Show of Shows 2012

Joyful examples of the Wow factor began at the 2012 Show of Shows with Greater Kensington String Band and remained high through all 16 performances, punctuated by the show of 2012 Champion Woodland String Band.  Wowed were thousands of fans who gathered inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this weekend to hear and see the men and women of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association in the annual Show of Shows.  I guarantee you those thousands are still smiling.

Greater Kensington, Trilby, Polish American, Broomall, Uptown, Greater Overbrook, Durning, Duffy, Aqua, Avalon, Hegeman, Fralinger, Ferko, South Philadelphia, Quaker City and 2012 Winner Woodland entertained with their New Year’s themes and more.

The Show of Shows is a more up close and personal view of the String Bands.  This year it was also the farewell performance of former 1st Prize winning Captain, Mark Danielewicz, of Polish American String Band.  Mark is stepping down after 10 years as Captain.  In an emotional moment, his father, Ray Danielewicz, himself a former Captain with P.A., announced his son’s final moments as Captain. Ray had introduced his son a decade ago when Mark’s time as Captain began.

It was great seeing Fralinger String Band Captain Thomas D’Amore, who has a rather impressive percentage of 1st Place Captain finishes with just a few years at the helm.  Fralinger also has 4 members going into the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Hall of Fame.

Congratulations go to all of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees:  John Wernega, Bill Garton, Warren Rivell, and Anthony Tenuto, plus, Jim Browne, Jack Dailey, John Jordan, and Ed Lynch,.

The Show of Shows is a chance for the bands to celebrate family. It’s common for little kids to take part in the performances, especially at the end, or by taking flowers to the Captain.  A good example of that is when Catherine, age 2 and a half, took flowers out to her dad, Duffy String Band Captain Ted Kudrick.

Another beautiful moment in the show was when Woodland String Band stopped to recognize one of the greatest, most dedicated Mummers of all time, Mr. Dave Anderson, Jr.  Dave started Mumming when he was 3 and has been a member of Woodland for 58 years.  He served in many positions, including Captain. He was very surprised and moved by the recognition at the Show of Shows.  Dave Anderson, the Heart and Soul of Woodland String Band.

Now, as important as all the above is, I must add, that in addition to serving as the emcee of the Show of Shows, I was asked to take part in a portion of the Durning String Band’s theme, “We’re Wheelie Motorvated.”  I was allowed to drive the race car dubbed “Speed Highsmith.”  It’s the yellow car.  I won the race despite going in circles and in the wrong direction.  I officially deny that there was any favoritism in the results.   Thank you, Durning. 

Long live the pursuit of happiness.

Mall Walking

More than 500 great citizens walked through the King of Prussia Mall this morning in the annual MDA Make A Muscle, Make A Difference Walk.  Walkers came in all combinations, including large teams.  There was the fun warm-up and when all were ready, Maddie Crowley, of Downingtown and the MDA Statewide Goodwill Ambassador, cut the gold ribbon to begin the walk through the mall.

The revenue raised by the walk will go for support services offered by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and for research into more than 40 neuromuscular diseases.

Thanks to all the walkers.  You Made A Muscle…

                                              And Made a Difference!

Butkovitz on Your Money

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz says the reassessment of Philadelphia real estate taxes will be a tax increase for many.  In his words, “It may knock a lot of people’s socks off.”  Butkovitz says some people may see “a doubling or tripling” of real estate taxes. 

Alan Butkovitz has been the City Controller for 6 years.  In that time he has performed audits and other reviews identifying hundreds of millions of dollars in potential savings. I asked him how much mayors, council members, school administrators and others have responded to his ideas. His answer: “Hardly at all.”

Butkovitz estimates the level of waste, fraud and abuse in the Philadelphia School District is about “20 something” percent.  He believes there is “a long history in the school district of the not respecting the (budget) numbers.” Butkovitz says he would not be surprised if there were federal indictments related to some charter schools that have or are operating in the Philadelphia School District.

On the city government side, Alan Butkovitz gives Mayor Nutter, Inspector General Amy Kurland and other s “A+’s.”  He says Mayor Nutter has ended the pay to pay culture.  He does, however, think the administration may be too academic and theoretical and still has “weaknesses on the operational side.”

Runyan Off and Running

In another race to watch this fall, Congressman Jon Runyan says “We’re gonna get our country back.” The Republican New Jersey Congressman from the 3rd Congressional District Tuesday night officially kicked off his campaign for re-election in Burlington County. He made a similar announcement Monday night in Toms River, Ocean County. Speaking at the Westin Hotel in Mt. Laurel, Runyan warned “I don’t think anyone of us thinks the American dream will be there for our children and grandchildren.” Runyan said he is fighting to reign in out of control spending. He blames the Harry Reid-led U.S. Senate and President Obama.

The 3rd District seat was long held by Republican Jim Saxton until his retirement. Democrat John Adler won the open seat in 2008. Runyan defeated Congressman Adler in 2010. John Adler died in 2011. Adler’s wife, Shelley, is now the Democrat seeking the job this year. She is a former Cherry Hill Councilmember. Reapportionment after the census has made the 3rd more Republican leaning. It is most of Burlington County and much of Ocean County. Cherry Hill is no longer in the district. Federal law allows Shelley Adler to run in the 3rd even though Cherry Hill has been removed. There are reports she will move within the new district lines. Look for this contest to be one of different ideas in an emotional Presidential year.

