DN Editorial: CLARKE'S A BULLY

And his politics-as-usual power-play threatens land-bank goals

Posted: December 04, 2013

DARRELL Clarke apparently thinks that it is time to school Maria Quinones-Sanchez on what it means to be a good team member.

The Council president and the councilwoman have been at odds lately over a bill that they co-sponsored to create a land bank to handle the sale of vacant properties in the city. Everyone agrees that change is needed: There are more than 40,000 vacant properties in Philadelphia and the system of disposing of them simply does not work. It can take 3 1/2 years from expression of interest in a parcel of land to signing the papers that close the deal.

The goal is to streamline that process to remove hurdles and get the sale done in nine months.

Too streamlined for the taste of Clarke. The Council president is anxious to preserve and protect councilmanic prerogative, the system whereby district Councilpeople get the right to put a hold on any sale.

The coalition of community groups, developers and design advocates who have worked on the bill for five years decided not to push on that issue. The bill keeps the requirement that all sales be approved by Council, a step which allows a district Council person to exercise a hold.

It's not enough for Clarke. He wants to retain another hurdle in the current system: a requirement that all sales also be approved by a Vacant Property Review Committee, a body which is, not coincidentally, chaired by an appointee of the Council president.

Quinones-Sanchez balked at that idea. When the VPRC concept was added to the bill in committee, she publicly announced that she would oppose it - on the floor of Council, if need be.

This did not amuse the Council president.

Late last week, Clarke circulated a series of amendments that would insert the requirement of Council approval at nearly every step of the process, even before the property is bought, according to a report on the web site AxisPhilly.

He was delivering a message to Quinones-Sanchez and the bill's supporters: You mess with me, I mess up your bill.

Whether Clarke will actually introduce the amendments remains to be seen. It's clear, though, that he is using this maneuver as a threat to make Quinones-Sanchez and the bill's supporters back off. His proposals would have the effect of killing the central idea behind the bill - to speed up property sales.

It also would hand to individual councilpeople complete control over all development within their districts. That's not the kind of power we want to see in the hands of any councilperson. We want projects to go forward based on their merits, not on how well a would-be buyer kisses a councilperson's . . . um . . . hand.

Philadelphia has lived under the Politics of the Deal for too long. If this city doesn't change the way it does business it will strangle its future.

As to Clarke, we are disappointed. The Council President has made the right moves on a lot of issues. He certainly talked the talk when it came to the land bank. But, now he's being a bully . . . and we all know there is only one way to deal with a bully. Face him down.

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