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Amid sendoffs, Council OKs Comcast deal, casino bills

At its final meeting of the year, Philadelphia City Council passed a pile of small bills and a few big ones Thursday while bidding farewell to three members and hosting an unexpected visit from Mayor Nutter.

At its final meeting of the year, Philadelphia City Council passed a pile of small bills and a few big ones Thursday while bidding farewell to three members and hosting an unexpected visit from Mayor Nutter.

Addressing a packed chamber, Nutter listed the major accomplishments of the Council class - such as coming up with $400 million more for city schools, and requiring employers to offer paid sick leave - and thanked members for their service over the last eight years.

But those years have also been marked by animosity between the mayor and Council. Within hours of Nutter's remarks, a reminder of that rancor came when Council President Darrell L. Clarke promised his colleagues that a new and better day would come with Mayor-elect Jim Kenney.

"Believe me, he will see that it is a whole new ball game there on that second floor," Clarke said, referring to the mayor's office. "[If you] don't have the ability to lean next to a colleague and kind of talk about various issues, it gets pretty lonely down there."

Council will have five new members come January. Before the turnover, the chamber passed more than 80 bills Thursday, including a new 15-year franchise agreement between the city and Comcast. The deal gives the telecom giant the right to operate in the city while securing a package of perks for Philadelphians, including an expanded discount program for low-income seniors.

Nutter will sign the bill, his spokesman said.

Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen praised the unanimous vote in a statement and said the agreement "honors the legacy of civic responsibility and pride that Comcast has always brought to Philadelphia."

Under the deal, the city will keep receiving 5 percent of Comcast's cable-TV revenue in the city, which added up to $17.5 million last year.

Comcast also pledged to launch any future expansion of its Internet Essentials discount program in Philadelphia first; install a new high-speed network at more than 200 city locations; and give $20 million to public, government, and educational access channels.

At least one member voted for the deal in spite of lingering concerns. Councilwoman Cindy Bass said she did not like the city's plan to cover the costs, to a tune of $170,000 per year, of expanding Internet Essentials to those now ineligible because they have not been without Internet service for 90 days.

Though that subsidy plan is part of the deal approved Thursday, Bass said, "There is still room for [Comcast] to make this . . . right" and cover the cost itself.

Other business. Council passed two zoning bills that will pave the way for a new casino in South Philadelphia.

The plan has been controversial, mostly because of allegations that one of the developers, Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, has discriminated against black patrons at its other properties. A Council committee unanimously approved the bills last month after hearing testimony in support of the project from the city's NAACP chapter and an organization of black clergy.

The developer - a partnership between Cordish and Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment, which owns Parx Casino in Bensalem - plans to build a $450 million casino complex at Ninth Street and Packer Avenue. Zed Smith, Cordish's chief operating officer, said in a statement that the plan will bring thousands of jobs to the city.

Council also passed a resolution, introduced by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, condemning presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, and calling on Trump to "refrain from making such hateful comments" in Philadelphia.

The body also approved transferring $17 million to cover costs of Pope Francis' visit. The city expects to be reimbursed for $9 million of that by the World Meeting of Families.

A farewell bouquet. Thursday was the final meeting for members Marian B. Tasco, W. Wilson Goode Jr., and Dennis O'Brien. In nearly an hour of speeches, members lavished praise on the trio.

Goode and O'Brien lost their seats in this year's elections. Tasco is retiring after seven terms.

With a bouquet of red roses resting on her desk, Tasco used part of her final floor speech to thank the lesser-known Council staff: the security guards, the sign-language interpreters, the stenographer, and the staff photographer "who makes us all look good."

"We can't make it without this help we have in this building. I just want to say thank you," she said. "To those I have forgotten, just know it's my head and not my heart."

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny