stop for graduate students, few of whom are likely to settle in Philadelphia after they get their degrees, according to a recent study. According to the Center City District's third annual "State of Center City" report, eight out of 10 survey respondents feel that the "general atmosphere" of Center City improved this year. Last year, about 70 percent of respondents expressed similar sentiments. But only 6 percent of respondents under the age of 30 rank the region as an "excellent" place to live. As a result, the study said retaining "well-educated, upwardly mobile people in the region" should be top a goal for the city. About 4,081 students from Penn and Drexel live downtown, the study says. According to the survey, the large number of students living in the Philadelphia area make it a close second to the New York City region. But the difference between the two cities is that "we're not getting enough students to settle" in Philadelphia, said CCD Executive Director Paul Levy. Levy said he did not know why more students were not settling in Center City. Crime continues to fall in Center City, as it has for the past few years. Serious crimes -- including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and auto theft -- fell 30 percent from 1996 to 1997, and 1,080 new light fixtures were installed last year. Still, the study says the area continues to be plagued by auto theft. The CCD is a 7-year-old quasi-governmental agency in charge of improving cleanliness, lighting, retail and safety downtown. The District, which gets its revenue from taxes on local businesses, is the model for the recently-created University City District. Several University graduate students, reinforcing Levy's concerns, said a variety of factors contributed to their decision to leave Center City after graduation. Tara Gibson, a sixth-year Biomedical graduate student, said it is unlikely she will ultimately remain in Center City, mainly because "job opportunities will take [her] to other institutions" outside Philadelphia. Second-year Wharton graduate student Jeff Schiamberg also said he plans to leave Center City and return home to Los Angeles when he graduates in May, noting that Wharton students tend to "return to where they are from after graduation." Still, students said they enjoyed living downtown, saying they believed the area was safe and vibrant. The survey also reported that the number of restaurants in Center City has increased to 475 establishments, a 28 percent increase from one year ago. Gibson said she and her husband chose to live downtown because of the area's cultural, shopping and dining opportunities. "Barnes and Noble and everything in Rittenhouse [Square] is open late, and there's always a lot of people out late and enjoying the city," Gibson said. Gibson lived in West Philadelphia during the first two years of her graduate study. But she moved downtown because Penn offered her "no place to hang out at night" and because she thought Center City was "safer." Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said they feel safe "always" or "most of the time" in Center City. The figure represents an increase from the 61 percent of respondents who gave a similar answer last year. Schiamberg said he feels the area's appearance has improved this year. "There are fewer homeless people accosting you on your way back from class," Schiamberg said. "It does seem like, in general, things have gotten a little more tame." Gibson added that although she has never been a victim of crime, she recognizes that anything could happen near her home near 22nd and Locust streets. A murder and carjacking recently occurred near her residence, she said. Schiamberg said he originally chose to live in Center City because officials at a Wharton School orientation encouraged students to do so. Also, "since we do a lot of work in groups, it makes sense that we all live near each other downtown," he said.

Pennsylvania Governor's Race: Ridge is in the money

(02/11/98 10:00am)

