ABOVE PHOTO: Mayor Jim Kenney
Sure, 2016 brought us a few good things when it comes to politics and pop culture. I’m just hard pressed to find any of them.
By Denise Clay
My late Mom, the single nicest human being ever created, used to always say to me that if you can’t find something nice to say about a person, place or thing, it’s best not to say anything at all.
Unfortunately, my fear of being fired from the Philadelphia Sunday Sun prohibits me from following this piece of motherly advice because if I did, you’d be looking at a couple of blank pages right now. Since having blank pages in a newspaper is never a good idea, I’m kind of forced to give you an overview of a year that has been pretty hard for many of us to digest.
But I’m not going to like it. Not even a little.
That’s because 2016 was The Terminator, meaning that it couldn’t be bargained with or reasoned with, it felt no pity or remorse, and it absolutely would not stop. So the good moments that it gave us, we had to cherish with all our might.
So I’ll start my look back at 2016 with those…
For the sake of argument, I’ll start this section with the inauguration of Philadelphia’s new Mayor, Jim Kenney.
When Kenney officially became the city’s 99th Mayor in January, the fact that he wasn’t outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter was all that was necessary to inspire good will for some people. So he tested it by trying to get one of the things that he promised on the campaign trail realized.
That something? Universal Pre-Kindergarten.
While everyone agreed that was necessary, where they didn’t agree necessarily was in how it would be financed, which was with a tax on sugary beverages. Beverages included in the tax include sweetened sodas, iced teas, and sports drinks like Gatorade. Water, 100 percent juice drinks, and drinks in which sugar has to be added, like coffee, were excluded from the tax.
When that bill was introduced, it became a battle between education advocates, nutritionists, retailers and sugary drink bottlers in the form of the No Grocery Tax Coalition.
A bill introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown that would tax all containers was floated, but went nowhere. Councilwoman Maria Quiniones-Sanchez, whose district is home to a Coca-Cola bottling plant, accused the Kenney Administration of coming after her because of her opposition to the tax. Soda bottlers brought cases of sugary drinks to council members in hopes of changing their votes.
In the end, Mayor Kenney won and the Sugary Drinks Tax was passed. The No Grocery Tax Coalition members filed suit, saying that the tax conflicted with existing state taxes, but it was thrown out of Common Pleas Court. The city will begin collecting the tax in early 2017.
Another win for the Kenney administration came in the form of an announcement that the 2017 NFL Draft will be held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in April. Because the NFL is moving away from its staid format of folks coming to Radio City Music Hall to watch their favorite teams make draft choices they may find questionable, the carnival that the draft has become is now headed to Philly after two years in Chicago.
One of the people who helped Kenney become Mayor of Philadelphia had a win of his own this year. State Rep. Dwight Evans is now the Second District’s representative in the United States House of Representative. He bested incumbent Congressman Chaka Fattah in the Democratic primary in April and assumed the seat following the November elections due to Fattah’s resignation. I’ll have more on that later.
Kenney also got to preside over the Democratic National Convention, which managed to be a National Security event that came to Philadelphia without closing a single bridge. While the requisite protests that come with such an event were a part of the festivities, Philadelphia showcased itself as a city that could handle anything, even a slightly disorganized Democratic Convention Committee, and produce a successful event.
From the introduction of Black superheroes Luke Cage and Black Panther to movie adaptations of award-winning plays and interesting and creative music, 2016 was a year when Black artists shared their gifts.
We were introduced to the charming Chance The Rapper, an artist who decided that the best way to get around the sometimes soul-sucking music industry was to give his music away on SoundCloud. He even turned down a contract offer from hitmaker Kanye West.
His reward? His album “Coloring Book” made history by becoming the number one album “sold” completely through streaming. Chance also got several Grammy nominations including Best New Artist and is the star of possibly the cutest Kit-Kat commercial ever.
While many of us already knew this, 2016 was the year that the rest of the world learned that Solange Knowles is more than just Beyonce’s little sister and that in-law you don’t want to tick off in an elevator. Her album “A Place At The Table” featured relatable music that was totally her own and garnered some Grammy recognition. I especially liked “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” may become my theme song.
But despite some of the lemons we may have been handed in 2016, we got a splash of “Lemonade” from Beyonce in 2016. Her album, which included videos that raised the hackles of the Right Wing for their pro-Black Panther imagery and other forms of unapologetic Blackness, was all anyone wanted to talk about musiclally for a while in 2016, if for no other reason but they wanted to know who “Becky with the good hair” was.
The Academy Awards might not be quite so White this year thanks to a slew of movies featuring characters of color that have been getting lots of Oscar buzz.
