We’re going to remember 2019 for a lot of reasons. Too bad that most of them are embarrassing, insane, or just plain sad.
By Denise Clay
We all have that relative that you don’t expose to anyone outside your family because of how embarrassing they can become, especially if they’ve had a drink or two.
If we’re honest with ourselves, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is that relative. The one that you don’t want to send overseas to chat with foreign leaders. The one that you really don’t want in front of a live microphone, but you can’t get around it.
The one that you really wish would stay off of Twitter.
Unfortunately, we can’t blame a substance dependence.
Well, 2019 was the year that President Donald Trump, America’s relative that we don’t expose to company, showed us that his levels of ratchet knows no bounds.
Fortunately, 2019 gave us other things to talk about.
For a while there, we could talk about the most diverse Democratic primary in history, as candidates from the Black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities entered the field, and with the exception of Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, these candidates were ignored by the media and communities of color themselves.
We could also talk about the fact that there are Americans still out there killing people in bunches with guns of all kinds. We could talk about how a nice chunk of Philadelphia’s political class is about to be headed for court over Lucky Charms.
We could also talk about the fact that there are a lot of really good people we lost this year, including a special member of the SUN family.
So let’s begin because this year-in-review isn’t going to start itself.
The Trials Of Trumpito
We kind of have to start our look at the past year at the White House because Trumpito (Thank you, Desus and Mero!) and his shenanigans kind of demand it.
Besides, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a full-grown man throw a full-on temper tantrum on Twitter.
In 2019, Rep. Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House when a New Democratic majority was sworn in. While many of the newcomers wanted to vote out articles of impeachment against the President the minute they set up their offices, Pelosi showed them that checkers wasn’t the game they should want to play.
They passed laws that covered a variety of things including gun control, which I’ll get into later, opioid addiction, poverty, health care, and a whole bunch of things that have been sent to the Senate for approval, but have fallen into the Black Hole that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
Then they started investigating the various scandals that Trump has been involved in.
Now, personally, I would have started with the fact that Trump has been a walking, talking violation of the Emoluments Clause, the clause that says you can’t profit from your office, since the minute he walked into the White House and demanded that foreign leaders use the bedbug palace he calls the Trump Hotel DC when they came to town.
Or I might have gotten a little further into the whole “Russia got me elected president” thing that was the center of the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But instead, they opted to investigate the phone call between Trump, the reality show host In-chief and Volodymyr Zelensky,the Ukraine’s Former Stand-Up Comic-In-Chief, to see if Trumpito threatened to withhold military aid —- aid that Congress already approved, by the way —- if Zelensky didn’t dig up dirt on Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for him.
Once a bunch of people came to testify, including current European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, that this was exactly what went down, the House Judiciary committee voted out Articles of Impeachment and —- after holding the Hearing That Wouldn’t End due to the kind of Republican performance art that equated the impeachment to the OJ Simpson trial and my personal favorite, the crucifixion of Jesus —- Trumpito became only the third American president to get impeached.
Because most of the Republicans in the Senate —- most notably Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham, or as some refer to him, proof that walking without a backbone is possible —- have already said that they’re more interested in keeping Trumpito in office than they are finding out what actually happened here, Pelosi hasn’t given the articles to the Senate yet.
Meanwhile Trumpito and company are calling his impeachment a “sham” and he’s Tweeting even more insanely than usual, if that’s possible.
His partisans are also getting a little nuts. Chuck Bonniwell, a talk-show host for 710 KNUS in Colorado, lost his job when he suggested that what was needed to distract us from impeachment and get Trumpito off the hook was, and I’m not kidding, a “nice school shooting”.
He said this in the state of Colorado, a place that’s had more than its share of mass shootings. First, there was the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado in 1995 that killed 15 people and injured 24. Then, in May, one student was killed and 15 injured in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. And if that wasn’t enough, 710 KNUS is based in Aurora, Colorado, the place where in 2012 12 people were killed and 78 injured when James Eagan opened fire during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
That’s some serious insensitivity for you. But when it comes to the subject of gun violence, it’s what we’ve come to expect.
Running For Cover
In America, nowhere is safe from gun violence. That’s probably not news to anyone living in the Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Gun that the United States of America has become, but it was reinforced to us in some pretty heinous ways in 2019.
Children in the Philadelphia area seemed particularly vulnerable to bullets this year. For example, 10-year-old Semaj O’Branty was walking home from his school in the City’s Frankford section when he was hit in the back of the head with a stray bullet. This was two weeks after a 2-year-old girl was shot to death in her home and an 11-month-old baby was injured when the car the child was traveling in got caught in a hail of bullets.
