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Editorial: Speak up on Tuesday

Leave it to Mother Nature to get her daughter, Hurricane Sandy, to help the Republican Party get its wish to shut down government and cast further doubt that Barack Obama will get re-elected on Tuesday.Frankenstorm crippled much of the East Coast Monday and Tuesday, closing state, local and federal government offices and putting power companies to the test. It also canceled early voting in a few states.Curbing government and making voting difficult are music to the ears of many in the Republican Party who despise President Obama, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said his top legislative priority was to deny Mr. Obama a second term. His party’s senators have used a record number of filibusters to block votes on virtually every economic-development and jobs bill supported by Mr. Obama — just to make him look bad to the nation.The Not-so-Grand Old Party is also home to Senate candidates who {a} think women who become pregnant from rape should not be allowed to have abortion because the pregnancy is God’s will (Richard Mourdock in Indiana) and {b} think women who are raped can’t get pregnant (Todd Akin in Missouri); a vice presidential candidate who thinks rape victims should not be permitted to have abortions and who this year tried to cut $10 billion a year in federal disaster aid (Rep. Paul Ryan), and a presidential candidate who wants disaster-relief responsibilities to be stripped from FEMA and given to private industry (Mitt Romney)So, ladies and gentlemen of the voting jury, if you’re thinking of not voting next Tuesday because you don’t care about politics or you think your vote doesn’t matter, think again. The recovery from Hurricane Sandy is just one reason you need government in your lives. Don’t you dare sit on your hands on Election Day.Send letters to the editor to:

Editorial: Pay to play? No way!

Only in Philadelphia could the public school system get away with making community athletic groups pay what essentially is an extra tax to play games in public school gymnasiums after school hours. Or can it? The School District of Philadelphia’s plan to impose user fees at nights and on weekends is not a done deal. With three consecutive years of property-tax hikes and a not-so-temporary hike in the sales tax, Northeast Philly parents, already taxed up the wazoo, must say “NO!” Much of the blame for the school district’s poor fiscal condition lies squarely in the laps of past members of the School Reform Commission, which a year ago inexplicably gave $905,000 to inept ousted Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to buy out her contract. That $905,000 could have paid for many hours of after-hours play time at school gyms throughout the city. City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has the statutory power to withhold questionable or otherwise improper city payments, should have tried to block the Ackerman fiscal fiasco. City taxpayers should tell Mr. Butkovitz, who is likely to seek re-election next year, to join City Council members in instructing the school district — and if necessary, the city recreation department and the entire city government — to forget about charging taxpayers to use public facilities already financed by their (public) tax dollars.Philadelphia residents and merchants must also demand the city crack down on tax cheats and finally collect the $515 million owed to the city and school district. If it does that, there will be plenty of money to keep school gymnasiums open for kids who just want to play ball.There was good news on Tuesday when Mayor Nutter granted a partial reprieve for the clubs as he announced that the city would pay $338,000 in gym fees. The money will fund court time at 25 gyms until 8:30 on weeknights and all day on Saturdays for five months starting Dec. 5. Here’s the bad news: The athletic groups will still have to pay-out-of-pocket if they want to use any of the other 80 school gyms after 7:30 on weeknights or on Saturdays.Send letters to the editor to:

Letters to the editor: Oct. 24, 2012 edition

Councilman: School gym issue will be fixedThis is in response to Bill Rubin’s letter in last week’s edition: One of my highest priorities has always been the youth organizations in my district. Upon learning about the School District’s plan to charge volunteer youth organizations for the use of school gyms, I immediately began fielding calls and meeting with athletic directors, coaches and parents.I am working with my Council colleagues to come up with a solution, as we have done in the past. I will never tolerate any youth organization paying to use city facilities.I do appreciate Mr. Rubin reminding my constituents that I have never voted for a property tax increase, including the last three consecutive years.I am optimistic that this school gym funding issue will again be resolved, hopefully for the last time.Brian O’NeillCouncilman, 10th DistrictEditor’s note: Mayor Nutter and the school district on Tuesday announced an agreement to maintain programs at school gymnasiums while altering schedules or locations to save costs.

