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7:29 AM / Monday February 6, 2023

22 Dec 2022

A Year For The Unexpected

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December 22, 2022 Category: Local Posted by:

From a Midterm Election that went well for the party in charge of the White House to an improbably World Series run for the Philadelphia Phillies, 2022 was filled with things you didn’t see coming.

By Denise Clay-Murray

For reasons that are different for everybody, most of us knew that 2022 was going to be interesting in a whole host of ways.

From the midterm elections to the advent of the 2023 Philadelphia mayor’s race and everything in between, those of us who follow such things as government and politics knew that 2022 was going to be one for the books.

And — and I don’t necessarily mean this as a compliment in all ways — it did not disappoint.

Philadelphia is still dealing with a gun violence process that’s giving Fox-29’s Steve Keeley plenty to share with the frightened suburbanites that are his audience. City Council put more money into trying to solve it, but the jury is still out on whether this money is making an impact.

Five members of City Council and the City’s controller are among the 10 people who have decided that they should be Philadelphia’s next mayor. 

(But whatever you do, don’t mention the fact that the current mayor, Jim Kenney, seems like he’d rather be doing just about anything else, or you might find yourself as cursed out as former Philadelphia Inquirer owner Brian Tierney was at the recent Pennsylvania Society hoedown in New York.)

Political history was made when Pennsylvania elected its first Black lieutenant governor, and, once the lawsuit is settled, the first Black female Speaker of the House. 

Among those we lost this year was an up-and-coming rapper who was also active in his community and a trailblazing politician who will always be remembered for how he approached politics itself.

And by the time you read this, not one, but two new people will be filling the shoes of 6ABC Action News icon Jim Gardner, who decided to move closer to his own personal world by retiring this year.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s go through a year that had a lot going on locally, nationally, and everywhere in between. 

The constant problem

After years of staying mostly out of sight here in Philadelphia, probably because he was tired of being booed everywhere he went, former Mayor Michael Nutter reappeared this year.

Nutter was among the folks interviewed for a WHYY podcast called “Stop and Frisk: Revisit or Resist” about his views on the practice and on the city’s issues with gun violence. 

Now, anyone who had listened to Nutter during his run for mayor in 2007 would have known that he believed in the controversial practice. He ran on it and didn’t keep police from doing it during his two terms.

But no one would have expected City Council President Darrell Clarke to espouse the practice, especially since Council passed a referendum, which was put together by former City Councilmember (and current mayoral candidate) Cherelle Parker, that called for a ban on the practice and was passed by voters.

A shooting on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during Wawa Welcome America will do that. 

Two police officers were shot while patrolling the Parkway during the 4th of July concert. While neither was seriously hurt, and the bullets, as it turns out, came from far away from the show, it was far enough into 2022 for folks to start throwing things at the proverbial wall.

(It was also enough to make Mayor Jim Kenney admit on the record that he didn’t dig being the mayor during times like this, which led another mayoral candidate, former Councilmember Allan Domb, to suggest he resign.)

The concert wasn’t the only tourist area where shootings took place this year. South Street was the setting for a shootout that featured two people with legal guns.

In a shooting that reminded everyone just how much the rules had changed when it came to gun violence, a group of Roxborough High School football players was shot on their way home from practice. Fourteen-year-old Nicolas Elizalde, a W.B. Saul High School student who played football for Roxborough High, was killed.

Later, two of the guns used in that shooting wound up being sold to an undercover FBI agent by a former Sheriff’s deputy, Samir Ahmad. He was arrested and charged with illegal gun trafficking. The Sheriff’s office issued a statement saying that he was already in the process of being fired before the incident occurred.

As I write this, Philadelphia has lost 500 people to gun violence, which is 8% fewer than in 2021. But that’s still a lot of people. Which is why the phrase “State of Emergency on Gun Violence” kept coming out of people’s mouths a lot in 2022. 

No one could define it, but they said it a lot. 