The first of Denzel Washington’s film adaptations of August Wilson’s plays, “Fences” hit movie screens on Christmas Day, and while audiences liked Washington’s portrayal of Troy, the play’s protagonist, they’re loving Viola Davis’s portrayal of Rose, his wife. In fact, the prevailing wisdom says that they may as well put her name on the Best Supporting Actress Oscar now.
But she may have competition from the multitalented Janelle Monae. Monae costars in two films this year, Barry Jenkins critically acclaimed film “Moonlight” and the biopic “Hidden Figures”, co-starring Taraji P. Henson, and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer.
The film that was supposed to be the Oscar darling, Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” appears to be on the outside looking in. When Fox Searchlight purchased the film for a record $17.5 million at the Sundance Film Festival, Birth was supposed to be the film that moved #OscarsSoWhite closer to being a thing of the past.
However, the combination of a rape charge from Parker’s days as a wrestler at Penn State University and the fact that the movie was at best uneven sealed “Birth’s” fate. A college tour spotlighting the movie was cancelled. So was a series of appearances at churches designed to bring folks into the theaters. A defensive interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” did Parker no favors.
While Fox Searchlight’s investment was returned, Parker’s career as both an actor and director seems to be up in the air due to the fact that he appeared to forget why it’s important to have a good publicist.
Elsewhere at the movies, Chadwick Boseman’s “Black Panther” made his debut in “Captain America: Civil War” this year and the cast of his standalone film is making people count the days until February 2018. Any film that features Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o and a whole host of heavy hitters directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler is going to garner that kind of anticipation.
The servers at Netflix went down for a while in March due to everyone wanting to watch the network’s “Luke Cage” at the same time. The indestructible Hero for Hire hit the screen in the form of Mike Colter with Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard as co-stars.
(It’s been a big year for Ali, by the way. He’s also gaining rave reviews for “Moonlight” and is featured in “Hidden Figures.”)
Also on the pop culture front, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Dylan became a Nobel Laureate, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sure, he didn’t go to Geneva to get his award, but the iconoclastic Dylan did acknowledge his achievement with the help of rocker Patti Smith.
Speaking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the next class of inductees was announced and among them was Tupac Shakur. He’ll join grunge rock pioneers Pearl Jam, folk icon Joan Baez, seminal progessive rock band and the rock band whose records I used for Frisbee practice my freshman year at Ohio State, Journey.
(I had a roommate who played “Separate Ways” on a loop. It had to be done.)
But while Shakur will be entering the Hall of Fame, the 70s funk group Chic, for the 11th year in a row, will not. Nile Rogers, the pioneering lead guitarist and producer will be getting an award from the Hall, but it kind of feels like a consolation prize.
I guess that I should also mention here that Dylann Roof, the White Supremacist that walked into the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015 and killed nine people after having spent time worshipping with them, was convicted on 33 counts related to the murders earlier this month in federal court.
On the one hand, news of these convictions is good because you shouldn’t be allowed to walk into a church, worship with people, and then shoot up the joint. But it’s hard to equate anything connected to that incident with the word “good”, even if it’s about justice.
But like it or not, this kind of ends the non-sports related good stuff that happened in 2016.
Now for the rest of it…
While on the one hand, 2016 was a good year artistically, going out to enjoy that art wasn’t always the safest thing to do.
In June, partiers at the Pulse nightclub, a popular gay club in Orlando, Florida, were having a normal night of dancing and having fun when Omar Mateen entered the club. Packing a Sig Sauer AR-15-style assault rifle and a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol, Mateen walked into Pulse and shot up the place, killing 49 people, wounding 53, and took hostages before finally being shot to death by police.
Mateen had, shall we say, an eclectic Internet life that included visits to gay chat rooms and watching videos that led to him pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State, or ISIS. He had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013 when he made comments to a co-worker alleging terrorist ties.
In December, more than 30 people were killed when the Ghost Ship artists space in Oakland, California burned to the ground during a party. The space, an old warehouse, was found to have numerous code violations and my guess is that heads will roll by the time it’s all done.
While mosquitoes have always been the enemy, the Zika virus made people even more cautious around them. Zika, a disease that causes birth defects in newborn babies, was mostly found in South America, but thanks to it’s transmission through mosquitoes and sexual contact, it hit the Southern United States, most notably Florida and Texas.
Unfortunately, 2016 was also a time in which we found out that some things that we wish weren’t things are still things.
Like, for example, police brutality.
In a one-week period, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philandro Castile of St. Paul, Minnesota became the latest in a long list of Black men shot by police.
Sterling was unarmed and selling DVDs in front of a convenience store when he was shot in the back by police, while Castile was carrying a licensed pistol when he was shot to death and the incident was carried via Facebook Live by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer that shot Castile, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the killing.