Letters to the editor: Oct. 17, 2012 edition

The double standard is in black and whiteI have been paying public school taxes since 1950, and although I never had a child in a public school and I retired 18 years ago, the beat goes on. I’m shocked to read that some schools are “Democrat” and a student wearing a Romney/Ryan shirt was compared to a teacher wearing a KKK shirt.Do we also have Republican schools where a student wearing an Obama shirt would be ridiculed and threatened and afraid to return to school? Of course not, as that would be racial intimidation and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson could go nationwide with it.If this teacher wants a real cause celebre, she should ask why we can have black student council, black clergy, black caucus and hundreds of others, who by their very titles are discriminatory.If we have any groups that start with “white,” I’ll apologize, as I’ve never heard of them, and it was years ago that country clubs, swim clubs, etc., had to integrate or lose their charters. If there is a difference between “whites only” drinking fountains and “Democrats only” political shirts, I can’t see it, except to say, wake up, Philadelphia — we’re paying for these schools and teachers, and look what’s happening!Jim LavertyParkwood

Editorial: Rebel with a cause

When he was laid to rest Tuesday afternoon in a cemetery in Lower Moreland just across the border with Somerton, Arlen Specter left a legacy that likely will remain unmatched by 99.9 percent of American politicians.While most politicians are quite adept at talking the talk and saying and doing a whole lot of nothing in a whole lot of words and time, Mr. Specter — Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. senator who passed away Sunday morning — actually walked the walk with common sense, decency and true public service.The accolades that poured in following word that Mr. Specter had succumbed to cancer were more than just the obligatory lip service that mourners typically give to the recently departed. The good things that politicians and regular people alike said about the former prosecutor, defense attorney and senator were genuine.Sen. Specter’s fierce independent streak, often misinterpreted by skeptics as political opportunism, benefited folks in Pennsylvania and the entire nation more than they probably realize.If most politicians had emulated Sen. Specter by thinking for themselves instead of thinking for the bosses and extremists in their political parties, America would not be in the political and fiscal sinkhole that it currently finds itself in.In the end, Sen. Specter relied on stand-up comedy to help him through his illness, and that should inspire all of us to take our cue from him, especially in trying times. The moral of the Arlen Specter coping story: A hearty dose of laughter is life’s best medicine. ••Send letters to:

Editorial: The cost of free speech

There are a couple of things that could have prevented the mountain that arose from the molehill at the Port Richmond school where 16-year-old Samantha Pawlucy got in big trouble — trouble with a capital T — when she arrived at school wearing a T-shirt promoting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan:1. Samantha could have kept her political views at home, where they belong.2. Her teacher, Lynette Gaymon, could have kept her political views at home, where they belong.Neither of those things happened, however, and now America’s cradle of liberty is left with yet another “teachable moment” in history.Yes, Samantha was well within her First Amendment right to free speech by letting the world know she thinks Romney and Ryan are cool guys worthy of leading America, but was it really necessary to do it at school?Yes, Ms. Gaymon had the right to call Samantha out on it, but was it really necessary to embarrass the girl, compare her T-shirt to a KKK shirt, and make much ado about nothing at what she called a “Democratic” school?The School District of Philadelphia should learn a lesson from this completely unnecessary incident by immediately ending “dress down days” and getting back to strict enforcement of a school uniform policy for all students in all grades on all school days at all schools. Fridays are every bit as important as Mondays through Thursdays. Students should be free of all distractions every day.Anything less than a standard school uniform brings potential distraction to the classroom, particularly because kids will be kids — even those who yearn to vote.Send letters to the editor to:

Letters to the editor: Oct. 10, 2012 edition

Trade agreements put the middle class in jeopardyRemember the slogan Buy American? This referred to products produced in the USA. Under this premise, we prospered until the second term of Bill Clinton. During his tenure, Congress implemented trade agreements like NAFTA. They were detrimental to the U.S. worker. This opened the floodgates to outsourcing of U.S.-made products. These agreements continued under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.In the presidential debates, both candidates promise more than they can fulfill. When voting for Congress, vote for individuals who will reverse these trade agreements. Unless these agreements are overturned, the middle class as we know it will continue to disappear!Walter BlowitskiSomertonHow dare the parents want the  best for their kid!Regarding last week’s cover story Tough Lesson: OMG!! The Garcias should be put in jail and the key thrown away for trying to get their daughter into a school when they were — gasp! — two blocks out of bounds. How much did it cost to hire a private investigator to place the Garcias under surveillance for four days? What a waste of time and money.Maybe I will consider moving to Lower Moreland since they seem to have all their major problems under control.Emma M. LeeFox ChaseRemoving median strips puts us at riskRecently, the median concrete strip on Castor Avenue north of Rhawn Street was removed and the road was flattened. It certainly looks nicer, but I think this policy of removing medians is a BIG mistake.Those concrete strips may be ugly, but they are an island of safety for pedestrians. My neighbor was recently hit by a van while standing in the flat median space on Cottman Avenue. A driver raced right down the median, and tossed him all the way to the sidewalk. (Fortunately, he survived.)Northeast Philly has turned into the “wild, wild west” when it comes to drivers — who turn on red lights right into pedestrians, who drift out of lanes while on cell phones, and who make illegal U-turns and run stop signs at will. Recently, a police official told me that cops can’t do much about this bad behavior, because it’s now an epidemic. I think turning the median strips into a roadway just gives drivers another way to go “pedestrian hunting.”So please save those ugly medians. In fact, please make the curbs higher, and redesign medians for pedestrian safety. You could save somebody’s life.Richard IaconelliRhawnhurstThe trash police strike againI recently received a ticket for putting my trash out too early. I put it out early simply because I do not feel safe to venture into the dimly lighted alleyway to set the trash out after dark.In the fall and winter, dark falls before 7 p.m., and my trash is accordingly set out before then. I have lived in Oxford Circle, on the same block, for the majority of my 31 years. I live in the house that my grandparents bought back in 1951, when Oxford Circle was “the place to be.” I have watched this neighborhood change from a pleasant place to raise a family, into a run-down, crime-ridden area where I triple check my locks and don’t go outside after dark, not even to put the trash out.I maintain the property well, my sidewalk and yard are free of overgrowth and debris, and I always shovel my snow. However, since my one trash can and three recycling bins were moved approximately 5 feet from my garage to the edge of my property in the alleyway at 4 p.m. rather than 7 p.m., I now owe the city $50. As a single mom, the amount of this fine is enough to cause a dent in my wallet, but not enough to warrant missing a day of work to appeal it. This neighborhood has changed a great deal over the last decade or so, and the city has not changed to keep up with it. The city that I call home needs to be concerned with the safety of its citizens before the location of its trash cans.Anne Marie CoughlinSection 8 is coming to an area near youI was getting a haircut at the neighborhood barber shop on Cottman Avenue. The barber owns a house in Mayfair and also has a son in real estate. The barber told me that she would sell her house if she could to get out of her dilapidated neighborhood, but at the moment she could not afford to do so. She adamantly felt that Section 8 housing has put her once cherished neighborhood in a permanent state of decline.The neighborhoods of Mayfair, Tacony and Oxford Circle are on the frontlines of this heated debate.For a family of four to qualify for Section 8 housing, they cannot exceed an annual income of $23,500. There is such a backlog in Philadelphia that the waiting list for new Section 8 applicants is closed, according to Because of the sheer numbers of people in need of voucher housing, Section 8 tenants will be coming to a neighborhood close to you.It’s a contentious debate that community advocates should secure the resources to further explore the impact Section 8 tenants have in hopes of putting stigmas and stereotypes to rest in order to bring the community together.And once and for all, the “There goes the neighborhood” comments can be substantiated or put to rest.Jason KayeBurholmeDon’t fall for the scare tactics from the Obama campaignWith the election a few weeks away, I have to say, Obama is good, but not in a good way. Using scare tactics as part of his campaign strategy is just plain cruel and deceitful. What is even more pitiful is how actually scared people are.This last week, I made a point talking to senior citizens. I was in awe listening to how scared they really were about this upcoming election. Obama should be ashamed of himself. He has them believing they will lose their Medicare if Romney is elected president or the big bad Republicans will push them off the cliff. Seriously? This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, it is Obama who took millions of dollars from Medicare to fund his Obamacare, which in turn, will not be going toward any senior’s needs.I would say just about everyone I talked to said they didn’t like Obama (I’m being nice here). However, all agreed they were scared to vote for Romney because of Obama scaring the “you know what” out of them. Thank God my husband set them all straight. Meanwhile, seniors really