It’s a rich irony that after years of butt smooching Jim Kenney, Philadelphia Magazine would feel his petty wrath after it grew a pair and published a couple of things His Grouchiness did not like.
Like totalitarian wannabe Donald Trump that he repeatedly squawks about, the thin-skinned and hot-tempered Kenney emulated Trump when he set up roadblocks to impede the magazine’s access to information to which it is entitled.
That’s happened to me, too, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Here’s what happened to the mag: It published an excellent expose by writer Ralph Cipriano on abuse of the taxpayer-funded, wasteful DROP program, something he has written about many times (as have I) over the past decade.
Already covered by Cipriano (and me) was the program’s high cost to the city, and that it was unnecessary to achieve its purpose— to enhance the city’s planning ability by learning of employees’ retirement plans. All it had to do was ask them, I think. Instead, DROP diverted pension payments into an interest-earning (initially at rates well above the market) pot o’ gold the employee got upon retirement. It was a windfall, and payouts averaged in the six figures.
The scam widened when DROP was made available to elected officials, for whom it was never intended. When you spread slop on the ground, don’t be surprised when the hogs come a’running. Elected officials enrolled in DROP, collected their retirement pay, and then — this might be hard to believe — returned to work. This despite an “irrevocable commitment” that they would leave. When you are a Big Shot, rules are for the other guys.
Some of these loopholes were closed, but recently Cipriano found yet another — workers retired, received DROP retirement pay, and then were rehired as consultants. Never underestimate Philadelphians’ ability to scam the system.
This expose pulled on Kenney’s last nerve. Not even his Pilates class could chill him. The Empire decided to strike back. How?
Philadelphia Magazine Editor Tom McGrath wrote last Friday that the city retaliated when it “set out new, utterly arbitrary rules for how the magazine interacts with city government.”
When the mag wants info or an interview, Editor McGrath is required to plead on bended knee with James Engler, mayoral chief of staff, known to “Game of Thrones” fans as the Mayor’s Hand.
A little background: When I joined the Daily News in 1972, smoking was permitted in the newsroom, the city issued press cards to reporters and published a phone directory for city employees. If you had a question, you called a department head who answered the question. That was true from Frank Rizzo to Ed Rendell, then began to change under John Street, as I recall. Press requests were often routed to the mayor’s office. The sphincter got tighter under Michael Nutter and under “transparent” progressive Kenney, the funnel has all but closed, unless you are a “friendly,” as is most of the press.
People: It’s not the press that Kenney is shutting out — it’s you. And as a Democratic incumbent in Philadelphia, there ain’t much to stop him.
Before Philadelphia Magazine was ordered to jump through autocratic hoops, Your Favorite Columnist was cut off from the city’s propaganda fountain, a/k/a the mayor’s press office. I became a nonperson, a tactic perfected by Stalin.
Shortly after I retired (from The Inquirer and Daily News) to launch StuBykofsky.com, a news and commentary blog, I asked Mike Dunn, who works in the mayor’s press stable, to delete my old work email address and substitute my new one.
He agreed and asked an office staffer to do it.
She agreed she would do it.
When it didn’t happen after a week or so, I emailed to ask if it was in the works. Suddenly, staffer Chamarra McCrorey said she could not add me because only “current members of the media” could be on the news release distribution list. Really? Why? National security?
I asked to see the order or regulation that set the rule as to who can receive the precious releases, but received no answer.
Just a suspicion on my part that the rule does not exist.
On Tuesday, I filed a Freedom of Information request to see the press list. I want to be sure it contains nothing but “current members of the media.”
Why the press office’s about-face? Because I am a critic of Kenney’s, focusing on his policies, such as the beverage tax, his dangerous Sanctuary City policy, his plan to trash the Frank Rizzo statue, his supine surrender to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and every other minority with a grievance, real or imagined.
I told the office that I am still a journalist and working for a online news site. My 47 years of covering Philadelphia apparently counts for nothing, not to mention my status as a Philadelphia taxpayer.
In the past, as a “current member of the media,” I often had trouble — with the exception of Dunn — getting questions answered by the press office. The rest of the office ciphers felt they could pick and choose which reporters were worthy of a response.
Back to McGrath: The new Philly mag arrangement “is clearly meant to slow down and tightly control our news gathering when it comes to covering city government,” he wrote.
That’s a part of it, Tom. Mostly it’s to punish you for bad opinions and to bust your balls. King Kenney has ruled.
“The Kenney team’s actions should be unsettling to any citizen of Philadelphia… and America,” wrote McGrath.
After that broadside fired at the city on Friday, on Monday McGrath took to the keyboard again, this time to say he got a letter from city solicitor Marcel Pratt, denying there ever was such an obstacle policy. McGrath termed that statement “fucking ridiculous.”
You know, Tom, you and others ought to have paid attention when I wrote about how an enraged Kenney viciously demonized the bottling industry and Shop Rite in the fight over the soda tax, and how he calls most everyone who disagrees with him racist, or homophobic, or Islamophobic, or misogynistic, or… whatever.
If you didn’t see this coming, you should have.
I am awaiting my own clarification letter from solicitor Pratt, but I am not holding my breath.