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City's seat lost on gravy train

Philadelphia is quickly losing clout in Harrisburg, and considering the city's budget crisis, it couldn't happen at a worse time.

Philadelphia is quickly losing clout in Harrisburg, and considering the city's budget crisis, it couldn't happen at a worse time.

First, after Democratic voting last week, Carbon County State Rep. Keith McCall is all but certain to assume the title of House speaker come January - a title held by Philadelphians for the last five years.

That was followed by news that Allegheny County State Sen. Jay Costa Jr. won the top Democratic spot on the Senate Appropriations Committee - a spot held by a Philadelphian for most of the last 40 years.

Easy come, easy go? Not really.

On Friday, city politicos were stung in particular by the lost appropriations seat - held for decades by either Vincent Fumo or Buddy Cianfrani.

Three Philadelphians were vying for it: Vincent J. Hughes, Michael Stack and Anthony Williams. But none could muster enough support from the Senate Democratic caucus. (The Senate is controlled by Republicans.)

In an attempt to keep the spot in the city's grasp, a last-minute move was made to promote another Philadelphian - State Sen. Leanna Washington - for the seat.

But that failed, too.

As a semi-second prize, Stack was awarded a new position as "vice chairman" of the Appropriations Committee.

Still, considering Gov. Rendell's departure from the governor's mansion in 2010, that may leave Philadelphia with one VIP in Harrisburg, at least when it comes to pulling purse strings: State Rep. Dwight Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

- Marcia Gelbart

Shopping wonderland

City Hall as a winter wonderland? The makeshift plywood city going up on Dilworth Plaza is the Christmas Village in Philadelphia, a European-flavored open-air bazaar that begins on Thanksgiving Day and continues through Christmas Eve.

City Representative Melanie Johnson said German American Marketing Inc. had been pushing the concept for several years. A news release advertising it promised a "light-filled extravaganza, with choir and orchestral performances, a sea of evergreen trees, and more than 50 vendors marketing their wares." Santa will also be stationed there for photos by Firefly Photography. Mondays will be "Pet night with Santa."

The organizers paid $17,000 for use of the plaza from Nov. 17 though Dec. 24, Johnson said. "I think this will absolutely add something really great to City Hall," Johnson said. It will be open from 11 a.m. through 9 p.m. daily, Johnson said, adding that City Hall's own traditional tree-lighting ceremony is Dec. 3. For more information, check out



- Jeff Shields

The question, please

The city is about six weeks away from launching its much-anticipated 311 call center.

Before it does, however, 311's creators need to figure out what questions Philadelphians will have for the operators who pick up the phones. So they've invited city residents to let them know in advance what they'd like to ask of the new service at



So far, about 115 respondents have submitted questions. The suggestions cover a range of typical urban complaints. How do I get rid of an abandoned or illegally parked car? How can I get a vacant property cleaned or turned into a community garden? What about the burned-out streetlight on my block? How can I recycle a Christmas tree? Are there any shelter beds available? Who is my state senator?

If 311 operators really will be able to readily answer questions like those, the service is bound to be a hit.

- Patrick Kerkstra