Maria Quiñones Sanchez

Philly Needs to Ignore the Hate of Stu Byskofsky, and Make a Smart, Humane Decision to Change our Immigration Policies

Stu Bykofsky is a man in search of enemies. This is old news from the man who suggested that another 9/11 style terrorist attack would benefit America, or when he is rallying Philadelphians to stop the incipient evil doers of our time (bike commuters).

Fresh off of eulogizing his recently deceased, charitably minded, anti-immigrant, racist friend, Joey Vento, (Vento said things like “[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”), Stu struck again. This go-round of Stu's is truly hate-filled, and appears to be the work of a zealot, or more charitably, a man fearful of the world changing around him, lashing out in any way he can. The target this time? Those same brown folks Vento hated, and a City Councilwoman that he has a disturbing level of vitriol for-- María Quiñones-Sánchez-- and her efforts to lessen harm from the city's participation in the so-called "Secure Communities" program. (Secure Communities is the federal program that encourages local law enforcement to share data with ICE, letting the feds deport a lot more people than they otherwise would be able to. While Pennsylvania has not yet signed on, Philadelphia has at least one contract to allow ICE real-time access to our arrest records system, called "PARS.")

Before we discuss some of the substance of Stu’s ridiculous column, it is probably worthwhile to quickly dress down his continued xenophobic rants against Councilwoman Sánchez. (Note: for those that don’t know me, I am truly biased in favor of María. I have loooonng supported her, I have donated money to her campaign, I have volunteered for her, and, one of the most important people in my life now works for her. My bias, of course, comes from believing in María, like many other progressives in the city. We would need a lot more of those fabled psychiatry sessions to find out where Stu’s biases come from.)

For many progressives, María is one of ‘ours.’ But, despite the supposed exalted status of incumbency, the party did not support María last May. Instead, most of the structure lined up to support Danny Savage, the young, white, connected ward leader who they had placed in office once before. (If you haven't, please read this piece from a few months ago.)

I go through all of that for Stu, who asks this:

Who is Quinones-Sanchez working for?

Um:

Seventh Councilmanic District, Primary Election, May, 2011
Dan Savage: 39.6%
Maria Quinones Sanchez: 60.4%

Yeah, that happened. It was even in the newspaper.

Stu then goes onto to say other ridiculous things about María, such as "when she puts those here illegally - including ex-cons - above her own constituents, she is unfit to hold office.”

"Unfit to hold office" is probably better than the time he seemed to basically say that she was un-American. But, if you wonder whether the rest of his hate filled, xenophobic rant against María hit its intended audience, check out the ever embarrassing Philly.com comments.

....

Substantively (if we can call it that), Stu’s latest problem is the devastating report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The report is based on case summaries from immigration lawyers, who provided the author with vivid examples of why local and state governments need to seriously consider their participation in Secure Communities. As the report states:

Anecdotal case data collected by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) from its attorney members, representing 127 cases from across the country, offers clear evidence that the way in which DHS engages state and local law enforcement (LLEAs) in immigration enforcement is distracting the department from its stated priorities.

Stu implies that the 127 case studies listed (9 from PA), many of which are totally horrific, are somehow the entire universe of wrongful deportations. This would be clarified if Stu looked up the meaning of the word ‘anecdote,' or bothered to speak with lawyers at places like HIAS or Nationalities Services Center who see these cases first-hand.

Of course, a couple of actual Philadelphia journalists have looked at the data, and it is worrisome, at best:

According to ICE data, 238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime, one of the highest rates under Secure Communities in the country. Another 86 were classified by ICE as level 2 or 3 offenders and 97 were convicted of level 1 offenses, which are the most serious crimes.

Denvir and Ferrick's article also has those meddlesome anecdotes:

One moment Teresa Garcia's son was there, the next he was gone.

Garcia said her 25-year-old son was deported to Mexico last year after being arrested by Philadelphia police for allegedly making threats against a friend who had failed to repay a loan. Her son was innocent, his mother said. He never got a chance to prove it.

Once arrested, information about him and his case was instantly turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who determined that he was an undocumented immigrant and removed him from the U.S.

The young man had lived in America since he was two. He had no memory of his homeland. Still, back he went.

The City’s response to the above?

Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison sympathizes with critics of the program, but he says that the Mayor is unlikely to change his mind.

"They are supposed to target those in the level 1 [high-level crime] area. We've looked at these, and we have asked them why a lot of people getting deported are in level 2 or level 3. But on a case-by-case basis, that's not really our call," says Gillison. "I can suggest to you that you will find any number of stories that will break my heart, I'm sure. But I'm not dealing with a perfect situation."

I respect Gillison a lot. But that is a totally ridiculous response. Yeah, we know this doesn’t work like it is supposed to. Yeah, you will find cases that break my heart! But, sorry, on we march!

There are a lot of problems with participating in something like Secure Communities.

On the most basic level, we don’t need to participate in the government’s schizophrenic, cruel deportation game (see, for example, these three articles which ran in three days earlier this month: here, here and here), which is targeting human beings who are looking for better lives, and contributing to their communities.

I have personally seen (anecdote alert!) how unscrupulous people threaten immigrants with deportation in order to take advantage of them- oftentimes in explicitly criminal ways. Other stories abound too, including immigrants literally being targeted and attacked on our streets, the cops coming out, not getting interpreters, arresting everyone, including the victims, and before anything is actually sorted out, guess what happens? In other words, not only may witnesses not come forward, but victims may not either, because police make snap judgments, arrest people, and boom, the Deportation Machine, rings the bell, as another life is ruined.

But, even from a pure self-interest angle, in a city with a 'stop snitching' culture, putting up barriers between immigrant communities and the police is a really bad thing. The further we go down this road, the worse this relationship will be, and the less people will talk to the police, no matter how many times the Mayor refers to wanted criminals as cowards or assholes. We don’t want that, right?

Opting out of participation in Secure Communities is what we should do. Period. It is a bad program, that does not work. Opting out is not a crazy position. Officials across the country, including the recently departed, long, long time DA of Manhattan, the Governor of New York and the Mayor of Boston, have lined up against this program. Meanwhile, in Philly, the Mayor’s office admits the program isn’t working right, yet on we go, with the Deportation Machine chugging along.

But, even if we decide to participate in Secure Communities, there is a compromise that could probably work. Strangely, it was proposed by that brown woman that (Daily News Columnist) Stu Bykofsky loves to hate, and it was approvingly endorsed by ... the Daily News editorial board:

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez proposes the city delay the time it allows ICE to access records, until after a preliminary hearing when it is clearer who might be a victim and who might be a defendant. This seems like a reasonable compromise to a tough issue.

How un-American of them. The Daily News Editorial Board is clearly unfit to hold office write editorials.

Our participation in this cruel program hurts the city, hurts good people, and, frankly, it is just really stupid public policy, from a city that makes enough mistakes as it is. The rants of tired old men aside, this compromise is the least we could do.

Digging Deeper: The role of property tax in urban redevelopment

Today's installment in Patrick Kerkstra's Plan Philly/Inquirer series on property tax delinquency digs deeper into the relationship between property tax delinquency and blight, and how a strategically-designed collection system could support redevelopment.

It's well worth reading and discussing, as it encapsulates the hard policy decisions that need to be considered in order to even begin changing the status quo. These should be central as the Ross and Taylor bills are amended and improved in Harrisburg, and our city government considers how to weigh in to that process as well as act locally on near-term legislative and administrative reforms.

* What pace of tax or lien foreclosures can the market absorb before property values become depressed and supply outpaces demand?
* How can we make sure the new owners are more responsible than the old ones?
* Does the City want to own all this land in advance of development interest, and take on responsibility for maintenance and liability?
* What will it take politically to move from five entrenched public or quasi-public agencies which own land, to a new system with centralized inventory and processes?
* How can we improve protections for low-income occupants, so we can keep people in their homes and avoid new costs from increased displacement and homelessness?

All that uncollected property tax: Looking for a vision of reform behind the dollar signs

$472 million in uncollected property tax looks to be this year's $1.5 billion - the estimated unpaid court fees and forfeited bail that is now being collected by aggressive private firms following the newspapers' revelations of long mismanagement at the disbanded Clerk of Quarter Sessions. Time will tell if the property tax numbers in a report by PlanPhilly.com (in partnership with the Inquirer) draw the same sustained public attention, and spur creaky systems to change.

