Philadelphians have to bear the (budget) cross too.
It's Dec. 18 and at Martin Luther King High School on Stenton Avenue, at the last town hall meeting held by Mayor Michael Nutter and his cabinet, Diane, a registered nurse, is asking a question.
"There's legislation at the state and national level for single-payer health insurance," she says. "It would provide healthcare for everybody in the country and therefore everybody in the state for much less than we're paying now. ... I wonder if you would prevail upon [the state] to do a feasibility study because healthcare is one of our most urgent needs."
The mayor asks Philadelphia's Health Commissioner Don Schwarz to speak to the issue. After explaining some financial subtleties in state and federal healthcare dollar allocations, Schwarz talks about the city's support for reform of the health insurance system. He says the city wants every Philadelphian to have health insurance and access to care, and the mayor assures Diane he'll talk to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly about the city's position on the legislation.
The conversation is a substantive one. The issue of affordable healthcare--access to lifesaving medication, doctors and critical care--affects most of the roughly million and a half people in the city. But as soon as Diane sits down, another woman stands and raises the issue that's been overshadowing all the other challenges the city faces: the libraries.
It's the same at every other town hall--and every countertop diner, bar and beauty salon or barbershop: The outrage over the proposed closure of 11 branch libraries--David Cohen Ogontz, Charles C. Durham, Eastwick, Fishtown, Fumo Family, Haddington, Holmesburg, Kingsessing, Logan, Queen Memorial and Wadsworth--is pervasive.
Some of the mayor's opponents have been cordial, but at most town hall meetings, Nutter has been treated like the enemy: heckled, booed and ridiculed. The anger has been palpable, whether at rallies or at hearings where legal proceedings were drowned out by the yelling of protesters. The mayor was even served a subpoena from a young man who said, "We're putting you on trial for the crime of genocide being committed against African people."
The Coalition to Save the Libraries issued an indictment against the mayor for a number of ills pertaining to the library closures. Charges included abandoning the minds of children, promoting illiteracy, encouraging street violence, increasing joblessness, creating neighborhood blight, targeting low-income communities, violating the public trust and last, but definitely not least, ignoring the people's will.
The fury is even greater on local blogs. On PhillyBlog, for example, pcounselor--who has plenty of company--writes, "It seems Nutter plans to decimate every neighborhood in the city" and says the mayor should be impeached.
|Photo by David Scott|
You name it, Nutter is taking the blame for it. Longtime Philadelphia journalist Tom Ferrick sums it up on WHYY.org: "The man who was praised a few years ago as a savior of libraries, now is cast as a villain."
A villain who's being nailed to the cross over libraries that saw a total of 671,885 visitors between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008.
Back in January 2008, the scowling faces, boos and vitriol would've been unimaginable. Beloved as a well-known councilperson willing to fight City Hall, Michael Nutter came in on a wave of good will and high expectations. Philadelphians put him on a pedestal, believing he could transform a city mired in corruption charges and dashed promises.
Mayor Nutter won't lay off police or firefighters. He's raising taxes. But there are still battles to be fought. What do you think? Tell us in the comments on this story.
Mayor Nutter’s budget plan doesn’t call for laying-off any cops or firefighters. He won’t be closing the libraries. Good news, right? So why is Philly’s activist community still crying foul?