But if what happened in the case of former North Charleston, South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager is any indication, justice isn’t guaranteed. A mistrial was declared in Slager’s trial for the murder of Walter Scott earlier this year. In an incident that was caught on video, Scott, who was behind on his child support, was running away from Slager, who had pulled him over on a traffic stop.
Slager allegedly shot Scott in the back…and then tried to plant his taser on him to make it look as if it was justified. He’ll be retried in the New Year.
We go into 2017 with the tap water in Flint, Michigan still undrinkable. For all of 2016, the city has been contending with water that has the kind of lead levels most commonly associated with the handling of nuclear materials. The Michigan Attorney General’s office is finally starting to hold some people accountable.
Meanwhile, the resident are still relying on bottled water to get by.
You know what I’d like to see in the New Year?
I’d like to see fewer reporters sticking a live microphone in the face of George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, a man who thinks that his getting away with the murder of Trayvon Martin amounts to some sort of “get our of jail free” card, tried to auction off the weapon he used to kill Trayvon this year. When public outcry led to his taking the weapon off of Ebay, Zimmerman took time out to lecture the dead teen’s parents, saying that if they had done a better job raising him, he wouldn’t have gotten shot.
Again, can we ignore him in 2017? Maybe he’ll go away if we do…
As if the national shenanigans of 2016 weren’t bad enough, a group of prominent local politicos proved (a) that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, (b) pride goeth before a fall and (c) being petty can get you locked up.
For example, let’s take former Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Kane, a rising star in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party, managed to do something that hadn’t been done by a woman or a Democrat in the Commonwealth’s history when she got elected to the office. She came in promising to make justice a little more, well, just for all of Pennsylvania’s citizens.
And in some cases, she succeeded.
Through the mess that is the “Porngate” scandal, Kane showed Pennsylvanians what those charged with dispensing justice were sharing with each other on state computers.
(I got a look at some of the “Porngate” emails thanks to former State Rep. Milton Street, who sent a bunch of them to reporters. One word: Yikes!)
Because three of the “Porngaters”—Frank Fina, E. Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington—now had positions in the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the women of City Council— Cindy Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Helen Gym—joined the National Organization for Women to call for the firing of the three prosecutors.
They didn’t get fired, but they did get singed a little. Williams moved them to less high-profile cases, and Fina eventually left the office. Also, two State Supreme Court Justices were among the officials forced to resign and others faced disciplinary action.
Had Kane stopped at exposing “Porngate” and taken her attention to other matters, she would have been okay. She’d have been a hero and, possibly, the first female Governor of the Commonwealth.
But instead of understanding that revenge is, in the words of the Sicillians, a meal that is best served cold, Kane decided she wanted hers and didn’t care what it might have cost her.
One of the things that Kane did once she assumed the office of Attorney General was kill an investigation started by former AG Tom Corbett into a group of prominent Black politicos including former State Reps. Louise Williams Bishop, Michelle Brownlee, and Ron Waters and current State Rep. Vanessa Lowery-Brown.
The reasoning Kane gave for stopping the probe was that she felt it was racially biased. And let’s be honest, it did kind of stink. Tyron Ali, the person involved in the sting, was looking at serious felony corruption charges. Yet he managed to get a “get out of jail, free” card thanks to his work here? Anyone would call shenanigans on that.
But when they joined the Philadelphia DA’s office, Fina and Costanzo took the probe with them, handed it to Williams, and he ran with it. Granted, Williams forgot that he also had some of the same “unreported contribution” issues, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Eventually, Williams Bishop, Brownlee and Waters plead guilty and resigned from their offices. Rep. Lowery-Brown’s case is currently in court.
Kane got mad, and then decided to get even by giving parts of a Grand Jury investigation into SUN publisher J. Whyatt Mondesire, then the President of the Philadelphia NAACP to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Chris Brennan. Brennan did a story on the leaked material, which led to charges against Kane. She was convicted on two counts of felony perjury and is headed to prison for 10 to 23 months for her crimes.
But while Kane is headed off to jail, she’s not the most prominent local politico with some atoning to do.
This year, two cases brought before federal Judge Henry Bartle III taught all of us that if you are convicted of stealing money from the School District of Philadelphia, the book, or at least a few chapters, will be thrown at you.
And both of our teachers were named Chaka Fattah.
The first lesson came when Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr. went to trial on charges including bank fraud, tax evasion and stealing $1 million from the School District of Philadelphia.
He defended himself, which provided us with some unintentionally funny moments, and needless to say, lost. Chip is currently doing his 5-year sentence and is probably trying to figure out how he’s going to pay the $1.1 million in restitution he owes to a variety of entities including Citizens Bank, United Bank of Philadelphia and Wells Fargo.
The second lesson came from Chip’s father, former Congressman Chaka Fattah, who was sentenced earlier this month to 10 years in federal prison on a variety of counts including racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.
