ALERT: Phila. SIDEWALK BEHAVIOR bill vote likely 6-18/CALL

Tom Boland (
Fri, 12 Jun 1998 21:58:49 -0700 (PDT)

ALERT:  *PLEASE ATTEND this Wed. 6-18 Council meeting & PASS THE WORD*
        *CALL CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS (phone #s follow forwarded article)*

        Wednesday, June 18, 1998 9AM
        Philadelphia City Council chamber
        Room 400, Philadelphia City Hall
FWD  Philadelphia Daily News - 98/Jun/11


     by Mark McDonald and Dave Davies - Daily News Staff Writers

After a marathon City Council session punctured by angry shouting and
hysterical giggling, a groggy Council majority gave its initial approval to
Council President John Street's sidewalk behavior bill this morning.

The bill was filibustered by Council members David Cohen, Jannie Blackwell
and Angel Ortiz, who considered it a violation of First Amendment rights as
well as an effort to criminalize homelessness.

But a strong Council majority of 14 saw the bill as a way to bring more
order to the city's sidewalks and substantially more help to the
chronically homeless, some of whom also suffer from mental illness and
various addictions.

The all but certain final passage will come next week, though the opponents
have threatened a lawsuit.

The vote came after one of the most bizarre Council sessions in the Rendell

At one point Cohen erupted into uncontrolled giggling.

Minutes later he engaged in a bitter finger-pointing tirade with South
Philadelphia Democrat Frank DiCicco.

Councilman Richard Mariano complained that he had to return to Council
chambers after a cozy anniversary dinner with his wife.

Other members marveled at how Councilman Thacher Longstreth could sleep at
his desk without falling face-down.

The interminable struggle over Street's bill came on a day filled with
substantial Council legislation, including a 15-year refranchising for
Comcast Cable, which was given initial approval, and a proposal to extend
PGW's ability to market electricity, which was taken up by Council after 1

Armed with the strong support of Mayor Rendell, Street was able to fashion
amendments that appeared to win the support of all but the three
sidewalk-behavior bill opponents.

Topping the list was an assurance that the penalties would not involve
criminal prosecution and imprisonment, particularly for defendants charged
with aggressive panhandling or obstructing the sidewalk.

Street also focused the bill's authority in Center City and select
commercial districts.

At the heart of the bill is the linking of mental health or substance abuse
counselors with the police for cases involving the arrest of a homeless
person for violating the ordinance.

Health Commissioner Estelle Richman estimated that it would cost $6 million
a year to run a major outreach program and residential treatment program
for the individuals arrested under the bill.

Shortly before the vote, Street finally told his opponents that it was time
for the majority to have its say, telling the story of a woman who
constantly harasses him for change when he goes to church.

"I don't think it's protected constitutional activity," he said.

"People are tired of it and we need to do something about it."

Under the bill, aggressive panhandling could result in a $100 fine, but at
no point would it result in a prison sentence, according to City Solicitor
Stephanie Franklin-Suber.

Whether it clears any sidewalks or helps the homeless remains to be seen.

But it certainly made for noise and theater at yesterday's Council session.

The passion accompanying the street behavior ordinance was apparent from
its opening moments, when staunch opponent Councilwoman Blackwell presented
a skit.

A group then staged the production directly in front of Street, depicting a
police officer chasing a girl on a bike, a woman resting from a long walk,
and a homeless person violating the ordinance.

"Don't you read the papers, officer?" the woman pleaded in the skit.
"SEPTA's on strike!"

"Hey lady, don't get comfortable there," the billy club-swinging officer

"You've been on that bench for 14 and a half minutes!"

The skit ended with the officer, played by Reginald Morrow, leading the
cast in a rendition of "What the World Needs now."

Street busied himself in side conversations with other Council members,
ignoring the mockery.


Here are the constituent services people in your
Council member's office:

City Council President John F. Street
Darrell Clarke, 686-3442
Councilman James Kenney
Deborah Soriano, 686-3450
Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth
Christopher Wright, 686-3452
Councilwoman Augusta A. Clark
Sharon Treadwell, 686-3438
Councilman David Cohen, 686-3446
Councilwoman Happy Fernandez
Beth Moy, 686-3414
Councilman Frank Rizzo,Jr.
Councilman Angel Ortiz
Julio Ruiz, Janyce Lawton,
Councilman Frank DiCicco
Councilwoman Anna Cibotti Verna
Maryanne Mahoney, 686-3412
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell
Lester Brown, 686-3418
Councilman Michael Nutter
Wadell Ridley Jr., Wynnefield and Overbrook,
Debra Brown, East Falls, 686-3416
Arlene Petruzzelli, Roxborough, 685-2549
Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski
Cathy Boyle (and others) 686-3444
Councilman Richard Mariano
Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller
Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco
Pat Trinkle, Marion Johnson, 686-3454
Councilman Brian J. O'Neill
Richard Bruno (and others) 686-3422