need to do their homework. I’m sure there are more out there like these clueless seniors.Another issue is this war on women. Hello! Last time I checked, I am a woman, and if I thought there was a war or women’s rights being jeopardized, I would be the first one out there protesting with one of those ridiculous signs. Sandra Fluke. Oh please!Please, please, please, people, keep in mind Romney is not against the middle class, just because he worked hard and fulfilled his American dream and is now a man of means. This is NOT a crime, like Obama would have you believe. In fact, if you do your homework, he is trying to help the middle class and all people who want to work hard and not sit back being entitled, or looking their whole life for handouts from the government.Romney is also for dedicated teachers. They don’t seem to get it, because again, Obama is using scare tactics. Obama only cares for the unions because, let’s face it, he promised them the moon for their votes.Obama’s administration is spending us out of our country, putting us further and further in debt. Our economy is in the toilet. We may be on the eve of World War III and Obama thinks it is more important to campaign, go on The View and Letterman, etc. His attitude is “It’s just another bump in the road.” He may be a smooth talker, but does anyone actually listen to him? Well, the rest of the world is listening, and the United States now looks very weak because of a weak administration.Folks, this is some serious stuff happening out there.  Stop worrying about voting for a particular party, race or creed, but do your homework on the actual person.Romney may not be the entire package, however, he at least is making an attempt to get us back on the right track. I believe he deserves a chance. I don’t think we, as a country, can afford four more years of the same old, same old. This is a scare tactic of its own.America! This upcoming election is NOT “just another bump in the road.” Sigh!Diane McDowellParkwoodDon’t blame the workers, says recent retireeRecently I was cleaning out my desk and found my pay stubs from 1999. My regular pay from the city of Philadelphia for a two-week period in 1999 was $1,367.85 before taxes. After 38 years, I retired in August 2012. From 1999 to 2012, my regular pay from the city of Philadelphia for a two-week period had jumped to $1,797.05 before taxes. That’s an increase of $429.20 over a 13-year period. That amounts to an increase of $35.83 per year or $1.37 more every two weeks in my check! Figure it out — that’s an increase of 68 cents a week in my check from 1999 to 2012.When I retired, I did not receive a severance package as generous as the $1 million package our former school superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, received. Also, my co-workers and myself had to be employed by the city for 10 years before we were considered vested and able to collect a pension — unlike one of our former city managing directors, Camille Barnett, who was able to buy into our pension fund after two years of service.Collecting her pension for two years, she will have recouped the money she paid into the pension fund in a lump sum, and she gets her pension for life! Paying into my pension fund for 34 years, I don’t get the monthly pension she does, and she only paid into it for two years!My co-workers and I had to work overtime, weekends, holidays and snowstorms, time away from our families, to make a decent salary.NONE of us in Fleet Management EVER earned $80,000 in a year, including overtime, working holidays and weekends and snowstorms, as Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr.’s “secretary” did without working weekends, holidays or snowstorms.NONE of us received a $68,000 raise, as did Police Commissioner Ramsey. No city employee receives a cost-of-living allowance every July as City Council does, and it’s automatically included in the Council members’ pay.By the way, City Council has the “summer recess” and Christmas break. How many days per year do Council members actually work? How many weekends, holidays or snowstorms are they working? I could go on about Mayor Nutter and his staff of thousands, their salaries, benefits, pensions and severance packages, but I won’t. How much do these cronies siphon from the city’s taxpayers?The news media and newspapers in this city would have you believe that it’s the employees of DC 33 and DC 47, along with the police and fire unions, who are the cause of the financial crisis in Philadelphia because of their wages, benefit packages and pension plans. Yes, city employees have good benefits. What people don’t realize, nor is it ever stated or reported, is the fact that the city’s unions gave up salary increases over the years in order to receive those benefits. Now Mayor Nutter is trying to take these negotiated benefits away with no increase in wages!Mayor Nutter is even taking a binding arbitration agreement with the firemen’s union, which cannot negotiate its contract, back to court again to try to take away some of those legally binding awarded benefits.What is the cost of this action to the taxpayers? Mayor Nutter won’t even negotiate a fair contract with DC 33 or DC 47! What are the mayor and Council members’ benefits, salaries and pensions and how much is being taken away from them? What are they giving back?If you still believe it’s the wages of the employees of DC 33, DC47, and the police and fire unions that are the cause of the city’s financial woes, read Paragraph 1 again. If you want to see where and to whom all the taxpayers’ money goes, read Paragraph 2 again. If you still believe it’s our benefits, read the above paragraph again. I believe it’s the top people who are making the money and receiving the benefits and collecting unjust and unfair pensions, not the employees of DC 33, DC 47, and the police and fire unions.Remember, city employees must live in the city. City employees pay the same taxes as everyone else; we get no discounts because we work for the city.The cost of living goes up for city employees as well as everyone else. Try and keep up with the cost of living having an additional 68 cents a week extra in your pay over a 13-year period!Mike LinahanModena Park

