From carnage, how about a garden?

City Treasurer Nancy Winkler's petition, seen here, implores city leaders to fund a memorial to the Market Street collapse victims.
City Treasurer Nancy Winkler's petition, seen here, implores city leaders to fund a memorial to the Market Street collapse victims.
Posted: September 09, 2013

SOME PEOPLE in City Hall are saying that city Treasurer Nancy Winkler must be "out of her mind with grief" over the death of her daughter, Anne Bryan, 24. Otherwise she wouldn't do what no other city employee who serves at the mayor's behest would be reckless enough to do:

She has started an online petition that drops a gauntlet at her boss' feet.

Specifically, Winkler's petition on change.org calls on Mayor Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke and the Salvation Army to fund a memorial park at the southeast corner of 22nd and Market streets. That's where a Salvation Army thrift store stood until June 5, when a demolition catastrophe next door caused the building to collapse, killing Winkler's daughter and five others.

Such a park "would honor and remember the six dead and provide an oasis in the center of a dense business district," writes Winkler, ". . . and remind the citizens of Philadelphia of the need for government oversight in building demolitions in order to protect public safety and human lives. A well-designed park and memorial may provide healing for the many people touched by this horrific, entirely avoidable event."

I think a park is a superb idea. And while I've never met Winkler, I doubt she is "out of her mind" with grief or anything else. I bet her mind has never been more focused and clear, since there's nothing like the death of a child to clarify for a mother what matters and what does not.

What matters is that Winkler's daughter is gone. What matters is that five others perished, too. What matters is that one survivor of the collapse is so horribly maimed - her legs and hip joints had to be amputated - that she remains hospitalized in critical condition. What matters is that the carnage might've been averted at many points if people in the public and private sectors had been more competent, or more curious, or more focused on safety than expedience.

What doesn't matter, it appears, is what the mayor might make of one of his top officials basically calling him out in public about the workings of his own administration. So far, he has offered no comment.

Not so Clarke. He says he grieves for the victims and families, and "if there is a role City Council can play in planning a memorial or tribute to the victims, I welcome input from all those most deeply affected by the Market Street collapse."

An attorney for the Salvation Army, Eric Weiss, says the organization is still reeling from the catastrophe, which took the lives of two store employees. Still, his client will nonetheless "give every consideration" to Winkler's request, Weiss says.

"When we're in a position to make a judgment, we will communicate it directly to Mrs. Winkler and to all the victims and their families, who remain in our prayers," he said.

Winkler wouldn't speak with me, other than to reiterate in an email that the site of the catastrophe is "hallowed ground" and that it would be "an insult to the families who lost loved ones, to the survivors, and to all Philadelphians if that site were to be commercially developed."

So I didn't get to discuss with her the only thing I find puzzling about her petition:

Nowhere does it mention slumlord multimillionaire Richard Basciano, who owns the building whose wall toppled onto the Salvation Army store, destroying it. Nowhere does it mention his company, STB Investments Inc., the contractor he hired or the demo worker who was allegedly high on marijuana when he used an excavator to chomp into Basciano's building.

Why let Basciano off the hook for funding a memorial park?

As usual, the 87-year-old developer - whose poorly maintained buildings in the past killed one person and severely injured another - would have no comment, said his attorney Thomas A. Sprague, citing lawsuits related to the collapse.

Because, Lord knows, one false word might result in Basciano losing a sliver of his wealth.

As if any of his hoarded dollars will bring comfort to Winkler and her family and to the loved ones of five others who died for the sake of arrogance and greed: Mary Simpson, 24; Kimberly Finnegan, 35; Roseline Conteh 52; Borbor Davis, 68; and Juanita Harmon, 75.

Let's remember their names - in a peaceful, green park that reminds us, as one of the signers of Winkler's petition noted, that "there is more to life than business and earnings."

And Basciano should write the check that pays for it.

And let's hope that some way, somehow, he writes it from a jail cell.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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