A Southwest Philly Blogger lights a fire under Nutter's ass.
Part wiseass and part history buff, Brendan Skwire isn't the ordinary white-gentrifier-in-the-'hood that he might seem. Most nights after work the edgy 38-year-old bicycles home to his notoriously dangerous Southwest Philly neighborhood, dashes up the stairs of his rowhome, plants himself in a room full of books and then busies himself writing one angry missive after another on his provocative, take-no-prisoners blog Brendan Calling.
With the glare from the laptop illuminating his face, Skwire looks more like a man possessed than the creative urban professional he is. Throw in the backdrop of a charming picture window overlooking the sometimes perilous Kingsessing ball fields behind him, and it's clear this inner-city blogger is on a mission to force transparency in government by uniting pissed-off citizens into kicking some political ass.
The self-described loudmouth who "drinks a lot of beer" has no interest in the status quo, and is happy to use any means necessary--blog, email, cell phone--to harass local, state and even national elected officials into (to borrow from the master) delivering change we can believe in.
"I like making phone calls to people like Bob Casey and Arlen Specter to annoy them," he boasts.
In a recent post, Skwire confesses to making so many harassing calls to elected officials over the years that it's nothing for him to use up an entire month of cell phone minutes in just one week. Skwire even posts the conversations to his blog.
But some weeks ago, when Skwire--a grant writer who spends his days asking individuals, foundations and corporations for money for social programs like GED and ESL classes--first heard about Mayor Michael Nutter's plan to close libraries and pools in some of the city's worst neighborhoods (including his own), his rants moved closer to home.
He's more focused now on the city budget, City Council members and the slew of big corporations that owe the city millions in unpaid debt--most notably, the Eagles (which he often refers to as a deadbeat organization) and Sunoco.
Referring to Nutter as a coward, "disgraceful" and a "disingenuous liar," Skwire takes the mayor to task for choosing to cut desperately needed social services instead of collecting outstanding debts from his corporate buddies.
"That's the thing that's blowing the top off my head now," he fumes. "The Daily News reported a few weeks ago that the Eagles have owed the city $8 million since 1985. They were supposed to pay up in 2001, but they've chosen to tie it up in court believing the city will just give up. But if you go to the community relations page of the Eagles' website," Skwire says, "you'll see nothing but how they support literacy with their bookmobile. That's great, but you owe us $8 million! Nothing against the bookmobile, but that's nothing compared to keeping a dozen libraries open."
Rebelling against the machine comes naturally to Skwire. Born in Newport, R.I., he grew up during the Reagan years and became an early frequenter of the local punk rock music scene, learning how to rage with political groups like the Dead Kennedys and MDC.
He moved to Philly in 1999 to pursue his musical ambitions and settled in Kingsessing, one of the oldest settlements in the city. He says the area was the perfect fit, because he wanted homeownership and a yard--without going broke.
Skwire realizes how out of place he looks in his predominately black neighborhood. He remembers when he first moved in and his plumber warned him to put bars on the windows, because, "when they know you're here, they'll come." But nobody ever came, and this average-looking white dude shifted comfortably from interloper to a tried-and-true member of the community. He's even on the block watch.
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?
Dinner with Luke Palladino