Letters to the editor: Oct. 3, 2012 edition

Let the people decide on the death penaltyWith all the senseless killings in every major city in the United States, I believe we should have a referendum here in Pennsylvania, like Texas, to regularly use the death sentence.It costs $100,000 a year to pay for the perpetrator to live. Are we not allowed to punish the perpetrators? Must we reward them and let them live, when they extinguish another life?Edmund Burke, English statesman, said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.”Mildred KochMayfairGet your free smoke detectorsOctober is Fire Prevention Month, and I want to inform the readers about the free smoke detectors available to them through the Fire Department. The firemen come to the house and install the alarms (they’re now screwed into the ceiling. They previously used adhesive strips, which didn’t work). The detectors never need a battery change and are good for 10 years. No one should be without smoke detectors.For information, call 215-686-1176.Rosemary CallaghanCastor Gardens’Tis the season to be helping the poor peopleThe holiday season is a natural time to open your hearts and wallets for others, but you don’t have to wait until November or December to begin giving. There are many young children living in Philadelphia County who desperately need our help now.More than 20 percent of children under the age of 6 are currently living in poverty throughout Pennsylvania. These disadvantaged kids are in need of everything from socks and underwear to basic school supplies.By getting into the giving spirit early this year, you can help ensure that a child shows up to school warm and with the tools she needs to learn every day.My colleagues and I at Shire Pharmaceuticals encourage everyone in Philadelphia County to join us in helping out Cradles to Crayons, an outstanding non-profit that distributes the necessities to children age 12 and younger through local partner agencies.Your donations will directly benefit local kids through organizations such as CHOP, Lutheran Children and Family Services, Maternity Care Coalition, People’s Emergency Center and the School District of Philadelphia.So summon the good will of the holiday season early by cleaning out your closet or starting a drive at your local school, sports league or community organization. Then join others with big hearts at Shire’s Big Give on Oct. 12 and 13 at Wilson Farm Park in the Chesterbrook Corporate Center in Wayne, Pa., or one of the drop-off sites located across the Greater Philadelphia region.Together we’ll harness the region’s generosity and fill a tractor trailer full of hope for thousands of children who will receive an early gift when they need it most.Visit for more information.Mike HayesMayfairSocks & underwear also help the poor The need for clothing remains a very basic human necessity. Many families in our community continue to struggle to support, provide for, and clothe their families in this challenging economic climate.In partnership with the local branch of the Needlework Guild of America (NGA), during the month of October, I am collecting new socks and underwear to be donated to local families and individuals. During this drive, we are only asking for socks and underwear. To make a donation of new socks or underwear, please drop them off at my district office at 19 South York Road in Hatboro.If anyone wants to make another type of new clothing donation, NGA has an active local branch that meets weekly at the Hatboro Baptist Church Annex located on North York Road. If you would like to donate, volunteer, or participate in the NGA, please call them at 267-240-6940 for more information.Rep. Thomas P. Murt152nd Legislative District

