The City Hall Cleanup Rendell Hasn't Forgotten His Campaign Promise, But Will The Unions Try To Spoil His Party?

Posted: January 20, 1992

Think you're behind on housecleaning? Mayor Rendell has less than 2 1/2 months "to get City Hall smelling, if not like roses, at least like Lysol." That was a campaign pledge of his, one which came to symbolize the mayor's energized, can-do candidacy. It wasn't just that Mr. Rendell gave himself a mere 90 days to spruce up City Hall (which has been looking better lately, but needs plenty more work). Rather, the great appeal of his idea was that he planned to recruit citizens to help splash on paint - in a high-visibility show of pride in their city.

Well, the idea has taken on a life of its own since the mayor's Jan. 6 inauguration. Plans are under way for a winter weekend fixup of the century- old building, and it's apparently sparked plenty of folks' imagination. ''We've got dueling paint companies falling all over each other to donate paint, and cleaning companies who want to donate supplies," a top Rendell aide reported.

Before anyone dons a painter's hat, however, there's an important group of citizens with whom the mayor must consult - the municipal employees who look after City Hall day in and day out. In a real sense, it's their jobs that the volunteers will be doing, if only for a day or two. And city workers are understandably touchy on the subject, given that various scenarios for solving the fiscal crisis entertain privatizing some city services. Even so, municipal union leaders can serve their own long-term interests by taking a soft line on the mayor's cleanup plan.

First off, the painting party is meant as a symbolic gesture. No weekend crew is about to finish all the work that's needed on City Hall, much less eliminate a single city worker's job. What's more, there's no reason that the municipal unions can't use the event for their own purposes, demonstrating by their cooperation that they intend to play a key role in rethinking how city government operates. Some of them might even want to work right alongside the volunteers.

Just the opposite impression has been conveyed of late, unfortunately. The unions scotched plans to have National Guard troops seal crack houses, rightfully angering neighborhood anti-drug groups, and they refused to permit Holmesburg inmates to perform the public service of removing debris and replacing skylights at defunct but historic Eastern State Penitentiary.

Now, at least, the president of the blue-collar union - James Sutton - says he's willing to discuss the mayor's proposal for a weekend cleaning and painting party at City Hall. The union leader hopefully will bear in mind that nobody loves a party pooper.

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