At U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s annual “Chat and Chew” luncheon Tuesday in Germantown, the Wired Beans Cafe setting served as a segue for a discussion about jobs, and business creation, in America’s urban environments.
“We don’t just need a new store in the neighborhood. We need a new store owner from the neighborhood, as opposed to someone who closes up at night and takes the wealth elsewhere,” he said, tapping into a pet peeve of those who want the Germantown and Chelten avenue corridors to thrive. He then pointed out coffee-shop owner Robert Wheeler as a case-in-point example.
“I know this [shopping center] was the subject of some controversy because of state funding being involved,” Fattah continued, “but that is the only way this is going to come about. It was an appopriate public investment.”
Education as a focus
Fattah, who was in the midst of a day of local events before heading back to the U.S. Capitol for a 6:30 p.m. vote, hosted the annual event for community news organizations as a way to discuss his current initiatives while fielding questions on an array of topics.
Much of the 90-minute exchange focused on the state of Philadelphia’s public-school system, particularly the fiscal predicament. He also cited the hiring and retention of quality teachers, who are trained in the subject matter their classes cover, as a linchpin to any level of success.
“Let’s not look for a new solution,” said Fattah, a Democrat whose Congressional district covers the vast majority of Northwest Philadelphia. “Let’s just go with what we know already works.”
Drilling deeper, he maintained that public attention is too easily distracted by issues like rating the current superintendent rather than focusing on finding ways to apply quality education to faltering schools.
This is of particular worry, Fattah said, in a city that has the lowest rate of college-educated adults among America’s 100 biggest cities, something which keeps the wheel of poverty and crime spinning while making it difficult for employers to find qualified hires.
“China has created 100 science-only universities,” he said. “They are buying the best minds in the world. … We’re still mired down by whether we’ll spend money to educate our kids.”
Wide array of topics
Other topics broached were Fattah’s push to make neuroscience research a top federal priority, helping manufacturers still in the city sustain their businesses and how a Mitt Romney presidency would impact the city.
“Philadelphia used to be world reknowned for X-ray examination. Now, X-rays which get taken are shipped overseas to be read,” he said, before rattling off a list of manufacturers still based in the city whom he said it’s important to fight to retain.
He didn’t broach the latter topic, other than noting that an upcoming report on the state of American education could gain Presidential race traction, until it was asked of him after the session.
Fattah, who sits on the appropriations committee, noted that cuts that Romney is already on the record advocating would shift money away from needed services into the federal defense budget.
“It’s like the Bush tax cuts on steroids. The plan makes absolutely no sense,” Fattah said. “He’d be cutting things that help cities, that help people.”
Upcoming local events
“The Fattah Initiative,” which was signed into law, is an effort to invest in neuroscience research. The congressman noted that pharmaceutical-industry heads will meet with he, researchers and others in Philadelphia in September.
The aim of that meeting is to get them to buy into the push to fast track research into brain development, brain injury and neurological diseases, the most prominent of which is Alzheimer’s.
“I think we’ll have a big announcement,” Fattah said. He then alluded to an attempt to get more pharmaceutical-company buy-in via extending “periods of exclusivity,” or length of patent, to counter a seeming unwillingness to spend money on research that doesn’t often result in product.
He also plans an Aug. 10 visit to the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club for an event surrounding a new robotics-education program.