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Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Date: June 18, 2003
Byline: Sara Kelly


City Hall: Save the Children

Just because our local leaders often act like they're 14 doesn't mean they know how 14-year-olds think. But anyone who attended last week's Council session--on the cusp of summer vacation--would have no trouble distinguishing the young-heads from the old-heads.

Leading the young-heads was, ironically, Council's oldest member, 88-year-old David Cohen, while honorary old-head Michael Nutter took up the rear. End, that is--at least from the perspective of the city's skateboarding enthusiasts.

Usually much more fun than he was last week, Nutter really gave it to those scary young punks some of the city's business leaders are blaming for tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to the righteous rails and rideable light fixtures on their outdoor plazas.

Increasing the fine skaters pay for shredding on the polished marble outside our high-rent skyscrapers, Nutter argued, would keep them from further damaging the workplaces of the city's biggest taxpayers.

The $25 fine, he said "was having no effect whatsoever." But the $50 increase he proposed may make those little devils think twice about inflicting $25,000 worth of damage on the United Plaza Building, $88,000 on the Bell Atlantic Tower and $130,000 on 11 Penn Center, for starters. Nutter went on to list damage totals at other Center City structures, including the Vietnam War Memorial.

Those are some pretty compelling numbers--to say nothing of the fact that you could buy five North Philly row homes for the cost of mere repairs to 11 Penn Center--but Cohen wasn't buying it.

"I'm sorry to hear that my colleague believes that skateboarders are causing the damage. I don't believe it for a moment." The real issue, Cohen contended, is anti-skateboarder bias.

But don't take his word for it. Take Ed Bacon's. Cohen said the celebrated city planner (and Kevin's dad) will back him up on that one, claiming that there is no damage from skateboarders.

And shouldn't Bacon, after all, know? "He's a little older than me," said the councilman, "so he's obviously got more wisdom than I have. He's the only public official I know of who's older than I am." (And why shouldn't being Kevin's dad carry some official status in the city?)

"I don't think owners of property have a right to go around regulating the conduct of people in Philadelphia," he continued. "It's enough that they own the stores and the businesses, and take their profits home with them at night, which is generally outside the city, where they can count their dollars quietly away from the view of citizens of Philadelphia. Let's not give them the right to control the way our young people behave in Philadelphia."

Cohen went on to cite the X Games of the last two years--at least that's what we assume he meant by skateboarding "convention"--as proof that such activity can have a positive impact on the local economy.

But now that the skaters have shown us the money ... Well, is it too late to remake LOVE Park?

Only slightly bruised by Cohen's comments, Nutter then attempted to soft-sell his bill by betraying a certain empathy for the youngsters it targets. "I agree with my colleague about the interest of the skateboarders, about the sport itself and about what it means to young people, and how to attract more young people to Philadelphia. God knows we need some more young people to come and stay in Philadelphia--to not just get a good education and leave."

To that end, he added, the city could do much more to placate the skaters. There's no denying they deserve a "world-class" facility. And we all know there's cash for that, especially considering the city's dwindling tax base.

Speaking of which, continued Nutter, "It's difficult enough to keep the businesses that we have in Philadelphia with our high tax burden, but what do we tell these people about their inability to protect their property?"

Depends on how much butt city leaders are willing to kiss in order to hang onto their two favorite groups--groups that are at odds on this particular issue: the young and the rich. The rich, with all their tax-ripe assets, make a more immediately convincing case for favoritism. But the young, providing they don't soon die while executing show-offy skateboarding maneuvers, will be around longer, with decades of potential taxpaying to look forward to.

Which cash cow shall we save, at the risk of pissing off the other?

Jannie Blackwell's for the children. No old-head her, Blackwell's always quick to claim that skateboarding's not a crime.

With this seemingly small issue having stirred so much controversy among his peers, Nutter requested the floor one final time to say simply, "Thank you, Madame President. When does the recess start?"

Nutter got his way on two counts. His bill passed fairly handily, and Marian Tasco called recess a couple minutes later--prematurely, at first, prompting President Anna Verna to joke, "Councilwoman, I know you're in a hurry ... " and again, another minute after that, allowing the class of 2003 to escape for its much-needed summer vacation. Joining thousands of eager 14-year-olds across the city.

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