Ivan Itkin and Philip Berg will try to overcome Gov. Tom Ridge's deep pockets. Of all the issues that may decide the Pennsylvania governor's race this year, the one that could matter the most -- money -- has nothing to do with the candidates' platforms. Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican running for a second four-year term, has already raised more than $5 million, while the man considered his main Democratic competition, State Representative Ivan Itkin, has amassed just $90,000. And unlike Ridge, who is expected to coast through the primary season, Itkin still has the Democratic primary battle to endure on May 19. With Ridge, 52, enjoying high popularity throughout the state, attorney Philip Berg -- who has no campaign funds -- will have to wage an uphill battle this election season. The general election will be held November 3. "It looks like a real long shot for a Democrat right now, but you never say anything is impossible," Penn Political Science Professor Jack Nagel said. "Still, unexpected things can happen, and people who are relatively unknown can become known once the campaign heats up." Overall, Democrats outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania. As of November 1997, about 49 percent of the state's 7 million registered voters are Democrats, while 42 percent are Republican, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Ridge, who served as a U.S. congressman for 12 years before being elected governor in 1994, has gained popularity for increasing job growth during his term, cutting workers' compensation premiums and for implementing a $25 million personal-income tax cut for families. His administration also created Link to Learn, a $127 million program that makes computers more widely available to public schools. But Itkin, 61, is hardly a political novice. He has represented Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania state legislature, where he has served since 1972. He was the House Majority Leader in 1993-94, and is currently the House Minority Whip. A nuclear scientist who designed propulsion systems for the U.S. Navy's nuclear fleet before he dove into the political pool, Itkin said his work with science aids him in "solving problems," a tactic he said he will apply as governor. Ridge, who defeated then-Lt. Gov. Mark Singel by a hair in the 1994 general election, is expected to have an easy time in the Republican primary. So far, former State Rep. Francis Worley is the only Republican who may run against the governor. Itkin himself seems worried about his chances. At a conference last month, he told a group of newspaper publishers that Ridge is "supposedly respectably popular" and "hasn't made a whole lot of enemies." Itkin, who is pro-choice, has said he's running against Ridge because he doesn't think Ridge has developed the ability to "listen to people and balance their concerns." Ridge, a death penalty supporter who has signed 105 death warrants to date, recently submitted a $17.8 billion budget proposal for 1998-99, which under Pennsylvania's constitution must be balanced. The proposal's 3 percent increase in spending is consistent with the rise in the cost of living, according to James Feaser, a Ridge spokesperson. As for abortion, Ridge, like Itkin, is pro-choice. But Ridge favors parental consent for minors and opposes government-funded abortions except for cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. From his first day in office in January 1995, when he called a special session to address crime in the state, Ridge has had the issue at the top of his agenda. He has focused on juvenile crime, victim rights and high-tech programs such as video cameras in patrol cars and DNA databases. Ridge has also increased state funding for education, is dedicated to environmental-law enforcement and set up the Rainy Day Fund, a "savings account" the state can tap to replace revenue lost by economic decline. But Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell -- who openly admits to having "philosophical differences" with Ridge -- supports Itkin for governor, said Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for the mayor. "The mayor is a good Democrat, and Mr. Itkin is most likely going to be the Democratic standard-bearer," Feeley said. Both Itkin and Berg cite crime prevention, urban schools and property taxes as issues of concern. And they criticize Ridge for raising property taxes, lagging behind in job reforms, underfunding public education and putting large companies' interests before those of the people. "The corporate interests, and not the people's interests, are driving the governor's agenda," Itkin said at the conference. Itkin would like to see more work done on "preventing crime in the first place," by expanding after-school programs and family support and strengthening the local police, according to Itkin spokesperson Diane McCormick. And Itkin voted against Ridge's welfare plan, which required 225,000 people on medical aid to work 100 hours per month or lose their benefits. The state representative also opposed Ridge's workers' compensation reform, which set a limit to long-term benefits for employees hurt on the job. "If I can figure out how to propel a trident submarine, I know I can figure out how to fix our roads without raising gas taxes," Itkin said. He blasted the governor's 3 1/2 cent per gallon gas tax hike, which raised $400 million for the state. Berg, a 53-year-old attorney from Lafayette Hill in nearby Montgomery County, is also no stranger to the political arena, though he's had little success. He ran against incumbent Gov. Robert Casey for the Democratic nomination in 1990, but he got fewer than a quarter of the votes Casey received. Berg denounced the governor as "ineffective" for raising gas taxes and not spending enough time trying to improve the public education system, which he described as being "too heavy on administrators." Berg also intends to beef up an anti-littering campaign and limit the interest rate on credit cards to only 3 or 4 percent above the prime rate. "I think these are things the citizens can identify with," Berg said. Berg said he will not accept donations over $100 and will ask both Itkin and Ridge to give back contributions over that amount.