But a similar, fundamental, error already looms. In a city with a persistent 25% poverty rate, and glaring hunger numbers (1 in 2 people in Philadelphia's First Congressional District, as reported last week), much of that debt is simply uncollectible. It's not hiding under beds and in nightstands. A significant amount of tax and water debt can and will never be collected. We are stuck, rock and hard place, Scylla and Charybdis: leaving all that debt in place burdens title, increasing abandonment and blight, and complicates efforts to get people to pay their current and future tax debt.

It's easy to sell papers and get column inches with the accusation that government inaction and unfairness is costing those of us who followed the rules and paid taxes and bills on time, particularly against the backdrop of budget crises that are starting to look apocalyptic for states and cities. And it's not untrue. But it's mostly beside the point.

Look at the options presented, essentially two. One: quick and mass foreclosure. Two: unload the problem by selling off the debt itself to private third parties, who should have market incentives to foreclose and no meddling City Council members to interfere. Both are misguided for reasons amply suggested by the study's own data.

A victory for the underestimated

Yesterday in a lot of areas of Philadelphia, what I have no better or less cliched term for than the good old boys club was out in force. In areas where demographic change has left majorities and significant minorities without real representation, even historic enmities were set aside in the interest of preserving power in the hands of those who have long held it. In some races this was successful.

But I want to explicitly recognize the races where it wasn't.

Maria Quinones Sanchez, my boss, won reelection by over 20 percent without the support of most ward leaders or the city's democratic party machine. This is the same party that tells aspiring candidates to wait for open seats, because the party always supports its incumbents. Except in this case, when the incumbent is Puerto Rican and a woman and actually representing historically under- and unrepresented communities, and the challenger is deeply connected to that old boys club.

That framing may sound like oversimplification, and it's true that the election in the Seventh District was not only about race and gender and culture and class. But race and gender and culture and class mattered - they made Councilwoman Sanchez an outsider even as an incumbent. Speaking very personally, to me the deeper truth this uncovers is that you (women, disempowered minorities, progressives, poor people) will not win by playing their game. You will think you are one of the boys, and then when it actually matters - when power is challenged, when they can get away with it - ranks will close.

Maria won, handily, because she provides real representation to communities throughout her district and they cared enough to come out and vote for her. It's a direct rebuke of all of the worst of machine politics, and I hope people come to see it as an inspiration and a model.

I want to also say something about another dramatic victory by another woman who was shamefully underestimated, Blondell Reynolds Brown. Assessments of Councilwoman Reyolds Brown's chances painted her as weak, her seat at risk. Men I often hear talking - men who are involved with or follow local politics, and it's always men - almost uniformly imply that this is because she is somehow not a strong legislator, not 'effective'.

This is based on nothing. It's based on a tired, tired trope where men are allowed to judge women on their appearance as much as their performance and ideas and where an attractive women will always have her accomplishments undercut by insinuations that she did not get where she is on her own merits. And it's true that a lot of people in local politics at all levels did not in fact get there on their own merits. But it matters that the label gets stuck only sometimes, only to certain people, and looking at how and why involves facing how invidious sexism can be. I predict every man who talks to me about this post denies that sexism has anything to do with it. First take a couple minutes and seriously think about some of Councilwoman Reynold Brown's work supporting elderly people and children, on health and safety and the environment, and think hard about why you are comfortable assessing her priorities and work below every other male incumbent at-large Council member.

Yesterday she beat every single one of those at-large incumbents and candidates to come in first.

Congratulations Blondell and Maria. Let's keep proving people wrong and redefining what political power means in this city.

Open Thread: The Board of Ethics Attacks... Maria, NYC knows we have the best ideas, and Ice Cream

1) The Board of Ethics Attacks… and this time they ping the best Councilperson we have- Maria Quinones Sanchez. Basically, what is comes down to is that during the 2007 campaign, there was a PAC that was running ads supporting a bunch of candidates- including my dad, Derek Green, Marc Stier and Maria. Because the PAC was running a bunch of ads, they got a bulk rate.

