The good news: the primary is over. The bad news: everything else.
In case you missed the election here on Tuesday, there are countless recap stories out there to get you caught up. But if, like me, you were so focused on the primary that you missed everything else happening across the state all week, we’ve got you covered.
Lawyers for former Harrisburg mayor Stephen Reed aren’t arguing that their client wasn’t corrupt. They are arguing that, based on a statute of limitations technicality, the clock has run out on those corruption charges. Reed served the city for nearly 30 years as mayor and is facing 450 charges of theft, bribery, racketeering and other criminal offenses. If his lawyers prevail, that number could be reduced to two.
The two charges that would remain show the variety of malfeasance Reed is accused of: tampering with evidence by selling an antique firearm, and theft by deception in financial dealings around the city, resulting in the near-collapse of the city’s economy. Big or small, those two charges seem to be here to stay.
If you voted on Tuesday, you probably saw a referendum about abolishing the Philadelphia Traffic Court. (You also probably saw a question about raising the retirement age of judges, but that one didn’t count.) The Philadelphia Traffic Court was a hot-bed of corruption, with officers clearing tickets for gifts and perjury. It was shut down in 2013 after a federal investigation, but since the court is written into the state constitution, a referendum was needed to remove it totally.
Philadelphia Magazine said “abolishing traffic court will be your most satisfying vote ever.” As a non-Philly resident (and frequent student council candidate) I’d call that an overstatement. But regardless, the referendum passed and the Philadelphia Traffic Court is no more.
The status of another Philly institution has also changed: Chakah Fattah. After nearly 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was voted out on Tuesday. Fattah has been indicted on federal corruption charges. His trial begins in three weeks, and if found guilty, he will face jail time. Fattah is the first member of Congress to lose re-election in 2016.
There’s something in the water
It could be nothing, or it could be toxic lead. There’s only one way to find out: get your water tested. As we’ve reported, the systems in place to test water for lead are not exhaustive, or even all that accurate at times. The best way to know for sure is to test your own water, out of your own faucet.
If you live in Lehigh County, that’s easier than ever. The water authority will offer low-cost testing to anyone who wants it. And turns out, that’s a lot of people: the lab is booked through September.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is under fire for changing the anti-corrosive chemicals used in the water system without permission from the DEP. Both soda ash (the old chemical) and caustic soda (the new chemical) serve the same purpose: stopping lead from leaching into the water from the pipes. But the state still likes to be kept in the loop.
And the PWSA is not in great standing as is. The authority is owed over $30 million in unpaid bills, but some dispute the charges, saying PWSA’s meters are faulty. This investigation led to executive director Jim Goode stepping down in March.
As demographics change across the state, Catholic churches are responding accordingly, often by closing their doors. Churches are consolidating, merging and partnering up to save on the costs of infrastructure, maintenance and staff.
That makes sense, until it’s your church the Diocese is closing. Despite $3 million in debt and $1 million in overdue building repairs, congregants at St. John Vianney in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh say this is the wrong time to close the last Catholic church in the Hilltop neighborhoods.
“This is a neighborhood that is starting to bounce back. The church could be a vital part of the revitalization of Allentown, but now it’s going to be just another vacant building,” said Bob Kress, who is leading the fight to keep the church open. He and his group are appealing to the Vatican directly.
Churches that do close often find a second life as a performing arts space, a community center or even a brewery. If that sounds appealing, here are six churches for sale in the Philadelphia area right now.
This next section is basically just bad news from around the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But if you get through it, I’ll offer you the funniest piece of news I’ve read all week. Fair?
In the William Penn school district, the students are always racing to class. But not to get the best seats…to get the best blankets. The uninsulated, metal classrooms get so cold in the winter that teachers distribute blankets. Such is life in one of the state’s poorest school districts.
The Associated Press found that, in Pennsylvania, the richest 20 percent of school districts spend an average of $4,000 more per student than the poorest 20 percent.
“The children who need the most seem to be getting less and less,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “And the children who need the least are getting more and more.”
Duncan called on lawmakers in Harrisburg to narrow that gap. But education funding is a contentious issue in the statehouse.
It’s particularly tough for some kids in Pennsylvania, which has the eighth highest number of children with an incarcerated parent. Nearly 7 percent of all children in the state have a parent currently behind bars. A new report from the Casey Foundation hopes to bring the impact on children into the discussion about prison reform.
After a series of strong months, unemployment is creeping back up in some parts of the state. Erie had a predictably bad month as GE, a major local employer, scaled back 1,500 jobs. Unemployment jumped to 6.2 percent, the third highest in the state after Johnstown and Williamsport.
The Pittsburgh region is at 5.5 percent, the highest number in two years. But unlike Erie, these numbers don’t reflect a departure of job opportunities. Rather, the workforce is expanding as people return to the area and return to look for work. Pittsburgh will have to see if they can support these number of job-seekers.
One borough near Pittsburgh is not feeling those positive effects just yet. Monessen is home to about 7,500 residents, down from 25,000 at the peak of the steel boom. With staggering debt, no industry and a crumbling tax base, the mayor expects to run out of money in July.
According to Route 50, Mayor Lou Mavrakis said, “If ISIS was to come to Monessen, you know what they’d do? They’d keep on going, they’d say someone already bombed the goddamned place. That’s how bad it is.”
That’s what he wrote in a letter to President Obama, asking the Commander in Chief for some temporary assistance. Obama hasn’t replied yet. Perhaps he’s focusing on places that ISIS actually is interested in bombing. But an eight-year-old got Obama to visit Flint with a touching email. Perhaps Mavrakis will have similar success with Monessen.
We got through that sadness together. And now, as promised, the funniest news of the week comes from another revitalizing Rust Belt city.
Detroit, like Pittsburgh, faced massive loss of industry, urban destruction and collapsing infrastructure. And like Pittsburgh with the Steelers and Penguins, Detroit came to rely on sports fandom as a panacea to the problems of the world.
Which is why the new name of their hockey arena is particularly painful. Formerly known as the “Baddest Bowl in Hockey,” the Detroit Redwings will now play in … Little Caesars Arena.
Named for the pizza company, the arena will feature the world’s largest Little Caesars logo on the ceiling and a “vibrant, urban experience” inside.
After all Detroit has been through, this seems cruel and unusual. Unless you’re from Pittsburgh, in which case it’s just hilarious.