Marrow attorney speaks on legal issues

(02/10/98 10:00am)

Fewer than 10 people attended a talk given by Mitch Marrow's attorney, Arthur Marion, on campus last night -- indicating that the eligibility controversy that forced Penn to forfeit nearly all of the football team's wins in 1997 may now rest as water under the bridge. The Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity sponsored the visit by Marion, whose speech in Vance Hall addressed other Penn-related cases he is handling as well as general topics about a career in law. College freshman Daniel Swerdlin, the group's vice president, introduced Marion as "one of the most prominent lawyers in Philadelphia." The case involving Marrow, a fifth-year College senior and all-Ivy defensive tackle, ended last month with the National Collegiate Athletic Association's approval of Penn's decision to forfeit the games in which Marrow played as an ineligible part-time student. Marion described the forfeits, which dropped the team's record from 6-4 to 1-9, as "fair." The Philadelphia attorney blasted The Daily Pennsylvanian's coverage of the case, stressing that the case itself is "the kind of thing that should have been handled internally without press." While contending that the athletic controversy was unintentional on the part of both Marrow and the University, Marion agreed with Penn's assessment that the pro prospect "should have been aware of how many credits he had." But Marion also blamed Associate Athletic Director Denis Elton Cochran-Fikes for "slipping" by failing to alert Marrow of his part-time status. Marrow himself made a similar criticism in December. Marion added that the removal of Marrow's all-Ivy status was not fair. "I think the penalty was great enough," he said. "Mitch feels responsible for the failures." But Marion, hesitant to discuss the particulars of the case, referred to it as a "non-issue," and explored several other topics with students. The attorney, a Philadelphia assistant district attorney from 1960-65, spoke extensively about the other Penn-related cases he is involved in. He is the attorney for a University student accused of raping another student in November 1994, a case which is sitting in federal court and may go to trial in June. Marion also spoke about his firm and gave tips on pursuing a career in law.

Specter kicks off campaign at College Hall

(02/09/98 10:00am)

Republican Senator and University alumnus Arlen Specter announced his bid for an unprecedented fourth term. College Hall played host to one of the University's most famous alumni Friday morning, as U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) officially announced his campaign for reelection in front of the historic building. Specter, a pro-choice, moderate Republican who already has $3.9 million in the bank for the campaign, is expected to coast through the May 19 primary election, setting the stage for a showdown with one of at least three potential Democratic opponents. In his last election in 1992, Specter edged Democrat Lynn Yeakel by a 2 percent margin. As he stood in front of the Ben Franklin statue Friday with his wife Joan, their children and their grandchildren, Specter -- a 1951 Penn alumnus who studied international relations and often returns to his alma mater -- stressed the importance of educational opportunity. "I seek a millennium consensus that the only thing more expensive than providing excellence in education for Pennsylvanians is permitting ignorance in too many school systems," said Specter, drawing applause from the crowd of about 30. "I want classrooms all across this Commonwealth where values are learned and violence is banned." If reelected in November, Specter, who turns 68 Thursday, would be the first senator from Pennsylvania to serve a fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Specter is chairperson of the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services. He is also a member of the Judiciary and Governmental Affairs committees. Recently, Specter has been in the spotlight for his actions on the Judiciary Committee, which approves the President's nominees for federal court positions. Specter's support of the nomination to the federal bench of Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson -- who critics accuse of being far too lenient on criminals -- has stirred debate. This is not Specter's first encounter with controversy, however. A former Philadelphia district attorney, he was appointed to the 1964 Warren Commission, which was charged with investigating the assassination of President John Kennedy. Also, he drew fire from supporters of Anita Hill in 1992 for his questioning of the former colleague of Clarence Thomas at confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Specter thus far faces minor opposition in the Republican primary from Larry Murphy, a 34-year-old research scientist from Chester County who opposes abortion. Three Democrats have declared their intentions to run for the party's nomination. Among them is State Rep. William Lloyd Jr. of Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania. Lloyd ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for state auditor general in 1996. The other two Democrats -- attorney Richard Orloski and physician Richard Cusick -- are both from Allentown. Specter has often championed health care issues, supporting the search for cures for cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes and others. Specter opposed Clinton's national health care plan. "I seek a 21st century health care system that for all of its technological wizardry remembers that the first priority of medicine is not a return on investment, but a return of the patient to good health," Specter said Friday. The senator also spoke Friday about current U.S. relations with the Middle East, warning that "nuclear weapons now come in suitcases" and "it may be necessary to use force" in the current crisis with Iraq. A few members of Penn's College Republicans enthusiastically held up signs supporting Specter. "We don't get very many political speakers at Penn," said College sophomore Patrick Ruffini, secretary of the College Republicans. "It's a great thing for [political] awareness." Specter ran for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination but dropped out of the race before the primaries, citing fund-raising problems.

