A group of Philadelphians threatened yesterday to sue Mayor Nutter and the city to save 11 libraries from closing because of the city's severe money crunch.
"The furor over the library closings is not simply about the potential loss of vital city services," Irv Ackelsberg, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said yesterday. "It's about the potential permanent loss of publicly owned capital assets."
Ackelsberg announced the planned class-action lawsuit on behalf of seven named plaintiffs - and anyone else in the city affected by the library closings - at the Logan Branch of the Free Library, on Wagner Avenue and Old York Road.
About 40 people gathered outside the Logan branch - which is one of the libraries slated to close by Dec. 31 - for the news conference.
Ackelsberg said he would file the lawsuit Tuesday unless Nutter restores the libraries by then.
Susan Feenan, of Fishtown, whose neighborhood library also is targeted for closing, was one of the intended plaintiffs who spoke out yesterday.
Calling all of the libraries "vital components" of each neighborhood, Feenan added: "I am truly worried that these budget cuts will render the city unlivable."
And Tiara Fuller, 14, a ninth-grader at the Parkway Northwest School for Peace and Social Justice, said she has been a regular user of the Cohen/Ogontz library branch since she was in kindergarten.
"My family cannot afford to buy me a working computer and printer," Fuller said.
Later, she noted, "I ask Mayor Nutter to please think about my situation. I am about the same age as your daughter. Imagine if she were being threatened with the same loss I am facing."
Also at the news conference were the Rev. Ellis Washington, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, and Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Ackelsberg said the lawsuit was based on a 1988 ordinance, introduced by the late Councilman David Cohen, that requires the mayor's office to get approval from Council before it sells, leases or puts city-owned buildings into disuse.
Cohen's daughter, Sherrie Cohen, said the law her father sponsored came about to stop then-Mayor Wilson Goode Sr. from closing two firehouses. One of the library branches rescued from being closed has been named after Cohen.
But City Solicitor Shelley R. Smith yesterday called the ordinance that the suit relies on "invalid."
"It attempted to give power to Council that it does not have under the city charter," Smith said.
She said she reviewed a draft of Ackelsberg's complaint that he'd submitted to the city earlier yesterday. She called the suit "well-intended, but misguided." *