Griffin Campbell
Griffin Campbell

I hate writing about contractors.  Out of all the people that issue ridiculous threats to me, it’s mainly from the scum of the earth dirtball contractors and their subs that wanna get closer to “real”.   So, I don’t write about them unless their shit gets way over the top to the point where more than 20 people are pissed off.  I can handle lawsuits, I attract lawsuit threats like a glue trap.  In the world of construction though it’s filled with stupid mooks who didn’t get far in life past their stint in Catholic school.

But that’s not the case here.

Griffin Campbell, the contractor who caused the Market Street building collapse was sentenced today to 15-30 years in prison.

The judge was not kind.  He stacked the sentences for each one of the fatalities and injuries consecutively.  This means tomorrow morning he will be put on a bus and sent to SCI Graterford or another lockup upstate, far away from Philly.

Campbell is of course only one small piece in a tapestry of failures that led to the tragedy on Market Street.  The primary culprit is of course the guy who ordered the cheapskate demolition in the first place, property owner Richard Basciano and his holding entity STB Investments.

Richard Basiano [NY Daily News]
Richard Basiano [NY Daily News]

Basciano is among the worst of blightlord-sleaze in this country.  He acquired his Market Street parcels from the estate of Samuel Rappaport, another notorious (and infamous) Center City blightlord. With cowboy hat and loud beltbuckle, Rappaport wined and dined Philly pols, sent cash in envelopes to city officials and employees while he scooped up real estate from under their noses.  Even after Rappaport died his property management skills still managed to terrorize Philly residents.  One of them was a parking garage off Pine Street with a dodgy facade that partially collapsed and killed Common Pleas judge Berel Cesar. It’s only fitting that Basciano entered the picture to continue the Rappaport property management model.

Immediately after the Market Street collapse Basciano went into hiding in his Symphony House pad.  He had good reason: the survivors of the victims soon discovered that Basciano was at the property site during the collapse, personally overseeing the work.

Basciano is getting a come-uppance that the criminal justice system is unable to provide.   STB Investments and Basciano are currently deluged with the perfect shitstorm of personal injury and liability lawsuits.

One of the new civil cases filed against Basciano comes from Liberty Bar and Grill and its former proprietor, Michael Kenish.  In that complaint, Kenish states that debris from the collapse damaged and forced the closure of his business.  He is seeking restitution to be made whole on lost income from unplanned street closures.

Basciano himself is up there in age.  That photo of him I put on this thread is from at least ten years ago, back when he was lauding over an article about himself for riding the porn wave of New York’s Times Square’s former heyday of sleaze to its current Madison Avenue/Disneyplex commercialdom it is today, and the revaluations of real estate values that came along with it and made him the “porn king”.

While Basciano might feel proud of what he did with his New York portfolio, he will go to his grave as a murderer here in Philly.  He murdered those people, each and every one of them.

I really hope Richard has something planned for his internment—like cremation or a burial deep inside of a tomb.  If it’s just a grave and a headstone I think that’s a perfect place to set up a remote memorial for what he’s done to our city, to the victim’s families, and the scars he will leave behind after he is dead.

Today Griffin Campbell is going to state lockup to cover for Richard’s crimes.   That is wrong.  That isn’t justice.   No one is celebrating this.  It is Basciano who needs to be put away.

For now we will have to settle with the satisfaction that there are well over a dozen law firms who can smell his money for miles away and want every stinking cent of it right now and long after he is dead.  Whoever gets the hot potato of dealing with Basciano’s estate after he finally croaks is going to be getting a tsunami of court notices in the mail.  I wonder who wants to inherit that headache.

Let that be a lesson for you cheap bastards who cut corners and make others pay for it with their lives.

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You know, back in the day where we could scream “faggot” at unsuspecting children in a crowd for no reason and beat up queers in the Gayborhood.

Courtesy of Bill Hidden on the Finnegan Nyb Facebook page.


This post goes great with this song, too.

See also: Mummers Shame

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Bok Technical High School was the gem of the New Deal-era of Great Spending under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Art Deco monolith was built to bring vocational skills to new adults in South Philly
The Depression-era Art Deco monolith was built to bring vocational skills to new adults in South Philly

Built under a grant from the Public Works Administration, the massive Art Deco castle was meant to guarantee that every child living near 8th and Mifflin would graduate from high school with direct marketable and employable skills; mainly in the building trades.

