Center City’s Power Broker

In its current issue, the City Paper profiled Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District, calling him “the most powerful guy you never voted for.”

It’s a juicy read, detailing how Levy has served as sort of shadow mayor for the last 20 years running the Center City District (CCD), Philadelphia’s major business-improvement district. Levy undoubtedly has had a huge hand in bringing Center City back from the darkness of the 1980s, and in the process has amassed significant power. Isaiah Thompson writes: Now in its 20th year, the Center City District has grown from a modest street-cleaning and marketing machine to the hub of an ever-growing empire of influence. Levy, its commander in chief, presides over a budget of almost $20 million annually, earns roughly double the salary of Mayor Michael Nutter, and has positioned himself at the helm of a remarkably agile and increasingly far-reaching institution: Unelected and largely unfettered by bureaucracy, he might be called something of a Center City monarch. Thompson gets at the essential tension of Philadelphia’s reliance on Paul Levy and the good works of the Center City District. In an age of shrinking city budgets and slim business profits, CCD takes on projects and initiatives that might otherwise fall by the wayside. But, as Thompson reports: “More than one former staffer interviewed by CP described the CCD’s processes as being highly internal and largely unaccountable, driven almost entirely by Levy himself.” So, I wonder, does the privilege of having an empowered, efficient steward and booster of Center City in Paul Levy outweigh concerns about CCD’s lack of accountability? Does it matter as long as we see results? Are we just lucky Levy has reasonably good taste?

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