Although he knew he had a trial upcoming, Fattah focused his resources on getting through the Pennsylvania primary in April instead of paying his first set of attorneys.
He lost the primary, and by extension his seat in Congress.
In May, the U.S. Attorney and its binders filled with paper, began presenting a case against Fattah that showcased a variety of alleged schemes that included allegations of bribery for a ambassadorship, putting au-pairs through college, a Porsche that was sold, except when it wasn’t, and a variety of other financial slights of hand.
By June, Chaka Fattah had gone from Congressman to convicted felon. While he had intended to stay in Congress until his sentencing, his fellow House members had other ideas and Fattah was forced to resign shortly after his conviction.
But possibly the worst part of 2016 for many of us was the knowledge that this was the last year in office for Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black President.
Obama began his last year in office pretty much the same way that he had began most of his term in office: dealing with Republican obstruction. From the constant attacks on the Affordable Care Act to the Senate’s refusal to confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama had a lot of his plate.
And yet, he still managed to address criminal justice reform by pardoning hundreds sentenced under unfair drug laws.
As we watched the President and First Lady Michelle Obama fulfill their duties while taking to the campaign trail on behalf of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, we were reminded of just how much the world had changed in the eight years of the Obama Administration and that no matter who took his place, the drop would be a pretty steep one.
We just didn’t realize how steep a drop it would actually be.
When the folks in Britain voted to leave the European Union via Brexit, many Americans did what the Brits usually do to us after our presidential elections—point, laugh, and ask ‘What were you thinking?!’—as British voters, confused about why the pound was sinking like a stone, took to Google to do the research they should have done before hand.
In November, the Brits got to return the favor as Americans took to the polls and made Donald Trump, the former host of “Celebrity Apprentice” the nation’s 45th President via an election that has many of us still scratching our heads…especially when the President-elect chooses to take to Twitter to settle a score or fudge the truth a little.
From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in New York, the script was written.
Despite managing to accuse the father of one of his opponents of taking part in the Kennedy Assassination (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz), getting the endorsement of White Supremacist groups for his stances on immigrants and Muslims, bragging about his ability to sexually assault women randomly due to his fame and fortune, and lying so much that FactCheck.org is probably going to have to hire more people to keep up for the next four years, Trump managed to keep winning.
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised that this happened for a couple of reasons.
One, I don’t bet on much, but I have never lost when betting on the American public to go into a voting booth and do something totally off the wall.
And two, let’s face it, Americans may talk about wanting something different, but there’s only so much change that they’re really down for.
Eight years ago, the color line was broken for the American presidency. I was actually surprised Clinton got out of the primaries because America wasn’t ready to break the gender line, not even for a White woman.
Don’t believe me? Here’s some statistics: 53 percent of White women and 13 percent of Black men voted for Donald Trump.
So the next four years are going to be interesting. Because the Republicans managed to maintain the House and Senate, the Affordable Care Act is probably history.
We might also want to keep an eye out for the folks in Black Lives Matter. Trump’s Attorney General designee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a man deemed too racist to be a federal judge in 1986, believes BLM is a terrorist group.
And I’m not even going to talk about the fact that with the appointment of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, we’re going to have an actual white supremacist advising the President.
The ACLU is about to get paid…
Like I said at the beginning of this piece, 2016 was a year that it was hard to find anything nice to say about.
What made it that way, other than knowing that come January 2017 we’ll have actual White Supremacists making policy in the White House, was all of the really talented people we lost.
I mean, let’s be honest.
How could a year in which we lost Carol Brady (Florence Henderson), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), Detectives Fish and Harris (Abe Vigoda and Ron Glass), Jason Seaver (Alan Thicke) The Greatest (Muhammad Ali), The Thin White Duke (David Bowie), the man who infused music into the elements Earth, Wind and Fire (Maurice White), Billy Paul and Phife Dog from A Tribe Called Quest be anything other than ugly?
And I haven’t even gotten into Prince, a loss that many of us still haven’t completely wrapped our heads around because we felt he was immortal because of his talent, George Michael or Alan Rickman because that would be just too depressing. It was as if someone took a flamethrower to my early adulthood.
Heck, we even lost Debbie Reynolds to a broken heart.
The community of Black Journalists kinda got slapped around this year with the losses of Gwen Ifill, George Curry and Acel Moore, and Sheela Allen-Stevens, people whose careers served as guide posts to those of us who wanted to follow in their journalistic footsteps.
Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News makes the argument that the reason why it looks like everyone of distinction is leaving us is because this particular group of people was part of a larger group of distinguished and creative people.
Because of this, we all have to step up our game in 2017.
I hope we’re up to the challenge.
Happy New Year…
The post The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly… appeared first on The Philadelphia Sunday Sun.