Mark Segal is an activist that once mattered to those in Philadelphia who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexuality. Before Stonewall. Before any demonstrations angst the stereotypes of mental deficiency, deviousness, criminal behavior, or being labeled the outcasts of society. Back in the day when it was generally OK to use the very raw language being thrown around at the time, the people [queers] who were “worse than niggers,” Mark was an early activist in Philadelphia among many in various other cities where an attitude of “you know what? We’re not putting up with this shit any longer” was forming. Arguably, the first public demonstrations against gay discrimination happened right in Philadelphia, in front of the Liberty Bell.
Today, things have changed, and for the better. It’s still legal to get a gay marriage out in Corn-Fed Bubba country (Iowa). Maine and Washington voters chose gay marriage. Don’t Ask is now a thing of the past and the Defense of Marriage Act is under threat in the courts along with a President who has ordered that DOMA not be proactively enforced by the Justice Department.
Gay people within society have changed too. The “gay ghettos” of the 20th Century that set up shop in small districts of many of America’s inner city neighborhoods have dissipated in their “gayness,” displaced by the affluent who have driven up housing costs. The gay nightlife scenes of the hedonistic 1970s have disappeared and been replaced with demure, almost Puritanical establishments by comparison. Blame the Internet, smartphone apps, webcams and Craigslist Missed Connections for that.
The “gay people’s paper”, as it sits in honor boxes alongside the alt-weeklies, is usually passed-up and ignored by most GLBTQ folk (or LGBTQ, however you want to mix the lettters). The gossip mill, Facebook, texting and open publishing of gay issues by almost all forms of media have seriously reduced the need for a printed gay newspaper. And the “people’s paper” for the queer, the Philadelphia Gay News, has suffered.
I’ve often wondered how the PGN manages to continue to publish. Erotic ads catering to PGN’s readers can’t be what’s holding the paper up, since most of those phone and internet sex businesses catering to “M4M” or “F2F” advertise a lot more in the PW.
It appears Josh Kruger may have figured it out. While trying to figure out the byzantine publishing protocol at the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department, he has uncovered an unusual relationship between PGN, Mark Segal, it’s publisher, and Jewell Williams who is now the Philadelphia Sheriff.
Kruger suggests specifically what is happening is that the Sheriff’s Office is buying space in PGN to run Sheriff’s Sale notices, which Philadelphians pay for. The Sheriff’s Office budget is allotted every spring by City Council, although City Council is quite limited in how to direct the Sheriff’s Office spend its money. Nobody but Segal knows how much money passes hands, and PGN runs the content. Kruger explains how the notices wind up in PGN:
The bonanza on taxpayer dime going on at the Philadelphia Gay News works this way: Jewell Williams, PGN publisher Mark Segal’s ally as detailed in Segal’s endorsement fifteen months ago, becomes Philadelphia’s sheriff and, as such, is in charge of public foreclosure listings, inmate transport, and other typical municipal sheriff’s duties. As a public good, Sheriff Williams must publish publicly the hundreds of sheriff’s sale listings on a regular, and publicly accessible, basis. Cardenas Grant, the communications firm run by former Philadelphia Democratic political flaks Barbara Grant and Luz Cardenas, becomes the agency of record for the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and receives a cut out of ad listing sales revenue.
In order to actually publish the sheriff’s sales listing, Cardenas Grant then later connects Liberty City Press to the Sheriff’s Office. Liberty City Press, a veritable Frankenstein’s monster of bizarre political and media connections in Philadelphia, is run by Ken Smukler, who notoriously worked for City Hall clock tower climber and dirty politico Rick Mariano and former Philadelphia area Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky whose former husband was crooked Democratic Congressman Edward Mezvinksy. Edward Mezvinsky, after a federal investigation and subsequent trial, was convicted on charges including fraud and served five years in a federal penitentiary. Smukler is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful attempt at pitching his reality television show, Red/Blue, to various networks on the, obviously uninteresting, lives of political operatives.
Oh what a tangled web we weave. I remember when I first moved to Philadelphia and mostly used copies of PGN as packaging material (my mother was rather taken aback by parcels stuffed with pages and pages of photos of Mr. Gay Philadelphia), I’ve used it as liner for my puppy when it was too cold outside to take him out for a walk. Hey, it was free, the honor box outside my Center City apartment was always filled with unwanted copies, and it was “green” to “recycle”.
Then when former New Jersey Governor McGreevey came out… mostly in a PR move hoping to distract the public from his pay-to-fuck scandal, PGN was lauding McGreevey who I thought was a lying scumbag undeserving of any positive attention relating to his sexual identity. He came to Philadelphia once for a book signing (after doing Oprah) and PGN was singing his praises; willing what final editorial relevancy it ever had to the wind.
Ditto for backing legislatively-useless former State Representative Babbette Josephs up until it was pretty clear that an actual gay guy (Current State Representative Brian Sims) would upset her.
So Mark, I don’t know what to say bro. I’m sure you’ll still have an audience who will still read PGN just because it has the word “Gay” up at the masthead or they’re reading it because the reader or someone the reader knows got a mention or photo in there somewhere; but for the rest of the community that has scruples; we’ve known for a long time that the Philadelphia Gay News is not the paper of record for the LGBTQ community, and this bum deal to fill space in the paper pretty-much seals it.
Hey Alan Butkovitz, when are you ever going to audit the Sheriff’s Department contracts? This one should make the list.