SEPTA may offer free bus route to 30th Street Station

(02/09/98 10:00am)

The new University Circulator would loop between campus and the train station every 20 minutes. Starting next fall, University students may have a free ride to 30th Street Station at almost any hour of the day or night. If preliminary plans go through, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, in conjunction with Penn and several other University City institutions, will set up the University Circulator, a specially designed system of at least four buses which would loop between campus and the train station every 20 minutes. The system, likely to be free for Penn students who show their PennCard, would probably run from 6:30 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, while weekend hours might vary, officials said. Currently, Penn students have several ways to get from campus to the station at 30th and Market streets, the departure point for many Amtrak and SEPTA trains: Take the Penn Shuttle Service vans at no charge between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m.; pay $1.15 or $1.60 to take the bus, subway or trolley; or hop in a taxi cab for about $5. But the University Circular will probably be free for Drexel and Penn students, according to Penn Manager of Transportation Services Ron Ward. Ward stressed, however, that plans for the system are in very preliminary stages. Others would pay a "nominal fee, which would probably be less than the standard SEPTA fare," Ward said. Currently, SEPTA tokens cost $1.15 each, while the walk-on fare is $1.60. The next step is for SEPTA and the area institutions to formulate an official plan and come up with funding. The Circulator will likely materialize by next September, officials said. SEPTA is set to receive a grant from the federal government in July, and some of that money will be put toward the University Circulator system, Ward said. But more money is needed, and the rest will likely come from the respective institutions involved with the project. Officials said they did not know how much it would cost to operate the new buses. In addition to Penn and SEPTA, the plan may also involve Drexel University, the University City District, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Veterans' Affairs Hospital and the University City Science Center. The route is likely to begin at 30th Street Station and head west to 40th Street, then proceed east on Spruce Street to the area around HUP at 34th and Spruce streets and finally head back to the train station. According to Kimscott Heinle, general manager of business development at SEPTA, the project has been in the works before but was scrapped due to a lack of funding. "There wasn't enough money to implement the project, so it sort of went on hiatus," Heinle said. "If we look at the need that's there, then perhaps there would be a way to work with the institutions and fund the project in some way that makes sense to everyone." Heinle said SEPTA is assessing all the involved parties "to see exactly what people need in terms of transportation." SEPTA officials want to conduct a survey to see if students would use the new buses. If SEPTA officials wants to construct bus stops for the new system, the city may also have to get involved with the project. But Heinle said "80 or 90 percent" of the Circulator stops coincide with other SEPTA route stops, where bus stops are already in place. Penn also offers the PennBus, which loops around designated campus stops from 4:50 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., the Campus Loop and the Penn Shuttle Service, which brings students directly to their residences or other designated stops.

