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May 26, 2016

Darrell Clarke, anti-poverty warrior, says taxpayers shouldn't fund pre-K program

City Council president's statements belittle theory that early education is key to improving a youngster's chances at a better life

Opinion Soda Tax
Darrell Clarke Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

City Council President Darrell Clarke.

I’ve covered Philly politics long enough to know that that whole “container tax” – read: grocery tax supported by elected officials opposed to grocery taxes – wouldn’t be the most intellectually dishonest thing I’d ever see.

Just didn’t reckon it’d take less than a week for Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s idea to get topped. But, lo, it sure did, thanks to comments offered Wednesday by City Council President Darrell Clarke.

They were about the soda tax, of course, something that Clarke Almighty deemed “ridiculous.”

When reporters allowed him to go on, he offered this gem: “I’m too old for this now, but if I have a kid in pre-K, I don’t think the taxpayers should pay for that. I should pay for that.”

Hoo boy, that’s rich.

By rich, I mean absolutely unhinged.

By absolutely unhinged, I mean that if he’s of the mind that rich folk exploiting the system is reason enough to kill a much-needed program before it starts helping the underserved, he’s not worthy of his fourth-floor Council Chambers throne.

Maybe the John Street creation doesn’t recognize the fact that people who can afford to send their offspring to pre-K will likely do so on their own (and do already!), much in the same way they spurn catchment schools.

If he’s of the mind that a better-educated population won’t help remedy his never-ending pleas to bring more jobs for Philadelphians, he’s shamelessly contradicting his eminently quotable track record.

Philadelphia, you may have heard even before today’s Red Nose Day aimed at alleviating childhood poverty, has the highest rate of deep poverty among America’s 10 biggest cities.

The district that Clarke is elected to represent – the fightin’ Fifth – features neighborhoods including North Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, Hunting Park, Yorktown, Fairhill and Brewerytown. Another way of describing Clarke’s district is this: Areas of the city where that newsworthy level of poverty is the deepest.

So, you’ll have to forgive me for translating Clarke’s dim-witted comments thusly:

Screw you, constituents. If you don’t have enough money to pay for pre-K yourself, find a cheap babysitter and hope your kids don’t get sucked into the schools-to-prison pipeline too quickly. Besides, you can always just walk by a pre-K so your kids can look from the outside in at a vision of what their life could be if only their parents had some cash.

Clarke’s is as insensitive a comment as I recall being uttered in relation to City Council’s relationship to the people. It also sent me on a mission to find Clarke quotes about poverty (and things the city invests in). 

As expected, I found an array of words that contradict the spirit of his recent message when taken in somewhat-isolation.

Take a look at the 15 that I found within a single hour at Thursday's City Council meeting, during which the topic itself wasn't discussed. (Granted, it came up during an awkward post-meeting huddle in which Clarke noted that his public comments don't necessary match those chats he has privately with Mayor Jim Kenney on a weekly basis, and that he's hopeful that a resolution and/or compromise about "these very worthy issues" will be reached.)

I think they're all at least tangentially related to the pre-K's promise of helping to break the cycle of poverty that mires sections of Philadelphia like those represented by Clarke:

1. “Somebody has to look out for people who are less privileged.” (March 2016)

2. "I mean, seriously, in government, people expect us to recognize the challenges and the need, and we're supposed to come up with a solution and if we don't do it, it won't happen." (Feb. 2016)

3. “Let’s put our compassion, our intelligence, and our creativity to work for schools, to ensure every child has a quality education and every neighborhood is a community of choice.” (Nov. 2015)

4. “So long as our schools don't have what they need to help kids succeed, City Council will continue to ‘vent’ to every party with decision-making authority in our schools.” (Sept. 2015)

5. “Every neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia should be a neighborhood of choice. You may not necessarily have the most expensive house or car, you may not have the fanciest school, but you should have quality of life in your neighborhood, and you should have a safe environment and a good school.” (March 2015)

6. On floating $100 million in bonds to help low-income homeowners renovate: "There's a sense of urgency out in a lot of neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia." (May 2016)

7. On Temple University building a football stadium in North Philly: "If the residents in the community are interested in having a conversation and having a stadium built in their community, I will entertain that. If they are not interested in the stadium, it's not going to happen." (May 2016)

8. “In a City with 26 percent of its people living poverty, it is unacceptable that more than two-thirds of work on construction sites goes to non-Philadelphia residents. We are experiencing a strong economic recovery that has yet to touch the people who are most in need of steady employment. The City of Philadelphia must exit the zero-sum game among cities and states to offer tax incentives to any and all businesses with almost no strings attached.” (Feb. 2016)

9. "It is deeply unfair to assess what is happening in our schools based solely on standardized test scores outside of the context of millions of state dollars withheld from Philadelphia schools the last four years.” (Nov. 2015, via spokeswoman Jane Roh)

10. On city providing financial support for the DNC:  "You always have to provide logistical support, where you do spend city money. But the return on that investment is significant." (Aug. 2014)

11. Philadelphia School District’s buildings will soon “be crowded with essentials for urban children and their families: social services, health care, and job training. You can’t tell me that we can deliver these services in a prison and we can’t deliver them in schools.” (Nov. 2015)

12. "We need to address that [level of deep poverty]. So by virtue of bringing in workers, lowering salaries, taking away benefits – contributes to the poverty level." (Sept. 2015)

13. “While we were successful in establishing some annual sources of revenue, the cigarette tax and retail tax, the simple reality is there is going to be a significant gap [for school funding]. Hopefully, given Governor-elect Wolf’s commitment, we’re going to be having additional funding from the state.” (Jan. 2015)

14.  The "Community Sustainability Initiative" will help the city address issues such as poverty and income inequality. (July 2014

15. On improving conditions at Philadelphia police stations: “Well, if you don’t do anything about it, then you’re saying it’s not important.” (April 2015)