Does Big Soda have more money than sense?
The American Beverage Association, closing in on $20 million in spending in Philadelphia since 2016, appears no closer to killing Mayor Jim Kenney’s sweetened beverage tax that pays for pre-K and other city programs.
The ABA’s most recent investment — just shy of $1.5 million in the May 21 primary election — didn’t do much to move the needle.
Thirty-five percent of that money was spent on television commercials critical of Kenney. He won his Democratic primary bid for reelection with 67 percent of the vote while barely campaigning.
The third, Isaiah Thomas, told Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks he opposes it. But Thomas’ campaign now disavows that stance, saying he is neutral on the tax until he see the results of a fiscal impact study.
Quiñones-Sánchez said the ABA had two narratives to push in the primary, one national, the other local. On the national level, she said, the ABA was “trying to scare people” in other municipalities that might consider a so-called soda tax. On the local level, she said it was a win to force the tax into the political conversation, raising questions that it might be altered by Council going forward.
Two political action committees also spent big to support Kenney. Philly 2019, funded by building trades unions working on projects funded by the tax, spent $1.1 million. Forward Together Philadelphia, which received $1 million from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and money from teacher unions, spent $1.2 million.
And what has changed? The tax passed in Council by a 13-4 vote in June 2016. By Clout’s count, Council will likely start a new session in January with 12 of 17 members in favor of maintaining it.
One thing seems certain: The ABA will keep spending big. The group reported nearly $1.8 million in lobbying expenses in Philadelphia from January to March this year. That brings its total lobbying tally in the city to just over $18 million since January 2016.
The ABA thinks it rang up a victory.
“We support political leaders who have the courage to back working families and small business people, and fortunately for the city of Philadelphia, voters agreed," said Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the “Ax the Philly Bev Tax coalition,” which is funded by the ABA.
Last we heard from Desiree Peterkin Bell, she was pleading guilty in mid-May to stealing and misusing funds from a city-operated nonprofit while serving as a top-ranking official in then-Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. Now she’s coming back to Philly from Newark, N.J., to serve her 90 days of house arrest.
Bell sounded more triumphant than repentant after being sentenced, claiming her crimes — six misdemeanor theft convictions — were “more about convenience than corruption.” She also compared herself to Rocky Balboa in a tweet after the hearing.
Bell has long used the signature hashtag #PurposeNotPosition on Twitter. We checked — #ConvenienceNotCorruption didn’t catch on after her sentencing.
Common Pleas Court Judge Scott DiClaudio called Bell back to court two weeks after her sentencing and ordered her to serve her house arrest in Philadelphia. So Bell will be renting an apartment in the city, according to her attorney, an expense on top of the $19,807 in restitution and $6,000 in fines she must pay the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.
This much is clear about the primary election — Gritty will never hold public office in Philadelphia until the city’s voters pick just one office for the Flyers’ popular mascot. Gritty received 23 write-in votes on May 21 — in 11 different races. Mayor? Why not? City Council? We’ve done worse. Superior Court? Let’s give it a try!
The Board of Elections tallied plenty of write-in votes as well for Mickey Mouse, along with a few voters who suggested eliminating some elected offices rather than supporting candidates. There were also four entries listed as “foul drawings.” Clout shudders.
Former Republican Ward Leader Daphne Goggins, who took to Facebook on election day to ask for write-in votes, won support from 16 people. Goggins had been the Republican-endorsed candidate for mayor but dropped her campaign amid controversy about her accepting federal disability payments for nearly a decade for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder that emerged after she gave up cocaine in 2005.
Tonya Bah received 299 write-in votes, the most in the tally. Bah, a Democrat, had been challenging City Councilwoman Cindy Bass but was removed from the ballot after a legal challenge showed she had improperly filed her statement of financial interests.
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad took the second-highest number of write-in votes: 135 for City Council at-large and 18 for Council’s 3rd District. Muhammad managed Sherrie Cohen’s primary campaign for City Council but left that post in March amid criticism for heckling a transgender candidate about her ethnicity during a trans-pride event.