A Room with a View of the Blues

26 Jun

Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion on “Art in Public Space” held in the Hamilton Garden of the Kimmel Center. As I waited for the program to start, I checked out the view from the top floor. What I saw left a hole in my heart.

PRI Vacant Lot

The hole is where Philadelphia International Records once stood.

PRI Collage - June 4, 2017

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have earned their place in history.

Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff - History

Sadly, the building that held the stories of the songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers is now lost to history. For the love of money, African Americans’ cultural heritage was erased from public memory.

Gamble and Huff sold the historic building to Dranoff Properties which plans to build a luxury hotel and condos for the one percent. Three years after the demolition of “309,” there’s just a hole in the ground. The reason: Dranoff Properties is waiting for a corporate welfare check to the tune of $19 million before breaking ground on the “biggest, tallest and most expensive” project the company has ever done.

In the poorest big city in the country, spending taxpayers’ money to further enrich the rich is the sound of Philadelphia.

African-American Music Appreciation Month 2017

5 Jun

On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the month of June “Black Music Month.” Every president since then has recognized the contribution of black musicians to the nation’s cultural heritage. In 2009, President Barack Obama changed the month-long celebration to “African-American Music Appreciation Month.”

The tradition continues with President Donald Trump:

During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.

[…]

We also take time this month to recognize the musical influence of two of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald, as this year marks their centennial birthdays. Gillespie, through his legendary trumpet sound and Fitzgerald, through her pure, energetic voice, treated people around the world to spirited and soulful jazz music. Their work has influenced countless musicians, and continues to inspire listeners young and old.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2017 as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I call upon public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and appreciation of African-American Music.

I kicked off this year’s celebration by attending opening night of Motown The Musical.

The multi-media musical recaps familiar stories about how Berry Gordy Jr. founded the Motown Record Company; Gordy’s affair with Diana Ross; self-destructive Florence Ballard; the tempting Temptations and their rivalry with the Four Tops; songwriter, singer and Motown lifer Smokey Robinson; child prodigy and history-maker Stevie Wonder; and the discovery of The Jackson 5. The Motown breakups include Mary “My Guy” Wells, Marvin Gaye, songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The audience went nuts when Martha Reeves and the Vandellas gave “Philadelphia, PA” a shout-out in “Dancing in the Streets.” Although one knows how the stories end, the retelling is fresh and joyous. The musical culminates with a “family” reunion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Motown.

I remember like it was yesterday watching the television special, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. In 1983, I sang the songs at the top of my lungs, danced in front of the TV, and marveled as Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk. At the Academy of Music, I danced in my seat and tried not to sing too loud.

But it wasn’t just the songs and dancing that kept a smile on my face. I love that the music is contextualized. Motown addresses racial segregation in the South and the North, the senseless war in Vietnam, the March on Washington, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black Power Movement. By the 1970s, the “Motown Sound” was the sound of the struggle for racial justice.

Motown The Musical is playing at the Academy of Music through June 11. For ticket information, visit kimmelcenter.org.

Memorial Day 2017

29 May

Memorial Day 1.2

Corruption is What Makes Philly

15 May

In the run-up to the Democratic convention, the 2016 Democratic National Convention Host Committee launched #WhatMakesPhilly, “a social media campaign to energize Philadelphians about the Convention coming to town and highlighting what makes the city the unique.”

#WhatMakesPhilly Campaign Announced

What makes Philly unique? It continues to live down to its reputation as “corrupt and contented.” One of the longest serving congressmen, Chaka Fattah, is now serving time in federal prison. City Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon is under FBI investigation.

Bobby Henon FBI Raid - 8.5.16

District Attorney Seth Williams, who no longer has a law license, is under indictment. One of the candidates running in the May 16 primary election to succeed him is in debt up to his eyeballs.

Tariq's Tax Liens

And we now know the real winner of the host committee’s #WhatMakesPhilly social media campaign was the committee’s executive director, Kevin Washo. Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Washo paid himself a $310,000 bonus:

On Nov. 25, all 12 of the host committee staff received bonuses. In addition to Washo’s $310,000 check, rewards ranged from $13,357 for the office manager, who was paid $3,000 monthly, to $220,000 for the chief financial officer, who was paid about $8,000 monthly.

In the host committee’s report to the Federal Election Commission, Washo’s bonus is described as “Consulting Services-Political.” On Dec. 23, 2016 — five months after the convention ended — he collected $13,805.96 in “salary.” By then, Washo had already been hired by powerhouse law firm Cozen O’Connor “to assist clients with government relations across Pennsylvania as well as in Washington, D.C., and New York.”

Cozen - Kevin Washo

Washo may soon need a lawyer.

Philadelphia Magazine detailed the other bonuses.

Philly Mag - Staff Bonuses

The nearly $1 million in bonuses were authorized by Host Committee Chairman Ed Rendell. Philly’s culture of corruption is so embedded that Rendell, a former mayor and governor, brazenly said:

No donor did this out of the kindness of their heart. They all wanted access. They got exactly what they donated for. No donor should feel cheated.

Why should donors “feel cheated?” After all, they received “access” and a tax deduction. Millions of dollars of donations to the host committee were funneled through the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Foundation. The financial scheme appears to violate the absolute prohibition on political campaign intervention by a Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The bonuses also facially violate IRS rules against self-dealing.

So on Mother’s Day, I decided to file a complaint about these greedy mothers (half the word) with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. When I visited the host committee’s website to find out who was on the board of directors, I discovered the site has been partially wiped clean (perhaps “with a cloth or something”), including its home page, sponsors and area partners.

Also on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement denouncing Rendell and Washo for not returning the $4 million surplus to the state:

I am disappointed that when the host committee discovered there was a surplus, the first call was not to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discuss returning the money to the taxpayers. The commonwealth supports large events that have an economic benefit to Pennsylvania and the region, but when there is leftover funding, that money should be returned to taxpayers. I am disappointed that the surplus was instead spent on bonuses and grants.

Wolf requested that Auditor General Eugene DePasquale review the host committee’s audit report.

UPDATE: Three Republicans — Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne — have called for an audit. In a letter to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, they wrote:

The revelations over the past several days are particularly troubling. It is undisputed that the DNC had no less than $4 million I unencumbered funds upon completion of the event. A small group of individuals including former Governor Rendell chose to allocate the excess on targeted special interest initiatives and exorbitant bonuses, one greater than $300,000. We were not contacted at any point by the officials at the DNC, the Governor’s Office, or DCED (who administered the grant) about the surplus. No efforts were made to return any portion of the surplus to the Commonwealth.

Kevin Washo and the other host committee staff will have to use their taxpayer-funded windfall to pay for lawyers.

Stay tuned.

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