One of Mayor Nutter's most vocal critics, former Democratic candidate for city controller Brett Mandel, leveled some explosive charges in a mass e-mail last week regarding campaign contributions the mayor made to two City Council members.
"Even though members of City Council are not up for reelection for another year, Nutter's campaign account donated $10,600 - the maximum amount permissible by law - to a number of Council members in the days leading up to his budget address. At best, this looks like an attempt to 'buy' votes," Mandel's e-mail read.
He was referring to two Nutter donations that showed up on recent campaign filings, one to Councilman William K. Greenlee on Feb. 25, the other to Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco on March 1. Both contributions were made shortly before Nutter's March 4 budget address.
It is not remotely unusual for politicians to make contributions to other elected officials. But in Mandel's view, the timing of these donations does not look good.
It is possible, however, that the timing was simply coincidental.
Both Tasco and Greenlee said they asked Nutter for the donations. And both solicited his help at regularly scheduled fund-raising events for their campaigns.
"From time to time the mayor is asked by progressive Democratic candidates to support their reelection efforts, and these two City Council people fall under that category," said Scott Freda, Nutter's campaign-finance director.
Asked if the mayor was trying to "buy" support for his budget, Freda said, "Absolutely not."
Tasco and Greenlee both said the donations had nothing to do with the budget. Tasco has supported most of the mayor's key budget proposals this year, but Greenlee has consistently opposed the sugary-drinks tax, which has emerged as one of Nutter's top budget priorities.
Nutter made identical $10,600 donations late last year to Councilmen James F. Kenney and Curtis Jones Jr. In those cases, too, the Council members asked for the cash. - Patrick Kerkstra
Paying with jail time
Minor traffic violations don't normally lead to jail time. Unless you are behind bars already. Then, according to a report on Philadelphia's prisons last week from the Pew Charitable Trusts, city officials often extend your stay so that you can go to Traffic Court to pay your fines.
In 2008, Philadelphia's prison system kept about 1,500 prisoners in jail for a day or two longer for that purpose. That's up from about 200 in 2003, Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative reported.
"In a system that uses about 3 million bed-days a year, this practice, which accounts for perhaps 2,000 bed-days, is not a big item," the Pew report said.
A bed-day is pretty much what it sounds like: One inmate who stays for one day takes up one bed-day.
Even so, the extra traffic fines collected probably don't make up for the additional costs of holding people longer, Pew said. And city officials are worried that it just doesn't look good, so they are working to change the practice. One possible solution: handling Traffic Court appearances via video conference.
To read the entire report, go to http://go.philly.com/prisonreport - Miriam Hill
Off and running
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas didn't waste any time after his shoo-in primary victory Tuesday. Thomas, who doesn't hold a leadership position in either the House Democratic Caucus or the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, announced Friday that he is running for speaker of the House.
The seat will become vacant when Speaker Keith R. McCall (D., Carbon) retires. Thomas, whose 181st District covers neighborhoods in and around North Philadelphia, has been in the House for 21 years and is majority chair of the House Urban Affairs Committee.
Thomas is the first to announce his intention to bid for the seat. Democrats, who hold a 104-99 advantage in the House, would first have to preserve their majority in November. - Jeff Shields