A Southwest Philly Blogger lights a fire under Nutter's ass.
The neighborhood provides plenty of inspiration for the blog, like the colorful entry he posted about a "giant living asterisk" as a metaphor for the sight of children dispersing from gunfire on the Kingsessing basketball court. That's why Skwire takes the budget cuts so personally; he believes they disproportionately affect Philly's most at-risk residents.
Seven out of the 11 libraries scheduled to close are in high-crime police districts. Skwire worries that vulnerable members of the community--kids, seniors, the disabled--will have to pass through danger zones in order to get to the nearest library. That's why the mayor and a growing cast of characters are now featured daily on Brendan Calling, where Skwire challenges Nutter and Siobhan Reardon, the director of Free Library of Philadelphia, to make that same walk one evening without police escort.
The road to what Skwire calls "Blogsylvania," the state's informal network of online scribes, started with some guest blogging at Fire Dog Lake, a D.C.-based blog, and contributions to local blogs here and there. He says Brendan Calling began because of his long angry emails to friends about what he perceived as negligence within the Bush administration. He annoyed his friends to the point where they all begged, "Dude, start blogging."
It's a task his friends say is perfect for him.
"Brendan is nowhere near as insane as he sounds. He's somebody who has a real heart," says former print journalist Susan Madrak, of the blog Suburban Guerilla. "He really cares about what's happening in the community, and he's not embarrassed about that. He's very fiery. He loves to be outraged."
Though he's just as outraged as Skwire is, 34-year-old Andrew Schwalm, the marketing director for First Person Arts and administrator of the Malcolm X Park blog, admits to leaving the overtly political rants to Skwire.
"I'm not as combative as Brendan," he confesses. "I do write about the murder rate, issues affecting parks and the 52nd Street corridor, but generally when I want to put together a rant, I look to other people, like Brendan, who are much better at that than I am."
One rant that's getting quite popular among Philadelphians is the feeling that Nutter is backpedaling on his pledge to bring more transparency to government, and that his citywide town hall meetings are condescending smokescreens.
"The mayor steadfastly says he refuses to negotiate on this. Quite frankly, when you have that much power and you're telling the people you represent, 'This is the way its going to be, sorry'--that's not give and take. That's shoving people around," Skwire says. "This is a guy who promised greater transparency in his campaign and that people would have a say. This is a chapter out of the George Bush school of politics."
The mad blogger let the mayor have it in a in a Dec. 10 post: "Is it strength when a 'strong mayor' allows his most vulnerable citizens to take service cuts when our wealthiest corporate citizens get away without paying their debts? No: It's a cowardly mayor who won't leverage his political capital, except to play the bully and beat up on those who can't fight back."
Skwire is on a long list of neighborhood bloggers who have become legitimate players on the news circuit, reflecting an ongoing shift in newsmaking in general. An average guy-turned-citizen journalist like Skwire--someone with a WordPress account and a point of view--can break real news, in real time, and offer readers an inside perspective on the social and political issues affecting their neighborhoods. These days, some readers give more credit to bloggers than to old-school news outlets.
Despite his thirst for truth and love of writing, Skwire says joining the mainstream media never enters his mind. He's more like a 19th-century muckraker than a modern corporate journalist.
"I don't want some editor standing over my shoulder telling me I have a deadline to meet or that some advertiser doesn't like what they're reading from me," he says from his living room couch, surrounded by history books, kids toys and an upright bass. For now, Skwire is good where he is--enjoying a vigilante freedom with his blog, as well as a growing following: about 250 visits per day and 450 page views.
Skwire won't apologize for calling the mayor out. He says Nutter should work harder to collect the unpaid debt and secure partnerships from corporations that got fat off the city over the years before he cuts community services.
"I began to look at the earnings of some of the biggest corporations we host in Philadelphia, many of whom have obtained generous incentives to locate here. For example, in October of this year, Verizon brought in nearly $25 billion in revenue, a 31 percent increase, according to CNN.
Many of the blog's commenters agree with him. A response to Skwire's Dec. 12 post "What I Would Like to See" reads: "Much like what the Flyers Mgt. did for ice rinks, I would like to see famous wealthy Philadelphians (former or current) hold a press conference and donate $1M per (or whatever) to the city specifically to keeping a library or pool open. Bill Cosby comes to mind almost immediately as someone whose message tends to have a strong positive streak to it."
Skwire's daily posts keep residents informed on the closed-doors workings of the city. So even with a full-time job, a girlfriend and a young child, he's compelled to write out his anger, sometimes blogging furiously several times a day.
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?