Karim Olaechea's blog

Supreme Injustice on the Waterfront? LWV and Philly Mag Raise Concerns

Has Pennsylvania's highest court been compromised by greed and political corruption? A year ago, when I first got involved with working to keep casinos out of Philadelphia neighborhoods, I might have been shocked by the very idea. Now the question seems appropriate.

On Monday, the League of Women Voters (“LWV”) filed a federal law suit that makes a stunning allegation: it alleges that former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy secretly met with legislative leaders and struck a deal to uphold the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's slots casino bill in return for a pay hike in the form of . . . wait for it . . . the now infamous pay raise of 2006. Furthermore, the complaint asserts that these types of alleged shenanigans date back a decade to the mid-nineties. Check out the LWV case by clicking here.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that both the gaming act and the pay raise were passed by the General Assembly through a process called "gut-and-replace" whereby a law is stripped of its original language and intent, and rushed to a vote without the mandated three days of public review in both the House and the Senate. This is a clear violation of Article 3 of the Constitution and last year a lower court struck down a perfectly nice 2002 hate-crimes bill, finding the "gut-and-replace" tactic to be unconstitutional.

Though some observers have questioned whether the LWV's case will succeed, few familiar with the history of the court's decisions regarding casinos are shocked or surprised by the accusations that the Court might have lost its independence.

Is it true? If not, why would a respected nonpartisan group such as the League of Women Voters put its reputation on the line? And their case isn't the only place where you can hear these questions raised about justices and injustice.

Take this month's Philadelphia Magazine story about the feud between former friends and political allies Senator Vince Fumo and SugarHouse investor Richard Sprague as exhibit B. In his article, Robert Huber explains that:

These days, Dick Sprague helps watch over the State Supreme Court from his perch on its disciplinary committee, which is chaired by Bill Lamb, an ex-justice who is one of Sprague's closest friends. So close that Fumo sometimes referred to them in phone conversation as the "tennis player" – Sprague–and his partner–Lamb.

Check out the entire article here.

Well guess what? You can cue up the spooky music because Bill Lamb is also an investor in SugarHouse. Huber goes on to slyly note that the gambling bill written by Fumo in 2004 has "a provision that legal challenges get fast-tracked past the lower courts and go right to the Supremes. At press-time, in the 11 separate matters involving SugarHouse that have been decided by the court, the casino has gotten favorable rulings 11 times."

Get ready for ruling number 12.

At the end of his last term, Mayor John Street granted SugarHouse Casino a license to build on 11 acres of riparian land along the Delaware River despite the fact that under current law only the state legislature, not the city, has the legal authority to lease these riparian lands. (For a more detailed account of the case, check out this Plan Philly article.) Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia City Council, and members of Philadelphia's legislative delegation, including Representatives Mike O'Brien and Bill Keller and Senator Fumo now are asserting in court that Street overstepped his legal authority. If SugarHouse wins its 12th legal case, it will be in blatant defiance of existing law, our city officials, state officials and basic common sense.

If the allegations in the League of Women Voters' case are true, then does that put all the casino cases under a cloud of suspicion? Is the Delaware riverfront being held hostage to a political conspiracy?

So what to do? To save democracy and declare our independence just like our fore-fathers did in 1773, Casino-Free Philadelphia is throwing a Tea Party.

The first step is to shine a light. The SugarHouse case could be decided as soon as today, so we're sending the Supremes a message to let them know we are watching. We expect the Court to operate within the very same laws that they are sworn to uphold.

Here is how our Tea Party will work: If you donate to Casino-Free Philadelphia, we will put your name and personalized message on a card, enclose an actual tea bag, and mail it to the Supreme Court. The minimum donation is $1 to cover the costs of postage, materials and tea! Click here to take part. Additional funds donated will be used by Casino-Free Philadelphia to help fund all their efforts to keep casinos out of Philadelphia's neighborhoods.

Click here to participate.

We will also deliver the names and messages of those who participate to City Council, our legislators, and Mayor Nutter to thank them for standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Philadelphia and to let them know that we will continue to resist.

If the Supreme Court is dealing away our democracy and refusing to uphold the law, then maybe our city has no choice but to revolt, peaceably of course.

Breaking Casino Action Alert: SugarHouse gets CED from Supreme Court, Foxwoods strikes deal with the Street Admin

TONIGHT | Converge at Foxwoods

Those of us who have long fought to keep casinos out of Philadelphia neighborhoods are still trying to digest the events of today, but here it is . . .

The Street Administration has signed a development agreement with Foxwoods Casinos which tears down one of the last remaining obstacles to starting construction at the site on Columbus and Reed Street, and undermines neighborhood efforts to move the two casinos.

Secondly, the Supreme Court has handed down a decision that forced the city to issue SugarHouse their CED and zoning permits -- a decision that seems to fly in the face of their previous ruling against Foxwoods.