Stung by deficit, SEPTA reveals strategic plan

(02/02/98 10:00am)

The agency faces a possible strike if it fails to reach an agreement with its labor union. Responding to a recent decline in ridership, a $150 million operating deficit and a possible strike by an irate union, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority recently announced a five-year strategic plan to revamp the nation's fifth largest public-transportation system. The plan includes proposals for automated fare collection, station renovations, new buses and subway cars and secured waiting areas. It also aims to improve relations with the Transportation Workers Union Local 234, which represents 5,600 SEPTA employees. Negotiations between the two parties have been far from smooth. Although neither side wants to see a strike, union workers reacted angrily to a proposed contract, which they claim gives the management too much power. With an existing 1995 contract set to expire on March 15, SEPTA officials gave the union a copy of the proposed 85-page contract last month. At the same time, the union presented SEPTA with a 15-page list of contract proposals, which included changing the company's pension system to allow employees to retire earlier. "SEPTA is in trouble -- this is no joke," David Cohen, SEPTA's chief negotiator, said Wednesday at a luncheon at SEPTA headquarters. "Change is essential for the benefit of SEPTA's riders." SEPTA lost 21 percent of its riders between 1988 and 1997, a loss which cost the authority roughly $74 million per year in lost income. The plan has been in development for the past eight months, as SEPTA officials have been trying to modernize the public transit system and improve their relationship with the union, according to General Manager Jack Leary. But the union criticized Leary's management and the new five-year plan as "rhetoric, with little substance," according to TWU spokesperson Bruce Bodner. Leary said the authority is trying to end the negotiations without a strike. "A strike would be devastating to our objective," he added. But Bodner said SEPTA is trying to paint the union as the culprit in any potential strike. "SEPTA is doing a heavy publicity campaign, we believe, to demonize our members," he said. "SEPTA has a desire to subcontract and privatize our work without justification or a right to do it, all at the expense of the customers." SEPTA's new plan, according to Cohen, will restructure the system and "adopt as a central philosophic premise the needs for a true partnership between management and labor." Cohen identified archaic work rules, expensive health insurance, some workers' abuse of their compensation benefits, costly benefits, the unclear role of SEPTA management, and the absence of a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol abusers as key problems facing the company. "In the current contract there are dozens of past practices that make it very difficult to operate the system," Cohen said, noting the current contract's clause which allows workers to receive full-time wages even if they only work part-time days, a costly practice for SEPTA. A critical element of the new plan is the need to balance the budget throughout the next five fiscal years, since SEPTA's current accumulated deficit is around $150 million. By fiscal year 2003, the accumulated operating deficit is projected to grow to $350 million. But union officials characterized SEPTA's deficit projections as "bogus." According to Bodner, the state legislature granted $92 million to SEPTA this past spring, and let them use a significant amount of the money for operating costs. But he said SEPTA is not accounting for these funds in its deficit projections. "SEPTA is not accounting for this $92 million -- so where is the deficit coming from?" he asked. Bodner blasted Leary's management and stressed that if former General Manager Lou Gambaccini were still at the helm, "none of this would be happening." "What's producing this conflict right now is not a change in the union's part, but a change in SEPTA's top management who wants to undo all sorts of negotiations made in the last 10 years," Bodner said.

NCAA approves football forfeits in Marrow case

(01/29/98 10:00am)

