Sunday, May 13, 2007

Matt Ruben: A Reformer for Philadelphia City Council

Tuesday's primary election could be a watershed moment for the reform movement in Philadelphia. One of the reformers who is given a significant chance of winning an at-large seat on city council is Matt Ruben. Matt has won endorsements from Philly bloggers Above Average Jane and MyDD, reform organization Philly For Change, and from the Daily News:
Ruben, a teacher and Northern Liberties community leader, is probably the only candidate campaigning who finished his Ph.D. right before the primary. (It's from Penn.) Articulate, energetic and close-to-the-grassroots, he could provide an informed, intelligent and youthful perspective.
I worked with Matt when he was president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) and I served as executive director. Northern Liberties has been ground zero for redevelopment in recent years, and Matt was not afraid to stand up to developers, including the biggest in town, Bart Blatstein.
Not that the community is or was anti-development. The NLNA handled about 80 zoning cases a year when I worked there; I was a regular at the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment. In the vast majority of cases, the NLNA would work things out with the property owner, and the ZBA hearing consisted of asking that an agreement letter become part of the decision.
But on those occasions when an owner chose to push ahead without coming to agreement with the community, Matt and the NLNA's leaders were zealous in defending the community's interests. Two such instances involved Bart Blatstein, and the NLNA challenged Philly's biggest developer as no other community had done in recent history.
When Blatstein took his Schmidts redevelopment plan to the ZBA without an agreement, the NLNA appealed the decision to the courts. Facing a delay of a year or more, Blatstein finally sat down to negotiate with the community. One happy outcome is that the original design, a godawful mess I called Disney Italianate, was dropped for a sleek contemporary design by Erdy McHenry. The NLNA also appealed a permit for a "ballroom" project, and again brought Blatstein to the negotiating table. The organization had to set up a legal fund to mount these challenges, but Matt never flinched.
With this history, it's not surprising to see that Matt emerged as a leading anti-casino activist. One of the proposed casino locations is, inexplicably, on the waterfront close by Northern Liberties and Fishtown, two thriving communities that have no need for such inappropriate development on their borders.
Matt and other community leaders pressed the NLNA to undertake a community planning process, which has led to a Neighborhood Plan and a Waterfront Plan, which by the way doesn't include a neighborhood-destroying casino.
I am proud to have worked with Matt Ruben. He's tough and smart, with a remarkable record of standing up for his community in the face of long odds--and winning. Northern Liberties is a better place, thanks to his leadership, and Philly would be a better place if he were to be elected to city council.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have to wonder if the decision represents a kind of consolation prize for NRG; ...." -- Tommywonk

NRG does not deserve a consolation prize for two reasons: They have not been a good neighbor, and for reasons stated here already, coal gasification is not a wise backup.

A good neighbor does not fight regulations to reduce their toxic emissions from their dirty old coal plant at Indian River. It is as simple as that.

Also, a good neighbor does not propose unproven IGCC and CCS technology with a bid that has crucial data redacted from public inspection.

Finally, having attended public hearings and having followed this issue closely, I don't find NRG to be a credible company. They are now depending on their political connections to our State Government to get favorable treatment, as Minner's backing represents clearly. Either technologically or politically, NRG is not deserving of further consideration. Wind power (Bluewater Wind) with natural gas (Connectiv) backup is clearly the best choice for long term price stability, for clean air and water, for assuring our future power needs, and for combating global warming! What could be more obvious?

10:36 AM, May 20, 2007  

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