“Occupy” Runs for Congress

An “Occupy” challenger to a Democratic incumbent has entered a Democratic primary race for Congress in the Philadelphia region. Nathan Kleinman hopes to defeat veteran incumbent Allyson Schwartz in the 13th Congressional District, which is parts of Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. Nate Kleinman made his announcement today on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown. He says “We’ve got to establish accountability for our members of Congress.” He adds, “Too many people are being left behind in this country and that’s why I am running for Congress.” I asked him if he is saying that Allyson Schwartz is a tool of corporate America. Kleinman says he’s not saying that, but he notes that she voted again net neutrality and “for the Bush tax cuts for the rich.” Kleinman is one of the first involved with the Occupy movement to declare for Congress in the U.S.  He states that he is proud of his involvement with Occupy, though he says he is “running on his own platform.”

Kleinman was joined by retired Philadelphia Police Department Captain Ray Lewis who has been vocal in the Occupy effort. He calls Kleinman, “The real deal.” Nate Kleinman pledges to take no corporate money and to spend no time raising money if elected to Congress.

 A spokesperson for Congresswoman Schwartz says Philadelphia and Montgomery County want “someone who stands up for their values while also working to find common ground.”  The Schwartz backers note that she was a player in the compromise to continue the payroll tax cut. They see Schwartz as a centrist and best fitting the 13th District.

Your Home’s Worth What?

What is your home worth and what can revive the housing market? Recognized housing expert Kevin Gillen, Ph.D., tells me that home prices have declined about 18 percent in Philadelphia since the peak of prices in 2007. The decline in the suburbs has been about 22 to 30 percent.  Gillen says the larger drop in the suburbs is a first. The extra drop has happened mainly because of energy prices. Says Gillen, “The longer the commute and higher your utility costs, then the more in (home) value is lost.” The attraction of Center City,  Philadelphia, and the desire for smaller environmental footprints have also contributed to more price losses in the suburbs.  But, the value of your home may also depend on other factors.  If you are in the suburbs and close to mass transit, you are less affected than those farther from a train. The larger your house, the more you are adversely affected by the cost of heating and cooling.

Dr. Gillen, of Econsult and a member of the Boards of Directors of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors and the Homebuilding Industry Association, says one other interesting fact is that “This year it actually became equivalent in Philadelphia to own versus  to rent a home.” Home prices have come down but rents have actually gone up. Gillen says there is good news for homeowners.  We are near the bottom and we have fallen less than the national average. But, he adds, “There is no one sure fire solution to this housing crisis.” It will take several more years to recover, but it might be only another 5 years compared to 10 years for a lot of other places. The nation still needs to settle on the right level of regulation of the mortgage sector and jobs need to continue their upward rebound.

More than 1 in 5 homeowners in America are underwater. Why should you care about your neighbor who is underwater?  While our region, except the city of Philadelphia, does have fewer foreclosures than the national average, financially speaking, says Gillen, what happens to a neighbor affects you unlike any other investment your neighbor could make. Foreclosures and people who walk away hurt the people who pay. Concern about foreclosures has fueled a new Congressional proposal.  New Jersey U.S. Senator Robert Menendez is chair of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development.  He tells me, “A very significant universe in the housing population is underwater,” meaning homeowners who owe the banks more than their houses are worth.  It adds up to $700 billion dollars.  Menendez says the recently announced settlement in which banks pledge $25 billion to help some avoid foreclosure is helpful, but just one of several actions needed. The senator wants more reform of government sponsored mortgage holders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and more refinancing incentives.

Menendez speaks of “pushing the urgency of now.”  His Preserving American Homeownership Act would create pilot programs in which lenders lower mortgage values for some people who are underwater and, in exchange, the lender would get a share of the equity that the home will eventually build.  Kevin Gillen says a similar proposal didn’t work so well in England. One potential problem is whether homeowners stop investing in their homes because they don’t feel they’ll see the gains in equity. Menendez’s plan tries to address that by capping what lenders could reap. He also wants to make available more mortgage counselors. Says Menendez, “Home mortgage counselors for those who are facing a challenge, make all the difference in the world.”  Through several proposals and reforms, the senator says he is looking for “a positive ripple effect.” Gillen says that a real estate transfer tax holiday period in Philadelphia might spur sales locally.

So you want to sell your house? For now, Kevin Gillen says homeowners need to understand that inventories are still 30 to 40 percent above historical norms and prices could drop a little more, as much as 3 to 5 percent more. The pace of sales is still well below normal.  Homebuilder confidence is rising but still not near normal.  Homeowners need to have their homes looking their best, repairs made and get a good realtor.  

For buyers, there is some easing of credit, (loan to value ratios are now about 82 percent, up from the 70’s range), but still buyers need to have good documentation, need to have paid their bills and need to have a good credit score.

Game On: Update Petitions

Both major candidates have now filed in the heating up race for Congress in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District.  Republican incumbent Pat Meehan announced today he has filed 4,750 signatures with the PA Department of State to become an official candidate.  A minimum of 1,000 signatures is required.  Democrat George Badey says he has submitted in excess of 3,000 signatures, gathered from all 5 counties in the 7th.  Badey says he is “gratified by the support” which he garnered in about 3 weeks since enterting the race only recently.  He says a formal announcement of his candidacy will come in the next couple of weeks.

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