But after a 75-year run, the School District of Philadelphia was ready to give Bok up because of the huge plant maintenance costs to keep the building maintained and fully heated.  As newcomer parents tend to avoid the School District of Philadelphia wherever possible, family sizes are less than half of what they once were at the time Bok was built, and charterization of the school district has led many District kids to flee into the hands of charter school operators and Bok’s capital costs only increasing over time with fewer students, the SDP put Bok on the chopping block.

Under the 2013 round of public school closures, the vast floors have sat empty.  The SDP then sold Bok off for a cool $2.1MM to eccentric proprietor Lindsey Scannapieco, daughter to Rittenhouse condo builder Tom Scannapieco.   Lindsey has spent several years in London at a design firm that specializes in reinventing old spaces.   Obviously the future of Bok will involve something that’s going to cater to the creative classers–the ones who would be foolhearty enough to pay enough rents into the building to maintain the massive ancient plant systems in the basement needed to heat what amounts to  two city blocks of space compressed into one building.

Yes, a “makerspace“.

Le Bok Fin [PhillyMag cred: Michelle Gustafson]
Le Bok Fin [PhillyMag cred: Michelle Gustafson]
While Scannapieco has been trying to figure out how to repurpose the space she has opened “Le Bok Fin”, an homage name to the former kitchen at Bok Technical, which itself was a pun to the famous (now shuttered) restaurant of the Philly upper-crust, Le Bec Fin.   As it is on the roof of Bok, the space offers a stunning panoply of South Philly rooftops leading to the sharp peaks of Center City.  View-wise, it’s the urban version of the Teton Mountains few get to experience.   And no one did until the highly popular pop-up came into being.

Now here’s where we go into the bizarre.  Almost predictably, this disastrous hyperbolic-infused screed against the repurposement of Bok and everything wrong with society-in-one-blog-post gets penned and published to Teachadelphia by Kayla Conklin.

Conklin screws up everything ‘wrong’ with Bok by:

  • Completely ignoring how and why the school was built in the first place (and who paid for it)
  • Ignoring the legacy capital costs that led to Bok being put on the SDP’s shortlist of school closures
  • That Bok attendance had declined significantly enough by the time of closure that all the students were swallowed up by Southern.  The technical vocation programs at Bok were relocated.
  • Blaming the whole thing on white people who have jobs

In fact, Teachadelphia has been on a tear lately with multiple ‘Bok is teh terribles!’ trolldom over the last several of its articles.

In essence, this is classic nonsensical SJW tripe.

Conklin herself appears on a BillyPenn listicle of “16 young teachers and leaders shaping education in Philly”.   There, she’s described as a “9th grade English teacher at Esperanza Academy Charter High School” [emphasis mine].

Now we have arrived at the core irony of her Bok pieces.

As Conklin is completely oblivious to local history and how Bok came to be closed in the first place, I’ll provide a rough timeline from memory:

  • June 22, 1997:  Pennsylvania enacts the Charter School Act.  One of the first pioneers of the alternative school administration method, it’s touted as a solution to the systemic and intractible failures of central district systems.   Intended for Philadelphia and adopted by a few other Pennsylvania counties, the law allows private entities to contract with the state and local districts to own and operate schools.
  • February 1998: Facing what was a severe deficit, the School District Superintendent David Hornbeck threatens to shut the School District of Philadelphia unless Harrisburg restores state aid funding to levels not seen since 1975 when the District reached peak population.  The move shocks state legislators who are met with waves of panic by angry constituents.  By April, Harrisburg legislators responded with a lightening fast maneuver to strip the school district away from the City of Philadelphia.  This sparks a deep legal battle between the City and the Commonwealth.
  • 2001:  Legal fighting between the City and Harrisburg finally ends and the City cedes control over the school district to the state.
  • 2001-2011:  The following decade sees several rapid bursts of charter school contracting, most notably during the 2005-2006 period.   Charters are seen by many inner city parents as a solution to intractable violence issues at their local schools as charter operators offload some of the burdens of legal liability and are offered more room to control discipline.   Charter funding causes more vacancies to form at District schools while legacy costs remain, making District closure an inevitability.
  • 2007-2008 – While the City has been able to enjoy some revenue growth from 6 years of a condo building boom, property tax revenues start to fall statewide, due to the effects of foreclosure, particularly across middle-class neighborhoods like East and West Oak Line, Mayfair and Tacony.   The Commonwealth also tightens up and state funding does not increase.
  • 2011-2012 – Facing job loss, attrition, population shifts, calcified plant costs and legal bills, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia dramatically retracts its school system offerings and embarks on an ambitious program of real estate sales, leading up to the sale of the megaplex campus of Cardinal Dougherty High School.  This provides a blueprint for the SDP who is also planning on massive closures.
  • 2013 – In one of the largest consolidations in the District’s history, the SDP embarks on a massive school closure spree, shuttering 24 schools, including Bok in a bid to slash capital and plant maintenance costs.

