The Local Lens
This has been the season of unsettling city news items.
There was Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s introduction of a bill that would have made it mandatory for city residents to get a letter of support from their district councilperson before putting flowers or potted plants on the sidewalk in front of their own homes. Talk about House and Garden floral Marxism! This news struck me as so strange that for a minute I wondered what Ms. Blackwell had been smoking. I even thought of Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 Spanish black comedy-drama film, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, and wondered if the venerable councilwoman had had a breakdown.
Also included in Blackwell’s bill was a clause stating that businesses, notably restaurants, had to get permission before expanding their bevy of café tables and planters on city sidewalks. This section of the bill didn’t seem so strange to me since navigating Center City sidewalks in warm weather can often be a precarious experience, with pedestrians bumping into restaurant wait staff or tripping over café table legs. It was Blackwell’s focus on residential flower pots, however, that got so many city rowhouse dwellers up in arms. Much like Mayor Kenney’s soda tax, the proposed flowerpot rule seemed to stretch into “Twilight Zone” absurdity. Just another notch on a big tree called the Nanny State.
The situation got me thinking about the mood swings a city councilperson must experience when the thrill of the job begins to wane. When someone is first elected to City Council it must be a terrific feeling to know that you are about to become an integral part of City Hall. Imagine the rush new council members must experience when they realize that they are going to represent constituents and be taken so seriously that every word they utter will probably be quoted in the local press. Add to this the excitement of photo ops, assorted professional and personal perks and guest-of-honor speaking engagements at swank luncheons and dinners, and you have a pretty nice life.
Over time, of course, all those City Council perks and privileges would probably become routine. After so many years they may even become mundane. Drifting in placid seas is even boring for sailors, so it’s not surprising that every now and then a city councilperson will come up with an outrageous suggestion just to show the public that they have not fallen asleep on the job. Jannie Blackwell chose flowerpots to get city residents to notice her again but her bill was shot down like an ill-designed drone wobbling in the air over Manayunk.
When Blackwell withdrew her bill she artfully segued out of major embarrassment by stating that her original intention was to put a hold on the proliferation of bike racks that have been swallowing up city sidewalks. Blackwell’s bill was put on hold, and she has since said that the bill’s language was written to broadly. Blackwell told PlanPhilly that the bill should have only been targeted towards commercial properties. It is unclear whether the bill will be reintroduced.
In other city news, it was reported that the city’s Director of LGBT Affairs, Helen “Nellie” Fitzpatrick, would resign sometime in the coming months. While I’ve never met Ms. Fitzpatrick, she seemed like a thoroughly earnest person intent on doing the best job possible, but in the end pleasing all the people all the time just isn’t humanly possible. Fitzpatrick has been around since 2014 when she was appointed to the post by then Mayor Michael Nutter. Given the strict progressive political tenor of this town, Fitzpatrick seemed to be a sensible choice. Her progressive credentials were so stellar it was a shock when she came under fire from those in her own political camp. And it all had to do with a bar called ICandy.
ICandy, a gay bar in Center City, has never had a good reputation. It is a bar that caters to a very young party crowd. It’s the sort of bar where over 40 patrons are ignored as if they were wearing a cologne called Invisible. ICandy used to be called Equus in the 1980s and at that time it was considered to be one of the city’s major musical hotspots. Maureen McGovern of Superman fame appeared there for several nights in a row. Decades before that, sometime in the 1910s or earlier, it housed an illegal, newsmaking abortion clinic. One can almost say that the ground on which ICandy stands is both blessed and cursed.
The story goes that ICandy’s owner was secretly taped using the N-word during a private conversation. There were also allegations that the bar was turning away people who broke the dress code by wearing sweatpants and dirty Timberland boots. The unfortunate N-word tape was actually three years old when it resurfaced and was recycled into the public arena. The bar owner issued a public apology for his use of the N-word but some activists claimed that his apology was insincere and called for boycotts and on-site demonstrations demanding that ICandy close down or get out of town.
Apparently forgiveness does not come easily for many political activists. This is not to disparage the validity of their cause but with that said it is also true that the bar owner might as well have raised his middle finger and said that he stands by the word he used on the tape because his apology did no good. In fact, I even think his apology caused a greater ruckus and more calls for boycotts. How is it that even in the worst fundamentalist religions one can be forgiven for the worst transgressions and then go on to “a life after sin”? Why is this kind of mercy nonexistent in the political activist realm?
When mob mentality triumphs, there comes a need for a sacrificial lamb or scapegoat, so activists blamed Nellie Fitzpatrick for not doing enough to stem the shadow of “racism” in the Gayborhood. Obviously they were blaming her for not doing something about the dirty sweats and Timbs dress code. She should have been prescient enough to know that something shady was going on in ICandy. Mayor Kenney, to his credit, jumped into the fray and defended Fitzpatrick, saying that “the attacks against her are misplaced.” As Jacques Mallet du Pan once wrote, “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”
In yet another news item, we saw newly inducted Philadelphia Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym take to the streets and join a die-in protesting President Trump’s immigration and refugee policies when Republican lawmakers spent the day in Philadelphia.
Now, I have to hand it to Gym. She has extreme national aspirations and she’s a PR genius. I’d even say that she’s aiming for the cover of Newsweek or Time and that she’ll stop at nothing to make sure that the ‘gymnastics’ implied in her last name catapults her into being Philadelphia’s first female mayor. (When she becomes mayor, Jannie Blackwell’s flowerpot bill will resurface).
Helen Gym’s first political protest photo op occurred when she attacked the Wheely Wheely Good University City food truck as being racist because ‘wheel wheely’ sounds like what a thickly accented Chinese immigrant might sound like when they use the word ‘really.’ The Chinese co-owner of the truck was taken aback at Gym’s charge, and told Philadelphia Magazine that “she approached our truck while we were working and started to argue with my partner and me. She told us, ‘Your truck’s name is super racist.’ She used those words.”
Gym also criticized the Asian caricatures on the truck and the typeface used in the design. In 2016, Gym was adamant about instituting a parking tax to help pay for the schools. “Parking lots don’t move, they’re ugly, and we should tax them more,” she said.
That’s right, let’s tax the immovable and the ugly. •