Philly Clout asks questions, 'special services' money gets diverted

Posted: July 06, 2012

A SHORT STRETCH of Bodine Street, a narrow alley that runs north from the 200 block of Spring Garden Street in Northern Liberties, has more than its fair share of political power and problems.

Must be the neighbors.

Mike Driscoll, a Democratic committeeman who runs Finnigan's Wake, a massive bar and catering hall popular with politicians, convinced the Penn Treaty Special Services District last month to pay $74,000 to fix up Bodine Street with landscaping, lighting and a fancy walkway.

Driscoll's bar is on the west side of Bodine Street. The new Democratic City Committee headquarters, which opens in August, is on the east side.

City Councilman Mark Squilla pushed legislation, approved unanimously by City Council on June 21, to erase Bodine Street from the map and give the land to Finnigan's Wake. That legislation is now waiting for Mayor Nutter to sign it into law or veto it.

Some neighbors, upset about the rowdy crowds that sometimes gather at the bar, didn't like the idea of a $74,000 grant that would benefit Driscoll and the new Democratic headquarters.

They're also angry that Squilla got legislation approved to allow Driscoll to build two decks on the front of his bar. That legislation is also in Nutter's hands.

Word of the grant first circulated Tuesday on TheSomersBlog, a real-estate blog.

Now it looks as if the grant is going to disappear.

Kevin Kelly, a member of the Penn Treaty Special Services District board who was not at the meeting when the grant was approved, said that he expects the district to ask Driscoll to drop the idea. The problem, Kelly said, was that the board thought that Bodine Street would remain public property. Instead, the bar will own it, but an easement will allow the public to stroll there.

The district is funded with $500,000 per year from the SugarHouse casino. That will increase to $1 million per year when the casino completes a planned expansion.

The district has given out 41 grants totaling $827,043 as of May 2, according to its website. The Bodine Street grant would have been the second-largest amount given by the district.

Driscoll told us that he is willing to revisit the grant or drop it.

"This will sort itself out," he said. "If there's a problem, we'll resolve it. If this doesn't fit their mission, we'll withdraw it."

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, a former investor in Finnigan's Wake and chairman of the Democratic City Committee, declined to comment.

A City Committee source said that Brady knew Driscoll was asking for the money but played no role in the request or the project.

Lobbyist info a secret

City Council President Darrell Clarke is considering applications from firms seeking to become Council's new lobbyist. We were hoping that Clarke, who promised more transparency in how government is run when he became president in January, would tell us who applied for the job.

No such luck.

Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh notes that the responses to Council's "request for qualifications," which were due June 27, don't become public record until a contract is signed with the winner. We noted that the state's public-records law doesn't prohibit releasing the names now.

Roh said that Clarke might consider asking each applicant if he were willing to have his name released publicly.

Who knew lobbyists were so timid and shy?

But then Roh said that it would be "inappropriate" to release the information because it could "encourage attempts to influence the deliberative process" that Clarke is using to select a lobbyist.

In other words, Clarke doesn't want a bunch of lobbyists lobbying him for the job.

So maybe lobbyists aren't as timid and shy as we thought.

—Staff writer Jan Ransom contributed to this report. Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973, email him at brennac@phillynews.com, follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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