City Council raised the white flag Sept. 1, but not before a few of its members made plays for the black vote.
For months, council has been wrestling with the terms of a cooperation agreement with a state-appointed financial oversight board. The agreement would give the five-member board a veto over city budgets, and the power to withhold new tax money if the city strays from its financial blueprint. In August, council added provisions to the cooperation agreement that would give its members a role in negotiating the city budget, plus call for two new oversight board members to add diversity to what is now an all-white-male quintet. Mayor Tom Murphy vetoed the agreement, saying the amendments weren't needed.
On Sept. 1, Councilor Jim Motznik proposed putting the call for more diversity back into the agreement. After Council President Gene Ricciardi seconded Motznik's motion, Councilor Sala Udin barked, "Who seconded that?" Udin had reason to be miffed: By seconding the motion, Ricciardi forced a vote on an amendment that Udin's predominantly African-American neighborhoods would likely favor, but that the oversight board considers inappropriate. Udin has, of late, urged council to cooperate with the oversight board.
Udin noted that Gov. Ed Rendell has already pledged to seek to make the oversight board more diverse. A pro-diversity provision might prompt the oversight board to reject the cooperation agreement, and further delay the struggling city's effort to get financial relief, he argued. "My no vote will not be a vote against diversity," Udin argued. "My no vote will be a vote against attaching this to this agreement."
On a 3-6 vote, the pro-diversity amendment failed, with Motznik, Ricciardi and Twanda Carlisle voting yes. The same three were on the losing end minutes later, when council voted 6-3 to approve the un-amended cooperation agreement, which gives council little say over spending for the next seven years.
"The diversity issue is not going to go away," pledged Councilor Doug Shields, saying he'd push state leaders to put women and minorities on the board. Count on the issue coming up, too, in next year's mayoral race, which may include Ricciardi and Udin.
Though Udin probably opened himself up to criticism on the diversity issue, he made some friends on Sept. 1, too. Council's meeting was packed with mostly white, elderly opponents of the West End Home Assurance Value program, which has property owners in 12 neighborhoods paying $20 a year into a fund to insure home values. Udin led the charge to repeal WEHAV, comparing the program's critics to "the people who built this nation and fought against taxation without representation." By a 7-1 margin, council voted to end WEHAV and return money residents have paid in. "I, for one, want to thank you for demonstrating to the whole city what gray-haired people can do when they stand up," Udin said, rubbing his own silver-specked head.