Then, the Councilwoman’s campaign wanted to used the discount the PAC got on the ads for some more Maria-only ads, and so they got the PAC to run them, and then paid the PAC. The BoE decided that violated the campaign finance law, in that she was effectively controlling more than one PAC. So, basically, the campaign saw a chance to get a discount with the Inq/Daily News, and paid money through the PAC to make it happen. She has she messed up, and accepted responsibility.

The rub comes that she says was willing to settle with the BoE, but is pissed that she didn’t have a chance to make her case with the BoE about a specific provision of the settlement agreement(holding her personally liable).

Quinones-Sanchez and her campaign treasurer, Peter Winebrake, acknowledged "a technical violation" of the campaign-finance law, based on their use of an independent political-action committee to save $2,500 on a series of newspaper ads.

Quinones-Sanchez said that her campaign organization had been prepared to settle the matter by paying a $4,500 fine. But she said that she balked at the terms of a settlement agreement proposed by Shane Creamer Jr., the board's executive director, fearing that it would expose her to lawsuits challenging her seat on Council.

"We wanted an opportunity to make our case in front of the Ethics Board, but that was denied," Quinones-Sanchez complained. "We were just flabbergasted that we would be denied."

I will contact the Councilwoman, and let her explain what she means. If there is a chance to improve the BoE procedures, great, let’s do it. This is still new. Improving it, constructively, if there really are some problems, sounds fine. That is a lot different than trying to get rid of someone with silly grandstanding….

2) Mayor Nutter got props for the Philly Foreclosure program. That is really awesome. Its great to see a good program like that being lauded. Let’s also make sure that the other people who got this thing going get their props- people like Judge Annette Rizzo, John Dodds of PUP, various attorneys from CLS, ACORN, and others.

3) Last week it was announced that Philly’s school food program has been spared. Score one for santity. And now Fattah, Sestak, et. al. are trying to enshrine this change into law, so a future doofus at the USDA cannot kill it.

4) Buy Local! Yesterday at the Public School Notebook birthday party, I had some excellent locally made ice cream from Chilly Philly, a Mt. Airy based company. It is sold at Whole Foods, at Weavers Way in Mt. Airy, etc. It is slow made, and awesome. Buy it. Eat it. Enjoy it. Support a local business.

What else is going on?

Elections Matter

As Philly struggles with looming financial doom, our three newest Councilmembers are showing that elections matter:

Today, Council members Bill Green, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, and Curtis Jones, all freshmen, released 15 legitimate, thoughtful, progressive-oriented ways to save the city money in light of these hard economic times. (Mayor Nutter has said that "everything is on the table" when it comes to needed cuts.)

The best thing about the 15 ideas is that they are sure to make entrenched bureaucrats sitting on fluffy patronage jobs a bit uncomfortable. For example, the council members suggest increasing car sharing (alleged savings $2.72 million annually), cutting all but necessary travel (alleged savings $100,000 annually), banning swag and custom printing (alleged savings $100,000 annually), and hiring more auditors (alleged savings nearly $3 million annually).

It's actually appalling that many of the suggestions aren't already in use. One, for example, is switching to the electronic transfer of funds (alleged savings $2 million annually) from the state to the city. The city still accepts paper checks, which get lost, thereby losing interest! You've got to be kidding.

Another suggestion is the electronic sending of all reports and memos. Bill Green attached a letter that was mailed to his office -- which costs, of course, 42 cents -- from someone inside City Hall (alleged savings $25,000 annually).

The mail and the direct deposit stuff are really only-in-Philadelphia type moments. Of course, when your government complains about how hard it is to publish voting returns...

Anyway, it is cool to see the three new Council members continue their buddy-buddy ways with real solutions. I am not saying that our more tenured politicians cannot come up with good ideas, because I am sure they can. But there is little question that three sets of fresh eyes is doing us a lot of good.

The City Paper has more, including their whole list of ways to save.

The Day

There are no sweeping words for what happens today; they really speak for themselves.

We all know the challenges, the problems, the hopes we have. And, we all know what is at stake:

And, of course, it is not only Nutter who begins today. Remember this woman?

Especially for those of you who opened your wallets, and wore out your knocking knuckles, enjoy. Tough work is ahead.

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