What’s done the SDP in, and took Bok with it, has been a perennial lack of stable revenue that local property taxes are simply not going to buttress.  Real estate is a good revenue source, but it’s not symptom-free and in poor districts like ours with a worst-in-the-nation tax collection record, we rely on state handouts which have never flourished.

When Harrisburg took ownership of the system which removed direct local management of the district it lifted the visibility of the state delegation that Philadelphia sends to represent itself in Harrisburg.   That opportunity has not produced much, save for some state pols like Senator Anthony Williams who are effectively circus fairground attractions who dote on parents and look like they care, but have been administering and brokering this failure for years by boosting charterization of the District, a process that has been financially destructive to the District’s balance sheet despite the unquantifiable blessings that the charter school cheerleaders champion.

What’s sad is that Conklin’s dystopian myopia is warped by simple-minded social justice classicism and unawareness of the facts I’ve outlined leading up to Bok’s closure.  She then she takes her venom out on unsuspecting white hipsters chugging Genny Cream Ale in former school desks on Bok’s rooftop, as if they somehow must be rejoicing in Bok’s catharsis and are somehow directly responsible for its fall; like hipsters must have devised this as some strategically-placed landmine in the Gentrification Wars.  Conklin even takes some time out in the comments to rail against dog parks.  Sigh.  She doesn’t get it.

Something tells me Conklin’s rage could just as easily be transmuted into joy if she was told the building was being repuposed into affordable housing.   Or perhaps a dildo factory that hires locals.  Anything but white people eating arugula salads.

As far as redeveloping Bok, there’s at least some good news in state case law.   In 2014 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard a zoning case over the shuttered Nativity BVM school in Port Richmond which will certainly be a legal template for any future repurposement of these dead city-block-sized behemoths that are in dire need of a new life.

In the BVM case the entire project to repurpose the shuttered Catholic elementary school into senior apartments was held up by one neighbor over a single street parking spot.

After the appeal was sustained in Commonwealth and then reversed in Pennsylvania’s highest court, any zoning attorney that would be advising Scannapieco right now might want to keep that case handy in the fan file.

While it’s difficult to live next to such large single-purpose buildings built in an era when owning cars was a luxury, there’s not many car-free uses that could come to Bok to completely re-use the building, short of imploding the place and turning it into a paid surface lot.

The community as a whole will have to deal with Bok’s 75 year history as an urban city school being over.   That might not mean that education will never be a use that’s inside the building.   No community is meant to live encased in amber for all eternity.

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You can zoom in the map and hover over a red parcel to see who’s claiming an exemption but their bills go somewhere else.  Click to see the OPA record. houses and magnifying glass

I know you’ll love this.  Well, you’ll probably laugh and then cry at our horrible inept bureaucracy after reading it.   It’s what PDQ is there for.

Here. Have a tissue.

The Homestead Exemption was a tax exemption created to smooth out the pain of Nutter’s AVI plan, or “Actual Value Initiative”.  Two years ago Philadelphia changed its method of how properties are assessed and how your property tax bill is calculated.   This is the formula:

[ Whatever the city says your house is worth ]  – [Homestead, if you qualify ]  x [ 0.0134 ] = Your bill.

1.34% is the tax rate we are paying now since AVI kicked in.  Nutter wants to jack this up to 1.47%, which is a tax hike of 9.7% on your current bill. [PBJ].

Now, that Homestead Exemption is a small tax reward for living in a Philadelphia property that you own.  If you live in your home you get $30,000 wiped off your assessment before the tax rate is applied.   This equals exactly $402.   This is a significant savings for most poorer Philadelphia homeowners whose taxes crossed into the four-digits.   The Homestead Exemption got them back into the three-digit range.  Unfortunately this large exemption–essentially a subsidy–also pushed the tax rate higher.

