City Council is preparing to gather for its first session of the year. In just his first few months, freshman City Councilman Bill Green has drawn plenty of attention for challenging veteran politicians and long-standing city political traditions. His aggressive style has some wondering about the political ambitions of the new at-large City Councilman. WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler reports.
City Council is preparing to gather for its first session of the year. In just his first few months, freshman City Councilman Bill Green has drawn plenty of attention for challenging veteran politicians and long-standing city political traditions. His aggressive style has some wondering about the political ambitions of the new at-large City Councilman. WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler reports. [audio: reports20090121mayorgreen.mp3]
Days before starting his new job, Councilman Bill Green said as the new kid on the block, he would follow some advice from his father, who was elected Mayor of Philadelphia in 1979.
Councilman Green: “I think I’ll start with the lesson he gave me when I was a young child which is, ‘Initially keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.'”
Green’s aggressive political maneuvers and willingness to challenge political tradition have flown in the face of his father’s advice, leaving colleagues wondering whether this newcomer is already plotting a run for Mayor.
Ten members of Philadelphia City Council represent districts, seven other at-large members — including Bill Green — are elected by voters citywide. Most at-large members leave district-specific issues to their district counterparts.
At Green’s third City Council meeting, he violated that tradition by introducing a bill involving two casinos slated to be built on the turf of longtime Councilman Frank DiCicco. The veteran accused his freshman colleague of trying to promote himself citywide.
DiCicco: “As a freshman who has not been around, who has not engaged in this conversation and debate that we have been involved with for three years, I think he should have sat back and worked along with us as opposed to trying to take the lead on this project. Because he does not fully understand the implications yet.”
Over the last year, Green has drawn fire from Philadelphia politicians who encourage him to stay quiet and learn from his elders. One obvious bright spot of praise was Mayor Michael Nutter’s acknowledgement that Green played a key role in saving the city’s troubled wireless internet system. Much of Green’s other interaction with the Mayor has had a different tone including his loud criticism of the Mayor’s budget cuts.
Green’s drawn praise from some library advocates for taking such a strong, early stance against library closures.
Fishtown resident A.J. Thomson says Green’s colleagues said they couldn’t come to a rally at the Fishtown Library because they had other events to attend.
Thomson: “Councilman Green did come, did speak to our large audience, and kind just had our back and wondered aloud, like we did, why we would be closing libraries. And I think having Councilman Green at the beginning and throughout this has been very helpful.”
Green says he never imagined he would join Council, particularly after his father once called it ‘the worst legislative body in the free world.’
Now, after months of taking veteran politicians head on, Councilman Green laughs when reminded of his father’s advice to keep his mouth shut, but says he is trying to follow other recommendations from his dad.
Councilman Green: “Never make it personal, keep it about the public policy, be respectful of others’ points of view, listen to what they have to say. And I often find myself arguing in the moment and then listening once I go home at night and come in the next morning and say, ‘You know you were right.’ So that’s something I need to work on — listening in the moment rather than reflecting on it.”
In his City Hall office two floors below Green sits one of the freshman’s fiercest critics.
At-large Councilman Jim Kenney: “If you’re an independently elected official you can follow any tradition you want. I don’t know whether that’s going to be a successful approach or not and I don’t know whether he even cares whether it’s a successful approach or not but I think sometimes he just likes to hear himself talk and that’s fine. If that’s the way you are, that’s the way you are.”
Kenney has served for more than 15 years and says he’s not the only council member troubled by Green’s willingness to buck the status quo by meddling in district-specific issues.
“It’s not just Councilman DiCicco and myself. There’s other council members who aren’t happy with people who don’t understand – who haven’t lived in the city long enough, in the city over a period of time to understand that there is a process. Legislatures have a process.”
Some of Green’s personality traits that annoy colleagues could be useful, says David Glancey. He worked for the councilman’s father, and helped on the younger Green’s recent campaign for Council. Glancey says during Green’s run for office, Green was fearless, opinionated, and dedicated.
Glancey: “He came in here he said I believe there is some hesitancy in our City Council to step up to the plate. And I think he came in filled with all that vigor and I think that’s a great thing and you never wanna take that away from somebody. I have told him I think sometimes I think you have to back-off.”
Glancey says he thinks Green is learning the benefits of collaboration.
Green plans to hone his political skills and says his controversial moves were not intended to further his career. He says his future could include tossing his hat in the mayor’s race, and following in his father’s footsteps.
“The financial crisis that existed in 1980 is very similar to the one today. And he went in and immediately made tough decisions – laid off 10% of the city’s work force. There were strikers at my house all through his administration. So I’ve seen the bad side of being mayor as well as the promise of being able to help Philadelphia if you have a feeling you can contribute and I just don’t know whether or not it’s something I would want to do… in 2015, but no sooner.”
That’s a big leap for Green who says as a young man he never imagined he would enter city politics.
Listen to Liz Fiedler’s interviews with Councilman Bill Green and Councilman Jim Kenney below.
Listen to the entire Councilman Bill Green interview: [audio: reports20090121green.mp3]
Listen to an abridged version of the Councilman Jim Kenney interview: [audio: reports20090121kenney.mp3]