The week before Christmas, Mayor Kenney, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, and other city officials held a press briefing to go over what worked in 2022 and what changes the city makes in terms of how it deploys its anti-violence resources.

Seeing as it will be a mayoral campaign issue, expect everyone to spend much of their time on the trail saying it’s not enough.

School days

Another issue that will most likely be talked about on the 2023 Mayoral Campaign trail is the School District of Philadelphia and the state of education in the city. 

Tony B. Wadlington

The Next Mayor will have a new superintendent to work with. Tony B. Wadlington, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools in Rowan County, North Carolina, bested John L. Davis Jr, Chief of Schools for the Baltimore School District, and Krish Mohip, deputy education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education to replace William Hite as leader for the 120,000-student district.

One of the challenges Wadlington has been faced with is the implementation of the Statewide High School Graduation Requirement, or Act 158. Starting with the Class of 2023, students will have the option of demonstrating their fitness for graduation by taking one of four pathways designed to show their readiness to go to college or begin a career.

Students will also have to continue taking the Keystone Exam. Our next group of people know something about that. 

The midterm exam

Because we tend to think in two-year intervals in politics, President Joe Biden was barely able to unpack his moving boxes at the White House before he had to start thinking about the midterm elections.

Usually, the party that has the White House finds itself having to regroup after the midterms because it loses everywhere. It loses governor’s offices. It loses seats in Congress. It loses seats in state houses. Heck, if there’s a race for dog catcher somewhere, it usually loses that, too.

But the keyword in that sentence is “usually.” That’s not what happened in 2022.

Biden’s next two years aren’t going to be as rough as they could have been, because the Democrats did better than folks expected them to. A lot better. They kept control of the Senate and while Democrats lost the House, they lost it by so small a margin that Republicans may not even be able to elect a Speaker of the House they can all agree on.

Let’s start locally. Attorney Gen. Josh Shapiro bested State Sen. Doug Mastriano in the November elections for the right to replace term-limited Tom Wolf. He will be bringing former State Rep. Austin Davis with him as the Commonwealth’s first Black lieutenant governor. 

Unlike Wolf, who had to fight Republicans in the State Assembly for even the smallest things, Shapiro will — eventually — have a House majority to work with. The Democrats took the House by one seat, but because Davis is leaving to become lieutenant governor, State Rep. Summer Lee has won a seat in Congress and State Rep. Tony DeLuca died when it was too late to replace him on the ballot, special elections will have to be held.

Currently, the Republican majority is suing to keep those special elections from happening before March, thus allowing them to have control of both houses in the early months of Shapiro’s term. 

Once this all gets figured out, State Rep. Joanna McClinton will become the first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the House.

Davis will be replacing John Fetterman, who replaces Pat Toomey as Pennsylvania’s junior Senator in the U.S. Senate. He defeated doctor and television personality Mehmet Oz in an election that made the limits of disability a campaign issue due to the stroke Fetterman had prior to the May primary. 

Now there were a couple of big reasons why the Democrats did a lot better than expected in the midterms.

One was the Dobbs decision. For those of you who might know what that was, that was the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify Roe v Wade, the decision that decriminalized abortion. While most White women did what most White women do — vote Republican and wonder why their rights have been curtailed — in the midterms, younger women, realizing that they no longer have the bodily autonomy that they had before June 24, sent the GOP packing.

Another reason was candidate quality. Former president Donald Trump still has a stranglehold on the Republican Party and no candidate made the ballot that he didn’t endorse. 

They were varying degrees of bad.

In Pennsylvania, you had Oz, who actually wasn’t the worst of the Trump candidates. Then, you had Mastriano, who ended up having to take questions from the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack because he took a couple of busloads of people to the Trump rally that became a riot.

But the Trump candidate who really stood out in terms of why the GOP wasn’t able to take over the Senate was former football running back Herschel Walker. 

Watching him campaign for the seat currently held by Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia was hard to watch… and that’s without the whole “vampire vs. werewolf” debate. You could see that if he wound up winning the race, he wouldn’t necessarily be running things. And despite the race going to a run-off, the voters in Georgia eventually saw it, too.

But it was close. A little too close.

New city councilmembers

While Philadelphia was a stop on the campaign trail, the city also had some elections of its own this time around. Four new City Councilmembers — Quetcy Lozada, Anthony Phillips, Jimmy Harrity and Sharon Vaughn — were sworn in after being elected to fill the unexpired terms of Councilmembers Maria Quinones Sanchez, Cherelle Parker, Allan Domb and Derek Green.

All those folks left Council to begin their campaigns for mayor in 2023, which is the next thing we’ll talk about.

The next mayor…a year early

Earlier, I mentioned that former Mayor Michael Nutter was making the rounds in media circles after years of lying low.

I bring this up because the 2023 mayor’s race is starting to look a lot like the race that brought Nutter to power. Lots of candidates. Lots of potentially split constituencies. Lots of intrigue. More than a little money flying around.

But unlike the year that Nutter ran, the 2023 Mayors race is also going to lead to some serious changes in Philadelphia City Council. In addition to Domb, Green, Parker and Quinones Sanchez, former Councilmember Helen Gym has thrown her hat into the ring of people hoping to succeed current Mayor — and former Councilmember — Jim Kenney in the office. 

Former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, businessman Jeff Brown, former Judge James DeLeon, the Rev. Warren Bloom Sr., and State Rep. Amen Brown round out the field. 

While the election hasn’t officially begun, the campaigning for all intents and purposes has. For the last few weeks, announcement events of all kinds have been held around the city as well as fundraisers.

And of course, the elbows have been sharpened. 

Just about everyone has thrown a little mud. Jeff Brown slammed the elected officials in the field for not doing enough to improve Philadelphia’s quality of life. Parker called some of her opponents “trust fund babies.” Green issued a statement the day that Gym announced saying she pushes a “socialist agenda.”

Meanwhile, folks are referring to Amen Brown as “Philadelphia’s Herschel Walker,” something that his interview with Fox-29’s Jeff Cole didn’t help with. If you’re a press person for a candidate, having their first interview be with the best investigative reporter in the city is the equivalent of throwing them to the wolves. 

Now, it’s highly unlikely that all 10 of these people will make it onto the May primary ballot, but this represents one of the most diverse collections of mayoral candidates in a long time.

There’s also a lot of interest in City Council At-Large seats. By the end of the year, as many as 10 people may have announced their intentions to run for the citywide seats. So far, no one has addressed interest in any of the District Council seats that isn’t already an incumbent. 

For one of these incumbents, an incident outside of Council almost took their chance to run away. But for the first time since I’ve been covering federal trials, the government didn’t get their man.

Our year in court…

The good news is, 2022 didn’t bring any new federal indictments for Philadelphia’s politicos. That’s not to say that there were no investigations, but there were no new indictments.

But that doesn’t mean that Philadelphia’s politicos weren’t spending significant time in the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse at 7th and Market Streets in Center City.

Kenyatta Johnson and wife Dawn Chavous are acquitted.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson became the latest member of City Council to spend significant time at the courthouse this year when he went on trial twice — once in March and then again in October — with using his council office to protect a group of dilapidated South Philadelphia properties owned by Universal Companies from being reclaimed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. 

In exchange for that protection, federal prosecutors accused Johnson of receiving a $66,750 bribe in the form of a “low-show” job for his wife, Dawn Chavous, from former Universal CEO Rahim Islam and CFO Shaheid Dewan. 

While the March trial ended in a mistrial, the October trial ended in an acquittal on these charges for all four of the defendants. A trial on the other 20 charges, which were against Islam and Dewan alone and include such things as tax fraud, embezzlement, and racketeering, ended in a mistrial in November and there has been no official word on when or if a retrial will begin. 