Penn forfeited the five games Mitch Marrow played while ineligible. Officially ending a football eligibility scandal that forced Penn to forfeit five wins from the 1997 season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association last week approved the University's handling of the matter and recommended no further action. In a letter dated January 23 and received by the University Tuesday, the NCAA approved Penn's decision to forfeit the five Quakers wins in which football star Mitch Marrow played while academically ineligible. After news of the fifth-year College senior's ineligibility broke after the season ended in November, a University committee investigated the controversy and reported its findings -- in which it recommended the forfeits -- to the Ivy League January 2. "The actions of the institution in this instance were representative of and consistent with NCAA policies and principles," NCAA representative Cynthia Gabel wrote in the letter. "No further action need be taken in this case." NCAA bylaws state that athletes must have full-time student status to play varsity sports. But Marrow -- a 6'5", 280-pound defensive tackle and pro prospect -- dropped two of four classes at the beginning of the semester, making him a part-time student and rendering him ineligible for competition. "I didn't even realize [Penn] had sent a letter to [the Ivy League]," Marrow said yesterday. "I wasn't concerning myself with it because I was so busy with the Senior Bowl and everything." Marrow played in the Senior Bowl, an all-star game for top collegiate players held in Mobile, Ala., on January 17. He declined to comment further. Penn's decision to forfeit the five Quakers wins dropped the Quakers' 1997 record from 6-4 to 1-9. The forfeits are the first in Penn's 100 years of intercollegiate athletic competition. "As far as I'm concerned, the case is over," Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said. The four-member University committee that investigated the controversy concluded that the Athletic Department was responsible for monitoring Marrow's eligibility status. At the same time, the report said that although neither Marrow nor Penn intentionally violated NCAA bylaws, Marrow, as a student-athlete, "bears responsibility for understanding the eligibility rules that apply to him." The events leading to the scandal began September 9, when a case of mononucleosis forced Marrow to drop two of his four classes. For nearly 2 1/2 months, no one in the Athletic Department noticed Marrow was ineligible, despite weekly reports indicating his status. On November 19, Marrow's mother, Sandra, called Athletics Coordinator Robert Koonce to inquire if her son's tuition bill would be reduced to reflect his part-time status, setting off a chain of events that led some high-ranking professors to wonder whether Athletics officials were trying to cover up Marrow's ineligibility. Associate Athletic Director Denis Elton Cochran-Fikes initially contacted College Director of Advising Diane Frey to see if Marrow could be re-enrolled in one of the courses he dropped. Frey turned down that request, but approved a different one on November 21 that allowed Marrow to engage in an independent study with Legal Studies Professor Kenneth Shropshire, the University's NCAA faculty representative. Marrow, then a full-time student, was allowed to compete in the season finale against Cornell November 22, in which the Quakers defeated the Big Red, 33-20. Under NCAA rules, however, only the NCAA could restore Marrow's eligibility. The report concluded that the Athletic Department's attempts to restore Marrow's full-time status were "inadvertent." The committee did not recommend disciplinary action against anyone involved in the case. The Monday after the Cornell game, The Philadelphia Inquirer contacted Frey and her supervisor, then-College Dean Robert Rescorla, about the Marrow case, prompting Frey to ask Rescorla to review her decision. Rescorla overturned the decision on November 25, once again rendering Marrow a part-time student. The Inquirer broke the story November 27. The controversy made national headlines after the Associated Press picked it up.

Mayor unveils 1999 budget

(01/28/98 10:00am)

For the first time since Ed Rendell began serving as Philadelphia mayor in 1992, the city is beginning to shed remnants of the fiscal crisis which plagued it when he took office, Rendell said yesterday. Speaking to a packed City Council room in City Hall yesterday, Rendell outlined his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, stressing that last year was one of fiscal stability. Fiscal year 1997, which ended last June 30, was the fifth consecutive year which ended with a budget surplus, this time a record $128.8 million. Rendell said this year's budget will cut taxes, improve services such as graffiti removal and trash collection and spur job growth and economic development. He also outlined new proposals on crime, education, homelessness, welfare, recreation departments and neighborhood projects. City Council members will begin deliberating on the proposed budget February 10 and vote on it at a later time. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia, lauded the mayor for focusing on neighborhood issues. "I was heartened by the mayor's straightforward response to welfare and homelessness," Blackwell said. "I'm glad to see he has such a commitment to these areas." Crime was a major focus of Rendell's budget. While crime in other cities has dropped in recent years, Philadelphia's crime rate has risen. The mayor's proposal allots $358.3 million for the Philadelphia Police Department, accounting for about 7,000 police officers -- Philadelphia's largest sworn force in a decade -- computers in police cars and new helicopters. "At the local level, we are not just talking about fighting crime; we are doing something about it," Rendell said. The mayor asked the city to reduce the residential tax from 4.79 percent to 4.6869 percent, a 2.2 percent cut. He noted that although such a cut was larger than originally planned for fiscal 2000, "we can afford it now, and our citizens and businesses deserve it." He said that tax cuts from fiscal years 1996-99 will cumulatively save taxpayers about $204 million. "Three rounds of cuts in the city's debilitating wage and business-privilege taxes have sent a powerful message, and that message is simple: the cost of living and doing business in Philadelphia is coming down," Rendell said to overwhelming applause. The budget also includes funding devoted to projects such as renovations at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Independence Mall, as well as construction of the regional performing arts center on South Broad Street. The mayor also proposed, amid much applause, that the city dedicate a supplemental $15 million to the school district. The Philadelphia public school budget is separate from the main city budget. Rendell also proposed $750,000 for the Recreation Department, including the Violence Prevention After School Program. Such funds, according to Rendell, will enable the department to serve 3,200 children at 160 sites across the city. Some of this money goes toward the school district, which is creating 40 new after-school programs by the end of this school year. Rendell's budget also addresses the issue of homelessness. Last year, the city added 1,200 housing units for homeless individuals and families at risk. The proposed budget "maintains this commitment to preventing homelessness," granting $150,000 to the Office of Emergency Shelter Services. Rendell said the city is harmed by federal and state cuts in both welfare and medical aid. To compensate, the proposed budget includes a $1 million increase in 1999 for the eight district health centers to cover more staff and medical supplies.