To help poor and seniors even more against gentrification, the City also tossed-in gentrification protection… a 10-year assessment lock-in on your property’s assessed value which OPA calls the LOOP program.  Unfortunately if you have one of these, LOOP won’t save you from Nutter’s proposed tax hike.

Homestead Fraud

Back to the Homestead Exemption though…. PDQ examined City records and uncovered a list of 4,123 properties that are claiming the $30,000 Homestead exemption but are giving the City an out-of town mailing address as the contact address for the account.  WUT?

Your property tax bills, if you don’t have a mortgage, have to go somewhere.  OPA keeps mailing addresses on where the tax bills should go.  It would be obvious that rich folks, invalids and others who need to send on their real estate tax business somewhere other than the home where they live.  They have someone else do their finances for them.  Others may also own a business and prefer to consolidate all their mail at the business rather than at home.  There’s plausible excuses to be had, which is why these should be looked at by the City.

After all, this list is $1,657,446 worth of tax exemptions.  For a city hunting for dollars and an extremely high tax delinquency rate, it would pay to make sure homestead claims are indeed genuine.

Here’s a big clue that some of these people on this list don’t pass the smell test:  we counted OPA mailing addresses in suspicious places like Brooklyn, Huntingdon Valley, and Bensalem which are favorite places for out-of-town Philly landlords to live.

Some of the mailing addresses go clear across the country to states like California.  And Florida.   Who lives in their home and then sends their tax bills off to somewhere on the other side of the country?

79 of the properties even had rental licenses on them.  RUH ROH.  There’s a huge sign right there we have some fraud in here.

We’re gonna let you figure out for yourself what the real story is behind these suspicious Homestead Exemption claims.

The top 10 states used for mailing addresses (other than PA), ordered by the # of “homesteaders”:

New Jersey: 245
New York: 138
California: 42
Delaware: 39
Maryland: 38
Florida: 35
Texas: 29
Virginia: 24
DC: 16
South Carolina: 15

And here’s the top 10 cities and towns outside Philly that homesteaders used for their mailing address:

Brooklyn: 42
New York: 36
Huntingdon Valley: 33   <– shocking.
Elkins Park: 30
Upper Darby: 28
Bala Cynwyd: 27
Landsdowne: 22
Bensalem: 21
Cherry Hill: 20
Glenside: 19

You can download the full list here as an Excel spreadsheet and I also have a full-color map of where all these properties are across the city, above.  Enjoy.

Philadelphia Suspicious Homestead Exemption Claims, 2015

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John Dougherty on his way to fine-dining at McCormick & Schmidt's
John Dougherty on his way to fine-dining at McCormick & Schmidt’s

If there wasn’t anything more real and depressing about Philadelphia politics, it’s  Johnny Doc.  Consistently-outraged millennials, newcomers and most other Philadelphians who are not tuned-in to machine politics will never understand how one white and privileged union boss has most of our local pols tied-up on his leash.

He alienates most of the newer Philadelphians:  those left-leaning millennials who have moved here from elsewhere and don’t understand how machine politics, rife with its corruption, actually works [except if you moved here from Chicago].

Have no fear.  Today comes along an article that will school you.

Robert Huber’s deep exposé in PhillyMag  Meet the New Doc.  Same as the Old Doc?  provides the best primer of how local politics works in Philadelphia by looking at one of the men who controls it all: the business manager for electrician’s union IBEW Local 98 — John Dougherty.

The countless number of local activists and local pols who have caved to Doc is stupendous:   all of City Council, most of our state legislators we send to Harrisburg, countless Doc sympathizers are camped out in various City departments.

Some of my favorite bits, like Doc’s horse-trading game trying to back the next Philly mayor…

Then, when asked about Dougherty’s support for a mayoral run — Doc’s already had a fund-raiser for Clarke — the president of City Council gets angry: “Your whole line of questioning is offensive. Now you’re saying I can’t be mayor without Johnny Doc.

Or how about Doc goyim-splainin’ his love of the Jewish people?

But when I prod Dougherty about Weinstein’s claims, he goes into angry Docspeak: “He said that I picketed his kid’s bar mitzvah. Okay? And I knew about it. The insinuation, I was insensitive to Jews. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for the Jewish religion, Jewish community. My lawyers are Jewish.

There’s countless more quotables in these piece that are just as delicious.