Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was because City Council had just finished its last session before a three-month summer break. Maybe it was the legacy of Ed Rendell lingering over the whole event.

Whatever the cause, City Councilman Mark Squilla was jumping in that pool Thursday.  In his shirt and tie and suit pants. With his wallet and keys in his pockets. And his reading glasses around his neck.

Squilla, who grew up swimming in the public pool at Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly, tells us he didn't plan to take the plunge during Thursday afternoon's opening ceremony.

"Everyone started jumping in," he said. "I got caught up and jumped in. It was spur of the moment. And it felt great. It was hot out."

Philly Councilman Mark Squilla surprised everyone when he jumped into the pool at the Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly on June 22, 2017.
Elizabeth Robertson
Philly Councilman Mark Squilla surprised everyone when he jumped into the pool at the Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly on June 22, 2017.

We here at Clout will confess that we had been, shall we say, less than impressed with Mayor Kenney's plan to "blow a whistle for children to make the inaugural jump in the pool" to mark the opening of the season, as described in a city news release.

A whistle? Like a lifeguard?

What happened to the free-wheeling days when Rendell — as mayor — would fling himself, bare-chested, into a public pool with a group of half-terrorized, half-exhilarated kids? No wonder he went on to be governor.

Even Kenney's staffers could understand when our disappointment made itself known this week — where else? — on Twitter. Consider what his spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, had to say.

Sadly, nobody pushed Kenney into the pool.  What is wrong with this city?

Squilla was getting changed and laying out the contents of his wallet to dry when we caught up with him.

"My wife wanted to kill me," he said. "She said, 'You're going to ruin that suit!' And my shoes are soaked."

But he's not backing down. In fact, he's thinking about raising the stakes on pool plunges.

"Maybe we'll start a new tradition," Squilla said. "I'll have to challenge my colleagues. They'll have to jump in the pool in their suits in their districts on the first day."

Shut out on the soda tax

Who could have predicted a state Senate Local Government Committee hearing scheduled to be held in City Hall on Friday would be the hottest ticket in town?

We know of at least two local elected officials — City Councilwoman Helen Gym and City Controller Alan Butkovitz — who expected to testify in that hearing, held to discuss Philadelphia's sweetened-beverage tax, a.k.a. the soda tax.

Butkovitz, a soda tax critic, didn't make the cut for the committee's agenda.  Gym, a fan of the tax, appears to be shut out too.

"I guess they're entitled to do whatever they want to do," said Butkovitz, who appears to be courting support from the American Beverage Association for a potential 2019 Democratic primary challenge to Kenney, who pushed the tax through City Council last year. "I know this issue backwards and forwards. I think we could hit a lot of salient points very briefly."

Ian Gavigan, a spokeswoman for Gym, said Thursday Gym was still expecting to testify.  Gym, in a newsletter to supporters this week, said "the soda industry and their Harrisburg allies" are "bringing their anti-Philly attacks straight to the heart of the city."

The tax, which since January has added 1.5 cents an ounce to the cost of most sugary and diet beverages sold in Philadelphia, will be used to pay for pre-K education, community schools, parks, recreation centers, and libraries.

Shutting out Gym would be especially harsh, since the committee hearing is being held in City Council's chambers. That's like throwing a house party and asking the homeowners to keep their distance.

The Local Government Committee is led by State Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican running for governor. The committee's executive director, Erin Marsicano, said she relied on State Sen. Anthony Williams for names of people to invite to testify.

Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat who ran for mayor in 2015 and opposes the tax, is not on the committee but requested the hearing.

"It's not an open mic situation where we open the floor to people to treat it like a town hall," said Marsicano, who has broken down the 2½-hour agenda into seven tightly scheduled segments. "We're not in any way trying to silence anyone on the issue. It comes down to a time constraint."


"We heard our citizens saying we don't want to touch that." — Carlton Williams, Philadelphia streets commissioner, on requests for foot pedals to be added to city trash sidewalk compactors instead of handles.

Staff writers Chris Brennan and Julia Terruso contributed to this column.