Fanta Bility

Three Sharon Hill Police officers pled guilty to 10 charges of recklessly endangering another person in connection with the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility. Officers Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith were originally charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the 2021 shooting at an Academy Park High School football game. Fanta was caught in the crossfire between the three officers and two men shooting into a crowd at the game.

Lionel Dotson, the brother of two of the people killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing, sued the City of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in connection with both entities handling of the remains of those killed in the bombing. Dotson alleges in the suit that the remains of his sisters, Katricia, 14 and Zanetta, 13, were mistreated when they weren’t returned to family for more than 30 years. 

Meanwhile, John Dougherty, former business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, is about to face his second trial. Last year, he and former Councilmember Bobby Henon were convicted on bribery and corruption charges, and he and other members of the union are scheduled to go on trial for embezzlement and fraud charges.

Just before Christmas, Marita Crawford, Local 98’s political director, pled guilty to federal fraud charges, but won’t be made to testify against Dougherty, who is currently looking for a new lawyer. 

Local 98 is among the businesses that have boxed seating at Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field. It has those boxes because it wired both fields and made it possible for the Phillies and the Eagles to play their games.

In 2022, that became a big deal.

Dance! Dance! Dance!

If you had told any Philadelphia sports fan back in January that not only would there be meaningful baseball played in Philadelphia in October, but that the football team would clinch a playoff berth and possible home field advantage before Christmas, they might have given you an amused smile, but they wouldn’t have believed you.

But this is 2022, so of course, that’s what happened.

This year marked the first time that Major League Baseball allowed three teams in each league to go to the playoffs as wild cards. The Phillies, a team that had underperformed at times and had found some unique ways to lose at others, managed to snag one of those three wild card berths.

From the moment that the team came back from a 2-0 deficit against the St Louis Cardinals to win Game One of the Wild Card series to the final out of the team’s World Series game against the Houston Astros, Philadelphians who hadn’t seen playoff baseball in 11 years filled bars, restaurants, and Citizens Bank Park itself to watch a team who had to play a chunk of its season without the reigning MVP, Bryce Harper. While the series didn’t end the way Phillies fans hoped, it was still a good year.

Eagles are 13-1 in division

Meanwhile, at the Linc, Eagles fans were wondering if Jalen Hurts, the quarterback the team drafted in the second round two years ago, would be able to take the team where it needed to be. In the offseason, general manager Howie Roseman went out and got wide receiver A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans to go with former Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, who was coming off a good rookie season of his own. So, offensive weapons weren’t a problem.

And to the delight of everyone, Hurts has had a season that has the Heisman Trophy runner-up being mentioned in the NFL’s Most Valuable Player conversation. The Eagles are 13-1 and are one game away from clinching not only the NFC East, but also a first- round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

In memoriam

Trudy Haines

Philadelphia has always been home to memorable people. Because of this, they leave a big hole in our city’s fabric when they leave us, and 2022 was no exception.

One of the most notable was politician T. Milton Street, who lost his battle with cancer this year. Kerri Connor Matchett, who founded accounting firm The Tax Divas with her mother before creating the breast cancer foundation “Praise Is The Cure” also lost her battle with cancer this year. We also lost newsroom pioneer Trudy Haines, who was still an active journalist before her death.

Rapper PNB Rock was going to grab chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s in Los Angeles when he was gunned down. We also lost William Hart of the Delfonics and Bobby Rydell. Irene Cara of “Fame” and the original “Sparkle” left us this year, as did Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Coolio

Other losses included “Danny Tanner” (Temple Alum and star of “Full House” Bob Saget), “Jessica Fletcher” (Angela Lansbury) and “Nurse Ratchet” (Louise Fletcher) and Lieutenant Uhura of the Starship Enterprise (Nichelle Nichols) this year.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2023. But whatever it is, you can count on us covering it here at the SUN.

Happy Holidays and see you next year!

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