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Marian Tasco and Political Courage
I am doing some research on a paper about Pennsylvania preemption of Philadelphia laws, and though I have mentioned before the work of City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, I thought it was worth passing along this article from 2001.
The setting is that Philly was being hit by waves and waves of foreclosures from subprime loans. (Not unlike today.) ACORN, Community Legal Services and others went to work on pressuring City Council. (Yeah, that Irv guy was pretty involved and basically wrote the bill, and so was current State Rep. Cherelle Parker, and, I believe, current at-large City Council Candidate Derek Green, who worked worked in the City Law Department
for with Tasco.) In Tasco, consumer groups found a real ally.
Anyway, the basic point is that the City was being crushed under the weight of all these foreclosures. So, consumer groups found a willing partner, in Tasco, who pushed a strong predatory lending bill. It was not an easy climate to do so, as the financial services industry, the Philly Chamber of Commerce and others were pushing hard against the bill (which did not, notably, have the support of Mayor Street).
Daily News, April 5, 2001:
Council members, consumer advocates, religious leaders and city labor leaders lined up with Tasco to show support for the bill, which prohibits the city from doing business with high-cost lenders.
Meanwhile, bank lobbyists visited some Council members, urging a vote against the measure, which they say will hurt business and make it hard for borrowers with bad credit to get loans.
Council members were blitzed yesterday with dozens of telephone calls and faxes from the lending industry. Much of the activity seemed like an orchestrated effort by employees of Household Finance, the large subprime lender, one Council aide said.
Councilman James Kenney, a supporter of the bill, said the lobbying push was the most intense he has seen during his City Hall tenure. Council members seemed confident that the bill would withstand the lobbying and Mayor Street's effort to delay a vote.
Looking back, the bill was pretty visionary. Why? Because it did not just deal with traditionally predatory loans. It also went after high-cost loans, with requirements for counseling, demands that borrowers could actually pay for their loans, and other measures that today the feds are considering after seeing that so many of the thousands of foreclosures are not from traditional predatory lending, but from the subprime industry run amok. Put simply, this law would have saved thousands of Philadelphia homeowners.
The bill passed largely because day after day, the Daily News ran the pictures of each Councilperson who had not declared their support, with their phone numbers underneath. That, combined with the work of advocates, and Marian Tasco, got it done.
The Daily News, April 30, 2001:
After City Council voted 16-0 to approve the predatory lending bill, Councilwoman Marian Tasco held a quiet champagne celebration with staffers and supporters in her office. Then she went to get her hair done.
Tasco's low-key response to her biggest legislative victory is telling. Throughout her 13 years on City Council, Tasco has been a behind-the-scenes operator, looking for consensus.
In her calm but firm manner, Tasco faced down the powerful banking lobby and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. She got her fellow Council members to vote unanimously for the toughest predatory lending bill in the country. And she stood up to Mayor Street, who let the bill become law without his signature.
The bill was quickly voted out of committee. Within weeks, the lending industry had hired a high-powered lobbying force to kill the legislation.
Citigroup retained two friends of Street, public relations executive Bruce Crawley and attorney Carl Singley. Nick Maiale, a South Philadelphia ward leader, was later brought in by Citigroup. Household Finance retained attorney Obra Kernodle and lobbyist Howard Cain. The Pennsylvania Bankers Association brought in Tabb Bishop from the lobby firm Wojdak & Associates.
Bill Miller, a public relations executive from Ross and Associates was hired to lobby for the insurance subsidiary of American General Corp.
Miller is a longtime friend of Tasco's. The list of lobbyists with ties to Street, Tasco and other pols prompted some City Hall watchers to speculate the bill stood no chance of passing.
Ironically, the bill was then quickly killed by the PA Legislature, led by Vince Fumo and... Dwight Evans (a close ally of Tasco).
Why am I bringing this up? Because simply put, it is important for young progressives like us to know just who our allies and leaders are. Marian Tasco is one of them. (And, the article notes the support of Jim Kenney, as well.)