But what was probably the most heartbreaking incident of gun violence locally was the death of 10 year old Micah “Dew” Tennant. Micah was among those shot at a playoff game between Pleasantville High School and Camden High School at Pleasantville High School’s athletic campus in November. He died of his injuries the day that the game was resumed at Lincoln Financial Field at the invitation of the Philadelphia Eagles. The shooting had nothing to do with the game and two other people were injured, including Ibn Abdulllah, the person who was the actual target.
But while the Pleasantville shooting was one of 45 incidents of lethal gun violence nationwide that took place in educational spaces, schools weren’t the only places where you were reminded that nowhere is safe.
Attendees at a concert that was part of the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were reminded when Santino Legan,19, went on a violent rampage that ended with four concert goers killed and 17 injured. Legan decided to kill himself because he felt police closing in on him.
When Connor Stephen Betts decided to shoot at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, he made sure that the first of the nine people he killed was his sister.
Patrick Crusius went on an anti-Hispanic rampage in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people, and injured 24. Because this is 2019 and we have a President whose immigration policy is overseen by a racist who has a special contempt for the Latinx community, he’s pleading not guilty because he thinks that he did the right thing.
And no one knows what made Dewayne Craddock to go into the municipal building in Virginia Beach and kill 12 of his co-workers, but whatever it was made him angry enough to, well, go postal.
Now you would think that all that carnage would make people start to really want to reconsider our gun laws. Wal Mart has decided to stop selling ammunition. For the first time in 20 years, Congress has passed legislation that includes money to research gun violence. Granted, the $25 million is basically President Trump’s Mar-A-Lago budget, but considering nothing has been allotted for this particular research due to the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold on our government, this is significant.
The Institute for Better Gun Violence Reporting had it’s first conference in Philadelphia in October and featured lots of really insightful people talking to reporters about why we need to pay more attention to how we as media professionals talk about gun violence.
Heck, even the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make things like background checks mandatory.
Wanna know where that legislation is?
The black hole located in Mitch McConnell’s desk.
That a law that could reduce gun violence, or at the very least keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them, is just one of the reasons why it feels like just about every Democrat —- and Bernie Sanders —- has decided to run for president in 2020.
And while the country has become a lot more diverse —- statistics show that the number of people of color has grown in the country despite the best efforts of the president to deport everyone but the First Lady and her family —- the 2020 Democratic field is looking, well, White, old and mostly male.
Currently, of the 15 people still vying for the nomination, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary and Mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are the only three people of color in the race. The front runners as of now are former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also considered a contender, as are multimillionaires Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Now the reason, at least as I see it, that the current list of front runners for the Democratic nomination resembles what you get when news organizations talk about “diversity and inclusion” in hiring, is because the focus is more on making Trump a one-term President than in presenting an alternative to him. If folks aren’t careful, it’ll come back to bite them in the form of people of color deciding to sit this one out.
Bloomberg has already gotten the endorsement of former Mayor Michael Nutter, something that should come as no surprise to anyone who has had a conversation with Mayor Nutter.
But if nothing else, talking about Nutter allows us to talk about local politics.
The Local Beat
Few of us political reporter types used to pay much attention to City Council’s Third District because of how little we thought would actually change about it.
For more than 40 years, the person sitting in that seat had the last name of Blackwell and it was considered perhaps the safest seat in City Council. When Lucien Blackwell left Council to run for Congress, his wife, Jannie, took the seat and has held it with little to challenge her.
So when an urban planner named Jamie Gauthier decided to take Jannie Blackwell on for the Third District seat, folks thought that she’d be just another challenger that Blackwell would be able to put in her rear view mirror.
Until Gauthier beat Blackwell in the April primary.
In January, Jamie Gauthier becomes the new City Councilperson for the third District and the first person not named Blackwell to hold that seat since the 70s. One thing that everyone will be watching in 2020 will be how this West Philadelphia district, which includes the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the University of the Sciences, and other groups of people commonly associated with gentrification will fare with new leadership.
Gauthier’s first challenge has already come up. The First District of the African Methodist Episcopal church is now leasing its building at 3801 Market to the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The plan is for the building to be torn down and replaced with another building.
Good luck with that.
Gauthier won’t be the only newcomer when Council goes back to work in 2020. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Bill Greenlee retired this year. Elected to fill their seats were Isaiah Thomas, an educator and activist and Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, Reynolds Brown’s former chief of staff.
Even the minority parties are going to look different. Activist Kendra Brooks make history in November when she elected to council under the Working Families Party banner. She bested Republican Councilman Al Taubenberger for the seat. Since the only other two members of the minority are Republicans David Oh and Brian O’Neill, who the Minority Leader for the elective body will ultimately be is another thing to be on the lookout for.
And Rochelle Bilal, the subject of this week’s cover story, will become the new sheriff of Philadelphia County, after besting Jewell Williams. Williams had been dogged by sexual harassment allegations, and they became a campaign issue.
In December, City Council voted to name the 6600 block of Germantown Avenue after the SUN’s founding publisher, J. Whyatt Mondesire.