Rendell outlines challenges

(01/26/98 10:00am)

After gaining unlimited access to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell for 5 1/2 years and writing a book on his first term, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Buzz Bissinger has determined that the city is frightened of life without Rendell at the helm in 2000. "Ed, we're scared to death of what life in Philadelphia would be like without you," Bissinger told a crowd of 1,600 members of the business community who gathered Friday for Rendell's annual address to the business community. Rendell and Bissinger, a Penn graduate and the author of the recently released book A Prayer for the City, spoke at the event, which took place at the Philadelphia Marriott at 12th and Market streets. The event was sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Bissinger introduced Rendell, also a Penn graduate, to a standing ovation. After the mayor ascended the stage, he proceeded to map out where he believes Philadelphia needs to go in the next two years, highlighting fiscal security, economic development, crime and education as the major issues facing the city. The mayor stressed that the city's continued financial security is his top priority for the coming years. "Fiscal stability is the foundation on which everything else has come from," he said. Rendell also noted the need to continue Philadelphia's recent surge in economic development. He marked 1997 as the "best year the city's had in decades" in that area. The mayor emphasized four projects he would like to see completed or on schedule by the end of his term: the regional performing arts center on South Broad Street, the renovations and construction on Independence Mall, the plans for a National Constitution Center and the urban entertainment center at Penn's Landing. Also, Rendell said he is concerned about Philadelphia's crime rate, which has risen in the last few years at the same time that crime in other major cities has fallen. Although the city recently added nearly 800 new police officers to its force, Rendell said he is "not satisfied where we are." "It's an issue for neighborhoods, it's an issue for downtown and it's an issue for the tourist district," he said. Rendell also stressed the need for an effective public education system in Philadelphia, adding that his administration has often been criticized for failing to sufficiently tackle educational reform. "Nothing is more important than the public education system as we enter into the 21st century," said Rendell, praising controversial Superintendent David Hornbeck for "doing a lot for education." All the guests at Friday's event received copies of Bissinger's book, which the author volunteered to autograph for those interested. Bissinger's long-awaited book chronicles Rendell and then-Chief of Staff David Cohen from the time they began to manage the city in 1992. Although most people did not expect Rendell to rescue the city from near-bankruptcy, Bissinger's book tells the story of how they proved skeptics wrong and generally praises the mayor for his work. "Ed Rendell did something I didn't think was possible," Bissinger said. "He made us believe in ourselves." Rendell admitted that he never thought Bissinger's book would sell, since it is difficult to cover "moving history." But he described A Prayer for the City as a "great book and a great statement about American cities." He added that when his term comes to a close at the end of 1999, he will still remain dedicated to the city's success even though he will be ineligible to run for re-election.