Northeast Philadelphia has never been known as a cradle of future municipal government bigwigs.
In fact, some might say that the “Great Northeast” has historically been underrepresented among the litany of Philadelphia mayors, at-large Council members and other high-profile political leaders.
But that all changed on Feb. 22 — if only symbolically and for a single day — when the Northeast took over City Hall.
Teenagers representing the area’s many Police Athletic League programs became the honorary mayor, police commissioner, Licenses and Inspections commissioner and even Free Library president as part of the annual PAL Day at City Hall.
Erin Dwyer of Tacony PAL shadowed Mayor Michael Nutter for the day, while John Moroney of Gibbons PAL followed Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was out of town at the time.
Other Northeast-based participants included Theresa Anderson of Wissinoming PAL, who teamed with the Nutter administration’s Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr; Brooke Nugent of Rizzo PAL, with L&I Commissioner Fran Burns; Charmaine Johnson of Police Memorial PAL, with Public Property Deputy Commissioner Joseph Palantino; and Xiomara Ramirez of Oxford Circle PAL, with Free Library President Siobhan Reardon.
Dwyer, a 17-year-old Nazareth Academy senior, discovered that being mayor, even for just a day, isn’t necessarily the glamour job that it’s portrayed in the news media.
“I learned a lot about city government that I didn’t realize before,” Dwyer said. “I knew a lot of work went into city government, but I didn’t realize all of what was on the mayor’s plate.”
Only the best of the best PAL members make the cut for PAL Day at City Hall. Dwyer, for instance, has been with the organization for 13 years, having participated in baseball, basketball, flag football, Homework Club, summer camp, PAL Challenge and 24 Math. She serves on her school’s student council and is on its swimming and track teams. She plans to attend Duquesne University to study political science and history.
The day began with a morning swearing-in ceremony in the mayor’s City Hall reception room. A meet-and-greet lunch and office tour followed. Then came the serious business for Dwyer.
Nutter was patched into a White House conference call to discuss the planned July closing of the Sunoco refinery in the city’s Southwest section. The closing would cost the city thousands of jobs and untold income.
President Obama was not involved in the call personally, but his aides were.
“It was neat to see how [the mayor] could pick up the phone and call the White House. … It was the city and federal government working together,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer had embarked on her temporary job with some prior inside knowledge. Her sister Bridget, now 22, was mayor for a day with John Street through the same PAL program. She went on to graduate from Gwynedd-Mercy College and became a nurse.
A year later, Dwyer’s brother Kevin served as honorary director of aviation. He is a 21-year-old junior cadet at the United States Air Force Academy.
Erin Dwyer learned that everybody seems to want a piece of Nutter on a given day.
“The majority of the day was spent in the mayor’s office,” she said. “He had meetings and they came and he had an entire agenda. Then we went to donate clothes to a shelter in Center City.”
Nutter is a supporter of Sister Mary Scullion’s Project HOME, a homeless advocacy organization.
“I did notice that what he portrays to the media, that he genuinely cares about the city, is really true behind the scenes,” Dwyer said. “Politics aside, he really cares about cleaning up the city. He has children and wants to improve the city for his family.”
Moroney, 17, is a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School. He attended North Catholic for two years before the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed the school.
He has been with PAL for 13 years and had participated in various sports, Eagles training clinic, Cole Hamels Foundation pitching clinic, volunteering at Homework Club and other activities. He received the 2011 Good Citizenship Award from the Union League. At McDevitt, he is captain of the soccer team and a member of the baseball team, the World Affairs Club, the band and the Community Service Corps.
Moroney volunteers at the Philadelphia Protestant Home and St. William Parish landscaping ministry. He hopes to become a high-ranking police officer, following in the footsteps of his father, John, who is a lieutenant in the 15th district.
Anderson, 17, is a senior at Girls High and a PAL member for 11 years. She has been involved in 24 Math, the PAL Challenge and Positive Images mentoring program, along with various athletic programs and homework tutoring.
Nugent, 16, is a junior at Little Flower and an 11-year PAL participant. She has been involved in soccer, Positive Images, tutoring and Homework Club. Outside of PAL, she is involved in soccer, track, the Girl Scouts and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 87.
Johnson, 18, is a Frankford High senior and has been with PAL for eight years, participating in basketball, PAL Challenge, dance, flag football, Positive Images, tennis, weightlifting, Homework Club, 24 Math, bowling, cheerleading, Computer Club and other activities. She also volunteers with the Pennsylvania SPCA shelter.
Ramirez, 17, is a senior at Fels High and got involved with Oxford Circle PAL when it opened last year. She tutors younger members through the Homework Club and helps with the Positive Images program. She does volleyball, softball, cheerleading, Future Business Leaders of America and National Honor Society. She hopes to attend a pre-med program at Villanova.
PAL officials paired her with Reardon because Ramirez wrote an essay extolling the virtues of books.
“I learned a lot from her and she asked my opinions on a lot of things, and she valued my opinion,” Ramirez said. “I learned that the library plays a large role in education and it’s a lot more than books. It’s about how people feel when they’re in the library.”
Ramirez added her youthful perspective on planned renovations at the Central Library.
“They’re renovating and they wanted my opinion on the teen room,” she said. “They asked me what they could change to make it even better to make teens want to be there.”
Ramirez recommended adding a food area and a “loud” area in addition to the “quiet” area already on the plans, “because teens don’t always like to be quiet,” she said. ••EndFragment