And in February, John Dougherty, City Councilman Bobby Henon, and six other people connected to IBEW Local 98 were indicted on a raft of charges that included embezzlement, conspiracy, and other misuses of union funds. The group is alleged to have stolen more than $600,000 over a six-year period.
The charges also include allegations that Dougherty used Councilman Henon and his power in City Council to do his bidding and punish his enemies. And in exchange for all of that, Henon allegedly got $75,000 a year from the union and got other goodies such as Philadelphia Eagles tickets and other gifts.
Henon went out and got lawyer to the local stars Brian McMonagle and pled not guilty to all charges. The trial is expected to take place in 2020, and if the last few federal trials I’ve covered are any indication, this will be interesting.
The Philadelphia Police Department also had its share of issues in 2019.
When the Plain View Project released a report detailing the offensive social media posts of 330 Philadelphia police officers, activists came to City Hall demanding answers from Mayor Jim Kenney and that these officers be kicked to the curb.
While the Plain View Project report was bad news, it wasn’t the only bad news the Police Department would get this year. Commissioner Richard Ross resigned in August after being named in an amended lawsuit filed by a former paramour that alleged that he refused to take her sexual harassment complaints seriously because she had broken up with him.
You’ve got to wonder how much of this, if any of it, will be addressed through the upcoming police contract.
But that said, this Philadelphia “Me Too” story leads us to a few more.
Survival Of The Fittest
Apparently, there’s going to be a part two to the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which told the stories of many of the women who as young girls were sexually abused and in some cases imprisoned by the R&B superstar, who is currently in jail.
But if it’s anything like the first part of Kelly’s story, which led to his current charges of sexual abuse and false imprisonment, it’s going to get ugly.
The three-night, six part documentary was co-executive-produced by journalist dream hampton, and was the source of a lot of conversations about consent and how we see young Black girls as human beings.
Also in 2019, former Hollywood power player Harvey Weinstein learned that the whole disability thing would work as well for him as it did Bill Cosby when it comes to being on trial for sexual assault. When he came into court using a walker, the judge decided to ignore it and allow the myriad of lawsuits against him for sexual harassment and assault continue.
Weinstein’s criminal trial begins in 2020, which is good news because I’m not in the mood for Hoteps who want to use Weinstein’s transgressions as a excuse to share stories with me about how the only reason Cosby’s still in jail is because he wanted to buy NBC.
Those We Lost
A lot of people that made our world a brighter place left us this year, and their impact will be felt for a long time to come.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison left us this year. She was 88. Diahann Carrol, who made history in her role as “Julia” and later taught us not to accept “burned” champagne as “Dynasty’s” Dominique Devereaux, was 88.
James Stern, the man who managed to take over one of America’s largest neo-Nazi groups with the sole purpose of dismantling it, was 55.
Former Sen. Harris Wofford, an ally of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who went on to represent Philadelphia in Congress, was 92 and two of the longest serving members of Congress —- Michigan Reps. John Conyers and John Dingell —- left us this year at 90 and 92 respectively.
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 99, former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, 89, former Congressman Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, 97 joined Ken Gibson, 86, the first Black Mayor of a Northeastern city and Richard Hatcher, 86, one of the nation’s first Black mayors when they left us this year.
Entertainers John Witherspoon, 77, Nipsey Hussle, 33, Danny Aiello, 86, and Rip Taylor, 88 and Carol Channing, 97 also left us this year, as did opera diva Jessye Norman, 74.
Big Bird and Oscar (Carrol Spinney), 85, Walter Finley (Bill Macy), 97, Rhoda Morganstern (Valerie Harper), 80, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) 74 also died this year, as did rockers Eddie Money, 70, Leon Redbone, 69, Ric Ocasek, 75, Andy Anderson, 68, who performed with The Cure and Iggy Pop and Al Neville of the Neville Brothers, 81.
We also lost Oscar nominated director John Singleton, 51 and “90210” heartthrob turned “Riverdale” dad Luke Perry, 52.
Iconic restauranteur Leah Chase passed away. She was 96. So, unfortunately, did iconic actress and animal activist Doris Day, 97.
The community of journalism lost NPR and ABC Political analyst Cokie Roberts, 75, Garth Reeves Sr., 100, former publisher of the Miami Times, and Kam Williams, 66, a prominent film critic whose work appeared in the SUN.
Audrey Johnson Thornton, 93 will be remembered for her work as head of the American Women’s Heritage Association restoring the Belmont Mansion Underground Railroad site in Fairmount Park and Davida Godett, 43, will be remembered for her work making all of us more aware of the dangers of stroke.
But one of the greatest losses felt by our SUN family this year was the loss of photographer Robert Mendelsohn, 61. Robert was a ubiquitous presence at a variety of events in the Black community, taking pictures for and with everyone.
He will be missed.