Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

May 27, 2013

Part 10 of Liddonfield: One Neighborhood’s Struggle With Public Housing


Part 10:  Northeast Civic Groups Grill Mayor Rendell

By Rosemary Reeves

If you missed the first 9 parts of this series click on the links below:

Part 1:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision

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In 1993, four armed men hold up a restaurant, an officer is shot and there are break-ins at local businesses, all within 1/4 mile of Liddonfield housing project.  Ed Rendell has replaced Wilson Goode as mayor. Residents of Northeast Philadelphia take Rendell to task for not hiring more police despite having balanced the city's budget.

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After the MOVE bombing, Mayor Wilson Goode was re-elected and served a second term in office.  To stave off Philadelphia’s fiscal problems Goode raised the city wage tax to nearly 5%, making it the highest in the nation.  Property taxes also skyrocketed.  Large numbers of tax payers and home owners left Philadelphia and moved to the suburbs to escape the tax burden and the city’s crime wave.  When Mayor Wilson Goode left office in 1991, Philadelphia had a $250 million deficit and was 17 days away from bankruptcy.

In the 1991 mayoral race, Frank L. Rizzo (a former democrat who switched to the Republican Party) ran against Ed Rendell but Rizzo died during the campaign.  Joseph M. Egan, Jr., replaced Rizzo in the race.  Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) had endorsed Rendell during the mayoral race in part because he had promised to hire 1,000 new officers, using the money from a proposed lottery surcharge.  Egan lost and Rendell became Philadelphia’s next mayor.  Rendell’s top priority upon entering office was to cut the city’s deficit and lower taxes.  One way to do this, he told the citizens, was to put an end to lavish union contracts.    

Rendell sought to eliminate what he considered costly union perks, such as excessive number of paid holidays for city workers.  The democratic mayor introduced competitive contracting, which drew fierce opposition from unions, including the FOP.  An ad campaign which depicted union workers as greedy was used to turn public opinion against them.  Both the ad campaign and the mayor’s fiscal strategy were wildly successful.  Rendell balanced the city’s budget and created a surplus.  The New York Times called Rendell's fiscal triumph "the most stunning turnaround in recent urban history."

Rendell took 250 police officers out of stationhouse work and put them on the streets, using civilians instead for jobs like dispatching.  However, the numbers fell far short of the 1,000 new police hires Rendell had promised.  

Meanwhile, by 1993 crime in Northeast Philadelphia worsened. According to a Daily News article dated September 16, 1993, Fear Moves In At Liddonfield Project's Tenants Blame Newcomers For Crime, Drugs And Trash by reporter Kevin Haney, there had been a number of robberies, thefts and break-ins at area businesses within a ¼ mile of Liddonfield housing project.  A young man was gunned down in an area of Liddonfield where illegal drugs were sold.  8th District policeman Irwin Venturino was shot after a robbery at Ace Check Cashing Co. on Frankford Avenue near the project.  Three months later, four armed men robbed customers and staff at gunpoint at the Dining Car Restaurant just two blocks from Liddonfield.  Drug-addicted prostitutes worked out of the project and delivery men wouldn’t go there because they were too afraid.

Febrary 16, 1994 – Mayor Ed Rendell faced 250 angry citizens at a meeting to discuss crime in Northeast Philadelphia.  Organized by Glen W. Devitt, President of the Wissinoming Civic Association, the meeting took place at Port Richmond Town Hall.  Other officials present at the meeting included City Councilman Brian J. O’Neill, Police Commissioner Richard Neal and Councilwoman Joan Krajewski.  Residents of northeast Philly were still attempting to apply pressure on the officials for more police protection. 

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article dated February 17, 1994, Mayor Gets Earful From Residents Of The Northeast Crime Is A Worsening Problem, People Said. Mayor Rendell Said The Bottom Line Is Money. Not Enough by reporter Lea Sitton, Rendell admitted there were 1,100 fewer police officers in the city than there were a decade earlier but added that to replace them would cost $45 million, “The city has to live within its budget,” he said.  The mayor simply echoed the mantra of his predecessors.  It all boiled down to money.

“The only way we get $45 million…is to raise taxes,” Rendell told the crowd.  High city wage tax and property taxes during the administration of Wilson Goode had resulted in the loss of Philadelphia businesses and a mass exodus of the city’s tax base to the suburbs.  Rendell steadfastly refused to raise taxes as a way to finance the hiring of new police.  He told the crowd that the proposed lottery surcharge would help finance more police if it passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  He also mentioned that some money might be had from President Clinton’s Anti-Crime Initiative.  

Councilwoman Joan Krajewski asked, “Mr. Mayor, what do you say to a victim on the street ─ wait until the Clinton Bill becomes law?”  The question provoked laughter from the Northeast Philadelphia residents.  Clearly, they were not satisfied with the answers the mayor was giving them.  The Clinton Bill eventually passed and helped pay for 150 new police hires.  However, Rendell’s plan for a lottery surcharge fell through.  Legislators voted against it.  

NEXT:  The city makes plans for Liddonfield's demolition.

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