Here is what we are going to do:

Now is the time to move
Columbus and Reed Streets
9:30 PM TONIGHT!!!!
There will be cameras. Bring your crowd.

Bring your friends and family, and let them know that we are not going to be pushed around.

Don't Feed the Alpacas | Dicker Campaign Targets Fumo Farm


Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 27 -- Today, the Anne Dicker for State Senate Campaign is running the first in a series of three full-page ads aimed at educating voters about the particulars of the Vince Fumo indictment. The three full-page ads will run on successive Tuesdays with the next two running in the Daily News on December 4 and 11.

To download a copy of the full page ad: www.DontFeedtheAlpacas.com

Anne Dicker Makes a Bid to Buy Fumo Mansion

As many of you have heard, State Senator Vincent Fumo recently put his Fairmount area mansion up for sale. The asking price is a whopping $6.95 million dollars. According to the listing on Fox & Roach's website, the property has been "restored to it's original grandeur" with elevators on all 6 floors, a brick oven and spa, wine cellar, 7 fireplaces, 3 powder rooms, a large custom vault, and a state of the art security system.

However, the City of Philadelphia has the value of this famously opulent home listed at only $250,000. Accordingly, Fumo only pays $6,611 in property taxes--a tiny fraction of what he would owe if the building were taxed at its current sales price. On Thursday, in a vote that stunned reporters and drew widespread outrage, the BRT upheald the current listed value. The property will not be reassessed until 2009.

City Council Cancels: Sugarhouse cries Uncle and re-asserts need for community support

September 21, 2007 - Today, City Council canceled its scheduled public hearing on bills relating to SugarHouse's commercial entertainment district zoning and other slots gambling bills. According to political insiders, SugarHouse requested the delay after they unsuccessfully tried to force Fishtown Neighbors Association to the negotiation table.

Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA) refused to sit down at the first negotiation on Monday claiming SugarHouse did not do its part to establish a fair table. FNA has agreed to negotiations with resiting as the first priority, and with the stipulation that any agreement would require the support 75% of the community. Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, the civic association representing the neighborhood in which half of SugarHouse is located, has refused to enter into negotiations.

Nutter Snubs Tad Decker, Re-asserts Anti-Casino Position

When Linda Soffer and Jeanne Kohl of the group Mothers Against SugarHouse (MASH) received news that Thomas "Tad" Decker would be co-chairing a fundraiser for Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter, they were confused and outraged. Decker is the former chair of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the governmental body that authorized the construction of two casinos along Philadelphia's Delaware riverfront and within a couple hundred feet of people's homes.

"I couldn't understand why Nutter would be taking money from a man who worked to deny Philadelphians a vote on where to put casinos" said Linda Soffer of MASH.

Casino Free Phila Launches Two New PSAs

The good people at Media Mobilizing Project were kind enough to make two new public service announcements to help educate Philadelphia voters on the casino issue. Please feel free to post these on your blog.

PSA #1 Neighborhoods Not Casinos

Casino-Free Hilariousness

Kevin Nalty, of Cubebreak and WillVideoForFood.com has made a hilarious new video for Casino-Free Philadelphia that perfectly captures the absurdity of the casino industry and their PR machine. Our favorite part is when the casino executive points out that the 1500 ft buffer equals an outrageous 18,000 inches.

On May 15, cast your vote on the casino issue at PhillysBallotBox.org.

PhillysBallotBox.org is a project of Casino-Free Philadelphia. While Casino-Free Philadelphia continues the "Yes on #1" campaign; Philly's Ballot Box is a separate effort to set up a full election.

PGCB Admits It Does Not Trump Philly Zoning Authority

In a dramatic turn of events, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB)admitted that Philadelphia City Government has final authority in determining zoning regulations. It did so in its brief, released on Friday, responding to Philadelphia citizens who accused the board of irresponsibly choosing the two locations.

A Minimum Wage Bill Only Paris Hilton Could Love

Over the weekend, in a move that epitomizes the cynicism of the current Congressional leadership, the House of Representatives attached a $2.10 minimum wage hike to a controversial tax cut for the nation’s wealthiest 2%.

The bill, which is expected to come to a vote in the Senate this week, offers little in the way of meaningful relief for America’s lowest-paid workers. It raises the minimum wage $0.70 each year for the next three years, but fails to offer real wage security because it doesn’t index the wage to keep pace with inflation. Members of Congress and their staffs already receive an automatic pay increase each year to keep up with the rising costs of goods and services.

Instead, the real beneficiaries of this bill are the heirs to America’s massive fortunes. In the end, the proposed tax give-away will exempt estates of up to $5 million from paying any taxes at the time of inheritance. Estates between $5 and $25 million would be taxed at a reduced rate of 15%, and estates over $25 million would only be taxed at 30%.

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