Editorial: Still time to debate

If you’re reading this on Wednesday afternoon before the Obama-Romney debate and you’re thinking about skipping the debate, think again. Watch it. You’ll learn something about two of the men who want to lead the nation. If you’re reading this after the big debate and you didn’t watch it but could have, shame on you. You missed out, but you can catch the remaining two debates as well as the one set for the vice presidential hopefuls. All four showdowns will make for a great October.What a travesty, however, that Northeast Philadelphia voters apparently won’t get a chance to see a few other debates much closer to home. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Sen. Michael Stack and state Rep. John Taylor — entrenched politicians, all of them — are refusing to meet their challengers in the Nov. 6 general election, and that is bad news for voters.What are they hiding? By depriving voters of an opportunity to see the incumbents and their challengers on an equal footing in a public forum — Obama/Romney style — they are choosing to put political strategy ahead of their duty to the public. It’s the voters who lose.Rep. Schwartz and Sen. Stack, both Democrats, and Rep. Taylor, a Republican, have records to stand on and, presumably, to defend. Voters deserve an opportunity to size them up, in person, standing side by side with their challengers: Joe Rooney, Mike Tomlinson and William Dunbar, respectively.The incumbents should not get out of the debates simply by whining that they have no time. Congress, for instance, is on another long, undeserved recess (for campaign season).Voters, do not let the candidates off the hook.Send letters to the editor to:

Editorial: Do your civic duty

Summer ended, figuratively speaking, when Labor Day weekend ended, and it ended, officially, last Saturday. By now, Mr. and Mrs. Average Northeast Philadelphian have probably accepted the fact that it’s back to the rat race, full time.But, Gentle Readers, if you think that means it’s OK to go from relaxing on the beach at the Jersey Shore all day to relaxing on your easy chair at home after dinner each and every night, you’re wrong. With a plethora of civic associations and Town Watch groups back in business after the summer hiatus, you should do your civic duty.Northeast Philly’s a big town with a civic group in just about every neighborhood. In this edition of the Times, for instance, there are a handful of articles about recent civic meetings that address a host of topics, from zoning and taxes to community cleanups and charity benefits. In fact, so many civic groups have held meetings that we couldn’t even cover them all in this week’s paper.So, if you attend your friendly, neighborhood civic association’s monthly meetings on a regular basis, bless you — you get a certificate for good citizenship.But if you’re one of those uninformed drones who’s clueless about the latest developments in your area, you haven’t anybody to blame but yourself. If you don’t attend your civic group’s sessions because you’d rather stay home and watch TV, shame on you. Just like voting every election day, if you don’t participate in the democratic process at every available opportunity, you relinquish the moral right to gripe about government and its movers and shakers, and your neighborhood and its movers and shakers.Stand up, speak up, and show some civic pride.Send letters to the editor to: